Frequently one reads in modern history books that the Vikings `never wore horned helmets`. This is emphasised time and time again, so much so that this has made me suspicious of why this is reiterated.
Depending on how you define a Viking they may in a narrow sense be correct. For instance if one is referring to that limited period of Scandinavian and European history known as the Viking era then there is probably no evidence for their use.
However the Viking era is a limited period of history from the 8th to the 11th centuries CE and in my opinion too much emphasis is placed on this period of Germanic history. This is something that those of us who are part of the Germanic heathen reawakening need to reflect upon.
There is however abundant evidence that Germanic warriors and probably priests DID wear such headgear. Similar evidence also exists amongst the Celtic peoples. There is first of all written evidence by classical writers such as Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch that make reference to northern European warriors such as Celts and Teutons wearing horned and even winged helmets. The common argument that it was not `practical` is not evidence at all, merely an opinion. In the Middle Ages, in the Age of Chivalry that is, knights were often portrayed wearing similar headgear and clearly these helmets did not impair their battle prowess! The Order of the Teutonic Knights in particular were very fond of this kind of headgear.
There is also archaeological and artistic evidence that certainly in the Bronze Age and early Iron Age such headgear was worn by northern warriors.For example in 1942 two Bronze Age horned helmets were discovered in Vekso in Denmark. On the Arch of Constantine from 315CE there are Germanic warriors called Cornuti depicted wearing horned helmets in the Battle of Verona in 312CE. Interestingly the etymology of Cornuti does suggest `horn`. Decorative plates on the Sutton Hoo helmet depict dancing men wearing horned helmets but this no doubt was connected to ritualistic activity. The Finglesham belt buckle portrays a similar figure which many consider could be an image of Woden or His priest. This motif is repeated in the chalk image of the Long Man of Wilmington although the figure does not have a horned helmet there is speculation that he once did. However we do not necessarily have exactly the original figure. More than likely it was changed over the centuries either by accident or by design. Horned helmets were not the preserve of just the warriors but clearly also part of the priestly regalia. Again this should give us food for thought when we as practicing Germanic heathens consider our own regalia. The Gundestrup cauldron from Denmark also shows numerous horned helmeted figures-again engaged in ritualistic activity. Bronze statuettes, possibly votive offerings have been recovered such as the horned helmeted and torc wearing figurine from Grevensvaenge in Zealand, Denmark. The right arm is missing but it is speculated that he carried an axe or a hammer and thus could be considered to be a representation of the Thunder God.
A very spectacular horned helmet found in 1868 in the river Thames, known as the Waterloo Helmet dates back to 150-50 BCE. The fragile construction of the helmet suggests that it was for ceremonial rather than battle use.
There is simply too much evidence for us to say that the Germanic and Celtic peoples did not wear horned helmets for either ceremonial, ritualistic or warfare purposes. It is likely that such practices continued into the Viking era but used only for ritualistic or ceremonial purposes-until of course the Age of Chivalry when warriors once again adopted them!
What we now must ask ourselves is why did our ancestors wear them and I believe that the answer can be found in the mythology and religious practices of our Neolithic and Bronze Age forefathers. The Horned God is a very common archetype and existed in many forms throughout northern Europe.There is a whole chapter contained within Pagan Celtic Britain[Anne Ross, 1967] which discusses this archetype but within a British context. She states that "The cult of the horned god is perhaps second only in importance to the cult of the head." The prehistoric nature of this deity is emphasised: "the Celts drew to a large extent upon concepts derived from beliefs and symbols current in northern Europe and elsewhere in the proto-Celtic and Bronze Age phases of pre-history." She makes reference to the "ancestry of the Celtic cult of horned gods in Europe" being "furnished by the series of figures from prehistoric Denmark, depicted on rock or bronze."
The most famous horned deity in northern Europe is of course the Celtic Cernnunos or the Anglo-Saxon Herne, both names derived from `horn`. No doubt warriors adopted horned helmets for the same reason that Berserkers wore bear shirts and Ulfhednar[Wolfheads] worse wolf pelts-in order to be empowered by the ferocity of these creatures. They also became impervious to wounds and injuries incurred in battle.
The horns no doubt conferred feelings of force and power upon their wearers. Berserkers were not just confined to the Germanic world but there is mythological evidence that the Celts were acquainted with this idea also, such as the semi-divine Cu Chulainn who entered a rage called the `warp spasm`!
How far these horn helmeted northern warriors traveled is indicated by Juergen Spanuth in his excellent although out of print Atlantis of the North:
"Here the ancient Egyptian artists, in their typical naturalistic style, have preserved the likenesses of many hundreds of North Sea warriors, with the horned helmets, rayed crowns, flange-hilted swords, types of ship and racial characteristics typical of the people who inhabited northern Europe at that time."