You Wouldn’t Survive the Viking Age, so Let’s Not Go Back

You Wouldn’t Survive the Viking Age, so Let’s Not Go Back

It’s easy to look at a previous time in history and think it would be the perfect time for you to live in.  But honestly, you wouldn’t survive the Viking Era, so don’t try to recreate it. I know there’s a bunch of you out there who are crying “Bullshit!” You’re pounding your chests and announcing that you could survive it.

Well, kiddos, you are so wrong.  And I’m here to prove it.  Read on, MacDuff…

Why We Are So Screwed if a Time Machine Sent Us Back

We think a lot about the halcyon days of  our ancestors.  How things were simple.  How people lived together in kindreds for protection.  Some of us has romanticized it enough to the point where we not only try to study the past, but we try to reconstruct and live in it.

Stupid idea.

Could You Survive in the Viking Age?

Let me ask you some questions, and we’ll see how well you do on this.  Be honest.

  1. Have you had the common cold, flu, or diarrhea and never during your lifetime took modern day medications of any sort, nor received any modern medical treatments?
  2. Do you have a chronic condition (asthma, arthritis, migraines, high blood pressure, diabetes, Crone’s, allergies, Lyme disease, depression, etc) and have never had treatment for it nor taken any medications for it?
  3. Have you never used toothpaste and have you never visited a dentist?
  4. Have you ever broken any bones (other than fingers and toes) and not received treatment?
  5. Have you ever had cancer, malaria, the plague, tuberculosis, hantavirus, or typhoid, and never received treatment for them?
  6. Have you ever cut yourself deeply and not used bandages and antibiotic ointments?
  7. Have you never used antibiotics?
  8. Have you never been vaccinated or treated for a disease medically?
  9. Are you older than 120 years?

If you’ve answered “no” to all of the above, congrats!  You would probably not survive in the Viking Age.  If you’ve answered “no” to most of the questions, you probably would not survive in the Viking Age. If you’ve answered “no” to one of those questions, you probably would not survive in the Viking Age.

If you live in a Western country and answer “yes” to any of those questions (with maybe the exception of #4) I call bullshit, and say you’re a liar. (Especially #9, unless you happen to be the  Doctor.)  Sorry kids, but chances are you’ve had some sort of wondrous medicine that goes beyond the medical knowledge of the 9th century.

Healthcare was Crude, at Best

Most doctors during that time were women. There isn’t a lot written about basic medicine, and almost nothing about the types of herbs used. Most wounds had ointment applied to them and bound with some sort of linen bandages.  The real nasty wounds were cauterized with hot metal.  Infection was rampant. Chances are if you didn’t die in battle, you’d be meeting Hel in Helheim after you died from infection.

Disease killed children, and one in three would not reach adulthood because of it and other factors. (More later.)


Very little is written about childbirth, but we can assume given the frightening percentage of fatalities I mention later, that a fair portion of women died while giving birth.  This may explain why more men reached “old age” than women.

How Long Did People Live Back Then?

I’d like to say people were tougher back then.  Whether through luck or genetics, our ancestors survived the Darwin crap shoot and managed to procreate before the meanness of the times caught up with them.  Because nearly one third of all Viking children would not make it to adulthood, it meant you had a one in three chance of dying, usually from exotic Viking things like disease, famine, and malnutrition.

Now, let’s say you were a young man and managed to make it to adulthood (our version of adulthood at age 21).  By the time you were thirty, assuming you weren’t one of the casualties, you’d find that half the men you knew of your age (50 percent) were dead.  If you were a young woman, you fared a little better, losing more than another third (35 percent) to disease, warfare, and childbirth.  Women who managed to live to 41 through 50, would see almost half (45 percent) mortality.  And by that time, 80 percent of all males who would have been in those age brackets were already dead.

Old Age 

If you’re a Millennial, you may be thinking that old age is greater than 50.

Fuck you.

I say that with all sincerity because I am older than dirt, by your reckoning.  But you’d be correct in the Viking Age when people generally didn’t make it past 50.  Only 5 percent of women and maybe 7 percent of men died then.  That means you had a 95 percent chance of dying before you were 51, if you were a woman, and a 93 percent chance of dying before you were 51 if you were a man in that era.

If you think that 50 is old, it’s because you’re young now.  Bad news: the years fly by fast and you’ll be a 50 year old wondering what in the Hel happened to the 20 year old you were.  To quote Pink Floyd:

“You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”

Time, Pink Floyd, David Gilmour & Richard Wright

 I haven’t even gotten into the caste system that our ancestors had.  That is a discussion for another day. So, I can say that you probably would be dead by the time you’re the age you are now. 

So, don’t wish you were there.

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