The Viking berserker warriors are legendary in Norse lore. We’re told that they were ravenous wild and untamed men who would raid, kill and hold no mercy for any foe. The truth is that the Viking berserker are steeped in mythology and mystique, with many views on what actually makes the famed berserker popular and what the true meaning of the term was. We plan to explore and investigate what make the berserker so, and how these legendary warriors came about.
The favoured view of the Viking berserker warriors, was of course the untamed and wild fighters who would stop at nothing in battle. The berserker would not heed injury, blade or fire and would fight regardless, their fear was non-existent, their resolve unbreakable, their ferocity unmatched. It’s thought the berserker warriors were able to perform on the battle field like no others, with almost godly power.
The rage and the fire that powered the Viking berserker was never truly defined, but there are many theories and speculations, with sources from close the Viking period documenting or writing about the berserker state.
The first theory was that the fury would start naturally, as the berserker readied themselves for the upcoming challenge, their bodies would convulse, teeth would grind and chatter, as the rage took them over. Eventually the bodies of the Viking berserker would change colour, going red and hot headed as they would growl and howl, a sure signal the rage was fully in hold of them.
The second popular theory as to the source of the Viking berserker was that they would drink an alcoholic liquid, whether it was large amounts of Viking mead or a special concoction of plants that would have kick started the berserker rage.
The third and possibly the most realistic would be the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms to push the berserker into the required frame of mind. The psycho active effects of naturally occurring mushrooms in the Scandinavian wilderness gives this explanation for the Norse berserker madness some credence.
The term ‘berserkergang’ was the name given to the rage and fury the Viking berserker went through, it is the description of the transformation these Norse warriors would transition into.
The English dictionary has inherit words from the famed Norse berserker, having been written about throughout history, even close to the actual existence of the Viking people.
The actual word ‘berserk’ now inherits its meaning from the old Norse, and is described as a ‘violent or destructive frenzy, crazed or deranged. The term berserker likewise is derived from another old Norse word ‘berserk’ which is thought to refer to many things, either bear, in that the berserker would wear bear pelts, bear as in the berserker would fight shirtless without armour.
From what we know from the writings of Byzantine emperor Constantine VII, who lived from 905 AD to 959 AD, is that the rage of the beserkergang, would bestow the warriors with immense rage. This rage would allow the Viking berserker to fight in a fashion with little regard for their safety. Constantine also mentioned how the berserker were oblivious to friend or foe in battle, their rage would hold them so tightly that it was best to stay well clear of a Viking warrior berserker who was in the moment.
As with the actual cause of the rage, the appearance of the Viking berserker warriors is also the source of some confusion. There are many theories on the look of the berserker, what they wore into battle and how they wore it.
One theory that has some merit due to ancient texts, is the description of the Viking berserker going into battle wearing the pelts of wolves. This is also backed by the finding of a bronze plate from the Vendel era which cross paths with the Viking era running from
around 550 AD to 793 AD, and showed a warrior adorned with the pelt of a wolf. The texts also mention how shields were still used by the Viking berserker, that they were adorned with the blood of their enemies.
Another common theory was that the berserker would fight in a state of undress, shirtless and armour less. This could have been for two reasons, firstly it could be that while under the rage of the beserkergang, the warrior would lose his normal sense of self preservation, which would fit with the overall impression of the Viking berserker. The second reason would be in battle the lack of clothing or armour would give more movement or even a psychological advantage for the berserker.
The legend of the Viking berserker is one of the most enduring and appealing in all of old Norse culture. These mighty warriors revered and feared in equal measure were the pinnacle of the ferocity of the Viking peoples. While many parts of the lore and history of these warriors are uncertain, it’s highly likely they were a reality in some shape or form, and with that the Viking berserker warrior exists to this day.