Did the Vikings Really Have Tattoos? (Answered)

Vikings are often depicted today with bright blue tattoos in complex designs across their chests and faces. But how accurate are these tattoos and what was their place in real Viking culture?

We sum up the evidence for Viking tattoos, both the historical accounts and the physical evidence. It turns out we do not have very strong evidence for Vikings having tattoos at all, let alone specific designs and symbols. 

Still, we have evidence of other cultures the Vikings interacted with as having tattoos, so it is likely they at least knew how to tattoo. 

Historical Accounts of Tattoos Vikings

We have two written accounts recorded by eyewitnesses of whether Vikings have tattoos. The first is from the 10th Century AD by the Arabic scholar Ibn Fadlan, who describes the “Rusiyyah” in his travel book, also known as the Rus.

The Rus were thought to be descendants of Vikings from Scandanavia, in what is now Russia. However, Fadlan did not set foot in Scandinavia itself. 

He describes the Rus as having nearly perfect bodies, wearing cloaks that cover half their bodies so that one arm remains uncovered, and says that all the men had tattoos from their necks to the tips of their fingers.

He writes that the tattoos looked like dark green trees and symbols, although scholars now think they were more likely to be dark blue, as wood ash can produce blue but not green. The trees Ibn describes are likely the knotwork patterns we find on many other Viking artifacts. 

Some scholars believe that Ibn Fadlan may have been writing a symbolic account of the Vikings to show the ferocity we perceived in them. 

Another traveler who recounted his time with the Vikings was Ibrahim Ibn Yacoub Al-Tartushi, a Muslim representative residing in Spain. When traveling through Denmark, He was surprised that Viking women could divorce and saw that both genders wore eye makeup. 

The Arabic word for “tattoo” both used is the word for the geometric mosque decorations, which do bear a striking resemblance to Viking knotwork patterns but does not mean they had literal tattoos. 

More pressingly, we have few other accounts of Viking tattoos and no tattoos are mentioned in the Poetic Edda or Prose Edda

Archeological evidence of Viking tattoos 

Currently, we have no Viking bodies exhumed that have their skin still intact, and therefore no concrete evidence one way or another regarding their tattoos. 

We do have a Scythian Chieftan, thought to be buried around 500 B.C. in Siberia, whose body buried beneath the permafrost shows tattoos on his skin. Some think the Vikings may have learned tattooing from the Scythians while trading with tribes in what is now modern-day Russia. 

Other bodies, such as the Ukok Princess, have also been preserved with tattoos intact. She was found in the borderlands between Russia and Mongolia and is several thousand years old. 

We also know of the Saami people, who lived in Finland, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula. Their ancestors did practice tattooing and were known to have intermarried with the Vikings. So we have some solid indirect evidence between them and the Scythians that the Vikings would have learned how to tattoo.

What did the Viking tattoos look like? 

From Ibn Fadlan’s account, we know that if they had tattoos, they depicted tree-like patterns and symbols. These were likely similar to the knotwork patterns prevalent in their artifacts. 

Ibn Fadlan describes the tattoos as dark green, but based on the materials available, they were most likely dark blue, grey, or black, depending on the ash or charcoal used.

Unfortunately, we do not know of any tattooing equipment that may have been used and rely on historical accounts for any mention of Viking tattoos. 

Today, popular Viking tattoos do include the runic and knotwork patterns of Viking artifacts. They also include the Vegvisir, a Viking compass not from the Viking age but dates back to the 17th century in Icelandic magic.

Another popular design is the Aegishjalmur, or Helm of Awe, whose earliest historical evidence is from 1847. 


It’s a tragedy that we have so little direct evidence of how Vikings decorated their bodies and have to rely on other cultures, indirect evidence, and spotty written accounts.

With no preserved Viking bodies and so few written accounts from Vikings themselves, we may never know the true nature of their tattoos, body paint, and piercings. 


Viking tattoos historical or not? – historyonthenet.com

Viking tattoos: Symbology of the Northmen – Tattoodo.com

How do we know the Vikings really had tattoos? – Tattooednow.com

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Erik is the creator and editor of Planet Norway. Born in Trondheim and currently living in Oslo, Erik knows the ins and outs of Norwegian History, society, and culture. His idea for starting planet Norway came about when helping his foreign fiance to settle in Norway.