Outside of Stockholm, there is an island called Björkö. On this island is a former Viking settlement called Birka. It is well worth a visit and is an active, on-going archeological site where new discoveries are constantly being made. The area contains 3000 Viking graves, many containing high ranking warriors. Until recently, the presumption has been that these hold male remains but Swedish scientists have now revealed that the body of a warrior long presumed to be male is, in fact, female.
Scientists have assumed the skeleton to be male due to the status symbols buried along side it. However, after carrying out a DNA analysis, researchers from Stockholm University announced that the 10th Century skeleton is the first confirmed female high-ranking Viking warrior.
According to the researchers, this finding “provides a new understanding of the Viking society, the social constructions and also norms in the Viking Age.”
“Our results – that the high-status grave on Birka was the burial of a high ranking female Viking warrior – suggest that women, indeed, were able to be full members of male dominated spheres.”
So it seems that gender equality in Sweden is not a new-found invention. It is something that stretches back, in its way, over many decades. Today, Sweden is amongst the top countries in the world to lead the Gender Equality Report. All cultural behaviour we see today stems from history and often from how we needed to survive as a society. Maybe today’s gender equality in Sweden started with the Vikings?
Since March 8th was International Women’s Day, I am writing a series on Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with strength and passion, women who create change. For seven days, I am writing about these women, one per day. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.
Part 5 – the vengeful Viking Blenda.
In the county of Småland in Southern Sweden, there is a legend about a brave Viking woman named Blenda. According to legend, the menfolk of Småland were at war in Norway, leaving the women and children alone and defenceless. The Danes learned of this and chose this moment to invade and attacked the region. Blenda was a woman of noble descent and she decided to rally all the womenfolk in the hundreds of Konga, Albo, Kinnevald, Norrvidinge and Uppvidinge. The women armies assembled on the Brávellir, which according to Smålandish tradition is located in Värend.
The women approached the Danes and told them how much they were impressed with Danish men. They invited the men to a banquet where they were provided with food and drink. After a long evening, the Danish warriors fell asleep and the women killed every single one of them with axes and staffs.
When the king returned, he bestowed new rights on the women. They acquired equal inheritance with their brothers and husbands, the right always to wear a belt around their waists as a sign of eternal vigilance and the right to beat the drum at weddings amd wear armour.
There have been various disputes about the validity of this legend, if and when it happened. One theory is that it happened around the year 500. At this time, female soldiers existed in Sweden. Called Shieldmaidens, three hundred are known to have fought during the great Battle of Bråvalla in 750.
Blenda is perhaps the first known woman in a long line of strong Swedish women who defend themselves from aggressors and contribute to better equal rights between the sexes.