Vikings had a reputation as fearless fighters. It was said that they did not fear death. Just what did they believe happened to them when they died?
The Viking warrior was a hero to his kinsfolk. Men were encouraged to do battle and a violent death brought honour. The Valkyries chose only the fallen warriors to be admitted in to Valhalla. There they were engaged in constant combat as they trained for Ragnarök, the final battle. It was no place for women, they preferred to go to Folkvang under the protection of the God Freya.
Those who died of old age or illness went to the after-life in Hel, a gloomy place, the domain of a demonic Goddess. In 10th century Sweden, a dog was placed in the grave of someone who died of illness, to help them get in to Hel, as dogs guarded the gates.
Rich and powerful men and women were sometimes buried under large mounds. The higher the mound, the wealthier was the deceased, for the cost of creating them was immense.
In Old Uppsala, in Sweden, the “Kings’ Mounds” are the largest funerary monuments in Scandinavia. To give an impression of greater height they were built on a ridge. It is estimated that it would have taken a hundred men three months, to build one mound.
At the Viking trading town of Birka there were more graves than anywhere else in Scandinavia. Not now! In 19th century a merchant excavated a thousand graves and ground the skeletons of the dead into bone meal.