In my Session 1 class, Nordic Mythology, we’ve been talking a lot about the Vikings. After all, according to my instructor Bettina, the term “Nordic mythology” refers to religion in the Viking age. This includes the original (non-Marvel Comics) tales of Thor, Odin, Loki, Freyja, and the many other gods who lived with them in Asgard.
But if we’re going to study the religion of the Vikings, we also need to know about how they were in real life, not just in legend. We need to see how they lived, learn about their customs, and understand ritual practices to appreciate the religious stories that influenced their culture.
I’ve made a list here of some of my favorite sites we’ve travelled to in our survey of Danish Viking history and culture:
- National Museum of Denmark
This one doesn’t require any travel far outside the city because it’s right here in Copenhagen! A hop, skip, and a jump from Christiansborg Palace, this museum boasts some incredible artifacts from the Bronze Age found throughout Denmark.
My favorite was this horse and chariot statue, which depicts part of the Norse myth of how the sun travels around the earth. According to this myth, this horse is the one that pulls the sun up into the sky, while other animals like water serpents bring it into the water at night, which is why the nights are dark.
They also have a highly anticipated Viking-specific exhibit opening there at the end of the month, so I’m planning to go back and check it out before the end of my stay in Denmark!
2. The Viking Museum Ladby
This location will show you something not easily seen anywhere else in the world: the grave of a great Viking king.
Although Hollywood depictions of Viking funerals are nearly always of a ship being sent out to sea and set on fire, there were many other ritual burial practices of vikings. One such ritual is that important kings were buried inside burial mounds in enormous ships, alongside their precious belongings, clothes and food, and even ritual animal sacrifices.
At this museum, you can actually walk into the burial mound where the king was buried. Upon entering, you’ll see the exact imprint of where the ship sat in the earth for hundreds of years. You can even see some of the skeletons of the animals he was buried with! They were presumably his favorite riding horses and hunting dogs, so they sent them with the king into the afterlife.
Inside the museum itself are many of the artifacts salvaged from the burial, including the riding gear for the king’s horses, the metal spirals from the dragon head at the front of the boat, and even game pieces from an early Norse iteration of chess!
And if you want to see what the ship would’ve looked like in its glory days, there’s a perfect replica outside the burial mound sitting out on the water.
3. Trelleborg Viking Fortress
In Trelleborg, you can get a real sense of the scale that Viking fortresses used to protect their people. At this site, large stones are used to mark where archeologists have found the remains of great viking halls and army barracks. You can walk right through the land where Vikings stood hundreds of years ago!
The hills surrounding the fortress were erected as a makeshift wall, with gates on four sides of the circular barrier. There are stairs that let you climb to the top of the hills and see the great view of just how big this fortress was.
The museum showcases some of the archeological finds from the site, including the only preserved Viking shield found in Denmark!
Outside the museum, there’s also a replica of one of the army barracks found at the fortress site, allowing you to walk back in time and see what it would’ve looked like inside one of the structures that once stood here.
4. Roskilde Viking Ship Museum
Of course I couldn’t make a list about Danish Viking sites without mentioning Roskilde! This was by far my favorite stop on the list for one very important reason: my class and I got to row a viking ship out on the water together!
Inside the museum are 5 different viking ships found in Roskilde, all displayed in metal frameworks depicting what the full ships would’ve looked like. They included both cargo ships and warships, one of which is one of the biggest ever found. Some of the ships also have replicas sitting right outside on the water!
If you want to become a real Viking with your friends, this is a stop you cannot miss!
These are just a few of the places we travelled to for my class, and I learned something new and special at each and every one of them. If you’re interested in Viking history, be sure to plan your adventure around at least one of these unique locations!