When medieval writers from Europe and other lands wrote about the frightning Norse raiders, they frequently mentioned that the invading Vikings were very tall.
In 921, an Arab, Ibn Fadlan was sent by the Caliph of Bagdad to accompany an embassy to the King of the Bulgars of the Middle Volga. Ibn Fadlan wrote an account of his journeys with the embassy, called a Risala. During the course of his journey, Ibn Fadlan met a people called the Rus, a group of Swedish origin, acting as traders in the Bulgar capital. Ibn Fadlan tells us:
“I have seen the Rus as they came on their merchant journeys and encamped by the Volga. I have never seen more perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blonde and ruddy…”
European observers made similar observations. The Annals of Fulda record that, in 884, the Franks defeated a party of attacking Vikings in a battle in Saxony, mentioning their great size:
Quales numquam antea in gente Francorum visi fuissent, in pulchritudine videlicet ac proceritate corporum.
[In that battle such men are said to have been killed among the Northmen as had never been seen before among the Frankish people, namely in their beauty and the size of their bodies]. (Coupland, pp. 188-189)
The question is, do these anecdotal reports reflect reality? To answer this question, archaeologists turn to studies of bones from Viking graves. A study by Richard H. Steckel,Health and Nutrition in the Preindustrial Era: Insights from a Millennium of Average Heights in Northern Europe, presents a convenient summary of height data from Northern Europe.