Did Vikings Have Dreads? Detailed Historical Answer!

Vikings are making a big resurgence in popular media, and while this allows people to learn more about the vikings from Scandinavia during the viking ages, it also portrays some myths and misconceptions.

We often see vikings shown with dreadlocks on TV shows and viking video games, but did vikings really have dreads, or is this just a modern myth?

There are no credible records to prove that vikings had dreads or dreadlocks, but there are also no records to disprove it. We do however know that vikings had good hygiene, and that combs were owned by most people, as well as frequently used. But it’s not impossible that some vikings did have dreads, although it seems likely that most did not.

Viking. Photo published with permission.

So there is no clear answer to whether or not vikings did in fact have dreadlocks. There are some signs that point towards the fact that some vikings did have it, but other sources that point towards a conclusion that most did not.

We’re going to take a closer look at the different reasons why some people believe that vikings did have dreads, and while others believe that they did not, so buckle down for the details. But be warned, you won’t get a definitive answer seeing as there is no clear proof either way.

Reasons why many historians believe it unlikely that vikings had dreadlocks

Written record from the viking ages would often include descriptions of the viking’s hair, but only mentioned length and color, not hair style itself. This means that there is no written record to tell if the vikings did have dreadlocks or not, but there is a surprisingly amount of sources that point towards the fact that most vikings did not have dreads.

1) Vikings used combs obsessively

Many different sources point out that vikings were almost obsessed with using combs to keep their hair fair, and combs are one of the most common artifacts found in viking graves. Both sources from the vikings themselves (such as the Eddas), as well as external sources (such as from other cultures that were trading with vikings) make note of the frequent use of combs.

While some may dismay this as evidence that points away from the vikings having dreadlocks (you need to counter-comb the hair to make real dreads after all), no sources ever point out that the combs were used in a non-normal matter.

A viking comb made of bone and antlers. Photo by The Swedish History Museum / CC BY 2.0.
A viking comb made of bone and antlers. Photo by The Swedish History Museum / CC BY 2.0.

2) Vikings had good hygiene

Many different historical sources point out that the vikings were very concerned about their hygiene, and this included hair hygiene.

While it’s definitely possible to keep dreadlocks hygienic, it would certainly pose a bigger challenge to keep clean compared to regular non-dread hair styles. Especially when you consider the fact that the vikings obviously had no access to shampoo or conditioner, and had to mainly rely on water and combs to keep it clean.

So from a hygienically point of view, keeping permanent dreads seem counter intuitive for vikings.

3) Slaves (thralls) had short or no hair

Viking slaves, known as thralls, are often pointed as the most likely candidate for vikings who could have worn dreadlocks. The argument used is that these slaves did not have access to combs or regular hygiene routines, but these arguments are not really good.

Firstly, thralls were often treated much better than other slaves in other parts of the world, and they would have had access to hygiene routines. After all, poor hygiene would result in more disease, which would lower the thralls’ working capacity. Or even worse, it could potentially be lethal.

The other good reason why it’s generally disbelieved that thralls could have worn dreadlocks is that hair was a status symbol in the viking age. So thralls, being at the bottom of the social ladder, would have very little or no hair at all.

4) Viking dreads are a somewhat common belief

The myth or claim that vikings had dreadlocks are pretty common to see on the internet these days, but it’s a very recent belief that only really began in the last 10 years. No one really believed vikings to have had dreadlocks until this point, and there was little to no evidence to point towards it.

It was only after History Channel’s Vikings aired that people began asking this question and spreading this “funfact”, which seem a little too coincidental for me, seeing as TV characters on that show featured dreadlocks and even modern hairstyles.

5) Viking stone pictures did show loose hanging hair

There are very few Norse picture stones that show vikings without helmets, but there are some (such as Ardre VIII, Stora Hammars I, and Lärbro Tängelgårda I) that do show it. These Norse picture stones all show the vikings wearing either loose hanging hair, wearing a single braid, or wearing knotted hair.

No Norse picture stone has ever shown a viking that would wear anything that could be identified as dreadlocks.

The Norse picture stone Ardre VIII. Photo by Statens Historiska Museum (Christer Åhlin och Iris Tiitto).
The Norse picture stone Ardre VIII. Photo by Statens Historiska Museum (Christer Åhlin och Iris Tiitto).

Why others believe that vikings had dreads

While there is a lot of evidence to suggest that vikings did not really have dreads, many people and even some historians believe that they did. Let’s take a closer look at their arguments and sources for believing this.

1) Braids were common for vikings

It was very common for vikings to braid their hair, seeing as long hair was the norm for people with a high status. They would absolutely need to braid their hair before battles, or they would risk getting it in their eyes during critical moments.

Many believe that dreads were a natural extensions of braids, and that some vikings would simply make dreadlocks to avoid having to spend so much time making braids and combing their hair.

2) Some sources claim vikings had “snake for hair” or “rope like hair”

The biggest reason why some people believe that vikings had dreads is because some sources, including written Roman sources, claim that vikings had “snake for hair” or hair that would look like ropes.

Many people believe that this means that the vikings must have had dreadlocks. However, most historians agree that this likely refers to braids. Braids also resemble a snake pattern much more than dreadlocks do.

When it comes to hair that look like ropes, it could easily be identified as either dreads or braids. So this could potentially be a source that indicates that the Romans met vikings with a type of dreadlocks.

Viking battle reenactment. Photo by Silar / CC BY-SA 4.0.
Viking battle reenactment. Photo by Silar / CC BY-SA 4.0.

3) Some vikings had “unkept hair”

A third reason why many believe that vikings might have had dreadlocks is that viking writings described certain vikings as having unkept hair. Some believe that this is an indication that these vikings had dreadlocks or something similar to it. However, no further details on the hair styles are given, so it’s open to interpretation.

While it’s certainly possible that unkept hair could refer to dreads, it’s also many other ways a hair can be considered unkept without being dreadlocks.

Some vikings might have had dreads, but most probably did not

Since there is no evidence to make a clear conclusion either way, the most likely conclusion is that some vikings might have had dreadlocks, but it seem unlikely that it was common.

Vikings were individuals, and some might have found the dreads to be practical or just cool. Hair styles were a status symbol, and keeping good dreadlocks could potentially have given them social status.

Dreadlocks might have been good for battles as well, making the vikings available to go into battle without having to deal with the hassle of braiding their hair first.

Did Harald Fairhair get dreadlocks?

Harald Fairhair was the first king of Norway, and it might have been possible that he was sporting dreadlocks or something akin to it. The reason is found in Saga of Harald Fairhair, one of the stories in Heimskringla that tells the tale of how the conquered Norway.

When Harald Fairhair set out to unite and become King of Norway, he swore an oath to not comb, brush or cut his hair until he had conquered all of Norway. This took 10 years, making it seem likely that he had a hairstyle that could be reminiscent of dreads.

Harald was called Harald Tanglehair during his conquest, but got it changed to Harald Fairhair once he became king and finally cut his hair.

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