Could some Viking warriors have been trans men, book asks?

by Hugo Greenhalgh | @hugo_greenhalgh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 17 August 2020 17:19 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: People dressed as Vikings sail on a boat during the annual Viking festival of Catoira in north-western Spain August 5, 2018. The festival re-enacts past Viking raids in the area and is celebrated annually on the first Sunday of August. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

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"The Children of Ash & Elm: A History of the Vikings" claims that some of the Nordic warriors might have secretly been trans men

(Adds detail of Casimir Pulaski to para 12 and clarifies Queen)

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, Aug 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Vikings were known for brutality and chauvinism as they pillaged their way across Europe, but a new book has claimed that some of the Nordic warriors might have secretly been transgender men.

In "The Children of Ash & Elm: A History of the Vikings", Neil Price, professor of archaeology and ancient history at Sweden's Uppsala University, re-examined the case of a Viking warrior grave excavated in 1889.

Discovered in Birka - often referred to as Sweden's first town - the 10th-century grave contained a skeleton buried with swords and spears that was presumed to be of a male Viking.

But DNA analysis confirmed in 2017 it was a female warrior.

"In a sense it does not really matter whether the person in the Birka grave was a female-bodied warrior woman or not," Price, part of the 2017 research team, wrote in the book being published later this month.

"This person may equally have been transgender, in our terms, or non-binary, or gender fluid."

Dominic Janes, professor of modern history at Keele University in northern England, said there was a long history of women as war leaders in Europe over the centuries, citing England's Queen Elizabeth I.

Janes also referred to 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner's description of the warrior-like female Valkyries, part of Norse mythology, in his four-part opera "The Ring Cycle".

"Bearing that in mind, you might not be too astonished that there were actually warrior women for real in the Viking period," Janes said.

The re-evaluation of archaeological findings through modern eyes has yielded notable gender switches in recent years.

Last September, Italian scientists revealed that a famous pair of ancient skeletons, known as the "Lovers of Modena" after being found in Italy buried hand-in-hand, were actually two men.

In April last year, DNA tests showed that American Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski was almost certainly intersex, ending rumours over whether the 18th-century Polish nobleman was born with both male and female sex characteristics. (Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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