• Athena Ives

Viking Shield Maiden Lagertha

DNA finally proves that female Viking warriors, like Lagertha, existed. In the 1880s, a massive gravesite was found in the Swedish town of Birka. One of the graves, Bj581, is the one to be making history right now. The shield maiden found inside the grave, lived and died around the year 900, and was first excavated from a farm in Solør, Norway, in 1900. Her head rested on a shield, a bridled horse skeleton lay curled at her feet, and her body was boxed in by a sword, spear, battle-ax and arrows.

Lagertha was a legendary Viking shield maiden known from Saxo Grammaticus' early 13th-century CE Gesta Danorum. He wrote about Danish history and the first wife of Ragnar Lothbrok, a legendary Viking king said to have lived during the 9th century CE. Due to most historians purposefully leaving out women warriors from history, there is not a great deal known about Lagertha.

In the Gesta Danorum, Saxo described Lagertha as brave and skilled and twice responsible for ensuring victory for Ragnar in battle. Lagertha herself may have been inspired by the Norse goddess Thorgerd, local to Hálogaland, Norway. He describes Ragnar's first meeting with Lagertha. He described her as "a skilled Amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman."