what is a Viking berserker?

Berserker was a kind of warriors in Norse mythology. They could shift into a state of wild frenzy when becoming angry, which enabled them to engage the enemy without armor. This was also the origin of in word “Berserker” in English.

berserker symbol

“Berserker” is composed of “Ber” and “Serk” and considered to originally mean “the warrior wearing bearskin”, as it is said that they charged only wearing bearskin. Later, this word was used to refer to a fierce warrior with exceptional power. Besides, some other relevant words were also mentioned in legends, such as “Úlfhéðnar” (the warrior wearing wolf skin) and “Svinfylking” (the warrior wearing wild boar skin).

According to legend, in normal times the Berserkers were no different from common warriors, but in a time of emergency they would be in a state of egoless frenzy, become as powerful as wolf and invincible on the battlefield. The Berserkers could even killed enemies with bare hands or bite the enemy’s throat off without armors or weapons. But they would immediately collapse once their anger subsided.

The Berserkers would have a pre-battle ceremony called “Berserkergang” before they entered in a state of collective trance. In this state, they would howl like wolves, bite the enemies’ shields and kill everything in their way regardless of enemies or friendlies.

As 13-century Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson described, “In the imperial guards of Harald I, there were Berserkers who could not be hurt by any weapon”.

The Viking Berserkers

The so-called “Berserker” refers to a kind of tough warriors in Norse mythology. As Vikings lived in the freezing Nordic region where the strongest land animal was bear, they particularly worshipped bears. The lifestyle of Vikings determined that they were often involved in cold arms battles where physical ability was the decisive factor to the victory. Vikings worshipped bears and believed that they could obtain bear-like power when wearing bearskin. Therefore, the tall and strong soldiers in Viking troops wore bearskin, used heavy weapons such as axes, and fought as elites.

The Berserkers fought much better than common warriors, because they were physically stronger, protected by bearskin and equipped with more powerful weapons. The Berserkers always played key roles in battles, and therefore they were revered by both enemies and comrades. Belligerent Vikings left many Berserker-related legends. Belligerent Nordic warriors believed that, if they received blessings from Odin, they could acquire the “Berserker rage”, the power of bear’s spirit, so that they would become the Berserkers that were invincible in the battlefield.

Vikings were known for their valor and vigor in battles. The evidence suggests Viking warriors sometimes became frenzied and launched almost brutal attacks regardless of any danger. Such acts were very terrible, and reflected Viking warriors’ strong desire to fight. The Berserkers were the warriors in Norse mythology whose abilities were beyond the limits of normal human beings. They could feel neither fatigue nor terror in the battlefield. What they would do was keeping killing with their extraordinary physical strength till the end of battle.

Where did the Berserkers come from?

Vikings liked various competitive games from their childhood. They were good at horse-riding, weightlifting, boating and swimming, and the tribal assembly held every year was also the “Olympic Games” in Nordic region. The most popular sport among Vikings was wrestling. They marked out an open field, placed a cuspidal stone at the center, then the participants would try their best to push their opponent onto the stone. Both the winner and loser were often covered with wounds and blood. Besides, they also competed in archery, skiing and skating. Even when they stayed at home and played the board game from Arabia in winter time, they were always practicing the tactics of attack and defense. All these competitions and games were held for one goal: producing stronger warriors.

Growing up in such an environment, Vikings naturally became tough warriors. They showed extraordinary frenzy, toughness and bravery in the  battle. As the Berserkers were small in number, they usually relied on careful planning and surprising attacking. In usual cases, the Viking assaults could be divided into two parts: first throwing spears or launching arrows bound with lit torches at a long distance; then engaging the enemies at close quarters with swords and axes.

How Berserkers fought at sea

The battles at sea showed more about the toughness of Vikings, and they were also more brutal. When two warships encountered, different from normal pirates who would tried to make a bluff and then swarmed up onto enemy ships, Vikings usually followed their old tradition: binding two ships together and then placing a springboard on the bow. The both parties sent one man onto the springboard in each round, let them have an one-on-one fight till someone was killed. Another man would be sent when the previous one was killed. There would be neither mass fight nor permission to retreat.  Every man that stepped onto the springboard had only one task: killing all the enemies. If he was killed in action, the succeeding comrade would revenge for him. If he was too afraid to fight, he could turn around and jump into the sea; no one would chase after deserters. But deserters would be despised by all the Vikings. Even his family would take him as a dead man and never allow him to return home.

A similar combat mode was called “Da Lei Tai” in ancient China. The essential of this mode was: the first man going into the combat was usually the best fighter, or the fiercest warrior like Li Kui in the Water Margin.

How Berserkers fought

Vikings went into battle bare to the waist and roared roughly. The extreme wrath made Vikings look usually powerful. They did not look like fighting desperately, but enjoying the pleasant sensation of desperate fights. Because they knew, the springboard under their feet was soaked by the blood of their ancestors. And their descendents would continue the desperate fights on the same springboard. They could not fail either their ancestors or their descendants.

The warriors who fought desperately on springboards were called the “Berserkers”. Every Viking was proud of being a Berserker and killing enemy Berserkers. Nobody knows why such primitive type of battles stimulated so amazing human nature, but the stories of Berserkers will be passed down from generation to generation as part of the spirit of Vikings.

viking berserkers history

The historical records of Viking berserkers are vague and unclear. They are part of Norse mythology and Viking legends, considered as warriors possessing furious and fearless power. During the Viking Age, berserkers were depicted as fighting while wearing bear or boar skins, and they were believed to possess ferocious and courageous strength. However, in historical records, there are different perspectives on whether berserkers truly existed. Some historians believe that berserkers were only a part of myths and legends and did not exist in reality. On the other hand, other historians think that berserkers might have existed in certain specific circumstances, such as entering a state of frenzy due to anger or excitement in battle, but this does not mean they possessed supernatural powers. In conclusion, despite being part of Norse mythology and Viking legends, the actual existence of berserkers in history remains a subject of debate.

famous viking berserkers

famous viking warriors

Viking berserkers are warriors depicted in Norse mythology and Viking legends, possessing furious and fearless power. They are often portrayed as fighting while wearing bear or boar skins and are seen as embodying ferocious and courageous strength.

Among them, Bǫðvarr Bjarki is a great hero and berserker in Norse mythology, known for his incredible strength and frenzy in battle. According to legends, he once wielded the first sword of Norway single-handedly and accomplished an impossible task. Although he ultimately fought for his people and met a tragic end, his bravery and fierce power are celebrated by later generations.

Finn McCool is the greatest warrior in Irish mythology, renowned for his unmatched bravery, exceptional combat skills, and wisdom. He led the Irish forces to defeat the invading English and became a beloved hero in the hearts of the Irish people.

Beowulf is a hero and Viking warrior from Sweden, also symbolizing a frenzy of power. According to legends, he fought and triumphed over a malevolent dragon, cementing his status as a hero in the hearts of the Swedish people.

Overall, the historical records of Viking berserkers are vague and unclear, but as part of Norse mythology and Viking legends, they have been celebrated and passed down through the ages.

why were vikings called berserkers?

Berserkers, known as “狂战士” in Chinese, were warriors from Norse mythology and Viking legends who were said to enter a frenzied and uncontrollable state during battle. They would become wildly aggressive, disregarding all danger, and exhibit a strong desire for combat. In the Viking Age, they were depicted as fighting while wearing bear or boar skins, and they were believed to possess ferocious and courageous strength. Overall, they were called “狂战士” because of their fierce and fanatical behavior in battle, which inspired fear and was attributed to possessing special powers.

The term “Berserker” is believed to have originated from Old Norse, where “Ber” (bear) and “Serk” (shirt) combined to refer to “bear-shirted” individuals. According to legend, they charged into battle wearing only bear skins. Over time, the term evolved to signify warriors with exceptional strength and valor. There are also related terms in legends, such as “Úlfhéðnar,” who fought wearing wolf skins, and “Svinfylking,” who fought wearing boar skins.

Legends described Berserkers as having similar strength to regular warriors under normal circumstances. However, in moments of crisis, they could enter a trance-like, berserk state, unleashing extraordinary and fearsome power on the battlefield. It was said that they could even fight without wearing armor or wielding weapons, using their bare hands to kill enemies or biting through their throats. After the fury subsided, Berserkers would immediately fall into a state of exhaustion.

Snorri Sturluson, a 13th-century Icelandic historian, once described them as follows: “In King Harald’s guard were berserkers who were immune to iron and to fire.”

how did vikings become berserkers?

The Vikings were a people who enjoyed various competitive and challenging games from an early age. These games included horse racing, weightlifting, rowing, sailing, swimming, and more. Each year, tribal gatherings served as the Nordic Olympics. Among these sports, wrestling was the most favored by the Vikings. They would place a pointed stone in the center of an open area and two opponents would try to force each other onto the stone, often resulting in both the winner and loser covered in blood. Additionally, they competed in archery, skiing, ice-skating, and even indoor board games of Arab origin during winter, all aimed at practicing offensive and defensive skills. The sole purpose of these competitions and games was to train stronger warriors.

Growing up in such a competitive and challenging environment naturally molded the Vikings into fierce warriors. In battles, they displayed extraordinary fanaticism, toughness, and a willingness to die for their cause. Due to their smaller numbers, the Vikings relied on meticulous planning and surprise attacks during combat. Their assaults typically involved two parts: first, throwing spears and shooting arrows with torches attached from a distance, followed by close-range combat using swords and battle axes.

Viking warfare was not only about courage and combat prowess but also about careful planning and teamwork. They would conduct extensive research and strategizing before battles to ensure each engagement had the best chances of success. They relied on teamwork, cooperating with each other, leveraging their individual strengths, and effectively striking at their enemies.

The Vikings’ strength and bravery were also reflected in their survival capabilities. They could endure extreme environments, whether it was freezing winters or scorching summers, adapting and surviving in any condition. This survival ability gave the Vikings better adaptability and endurance during battles, allowing them to maintain their vigor over extended periods of fighting.

In conclusion, the Vikings’ strength and bravery were cultivated through competitive games and intense battles. Their continuous challenges and competitions molded them into a formidable force, characterized by extraordinary fanaticism, toughness, and a willingness to face death fearlessly. This spirit gave the Vikings a significant advantage in battles, making them an influential power in the Nordic region.

were viking berserkers real

The existence of Viking berserkers is a subject of historical debate, and there is no definitive evidence to confirm or refute their reality. Berserkers are mentioned in various Old Norse sagas and poetry, which are literary sources that often blend history with mythology. In these sources, berserkers are portrayed as warriors who enter a state of uncontrollable rage, fighting with reckless abandon and seemingly immune to pain and injury.

Some historians argue that berserkers may have been real warriors who used psychological tactics or substances to enhance their battle frenzy, such as consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms or engaging in ritualistic practices to induce altered states of consciousness. These altered states could have given them a fearless and frenzied appearance on the battlefield.

On the other hand, some scholars believe that berserkers were more likely to be legendary figures or exaggerations based on cultural beliefs and storytelling traditions. The sagas and poems could have been influenced by mythological motifs and symbolic representations rather than depicting actual historical individuals.

As there is no direct archaeological evidence or detailed contemporary accounts about berserkers, it is challenging to determine their true existence. While Viking warriors were undoubtedly fierce and skilled in battle, the specific concept of berserkers as we commonly understand them today remains somewhat elusive and shrouded in mystery.

valkyries and berserkers

Valkyries and berserkers are two distinct figures in Norse mythology and Viking culture.


Valkyries are female figures in Norse mythology who serve the god Odin. They are often depicted as beautiful and powerful warrior maidens who ride on winged horses and choose who will live and die in battle. The Valkyries select fallen warriors from the battlefield and bring them to Valhalla, Odin’s hall in Asgard, where the honored dead prepare for Ragnarok, the final battle.

The word “Valkyrie” is derived from Old Norse and means “chooser of the slain.” These divine maidens have a significant role in the Norse belief system, as they determine the fate of warriors on the battlefield. While they are associated with death, they are also linked to heroism and glory, as those who are chosen by Valkyries are destined for a special place in Valhalla.


Berserkers, on the other hand, are fierce and possibly legendary Viking warriors known for their ferocity and battle frenzy. The term “berserker” is derived from Old Norse words: “ber-” meaning “bear” and “-serkr” meaning “shirt” or “coat.” This has led to the interpretation that berserkers wore bear or animal pelts as they went into battle, connecting them with animal-like attributes and characteristics.

Berserkers were believed to enter a state of uncontrollable rage or “berserkergang,” where they fought with extraordinary strength, disregarding pain and injury. They were often portrayed as fearless and nearly unstoppable on the battlefield. The exact cause of their frenzy is a subject of debate among scholars. Some theories suggest that berserkers may have used psychological techniques, ritualistic practices, or consumed substances to induce altered states of mind.

It is important to note that while Valkyries and berserkers both have connections to warfare and the battlefield, they are fundamentally different figures in Norse mythology. Valkyries are divine beings associated with fate and the afterlife, while berserkers are mortal warriors renowned for their aggressive and intense fighting style. Both play distinctive roles in the complex tapestry of Norse mythology and Viking culture.

why did berserkers bite their shields?

The historical accuracy of berserkers biting their shields is debated, as much of what is known about them comes from myths and sagas rather than concrete historical records. However, the biting of shields is a common motif in Norse sagas and literature when describing berserker behavior during battle.

There are several theories and interpretations regarding why berserkers may have bitten their shields:

Battle Frenzy: One prevalent theory is that the act of biting the shield was a manifestation of their battle frenzy or “berserkergang.” Berserkers were believed to enter an altered state of mind before or during battle, where they became almost animal-like in their ferocity. Biting the shield could have been a way to channel their aggression, boost adrenaline, and psych themselves up for combat.

Symbolic Gesture: Biting the shield might have been a symbolic act, representing the berserker’s readiness to face death in battle. It could have been a display of their fearlessness and determination to fight until the end.

Battle Cry: Biting the shield could have served as a battle cry or a way to intimidate their enemies. The loud noise created by biting and gnashing on their shields might have added to the overall chaos and fear that berserkers instilled in their opponents.

Ritualistic Aspect: Some historians suggest that biting the shield could have had a ritualistic or spiritual significance. It might have been a form of invoking protective spirits or gods, seeking divine assistance or blessings before entering the fray.

It’s important to remember that berserkers are figures from ancient Norse mythology and history, and the exact practices and motivations behind their behavior are not fully understood. The biting of shields remains an intriguing and enigmatic aspect of the berserker legends, adding to their aura of fierceness and mystery in Viking lore.


Viking Jewelry