The air is still over Lake Femsjøen, Norway, as 200 Viking fighters in full steel-plate armor, spears and round shields, stream out of the sports hall where they spent the night.
It’s the second day of Vinter, a Viking fighter training weekend held every year in Norway, where historical martial artists gather to hone their swordsmanship. More than a fourth of the fighters here are women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who are blazing new trails in the world of historical re-enactment.
Vinter organizer Kristin Hage has addressed the crowd of rowdy Vikings all weekend. The 25-year-old has been fighting for almost six years. “It began when I joined a Viking and re-enactment group in Norway,” she explains. “We were mainly handcrafting. But I had many friends who wanted me to try Viking-style fighting.”
When Hage began fighting, there were not many women in the ranks of historical fighters. “There were a few girls in my group. I remember thinking I wanted to be as good as them. I now want to be a role model for other new female fighters. I also want to show that women can be fierce warriors.” Men and women trade equal blows in pitched battles at Vinter, and female warriors are now on our TV screens in Vikings, but the European fighting scene remains dominated by men. Some festivals ban women from the battlefield, and some groups enforce a strict “no women” policy.
“There is a lot of underlying patriarchal sexism that people barely notice,” Saga Hegelund, a Swedish fighter, explains.
Those in the historical reenactment scene are also concerned by the far-right adoption of Viking symbology. In October, a group of male and female reenactors united under the Vikings Against Racism banner to protest a Swedish neo-Nazi march.
Thankfully, the growing number of women picking up swords means that historical fighting won’t remain a boys’ club for long. "Some of the most badass fighters I know are women," Ingelin Skei, a Norwegian fighter, says.“To be honest, it should really come down to ‘are you in or are you out?" or, even better, ‘let’s fight!'”