Detailed Viking Tattoo Guide With History, Meanings & Viking Tattoo Symbols

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It’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to come up with your own viking tattoo. The topic covers a broad chunk of history, art and symbolism that all comes together when creating this particular tattoo design.

In the spirit of the Viking age Scandinavians, viking tattoos represent applied art where we use the elements of Norse mythology, Viking art, personal symbols and style to create a unique piece of art to claim as our own.

Let’s dive deep into this world of magic, gods, animal spirits, beautiful decorations, runes and more!

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Every Tattoo Has A Story – Viking Tattoo History

Where did this all start?

Viking age is referred to as a little over 250-year period between 8th and 11th century when the Viking raided, explored and traded from what is now Canada to the Middle East.

Their lore is usually seen only through the Scandinavian heritage, but they’ve impacted and lived across a vast area.

Even though the Vikings were considered barbarian by the rest of Europe, their art was actually pretty sophisticated.

Viking craftsmen excelled in woodwork and metalwork, adorning brooches, weapons, implements, and ship timbers with abstracted animal forms and elaborate patterns of interlace, while runic texts and complementary scenes were inscribed on stones and rock faces. 

Today, we draw inspiration and try to use precisely the elements and symbols found in their applied arts to design viking tattoos.

Through the animal and spiritual motifs used to embellish objects we see the unique way of how the Vikings were thinking about the world.

Furthermore, to understand the elements we use in Viking tattoo art, we need to look at the different historical art styles. 

There are 3 historically consecutive Viking art styles that we see used mostly in Viking tattoo designs:

  • The Oseberg style: popular throughout mainland Scandinavia, with remarking and intricate wood carving that continue to inspire what we know today as Viking art,
  • The Jelling style: this is the style that starts introducing  the Jelling style featured a set of interlacing creatures that form a row of fluid, S-shaped forms we commonly see in Viking tribal tattoos. 
  • The Mammen style: the latest Viking art style (10-11th century), it was named after the archeological finding of the ceremonial axe head that continues to inspire the Viking axe tattoos. Its compositions span elongated waves and terminate in loose tendrils

Viking Tattoo Symbols

If you’re trying to figure out what to feature in your unique Viking tattoo design, you can tap into many different aspects of Viking culture.

From their extensive Norse mythology, runes, animal references, and decorative carvings, there are many elements to choose from.

Here is a list you can use to get started:

  • Viking runes, also called “Futhark” – believed by the Vikings to have had special powers, runes were only used to convey special and extraordinary messages. When trying to transcribe modern messages into runes, it’s important to understand that runes relate to specific phonetic sounds, but also have individual meanings, like glyphs in other ancient cultures.
  • Mjölnir (the magic hammer of Thor)
  • Valknut (Odin’s Knot) – Viking Symbol Meaning “Slain warrior”,
  • Ægishjálmr (the Helm of Awe) – a Norse divine symbol of protection and victory, with eight completely identical beams
  • Vegvisir (the Viking Compass)  – very similar to Ægishjálmr, but Vegvisir consists of eight “beams” that meet in the center, that are different, in contrast toÆgishjálmr
  • Triple Horn of Odin – three interlocking horns that represent Odin’s quest for poetry
  • Tribal Viking axe
  • Yggdrasil (the Tree of Life) – the sacred tree in the Norse mythology
  • Drakkars – Old Nordic warship that had special construction, and were very fast
  • Odin’s ravens (Hugin and Munin) – Odin’s messengers, they sit on Odin’s shoulders and tell him all that they saw. Hugin represents ‘memory’ and Munin represents ‘thought’.
  • Wolves (Fenrir) – monstrous wolf of Norse mythology, the son of the god Loki and a giantess, Angerboda, and has an instrumental role in Ragnarök
  • Dragon (Norse Serpents) – there are a lot of dragons in Norse mythology. The greatest ones are Jormungandr (the world serpent), Fafnir and Nidhogg.
  • Viking TV show characters – Ragnar, main character (played by Travis Fimmel), his son Bjorn (played by Alexander Ludwig), Floki, excentric boat builder (played by Gustaf Skarsgård), and the fan favorite female character Lagertha (played by Katheryn Winnick).

Most common Norse gods depicted in tattoos:

  1. Odin – the Allfather, chief deity, associated with wisdom, poetry, and war
  2. Thor – god of thunder, known for his mighty hammer, Mjölnir
  3. Loki – the trickster god, cunning and mischievous
  4. Freyja – goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and war
  5. Baldr – the beloved god, symbolizing positive attributes and qualities
  6. Vidar – silent and stoic god associated with vengeance and retribution
  7. Njord – god of the sea, associated with seafaring, wealth, and prosperity
  8. Freyr – god of fertility, prosperity, and abundance

As far as events from the Norse mythology that are commonly depicted, Ragnarök (also known as the “Doom of the Gods”) stands out.

 In Scandinavian mythology is the end of the world of gods and men, which makes for an amazing theme for a Viking tattoo sleeve.

Best Viking Tattoo Placements

It’s not uncommon to go for a viking sleeve tattoo given that this theme flourishes when done on a big sized canvas.

In a sleeve a lot of Viking tattoo symbols and elements can be included to create a majestic tattoo art.

Furthermore, the most devoted Viking age fans, a viking head tattoo or viking face tattoo  portrays their commitment to the values and story behind the symbol.

If you are looking for a more hidden placement, a viking chest tattoo gives a lot of space to work with, especially for a scene from Norse mythology or the Odin’s Ravens.

One placement you cannot go wrong with is a viking forearm tattoo, that can cover a wide range of Viking themes, and styles.

Viking Tattoo Ideas

To help you with your research for your next tattoo design, we went on a hunt through Instagram to find the best viking tattoo ideas.

Take a look below to check them out all:

Viking Compass Tattoo

The viking compass tattoo refers to using the Vegvisir as the center of the tattoo.

The literal meaning is the “way” (vegr) “shower” (vísir), it’s a symbol meant to prevent the person carrying it from losing their way, and is known colloquially as “The Nordic Compass”. 

Viking Sleeve Tattoo

For the viking sleeve tattoo the most popular tattoo style is realism, especially when depicting Norse gods or characters from the Viking TV Show (2013).

Odin and his ravens, Freya and Fenrir are most commonly portrayed, as well as some viking tribal elements.

Viking Head Tattoo

When it comes to the viking head tattoo, below we have examples that depict the vegvisir, drakkar ship head, runes and Huginn and Munnin.

The tattoos commonly are done in thick lines, with dotwork or minimal shading to keep the tattoos looking good long term (as the head get s exposed to the sun the most).

Viking Warrior Tattoo

Viking warriors were skilled Scandinavian seafarers and fighters during the Viking age, coming from regions like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. 

The Viking society, steeped in honor and martial prowess, celebrated legendary individuals who achieved renown through their exploits. 

The Viking TV show (2013) humanized and brought them to modern culture by showing their lives in 6 seasons, like the middle example below featuring Ragnar (played by Travis Fimmel).

Viking Ship Tattoo

The Vikings were heavily reliant on surviving on water – either to fish for food, or to travel to many different fjords and distant lands.

That means, they were excellent boatsman and crafters of both small fishing boats and their famous longships.

Vikings used longships to make raids and carry their warriors. Often, the prow (front) of the ship was decorated with a carving of an animal head – perhaps a dragon or a snake. 

These are often portrayed in viking ship tattoos, in many different tattoo styles that make amazing tattoo art.

Viking Wolf Tattoo

Fenrir is the great wolf in Norse mythology who breaks free from his chains at Ragnarök, the twilight of the gods, kills Odin, and is then killed by Odin’s son Vidarr.

As such, the wolf is considered to be a villain-like character of the Doom of the Gods story, even though the only reason he became the agent of chaos is because he was mistreated by all the gods.

That said, the Viking wolf tattoo reflects on this story, and usually featured the wolf as aggressive or mean.

Viking Axe Tattoo

Vikings used axes in their everyday life, and a lot. Every man had multiple axes, for different functions around the house, to build ships, for hunting, and, of course, fighting.

Viking warriors were peasants, so it makes sense that they predominantly fought with axes.

It’s only logical that being surrounded by so many objects made out of wood that woodcarving will become so widespread.

One of the important archeological findings is a magnificent iron axe decorated with silver inlay that was found in the grave of the deceased magnate from Mammen. It featured the Yggdrasil (tree of life) on one side of it.

Viking axe tattoos take the carving decorations found in different ancient Norse-inspired decorations and elements, and infuse it in incredible tattoo art.

Viking Tribal Tattoo

Viking tribal tattoos mostly take references from the boat and ceremonial wood carvings, along with runes and mythical animals, and join them in beautiful tattoo designs.

Two are particularly widespread: the “ribbon-animal” and the “gripping beast.”

Sometimes, artists also draw inspiration from the Polynesian tribal style, but fusing it with elements from the Scandinavian lore.

Vikings were not afraid of death, as it was considered the rite of passage to Valhalla to live with Odin for those who died bravely in battle.

That said, skull as the symbol of death is closely connected to the Viking culture, and the reason why there are many Viking skull tattoo takes on the internet.

Viking Raven Tattoo

According to the Norse mythology, Hugin and Munin are the ravens in Norse mythology who are the animal spirits of Odin, who is called the “raven-god”

Ravens are carrion birds, present after a battle took place to scour the battlefield. To Vikings, to slay someone in battle was, in a sense, to give the ravens a gift.

And not only the ravens, but to Odin, too, as he was the god of war. Thus, the association between the raven and Odin was only natural for the Norse.

Viking raven tattoo examples below show that close connection between Odin and Ravens, usually in realistic style with a lot of detail.

Viking Sword Tattoo

Besides axes, Vikings also fought with swords.

Carolingian sword is the type of sword prevalent in Western and Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages, and it could weigh up to 1.5kg.

In viking sword tattoos we can see many different takes on the sword, infusing it with different Viking lore symbols such as Valknut, Yggdrasil, Fenrir, and others.

Viking Runes Tattoo

The Norse and other Germanic peoples wrote with runes since at least the first century.

Unlike how we use our alphabets today in the Western world, runes also had magical powers, basically used as inscriptions of great importance.

Runes can be seen in many viking tattoos, either as transcriptions (if such is possible) or as manuscripts from some popular runestone carvings.

Are you looking for a custom viking tattoo design? We got you.

Our expert tattoo artists will provide a quick initial draft to get you going.
Happy inking ❤

Milena Petrovic

Milena Petrovic

Co-founder of Tattoo Stylist

About the author

Milena has decided to start an organization that will create a safe environment for everybody to get their first, second or third tattoo and to encourage young people to transform their ideas into tattoos safely, with talent and vision.

You can find her writing about tattoos on Quora or updating our Pinterest profile with awesome tattoo ideas!

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