As archaeologists, we’ve spent over thirty years studying warrior women from a variety of cultures around the world, and, we have to tell you, shieldmaidens pose a problem.
Stories of Viking warrior women are found in a number of historical documents, but several come from factually unreliable heroic sagas, fornaldarsogur. A good example is Hervor’s and Heidrek’s Saga. After the hero, Angantyr, falls in battle his daughter Hervor takes her father’s sword and uses it to avenge his death by killing his enemies. There are similar stories of Brynhilde and Freydis, in Sigurd’s Saga and the Saga of the Greenlanders. But in each case the story is more about myth-making than fact. As well, these are tales of individual women who are highly skilled with swords and fight in battles, but give no evidence for a ‘community’ of women warriors, which the shieldmaidens are supposed to have been.