1st Edition

The Myths and Realities of the Viking Berserkr

By Roderick Dale Copyright 2022
    208 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    208 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The viking berserkr is an iconic warrior normally associated with violent fits of temper and the notorious berserksgangr or berserker frenzy. This book challenges the orthodox view that these men went ‘berserk’ in the modern English sense of the word. It examines all the evidence for medieval perceptions of berserkir and builds a model of how the medieval audience would have viewed them. Then, it extrapolates a Viking Age model of berserkir from this model, and supports the analysis with anthropological and archaeological evidence, to create a new and more accurate paradigm of the Viking Age berserkr and his place in society. This shows that berserkir were the champions of lords and kings, members of the social elite, and that much of what is believed about them is based on 17th-century and later scholarship and mythologizing: the medieval audience would have had a very different understanding of the Old Norse berserkr from that which people have now. The book sets out a challenge to rethink and reframe our perceptions of the past in a way that is less influenced by our own modern ideas.

    The Myths and Realities of the Viking berserkr will appeal to researchers and students alike studying the Viking Age, Medieval History and Old Norse Literature.

    List of Figures


    Abbreviations and Explanatory Notes


    Chapter 1 Defining the berserkr

    Chapter 2 The monstrous berserkr

    Chapter 3 Berserksgangr: fit or frenzy?

    Chapter 4 The etymology and meaning of berserkr

    Chapter 5 The Viking Age reality of berserkir

    Chapter 6 Towards new paradigms for berserkir

    Appendix 1 Incidence of names of berserkir and where to find them in Old Norse literature

    Appendix 2 Haraldskvæði: the earliest reference to berserkir



    Roderick Dale has worked as an archaeologist throughout the United Kingdom and in research roles at University College Cork and the University of Nottingham. He currently works at the University of Stavanger. His research interests include Old Norse literature, Viking Age history and the reception of vikings in popular culture.

    "This is a fascinating, authoritative analysis of one of the most widespread images of the Viking world"

    - James Holloway, Fortean Times