Wednesday, December 30, 2009


A Viking  is one of the Norse (Scandinavian) explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided and colonized wide areas of Europe from the late eighth to the early eleventh century.These Norsemen used their famed longships to travel as far east as Constantinople and the Volga River in Russia, and as far west as Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland. This period of Viking expansion is known as the Viking Age, and forms a major part of the medieval history of Scandinavia, Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe in general.

A romanticized picture of Vikings as Germanic noble savages emerged in the 18th century, and expanded during the Victorian era Viking revival. In Britain it took the form of Septentrionalism, in Germany that of "Wagnerian" pathos or even Germanic mysticism, and in the Scandinavian countries that of Romantic nationalism or Scandinavism. In contemporary popular culture these clichéd depictions are often exaggerated with the effect of presenting Vikings as caricatures.

In Old Norse, the word is spelled víkingr.The word appears on several rune stones found in Scandinavia. In the Icelanders' sagas, víking refers to an overseas expedition (Old Norse fara í víking "to go on an expedition"), and víkingr, to a seaman or warrior taking part in such an expedition.

In Old English, the word wicing appears first in the Anglo-Saxon poem, "Widsith", which probably dates from the 9th century. In Old English, and in the writings of Adam von Bremen, the term refers to a pirate, and is not a name for a people or a culture in general. Regardless of its possible origins, the word was used more as a verb than as a noun, and connoted an activity and not a distinct group of individuals. To "go Viking" was distinctly different from Norse seaborne missions of trade and commerce.

The word disappeared in Middle English, and was reintroduced as Viking during 18th century Romanticism (the "Viking revival"), with heroic overtones of "barbarian warrior" or noble savage.

During the 20th century, the meaning of the term was expanded to refer not only to the raiders, but also to the entire period; it is now, somewhat confusingly, used as a noun both in the original meaning of raiders, warriors or navigators, and to refer to the Scandinavian population in general. As an adjective, the word is used in expressions like "Viking age", "Viking culture", "Viking colony", etc., generally referring to medieval Scandinavia. The pre-Christian Scandinavian population is also referred to as Norse, although that term is properly applied to the whole civilization of Old-Norse-speaking people. In current Scandinavian languages, the term Viking is applied to the people who went away on Viking expeditions, be it for raiding or trading.

The term Varangians made its first appearance in Byzantium where it was introduced to designate a function. In Russia it was extended to apply to Scandinavian warriors journeying to and from Constantinople. In the Byzantine sources Varangians are first mentioned in 1034 as in garrison in the Thracian theme. The Persian geographer Al Biruni has mentioned the Baltic Sea as the Varangian Sea and specifies the Varangians as a people dwelling on its coasts. The first datable use of the word in Norse literature appears by Einarr Skúlason in 1153. According to Icelandic Njalssaga from the 13th century, the institution of Varangian Guard was established by 1000. In the Russian Primary Chronicle the Varangian is used as a generic term for the Germanic nations on the coasts of the Baltic sea that likewise lived in the west as far as the land of the English and the French.

The word Væringjar itself is regarded in Scandinavia as of Old Norse origin, cognate with the Old English Færgenga (literally, an expedition-goer).

The Viking Age
Main article: Viking Age

The Gokstad Viking ship on display in Oslo, Norway.The period from the earliest recorded raids in the 790s until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 is commonly known as the Viking Age of Scandinavian history. The Normans, however, were descended from Danish Vikings who were given feudal overlordship of areas in northern France — the Duchy of Normandy — in the 10th century. In that respect, descendants of the Vikings continued to have an influence in northern Europe. Likewise, King Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England who was killed during the Norman invasion in 1066, had Danish ancestors. Many of the medieval kings of Norway and Denmark married into English and Scottish royalty and occasionally got involved in dynastic disputes.[citation needed]

Geographically, a "Viking Age" may be assigned not only to Scandinavian lands (modern Denmark, Norway and Sweden), but also to territories under North Germanic dominance, mainly the Danelaw, formerly the Kingdom of Northumbria, parts of Mercia, and East Anglia.Viking navigators opened the road to new lands to the north, west and east, resulting in the foundation of independent settlements in the Shetland, Orkney, and Faroe Islands; Iceland; Greenland; and L'Anse aux Meadows, a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland, circa 1000 A.D.Many of these lands, specifically Greenland and Iceland, may have been originally discovered by sailors blown off course.[citation needed] They also may well have been deliberately sought out, perhaps on the basis of the accounts of sailors who had seen land in the distance. The Greenland settlement eventually died out, possibly due to climate change. Vikings also explored and settled in territories in Slavic-dominated areas of Eastern Europe, particularly the Kievan Rus. By 950 AD these settlements were largely Slavicized.

A reconstructed Viking Age long houseFrom 839, Varangian mercenaries in the service of the Byzantine Empire, notably Harald Hardrada, campaigned in North Africa, Jerusalem, and other places in the Middle East. Important trading ports during the period include Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang, Jorvik, Staraya Ladoga, Novgorod and Kiev.

There is archaeological evidence that Vikings reached the city of Baghdad, the center of the Islamic Empire. The Norse regularly plied the Volga with their trade goods: furs, tusks, seal fat for boat sealant and slaves. However, they were far less successful in establishing settlements in the Middle East, due to the more centralized Islamic power.[citation needed]

Generally speaking, the Norwegians expanded to the north and west to places such as Ireland, Iceland and Greenland; the Danes to England and France, settling in the Danelaw (northern/eastern England) and Normandy; and the Swedes to the east. These nations, although distinct, were similar in culture and language. The names of Scandinavian kings are known only for the later part of the Viking Age. Only after the end of the Viking Age did the separate kingdoms acquire distinct identities as nations, which went hand in hand with their Christianization. Thus the end of the Viking Age for the Scandinavians also marks the start of their relatively brief Middle Ages.

Viking expansion
Main article: Viking expansion

Map showing area of Scandinavian settlement in the eighth (dark red), ninth (red), tenth (orange) and eleventh (yellow) centuries. Green denotes areas subjected to frequent Viking raids.[image reference needed]The Vikings sailed most of the North Atlantic, reaching south to North Africa and east to Russia, Constantinople and the middle east, as looters, traders, colonists, and mercenaries. Vikings under Leif Eriksson, heir to Erik the Red, reached North America, and set up a short-lived settlement in present-day L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

The motives driving the Viking expansion form a topic of much debate in Nordic history. One common theory posits that the Norse population had outgrown agricultural potential of their Scandinavian homeland.[citation needed] For a coastal population with superior naval technologies, it made sense to expand overseas in the face of a youth bulge effect. However, this theory does little to explain why the expansion went overseas rather than into the vast, uncultivated forest areas on the interior of the Scandinavian Peninsula. It should be noted that sea raiding was easier than clearing large areas of forest for farm and pasture in a region with a limited growing season. No such rise in population or decline in agricultural production has been definitively proven.

Another explanation is that the Vikings exploited a moment of weakness in the surrounding regions. For instance, the Danish Vikings were aware of the internal divisions within Charlemagne's empire that began in the 830s and resulted in schism.[citation needed] England suffered from internal divisions, and was relatively easy prey given the proximity of many towns to the sea or navigable rivers. Lack of organized naval opposition throughout Western Europe allowed Viking ships to travel freely, raiding or trading as opportunity permitted.

The decline in the profitability of old trade routes could also have played a role. Trade between western Europe and the rest of Eurasia suffered a severe blow when the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century.The expansion of Islam in the 7th century had also affected trade with western Europe. Trade on the Mediterranean Sea was historically at its lowest level when the Vikings initiated their expansion.[citation needed] By opening new trade routes in Arabic and Frankish lands, the Vikings profited from international trade by expanding beyond their traditional boundaries.[citation needed] Finally, the destruction of the Frisian fleet by the Franks afforded the Vikings an opportunity to take over their trade markets.[citation needed]

Following a period of thriving trade and Viking settlement, cultural impulses flowed from the rest of Europe to affect Viking dominance. Christianity had an early and growing presence in Scandinavia, and with the rise of centralized authority and the development of more robust coastal defense systems, Viking raids became more risky and less profitable.

Blar a' Bhuailte, site of the Vikings' last stand in SkyeSnorri Sturluson in the saga of St. Olaf chapter 73, describes the brutal process of Christianisation in Norway: “…those who did not give up paganism were banished, with others he (Saint Olaf) cut off their hands or their feet or extirpated their eyes, others he ordered hanged or decapitated, but did not leave unpunished any of those who did not want to serve God (…) he afflicted them with great punishments (…) He gave them clerks and instituted some in the districts.”

As the new quasi-feudalistic system became entrenched in Scandinavian rule, organized opposition sealed the Vikings' fate. Eleventh-century chronicles note Scandinavian attempts to combat the Vikings from the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, which eventually led to Danish and Swedish participation in the Baltic Crusades during the 12th and 13th centuries. It also contributed to the development of the Hanseatic League.

One of the primary profit centers of Viking trade was slavery. The Church took a position that Christians should not own fellow Christians as slaves, so chattel slavery diminished as a practice throughout Northern Europe. Eventually, outright slavery was outlawed, replaced with serfdom at the bottom rung of Medieval society. This took much of the economic incentive out of raiding, though sporadic activity continued for a few decades beyond the Norman conquest of England.

Weapons and warfare
Main article: Viking Age arms and armor
Our knowledge about arms and armor of the Viking age is based on relatively sparse archaeological finds, pictorial representation, and to some extent on the accounts in the Norse sagas and Norse laws recorded in the 13th century.

According to custom, all free Norse men were required to own weapons, as well as permitted to carry them at all times. These arms were also indicative of a Viking's social status: a wealthy Viking would have a complete ensemble of a helmet, shield, chainmail shirt, and sword. A typical bóndi (freeman) was more likely to fight with a spear and shield, and most also carried a seax as a utility knife and side-arm. Bows were used in the opening stages of land battles, and at sea, but tended to be considered less "honorable" than a hand weapon. Vikings were relatively unusual for the time in their use of axes as a main battle weapon. The Húscarls, the elite guard of King Cnut (and later King Harold II) were armed with two-handed axes which could split shields or metal helmets with ease.

It has been suggested that this section be split into a new article. (Discuss)

Good-quality written historical sources for Scandinavia during the Viking Period are scarce, but the archaeological record is rich.

Main article: Runestone
The vast majority of runic inscriptions from the Viking period come from Sweden and date from the eleventh century. Many runestones in Scandinavia record the names of participants in Viking expeditions, such as the Kjula runestone which tells of extensive warfare in Western Europe and the Turinge runestone which tells of a warband in Eastern Europe. Other runestones mention men who died on Viking expeditions. Among them are around 25 Ingvar runestones in the Mälardalen district of Sweden, erected to commemorate members of a disastrous expedition into present-day Russia in the early 11th century. The runestones are important sources in the study of Norse society and early medieval Scandinavia, not only of the 'Viking' segment of the population

The word Viking appears on several runestones found in Scandinavia.

Burial sites
See also: Viking funeral
There are numerous burial sites associated with Vikings. As well as providing information on Viking religion, burial sites also provide information on social structure. The items buried with the deceased give some indication as to what was considered important to possess in the afterlife. Some examples of notable burial sites include:

Gettlinge gravfält, Öland, Sweden, ship outline
Jelling, Denmark, a World Heritage Site
Oseberg, Norway.
Gokstad, Norway.
Borrehaugene, Horten, Norway
Valsgärde, Sweden.
Gamla Uppsala, Sweden.
Hulterstad gravfält, near the villages of Alby and Hulterstad, Öland, Sweden, ship outline of standing stones

Miniatures of two different types of longships, on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark.
Viking ship head of dragon, has a dog's nostrils, canines, and rounded ears.Main article: Viking ship
There were two distinct classes of Viking ships: the longship (sometimes erroneously called "drakkar", a corruption of "dragon" in Norse) and the knarr. The longship, intended for warfare and exploration, was designed for speed and agility, and was equipped with oars to complement the sail as well as making it able to navigate independently of the wind. The longship had a long and narrow hull, as well as a shallow draft, in order to facilitate landings and troop deployments in shallow water. The knarr was a dedicated merchant vessel designed to carry cargo. It was designed with a broader hull, deeper draft and limited number of oars (used primarily to maneuver in harbors and similar situations). One Viking innovation was the beitass, a spar mounted to the sail that allowed their ships to sail effectively against the wind.

Longships were used extensively by the Leidang, the Scandinavian defense fleets. The term "Viking ships" has entered common usage, however, possibly because of its romantic associations (discussed below).

In Roskilde are the well-preserved remains of five ships, excavated from nearby Roskilde Fjord in the late 1960s. The ships were scuttled there in the 11th century to block a navigation channel, thus protecting the city, which was then the Danish capital, from seaborne assault. These five ships represent the two distinct classes of Viking ships, the longship and the knarr. The remains of these ships can be found on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde.

Longships are not to be confused with later-period longboats. It was common for Viking ships to tow or carry a smaller boat to transfer crews and cargo from the ship to shore, however.

Genetic legacy
Studies of genetic diversity provide some indication of the origin and expansion of the Viking population. The Haplogroup I1 (defined by specific genetic markers on the Y-chomosome) is sometimes referred to as the "Viking haplogroup". This mutation occurs with the greatest frequency among Scandinavian males: 35 percent in Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and peaking at 40 percent within western Finland.[citation needed] It is also common near the southern Baltic and North Sea coasts, and then successively decreases the further south geographically.

Genetic studies in the British Isles of the Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a1, seen also across Scandinavia, have demonstrated that the Vikings settled in the British Isles as well as raiding there. Both male and female descent studies show evidence of Norwegian descent in areas closest to Scandinavia, such as the Shetland and Orkney Islands. Inhabitants of lands farther away show most Norse descent in the male Y chromosome lines.

A specialized surname study in Liverpool demonstrated marked Norse heritage, up to 50 percent of males who belonged to original families, those who lived there before the years of industrialization and population expansion.High percentages of Norse inheritance – tracked through R1a1 haplotype signatures – were also found among males in Wirral and West Lancashire.This was similar to the percentage of Norse inheritance found among males in the Orkney Islands.

Recent research has revealed that the Scottish warrior Somerled, who drove the Vikings out of Scotland and was the progenitor of Clan Donald, was himself of Viking descent – a member of Haplogroup R1a1.

Historical opinion and cultural legacy
In England the Viking Age began dramatically on 8 June 793 when Norsemen destroyed the abbey on the island of Lindisfarne. The devastation of Northumbria's Holy Island shocked and alerted the royal Courts of Europe to the Viking presence. "Never before has such an atrocity been seen," declared the Northumbrian scholar, Alcuin of York.[citation needed] More than any other single event, the attack on Lindisfarne demonized perception of the Vikings for the next twelve centuries. Not until the 1890s did scholars outside Scandinavia begin to seriously reassess the achievements of the Vikings, recognizing their artistry, technological skills and seamanship.

The first challenges to anti-Viking sentiments in Britain emerged in the 17th century. Pioneering scholarly editions of the Viking Age began to reach a small readership in Britain, archaeologists began to dig up Britain's Viking past, and linguistic enthusiasts started to identify the Viking-Age origins for rural idioms and proverbs. The new dictionaries of the Old Norse language enabled the Victorians to grapple with the primary Icelandic sagas.

In Scandinavia, the 17th century Danish scholars Thomas Bartholin and Ole Worm, and Olof Rudbeck of Sweden were the first to set the standard for using runic inscriptions and Icelandic Sagas as historical sources. During the Age of Enlightenment and the Nordic Renaissance, historical scholarship in Scandinavia became more rational and pragmatic, as witnessed by the works of a Danish historian Ludvig Holberg and Swedish historian Olof von Dalin. Until recently, the history of the Viking Age was largely based on Icelandic sagas, the history of the Danes written by Saxo Grammaticus, the Russian Primary Chronicle and the The War of the Irish with the Foreigners. Although few scholars still accept these texts as reliable sources, historians nowadays rely more on archeology and numismatics, disciplines that have made valuable contributions toward understanding the period.

Until the 19th century reign of Queen Victoria, public perceptions in Britain continued to portray Vikings as violent and bloodthirsty.The chronicles of medieval England had always portrayed them as rapacious 'wolves among sheep'.In 1920, a winged-helmeted Viking was introduced as a radiator cap figure on the new Rover car, marking the start of the cultural rehabilitation of the Vikings in Britain.

Icelandic sagas and other texts
Norse mythology, sagas and literature tell of Scandinavian culture and religion through tales of heroic and mythological heroes. However, early transmission of this information was primarily oral, and later texts were reliant upon the writings and transcriptions of Christian scholars, including the Icelanders Snorri Sturluson and Sæmundur fróði. Many of these sagas were written in Iceland, and most of them, even if they had no Icelandic provenance, were preserved there after the Middle Ages due to the Icelanders' continued interest in Norse literature and law codes.

The 200-year Viking influence on European history is filled with tales of plunder and colonization, and the majority of these chronicles came from western witnesses and their descendants. Less common, though equally relevant, are the Viking chronicles that originated in the east, including the Nestor chronicles, Novgorod chronicles, Ibn Fadlan chronicles, Ibn Ruslan chronicles, and many brief mentions by the Fosio bishop from the first big attack on the Byzantine Empire.

Other chroniclers of Viking history include Adam of Bremen, who wrote "There is much gold here (in Zealand), accumulated by piracy. These pirates, which are called wichingi by their own people, and Ascomanni by our own people, pay tribute to the Danish king" in the fourth volume of his Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum.

In 991, the Battle of Maldon between Viking raiders and the inhabitants of the town of Maldon in Essex, England was commemorated with a poem of the same name.

Modern revivals
See also: 19th century Viking revival

A modern reenactment of a Viking battleEarly modern publications, dealing with what we now call Viking culture, appeared in the 16th century, e.g. Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (Olaus Magnus, 1555), and the first edition of the 13th century Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus in 1514. The pace of publication increased during the 17th century with Latin translations of the Edda (notably Peder Resen's Edda Islandorum of 1665).

The word Viking was popularized, with positive connotations, by Erik Gustaf Geijer in the poem, The Viking, written at the beginning of the 19th century. The word was taken to refer to romanticized, idealized naval warriors, who had very little to do with the historical Viking culture. This renewed interest of Romanticism in the Old North had political implications. A myth about a glorious and brave past was needed to give the Swedes the courage to retake Finland, which had been lost in 1809 during the war between Sweden and Russia. The Geatish Society, of which Geijer was a member, popularized this myth to a great extent. Another Swedish author who had great influence on the perception of the Vikings was Esaias Tegnér, member of the Geatish Society, who wrote a modern version of Friðþjófs saga ins frœkna, which became widely popular in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom and Germany.

A focus for early British enthusiasts was George Hicke, who published a Linguarum vett. septentrionalium thesaurus in 1703 – 05. During the 18th century, British interest and enthusiasm for Iceland and Nordic culture grew dramatically, expressed in English translations as well as original poems, extolling Viking virtues and increased interest in anything Runic that could be found in the Danelaw, rising to a peak during Victorian times.

Nazi and fascist imagery
Main article: Nazi mysticism
Similar to Wagnerian mythology, the romanticism of the heroic Viking ideal appealed to the Germanic supremacist thinkers of Nazi Germany. Political organizations of the same tradition, such as the former Norwegian nationalist/fascist party, Nasjonal Samling, used Viking symbolism and imagery widely in its propaganda. The Viking legacy had an impact in parts of Europe, especially the Northern Baltic region, but in no way was the Viking experience particular to Germany. However, the Nazis did not claim themselves to be the descendants of any Viking settlers. Instead, they resorted to the historical and ethnic fact that the Vikings were descendants of other Germanic peoples; this fact is supported by the shared ethnic-genetic elements, and cultural and linguistic traits, of the Germans, Anglo-Saxons, and Viking Scandinavians. In particular, all these peoples also had traditions of Germanic paganism and practiced runelore. This common Germanic identity became - and still is - the foundation for much National Socialist iconography. For example, the runic emblem of the SS utilized the sig rune of the Elder Futhark and the youth organization Wiking-Jugend made extensive use of the odal rune. This trend still holds true today (see also fascist symbolism).

Since the 1960s, there has been rising enthusiasm for historical reenactment. While the earliest groups had little claim for historical accuracy, the seriousness and accuracy of re-enactors has increased. The largest such groups include The Vikings and Regia Anglorum, though many smaller groups exist in Europe, the UK, North America, New Zealand, and Australia. Many reenactor groups participate in live-steel combat, and a few have Viking-style ships or boats.

On 1 July 2007, the reconstructed Viking ship Skuldelev 2, renamed Sea Stallion, began a journey from Roskilde, Denmark to Dublin, Ireland. The remains of that ship and four others were discovered during a 1962 excavation in the Roskilde Fjord. This multi-national experimental archeology project saw 70 crew members sail the ship back to its home in Ireland. Tests of the original wood show that it was made of Irish trees. The Sea Stallion arrived outside Dublin's Custom House on 14 August 2007.

The purpose of the voyage was to test and document the seaworthiness, speed and maneuverability of the ship on the rough open sea and in coastal waters with treacherous currents. The crew tested how the long, narrow, flexible hull withstood the tough ocean waves. The expedition also provided valuable new information on Viking longships and society. The ship was built using Viking tools, materials and much the same methods as the original ship.

In popular culture

A giant Viking welcomes visitors to the town of Dannevirke in New Zealand, founded by 19th Century Scandinavian settlers.Led by the operas of German composer Richard Wagner, such as Der Ring des Nibelungen, Vikings and the Romanticist Viking Revival inspired many creative works.

These included novels directly based on historical events, such as Frans Gunnar Bengtsson's The Long Ships (which was also released as a 1963 film), and historical fantasies such as the film The Vikings, Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead (movie version called The 13th Warrior) and the comedy film Erik the Viking. Vikings appear in several books by the Danish American writer Poul Anderson.

The genre of Viking metal shows persisting modern influence of the Viking myths. It was a popular sub-genre of heavy metal music, originating in the early 1990s as an off-shoot of the black metal sub-genre.

This style is notable for its lyrical and theatrical emphasis on Norse mythology as well as Viking lifestyles and beliefs. Popular bands that contribute to this genre include Turisas, Amon Amarth, Einherjer, Valhalla, Týr, Ensiferum, Falkenbach, and Enslaved.

Common misconceptions
Horned helmets
Main article: Horned helmet
Apart from two or three representations of (ritual) helmets – with protrusions that may be either stylized ravens, snakes or horns – no depiction of Viking Age warriors' helmets, and no preserved helmet, has horns. In fact, the formal close-quarters style of Viking combat (either in shield walls or aboard "ship islands") would have made horned helmets cumbersome and hazardous to the warrior's own side.

Therefore historians believe that Viking warriors did not use horned helmets, but whether or not such helmets were used in Scandinavian culture for other, ritual purposes remains unproven. The general misconception that Viking warriors wore horned helmets was partly promulgated by the 19th century enthusiasts of Götiska Förbundet, founded in 1811 in Stockholm, Sweden. They promoted the use of Norse mythology as the subject of high art and other ethnological and moral aims.

The Vikings were often depicted with winged helmets and in other clothing taken from Classical antiquity, especially in depictions of Norse gods. This was done in order to legitimize the Vikings and their mythology by associating it with the Classical world which had long been idealized in European culture.

The latter-day mythos created by national romantic ideas blended the Viking Age with aspects of the Nordic Bronze Age some 2,000 years earlier. Horned helmets from the Bronze Age were shown in petroglyphs and appeared in archaeological finds (see Bohuslän and Vikso helmets). They were probably used for ceremonial purposes.

Cartoons like Hägar the Horrible and Vicky the Viking, and sports uniforms such as those of the Minnesota Vikings and Canberra Raiders football teams have perpetuated the mythic cliché of the horned helmet.

Viking helmets were conical, made from hard leather with wood and metallic reinforcement for regular troops. The iron helmet with mask and chain mail was for the chieftains, based on the previous Vendel-age helmets from central Sweden. The only true Viking helmet found is that from Gjermundbu in Norway. This helmet is made of iron and has been dated to the 10th century.

Skull cups
Main article: Skull cups
The use of human skulls as drinking vessels is also ahistorical. The rise of this legend can be traced to Ole Worm's Runer seu Danica literatura antiquissima (1636), in which Danish warriors drinking ór bjúgviðum hausa [from the curved branches of skulls, i.e. from horns] were rendered as drinking ex craniis eorum quos ceciderunt [from the skulls of those whom they had slain]. The skull-cup allegation may also have some history in relation with other Germanic tribes and Eurasian nomads, such as the Scythians and Pechenegs, and the vivid example of the Lombard Alboin, made notorious by Paul the Deacon's History.


The image of wild-haired, dirty savages sometimes associated with the Vikings in popular culture[who?] is a distorted picture of reality.Non-Scandinavian Christians are responsible for most surviving accounts of the Vikings and, consequently, a strong possibility for bias exists. This attitude is likely attributed to Christian misunderstandings regarding paganism. Viking tendencies were often misreported and the work of Adam of Bremen, among others, told largely disputable tales of Viking savagery and uncleanliness.

The Anglo-Danes were considered excessively clean by their Anglo-Saxon neighbours, due to their custom of bathing every Saturday and combing their hair often. To this day, Saturday is referred to as laugardagur / laurdag / lørdag / lördag, "washing day" in the Scandinavian languages. Icelanders were known to use natural hot springs as baths, and there is a strong sauna/bathing culture in Scandinavia to this day.

As for the Vikings in the east, Ibn Rustah explicitly notes their cleanliness, while Ibn Fadlan is disgusted by all of the men sharing the same, used vessel to wash their faces and blow their noses in the morning. Ibn Fadlan's disgust is probably motivated by his ideas of personal hygiene particular to the Muslim world, such as running water and clean vessels. While the example intended to convey his disgust about the customs of the Rus', at the same time it recorded that they did wash every morning.

Vikings of renown
Askold and Dir, legendary Varangian conquerors of Kiev.
Björn Ironside, son of Ragnar Lodbrok, pillaged in Italy.
Bagsecg, A Viking who Invaded and pillaged in England in 870, But was killed in 871 at The Battle of Ashdown.
Brodir of Man, a Danish Viking who killed the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru.
Halfdan Ragnarsson, pillaged in England conquered London and Northumbria, son of Ragnar Lodbrok
Cnut the Great, king of England and Denmark, Norway, and of some of Sweden, was possibly the greatest Viking king. A son of Sweyn Forkbeard, and grandson of Harold Bluetooth, he was a member of the dynasty that was key to the unification and Christianisation of Denmark. Some modern historians have dubbed him the ‘Emperor of the North’ because of his position as one of the magnates of medieval Europe and as a reflection of the Holy Roman Empire to the south.
Egill Skallagrímsson, Icelandic warrior and skald. (See also Egils saga).
Eric the Victorious, a king of Sweden whose dynasty is the first known to have ruled as kings of the nation. It is possible he was king of Denmark for a time.
Erik the Red, colonizer of Greenland.
Freydís Eiríksdóttir, a Viking woman who sailed to Vínland.
Gardar Svavarsson, originally from Sweden, the discoverer of Iceland. There is another contender for the discoverer of Iceland: Naddoddr, a Norwegian/Faeroese Viking explorer.
Godfrid, Duke of Frisia, a pillager of the Low Countries and the Rhine area and briefly a lord of Frisia.

Godfrid Haraldsson, son of Harald Klak and pillager of the Low Countries and northern France.
Grímur Kamban, a Norwegian or Norwegian/Irish Viking who around 825 was, according to the Færeyinga Saga, the first Nordic settler in the Faeroes.
Guthrum, colonizer of Danelaw.
Harald Klak (Harald Halfdansson), a 9th c. king in Jutland who made peace with Louis the Pious and was possibly the first Viking to be granted Frankish land in exchange for protection.
Harald Bluetooth (Harald Gormson), who according to the Jelling Stones that he had erected, "won the whole of Denmark and Norway and turned the Danes to Christianity". Father of Sweyn Forkbeard; grandfather of Cnut the Great.
Harald Hardrada, a Norwegian king who died, along with his men, at Stamford Bridge in an unsuccessful attempt to conquer England in 1066. Only a fraction of the invasion force is thought to have made their escape.
Hastein, a chieftain who raided in the Mediterranean, Son of Ragnar Lodbrok.
Ingólfur Arnarson, colonizer of Iceland.
Ingvar the Far-Travelled, the leader of the last great Swedish Viking expedition to pillage the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Ivar the Boneless, the disabled Viking who conquered York, despite having to be carried on a shield. Son of Ragnar Lodbrok.
Leif Ericsson, discoverer of Vínland, son of Erik the Red.
Naddoddr, a Norwegian/Faeroese Viking explorer.
Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway from 995 to 1000. He forced thousands to convert to Christianity. He once burned London Bridge down out of anger because people were disobeying his orders (and this is conjectured to be origin of the children's rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down").
St Olaf (Olav Haraldsson), patron saint of Norway, and king of Norway from 1015 to approx. 1030.
Oleg of Kiev, led an offensive against Constantinople.
Ragnar Lodbrok, captured Paris.
Rollo of Normandy, founder of Normandy.
Rorik of Dorestad, a Viking lord of Frisia and nephew of Harald Klak.
Rurik, founder of the Rus' rule in Eastern Europe.
Ubbe Ragnarsson, son of Ragnar Lodbrok, pillaged in England and was killed in 878 at The Battle of Cynwit.
Sigmundur Brestisson, Faeroese, a Viking chieftain who, according to the Færeyinga Saga, introduced Christianity and Norwegian supremacy to the Faeroes in 999.
Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark, Norway, and England, as well as founder of Swansea ("Sweyn's island"). In 1013, the Danes under Sweyn led a Viking offensive against the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The English king was forced into exile, and in late 1013 Sweyn became King of England, though he died early in 1014, and the former king was brought out of exile to challenge his son.
Thorgils (Thorgest), founder of Dublin.
Tróndur í Gøtu, a Faeroese Viking chieftain who, according to the Færeyinga Saga, was opposed to the introduction of Christianity to, and the Norwegian supremacy of, the Faeroes.
William the Conqueror, ruler of Normandy and the victor at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, considered by historians as the last great Viking invasion. His kingship of England saw the end of the Anglo-Saxon era and the encroachment of continental magnates and the ideals of Christendom. His great great uncle was Cnut the Great.



A ninja or shinobi  was a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan specializing in unorthodox arts of war. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, as well as open combat in certain situations. The ninja, with their underhanded tactics, were contrasted with the samurai, who were careful not to tarnish their reputable image.

In his Buke Myōmokushō, military historian Hanawa Hokinoichi writes of the ninja:

“ They travelled in disguise to other territories to judge the situation of the enemy, they would inveigle their way into the midst of the enemy to discover gaps, and enter enemy castles to set them on fire, and carried out assassinations, arriving in secret. ”

The origin of the ninja is obscure and difficult to determine, but can be surmised to be around the 14th century. Few written records exist to detail the activities of the ninja. The word shinobi did not exist to describe a ninja-like agent until the 15th century, and it is unlikely that spies and mercenaries prior to this time were seen as a specialized group. In the unrest of the Sengoku period (15th - 17th centuries), mercenaries and spies for hire arose out of the Iga and Kōga regions of Japan, and it is from these clans that much of later knowledge regarding the ninja is inferred. Following the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate, the ninja descended again into obscurity. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries, manuals such as the Bansenshukai (1676) — often centered around Chinese military philosophy — appeared in significant numbers. These writings revealed an assortment of philosophies, religious beliefs, their application in warfare, as well as the espionage techniques that form the basis of the ninja's art. The word ninjutsu would later come to describe a wide variety of practices related to the ninja.

The mysterious nature of the ninja has long captured popular imagination in Japan, and later the rest of the world. Ninjas figure prominently in folklore and legend, and as a result it is often difficult to separate historical fact from myth. Some legendary abilities include invisibility, walking on water, and control over natural elements. The ninja is also prevalent in popular culture, appearing in many forms of entertainment media.

A ninja or shinobi  was a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan specializing in unorthodox arts of war. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, as well as open combat in certain situations. The ninja, with their underhanded tactics, were contrasted with the samurai, who were careful not to tarnish their reputable image.

In his Buke Myōmokushō, military historian Hanawa Hokinoichi writes of the ninja:

“ They travelled in disguise to other territories to judge the situation of the enemy, they would inveigle their way into the midst of the enemy to discover gaps, and enter enemy castles to set them on fire, and carried out assassinations, arriving in secret. ”

The origin of the ninja is obscure and difficult to determine, but can be surmised to be around the 14th century. Few written records exist to detail the activities of the ninja. The word shinobi did not exist to describe a ninja-like agent until the 15th century, and it is unlikely that spies and mercenaries prior to this time were seen as a specialized group. In the unrest of the Sengoku period (15th - 17th centuries), mercenaries and spies for hire arose out of the Iga and Kōga regions of Japan, and it is from these clans that much of later knowledge regarding the ninja is inferred. Following the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate, the ninja descended again into obscurity. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries, manuals such as the Bansenshukai (1676) — often centered around Chinese military philosophy — appeared in significant numbers. These writings revealed an assortment of philosophies, religious beliefs, their application in warfare, as well as the espionage techniques that form the basis of the ninja's art. The word ninjutsu would later come to describe a wide variety of practices related to the ninja.

The mysterious nature of the ninja has long captured popular imagination in Japan, and later the rest of the world. Ninjas figure prominently in folklore and legend, and as a result it is often difficult to separate historical fact from myth. Some legendary abilities include invisibility, walking on water, and control over natural elements. The ninja is also prevalent in popular culture, appearing in many forms of entertainment media.


The word "ninja" in kanji scriptNinja is the on'yomi reading of the two kanji . In the native kun'yomi reading, it is read shinobi, a shortened form of the longer transcription shinobi-no-mono . The term shinobi has been traced as far back as the late 8th century to poems in the Man'yōshū. The underlying connotation of shinobi  means "to steal away" and — by extension — "to forbear", hence its association with stealth and invisibility. Mono  means "a person".

Historically, the word ninja was not in common use, and a variety of regional colloquialisms evolved to describe what would later be dubbed ninjas. Along with shinobi, some examples include monomi ("one who sees"), nokizaru ("macaque on the roof"), rappa ("ruffian"), kusa ("grass") and Iga-mono ("one from Iga"). In historical documents, shinobi is almost always used.

Kunoichi, meaning a female ninja, supposedly came from the characters  (pronounced ku, no and ichi), which make up the three strokes that form the kanji for "woman" .

In the West, the word ninja became more prevalent than shinobi in the post-World War II culture, possibly because it was more comfortable for Western speakers. In English, the plural of ninja can be either unchanged as ninja, reflecting the Japanese language's lack of grammatical number, or the regular English plural ninjas.

Despite many popular folktales, historical accounts of the ninja are scarce. Historian Stephen Turnbull asserts that the ninja were mostly recruited from the lower class, and therefore little literary interest was taken in them. Instead, war epics such as the Tale of Hōgen (Hōgen Monogatari) and the Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari) focus mainly on the aristocratic samurai, whose deeds were apparently more appealing to the audience. Historian Kiyoshi Watatani states that the ninja were trained to be particularly secretive about their actions and existence:

"So-called ninjutsu techniques, in short are the skills of shinobi-no-jutsu and shinobijutsu, which have the aims of ensuring that one's opponent does not know of one's existence, and for which there was special training."

Yamato Takeru dressed as a maidservant, preparing to kill the Kumaso leaders. Woodblock print on paper. Yoshitoshi, 1886.The origin of the ninja is based on the spies and assassins that have existed throughout Japanese history. The title ninja has sometimes been attributed to the semi-legendary 4th century prince Yamato Takeru. In the Kojiki, the young Yamato Takeru disguised himself as a charming maiden, and assassinated two chiefs of the Kumaso people. However, these records take place at a very early stage of Japanese history, and is unlikely to be connected to the shinobi of later accounts.

The first recorded use of espionage was under the employment of Prince Shōtoku in the 6th century.Such tactics were considered unsavory even in early times, when, according to the 10th century Shōmonki, the boy spy Koharumaru was killed for spying against the insurgent Taira no Masakado. Later, the 14th century war chronicle Taiheiki contained many references to shinobi, and credited the destruction of a castle by fire to an unnamed but "highly skilled shinobi".[

However, it was not until the 15th century that spies were specially trained for their purpose. It was around this time that the word shinobi appeared to define and clearly identify ninjas as a secretive group of agents. Evidence for this can be seen in historical documents, which began to refer to stealthy soldiers as shinobi during the Sengoku period. Later manuals regarding espionage are often grounded in Chinese military strategy, quoting works such as The Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa), by Sun Tzu.
The ninja emerged as mercenaries in the 15th century, where they were recruited as spies, raiders, arsonists and even terrorists. Amongst the samurai, a sense of ritual and decorum was observed, where one was expected to fight or duel openly. Combined with the the unrest of the Sengoku era, these factors created a demand for men willing to commit deeds considered not respectable for conventional warriors. By the Sengoku period, the shinobi had several roles, including spy (kanchō), scout (teisatsu), surprise attacker (kisho), and agitator (koran). The ninja families were organized into larger guilds, each with their own territories.A system of rank existed. A jōnin ("upper man") was the highest rank, representing the group and hiring out mercenaries. This is followed by the chūnin ("middle man"), assistants to the jōnin. At the bottom was the genin ("lower man"), field agents drawn from the lower class and assigned to carry out actual missions.

Iga and Kōga clans

The plains of Iga, nested in secluded mountains, gave rise to villages specialized in the training of ninjas.The Iga and Kōga clans have come to describe families living in the province of Iga (modern Mie Prefecture) and the adjacent region of Kōka (later written as Kōga), named after a village in what is now Shiga Prefecture. From these regions, villages devoted to the training of ninjas first appeared.The remoteness and inaccessibility of the surrounding mountains may have had a role in the ninja's secretive development. Historical documents regarding the ninja's origins in these mountainous regions are considered generally correct. The chronicle Go Kagami Furoku writes, of the two clans' origins:

"There was a retainer of the family of Kawai Aki-no-kami of Iga, of pre-eminent skill in shinobi, and consequently for generations the name of people from Iga became established. Another tradition grew in Kōga".
Likewise, a supplement to the Nochi Kagami, a record of the Ashikaga shogunate, confirms the same Iga origin:

"Inside the camp at Magari of the Shogun [Ashikaga] Yoshihisa there were shinobi whose names were famous throughout the land. When Yoshihisa attacked Rokkaku Takayori, the family of Kawai Aki-no-kami of Iga, who served him at Magari, earned considerable merit as shinobi in front of the great army of the Shogun. Since then successive generations of Iga men have been admired. This is the origin of the fame of the men of Iga."
A distinction is to be made between the ninja from these areas, and commoners or samurai hired as spies or mercenaries. Unlike their counterparts, the Iga and Kōga clans produced professional ninja, specifically trained for their roles. These professional ninja were actively hired by daimyos between 1485 and 1581, until Oda Nobunaga invaded Iga province and wiped out the organized clans. Survivors were forced to flee, some to the mountains of Kii, but others arrived before Tokugawa Ieyasu, where they were well treated. Some former Iga clan members, including Hattori Hanzō, would later serve as Tokugawa's bodyguards.

Following the Battle of Okehazama in 1560, Tokugawa employed a group of eighty Kōga ninja, lead by Tomo Sukesada. They were tasked to raid an outpost of the Imagawa clan. The account of this assault is given in the Mikawa Go Fudoki, where it was written that Kōga ninja infiltrated the castle, set fire to its towers, and killed the castellan along with two hundred of the garrison. The Kōga ninjas are said to have played a role in the later Battle of Sekigahara (1600), where several hundred Kōga assisted soldiers under Torii Mototada in the defence of Fushimi Castle. After Tokugawa's victory at Sekigahara, the Iga acted as guards for the inner compounds of Edo Castle, while the Kōga acted as a police force and assisted in guarding the outer gate. In 1614, the initial "winter campaign" at the Siege of Osaka saw the ninja in use once again. Miura Yoemon, a ninja in Tokugawa's service, recruited shinobi from the Iga region, and sent ten ninjas into Osaka Castle in an effort to foster antagonism between enemy commanders. During the later "summer campaign", these hired ninjas fought alongside regular troops at the Battle of Tennōji.
Shimabara rebellion
A final but detailed record of ninjas employed in open warfare occurred during the Shimabara Rebellion (1637–1638). The Kōga ninja were recruited by shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu against Christian rebels led by Amakusa Shirō, who made a final stand at Hara Castle, in Hizen Province. A diary kept by a member of the Matsudaira clan, the Amakusa Gunki, relates: "Men from Kōga in Omi Province who concealed their appearance would steal up to the castle every night and go inside as they pleased."

The Ukai diary, written by a descendant of Ukai Kanemon, has several entries describing the reconnaissance actions taken by the Kōga.

"They [the Kōga] were ordered to reconnoitre the plan of construction of Hara Castle, and surveyed the distance from the defensive moat to the ni-no-maru (second bailey), the depth of the moat, the conditions of roads, the height of the wall, and the shape of the loopholes." — Entry: 6th day of the 1st month

The ruins of Hara castle.Suspecting that the castle's supplies may be running low, the siege commander Matsudaira Nobutsuna ordered a raid on the castle's provisions. Here, the Kōga captured bags of enemy provisions, and infiltrated the castle by night, obtaining secret passwords. Days later, Nobutsuna ordered an intelligence gathering mission to determine the castle's supplies. Several Kōga ninja — some apparently descended from those involved in the 1562 assault on an Imagawa clan castle — volunteered despite being warned that chances of survival were slim. A volley of shots were fired into the sky, causing the defenders to extinguish the castle lights in preparation. Under the cloak of darkness, ninja disguised as defenders infiltrated the castle, capturing a banner of the Christian cross. The Ukai diary writes,

"We dispersed spies who were prepared to die inside Hara castle. ...those who went on the reconnaissance in force captured an enemy flag; both Arakawa Shichirobei and Mochizuki Yo'emon met extreme resistance and suffered from their serious wounds for forty days." — Entry: 27th day of the 1st month
As the siege went on, the extreme shortage of food later reduced the defenders to eating moss and grass. This desperation would mount to futile charges by the rebels, where they were eventually defeated by the shogunate army. The Kōga would later take part in conquering the castle:

"More and more general raids were begun, the Kōga ninja band under the direct control of Matsudaira Nobutsuna captured the ni-no-maru and the san-no-maru (outer bailey)..." — Entry: 24th day of the 2nd month
With the fall of Hara Castle, the Shimbara Rebellion came to an end, and Christianity in Japan was forced underground. These written accounts are the last mention of ninjas in war.

In the early 18th century, shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune founded the oniwaban, an intelligence agency and secret service. Members of this office, the oniwabanshū ("garden keeper"), were agents involved in collecting information on daimyos and government officials. The secretive nature of the oniwaban — along with the earlier tradition of using Iga and Kōga clan members as palace guards — have lead some sources to define the oniwabanshū as "ninjas". This portrayal is also common in later novels and jidaigeki. However, there is no written link between the earlier shinobi and the later oniwabanshū.


A page from the Shōninki (1681), detailing a list of possible disguises.The ninja were stealth soldiers and mercenaries hired mostly by daimyos. Their primary roles were those of espionage and sabotage, although assassinations were also attributed to ninjas. In battle, the ninja could also be used to cause confusion amongst the enemy. A degree of psychological warfare in the capturing of enemy banners can be seen illustrated in the Ōu Eikei Gunki, composed between the 16th and 17th centuries:

"Within Hataya castle there was a glorious shinobi whose skill was renowned, and one night he entered the enemy camp secretly. He took the flag from Naoe Kanetsugu's guard ...and returned and stood it on a high place on the front gate of the castle."
Espionage was the chief role of the ninja. With the aid of disguises, the ninja gathered information on enemy terrain, building specifications, as well as obtaining passwords and communiques. The aforementioned supplement to the Nochi Kagami briefly describes the ninja's role in espionage:

"Concerning ninja, they were said to be from Iga and Kōga, and went freely into enemy castles in secret. They observed hidden things, and were taken as being friends"
Later in history, the Kōga ninja would become regarded as agents of the Tokugawa bakufu, at a time when the bakufu used the ninjas in an intelligence network to monitor regional daimyos as well as the Imperial court.

Arson was the primary form of sabotage practiced by the ninja, who targeted castles and camps.

The 16th century diary of abbot Eishun (Tamon-in Nikki) at Tamon-in monastery in Kōfuku-ji describes an arson attack on a castle by men of the Iga clans.

"This morning, the sixth day of the 11th month of Tembun 10, the Iga-shu entered Kasagi castle in secret and set fire to a few of the priests' quarters. They also set fire to outbuildings in various places inside the San-no-maru. They captured the Ichi-no-maru (inner bailey) and the Ni-no-maru."
—Entry: 26th day of the 11th month of the 10th Year of Tenbun (1541)
In 1558, Rokkaku Yoshitaka employed a team of ninja to set fire to Sawayama Castle. A chunin captain led a force of forty-eight ninja into the castle by means of deception. In a technique dubbed bakemono-jutsu ("ghost technique"), his men stole a lantern bearing the enemy's family crest (mon), and proceeded to make replicas with the same mon. By wielding these lanterns, they were allowed to enter the castle without a fight. Once inside, the ninjas set fire to the castle, and Yoshitaka's army would later emerge victorious. The mercenary nature of the shinobi is demonstrated in another arson attack soon after the burning of Sawayama Castle. In 1561, commanders acting under Kizawa Nagamasa hired three Iga ninja of genin rank to assist the conquest of a fortress in Maibara. Rokakku Yoshitaka, the same man who had hired Iga ninja just years earlier, was the fortress holder — and target of attack. The Asai Sandaiki writes of their plans: "We employed shinobi-no-mono of Iga. ...They were contracted to set fire to the castle". However, the mercenary shinobi were unwilling to take commands. When the fire attack did not begin as scheduled, the Iga men told the commanders, who were not from the region, that they could not possibly understand the tactics of the shinobi. They then threatened to abandon the operation if they were not allowed to act on their own strategy. The fire was eventually set, allowing Nagamasa's army to capture the fortress in a chaotic rush.

The most well-known cases of assassination attempts involve famous historical figures. Deaths of famous persons have sometimes been attributed to assassination by ninjas, but the secretive nature of these scenarios have been difficult to prove. Assassins were often identified as ninjas later on, but there is no evidence to prove whether some were specially trained for the task or simply a hired mercenary.

Portrait of Oda Nobunaga, by Jesuit painter Giovanni Niccolo, 1583-1590.The warlord Oda Nobunaga's notorious reputation led to several attempts on his life. In 1571, a Kōga ninja and sharpshooter by the name of Sugitani Zenjubō was hired to assassinate Nobunaga. Using two arquebuses, he fired two consecutive shots at Nobunaga, but was unable to inflict mortal injury through Nobunaga's armor. Sugitani managed to escape, but was caught four years later and put to death by torture. In 1573, Manabe Rokurō, a vassal of daimyo Hatano Hideharu, attempted to infiltrate Azuchi Castle and assassinate a sleeping Nobunaga. However, this also ended in failure, and Manabe was forced to commit suicide, after which his body was openly displayed in public. According to a document, the Iranki, when Nobunaga was inspecting Iga province — which his army had devastated — a group of three ninjas shot at him with large-caliber firearms. The shots flew wide of Nobunaga, however, and instead killed seven of his surrounding companions.

The ninja Hachisuka Tenzō was sent by Nobunaga to assassinate the powerful daimyo Takeda Shingen, but ultimately failed in his attempts. Hiding in the shadow of a tree, he avoided being seen under the moonlight, and later concealed himself in a hole he had prepared beforehand, thus escaping capture.

An assassination attempt on Toyotomi Hideyoshi was also thwarted. A ninja named Kirigakure Saizō (possibly Kirigakure Shikaemon) thrust a spear through the floorboards to kill Hideyoshi, but was unsuccessful. He was "smoked out" of his hiding place by another ninja working for Hideyoshi, who apparently used a sort of primitive "flamethrower". Unfortunately, the veracity of this account has been clouded by later fictional publications depicting Saizō as one of the legendary Sanada Ten Braves.

Uesugi Kenshin, the famous daimyo of Echigo province was rumored to have been killed by a ninja. The legend credits his death to an assassin, who is said to have hid in Kenshin's lavatory, and gravely injured Kenshin by thrusting a blade or spear into his anus. While historical records showed that Kenshin suffered abdominal problems, modern historians have usually attributed his death to stomach cancer, esophageal cancer or cerebrovascular disease.

A variety of countermeasures were taken to prevent the activities of the ninja. Precautions were often taken against assassinations, such as weapons concealed in the lavatory, or under a removable floorboard. Buildings were constructed with traps and trip wires attached to alarm bells.

Japanese castles were designed to be difficult to navigate, with winding routes leading to the inner compound. Blind spots and holes in walls provided constant surveillance of these labyrinthine paths, as exemplified in Himeji Castle. Nijō Castle in Kyoto is constructed with long "nightingale" floors, which rested on metal hinges (uguisu-bari) specifically designed to squeak loudly when walked over.Grounds covered with gravel also provided early notice of unwanted intruders, and segregated buildings allowed fires to be better contained.

See also: Ninjutsu
The skills required of the ninja has come to be known in modern times as ninjutsu, but it is unlikely they were previously named under a single discipline. Modern misconceptions have identified ninjutsu as a form of combat art, but historically, ninjutsu largely covered espionage and survival skills. Some lineage styles (ryūha) of ninjutsu such as Togakure-ryū were known in the past.

This diagram from the Bansenshukai uses divination and esoteric cosmology (onmyōdō) to instruct on the ideal time for taking certain actions.The first specialized training began in the mid-15th century, when certain samurai families started to focus on covert warfare, including espionage and assassination. Like the samurai, ninja were born into the profession, where traditions were kept in, and passed down through the family. According to Turnbull, the ninja was trained from childhood, as was also common in samurai families. Outside the expected martial art disciplines, a youth studied survival and scouting techniques, as well as information regarding poisons and explosives. Physical training was also important, which involved long distance runs, climbing, stealth methods of walking and swimming. A certain degree of knowledge regarding common professions was also required if one was expected to take their form in disguise. Some evidence of medical training can be derived from one account, where an Iga ninja provided first-aid to Ii Naomasa, who was injured by gunfire in the Battle of Sekigahara. Here the ninja reportedly gave Naomasa a "black medicine" meant to stop bleeding.

With the fall of the Iga and Kōga clans, daimyos could no longer recruit professional ninjas, and were forced to train their own shinobi. The shinobi was considered a real profession, as demonstrated in the bakufu's 1649 law on military service, which declared that only daimyos with an income of over 10,000 koku were allowed to retain shinobi. In the two centuries that followed, a number of ninjutsu manuals were written by descendants of Hattori Hanzō as well as members of the Fujibayashi clan, an offshoot of the Hattori. Major examples include the Ninpiden (1655), the Bansenshukai (1675), and the Shōninki (1681).

Some practitioners of modern ninjutsu include Stephen K. Hayes and Masaaki Hatsumi, who is the head (sōke) of Bujinkan, a martial arts organization based in Japan. However, the link between modern interpretations of ninjutsu and historical practices is a matter of debate.

The ninja did not always work alone. Teamwork techniques exist: for example, in order to scale a wall, a group of ninja may carry each other on their backs, or provide a human platform to assist an individual in reaching greater heights. The Mikawa Go Fudoki gives an account where a coordinated team of attackers used passwords to communicate. The account also gives a case of deception, where the attackers dressed in the same clothes as the defenders, causing much confusion. When a retreat was needed during the Siege of Osaka, ninja were commanded to fire upon friendly troops from behind, causing the troops to charge backwards in order to attack a perceived enemy. This tactic was used again later on as a method of crowd dispersal.

Most ninjutsu techniques recorded in scrolls and manuals revolve around ways to avoid detection, and methods of escape.These techniques were loosely grouped under corresponding natural elements. Some examples are:

Hitsuke - The practice of distracting guards by starting a fire away from the ninja's planned point of entry. Falls under "fire techniques" (katon-no-jutsu).
Tanuki-gakure - The practice of climbing a tree and camouflaging oneself within the foliage. Falls under "wood techniques" (mokuton-no-jutsu).
Ukigusa-gakure - The practice of throwing duckweed over water in order to conceal underwater movement. Falls under "water techniques" (suiton-no-jutsu).Uzura-gakure - The practice of curling into a ball and remaining motionless in order to appear like a stone. Falls under "earth techniques" (doton-no-jutsu).
A komusō monk is one of many possible disguises.Disguises
The use of disguises is common and well documented. Disguises came in the form of priests, entertainers, fortune tellers, merchants, rōnin, and monks. The Buke Myōmokushō states,

Shinobi-monomi were people used in secret ways, and their duties were to go into the mountains and disguise themselves as firewood gatherers to discover and acquire the news about an enemy's territory ... they were particularly expert at travelling in disguise.
 mountain ascetic (yamabushi) attire facilitated travel, as they were common and could travel freely between political boundaries. The loose robes of Buddhist priests also allowed concealed weapons, such as the tantō. Minstrel or sarugaku outfits could have allowed the ninja to spy in enemy buildings without rousing suspicion. Disguises as a komusō, a mendicant monk known for playing the shakuhachi, were also effective, as the large "basket" hats traditionally worn by them concealed the head completely.

Ninjas utilized a large variety of tools and weaponry, some of which were commonly known, but others were more specialized. Most were tools used in the infiltration of castles. A wide range of specialized equipment is described and illustrated in the 17th century Bansenshukai, including climbing equipment, extending spears, rocket-propelled arrows, and small collapsible boats.


A suit of armor purportedly worn by ninjasWhile the image of a ninja clad in black garbs (shinobi shōzoku) is prevalent in popular media, there is no written evidence for such a costume. Instead, it was much more common for the ninja to be disguised as civilians. The popular notion of black clothing is likely rooted in artistic convention. Early drawings of ninjas were shown to be dressed in black in order to portray a sense of invisibility. This convention was an idea borrowed from the puppet handlers of bunraku theater, who dressed in total black in an effort to simulate props moving independently of their controls. Despite the lack of hard evidence, it has been put forward by some authorities that black robes, perhaps slightly tainted with red to hide bloodstains, was indeed the sensible garment of choice for infiltration.

Clothing used was similar to that of the samurai, but loose garments (such as leggings) were tucked into trousers or secured with belts. The tenugui, a piece of cloth also used in martial arts, had many functions. It could be used to cover the face, form a belt, or assist in climbing.

The historicity of armor specifically made for ninjas cannot be ascertained. While pieces of light armor purportedly worn by ninjas exist and date to the right time, there is no hard evidence of their use in ninja operations. Depictions of famous persons later deemed ninjas often show them in samurai armor. Existing examples of purported ninja armor feature lamellar or ring mail, and were designed to be worn under the regular garb. Shin and arm guards, along with metal-reinforced hoods are also speculated to make up the ninja's armor.


A page from the Ninpiden, showing a tool for breaking locks.Tools used for infiltration and espionage are some of the most abundant artifacts related to the ninja. Ropes and grappling hooks were common, and were tied to the belt. A collapsible ladder is illustrated in the Bansenshukai, featuring spikes at both ends to anchor the ladder. Spiked or hooked climbing gear worn on the hands and feet also doubled as weapons. Other implements include chisels, hammers, drills, picks and so forth.

The kunai was a heavy pointed tool, possibly derived from the Japanese masonry trowel, to which it closely resembles. Although it is often portrayed in popular culture as a weapon, the kunai was primarily used for gouging holes in walls. Knives and small saws (hamagari) were also used to create holes in buildings, where they served as a foothold or a passage of entry. A portable listening device (saoto hikigane) was used to eavesdrop on conversations and detect sounds.
The mizugumo was a set of wooden shoes supposedly allowing the ninja to walk on water. They were meant to work by distributing the wearer's weight over the shoes' wide bottom surface. The word mizugumo is derived from the native name for the Japanese water spider (Argyroneta aquatica japonica). The mizugumo was featured on the show Mythbusters, where it was demonstrated unfit for walking on water. The ukidari, a similar footwear for walking on water, also existed in the form of a round bucket, but was probably quite unstable. Inflatable skins and breathing tubes allowed the ninja stay underwater for longer periods of time.

Despite the large array of tools available to the ninja, the Bansenshukai warns one not to be overburdened with equipment, stating "...a successful ninja is one who uses but one tool for multiple tasks".

Although shorter swords and daggers were used, the katana was probably the ninja's weapon of choice, and was sometimes carried on the back. The katana had several uses beyond normal combat. In dark places, the scabbard could be extended out of the sword, and used as a long probing device. The sword could also be laid against the wall, where the ninja could use the sword guard (tsuba) to gain an higher foothold. While straightswords were used before the invention of the katana, the straight ninjatō has no historical precedent and is likely a modern invention.

A pair of kusarigama, on display in Iwakuni Castle.An array of darts, spikes, knives, and sharp, star-shaped discs were known collectively as shuriken. While not exclusive to the ninja, they were an important part of the arsenal, where they could be thrown in any direction. Bow were used for sharpshooting, and some ninjas bows were intentionally made smaller than the traditional yumi (longbow). The chain and sickle (kusarigama) was also used by the ninja. This weapon consisted of a weight on one end of a chain, and a sickle (kama) on the other. The weight was swung to injure or disable an opponent, and the sickle used to kill at close range.

Explosives introduced from China were known in Japan by the time of the Mongol Invasions (13th century). Later, explosives such as hand-held bombs and grenades were adopted by the ninja. Soft-cased bombs were designed to release smoke or poison gas, along with fragmentation explosives packed with iron or pottery shrapnel.

Along with common weapons, a large assortment of miscellaneous arms were associated with the ninja. Some examples include poison, caltrops,cane swords (shikomizue), land mines, blowguns, poisoned darts, acid-spurting tubes, and firearms. The happō, a small eggshell filled with blinding powder (metsubushi), was also used to facilitate escape.

Legendary abilities
Superhuman or supernatural powers were often associated with the ninja. Some legends include flight, invisibility, shapeshifting, the ability to "split" into multiple bodies, the summoning of animals, and control over the five classical elements. These fabulous notions have stemmed from popular imagination regarding the ninja's mysterious status, as well as romantic ideas found in later Japanese arts of the Edo period. Magical powers were sometimes rooted in the ninja's own efforts to disseminate fanciful information. For example, Nakagawa Shoshujin, the 17th century founder of Nakagawa-ryū, claimed in his own writings (Okufuji Monogatari) that he had the ability to transform into birds and animals.

Perceived control over the elements may be grounded in real tactics, which were categorized by association with forces of nature. For example, the practice of starting fires in order to cover a ninja's trail falls under katon-no-jutsu ("fire techniques").

Actor portraying Nikki Danjō, a villain from the kabuki play Sendai Hagi. Shown with hands in a kuji-in seal, which allows him to transform into a giant rat. Woodblock print on paper. Kunisada, 1857.The ninja's adaption of kites in espionage and warfare is another subject of legends. Accounts exist of ninjas being lifted into the air by kites, where they flew over hostile terrain and descended into, or dropped bombs on enemy territory. Kites were indeed used in Japanese warfare, but mostly for the purpose of sending messages and relaying signals. Turnbull suggests that kites lifting a man into midair might have been technically feasible, but states that the use of kites to form a human "hang glider" falls squarely in the realm of fantasy.

Kuji-kiri is an esoteric practice which, when performed with an array of hand "seals" (kuji-in), was meant to allow the ninja to enact superhuman feats.

The kuji ("nine characters") is a concept originating from Taoism, where it was a string of nine words used in charms and incantations.In China, this tradition mixed with Buddhist beliefs, assigning each of the nine words to a Buddhist deity. The kuji may have arrived in Japan via Buddhism, where it flourished within Shugendō. Here too, each word in the kuji was associated with Buddhist deities, animals from Taoist mythology, and later, Shinto kami. The mudrā, a series of hand symbols representing different Buddhas, was applied to the kuji by Buddhists, possibly through the esoteric Mikkyō teachings. The yamabushi ascetics of Shugendō adopted this practice, using the hand gestures in spiritual, healing, and exorcism rituals. Later, the use of kuji passed onto certain bujutsu (martial arts) and ninjutsu schools, where it was said to have many purposes. The application of kuji to produce a desired effect was called "cutting" (kiri) the kuji. Intended effects range from physical and mental concentration, to more incredible claims about rendering an opponent immobile, or even the casting of magical spells. These legends were captured in popular culture, which interpreted the kuji-kiri as a precursor to magical acts.

Famous people
Many famous people in Japanese history have been associated or identified as ninjas, but their status as ninja are difficult to prove and may be the product of later imagination. Rumors surrounding famous warriors, such as Kusunoki Masashige or Minamoto no Yoshitsune sometimes describe them as ninjas, but there is little evidence for these claims. Some well known examples include:

Kumawakamaru escapes his pursuers by swinging across the moat on a bamboo. Woodblock print on paper. Kuniyoshi, 1842-1843.Mochizuki Chiyome (16th cent.) - The wife of Mochizuke Moritoki. Chiyome created a school for girls, which taught skills required of geisha, as well as espionage skills.
Fujibayashi Nagato (16th cent.) - Considered to be one of three "greatest" Iga jōnin, the other two being Hattori Hanzō and Momochi Sandayū. Fujibayashi's descendents wrote and edited the Bansenshukai.
Fūma Kotarō (d. 1603) - A ninja rumored to have killed Hattori Hanzō, with whom he was supposedly rivals. The fictional weapon Fūma shuriken is named after him.
Hattori Hanzō (1542-1596) - A samurai serving under Tokugawa Ieyasu. His ancestry in Iga province, along with ninjutsu manuals published by his descendants have led some sources to define him as a ninja. This depiction is also common in popular culture.
Ishikawa Goemon (1558-1594) - Goemon reputedly tried to drip poison from a thread into Oda Nobunaga's mouth through a hiding spot in the ceiling, but many fanciful tales exist about Goemon, and this story cannot be confirmed.
Kumawakamaru (13th-14th cent.) - A youth whose exiled father was ordered to death by the monk Homma Saburō. Kumakawa took his revenge by sneaking into Homma's room while he was asleep, and assassinating Homma with his own sword.
Momochi Sandayū (16th cent.) - A leader of the Iga ninja clans, who supposedly perished during Oda Nobunaga's attack on Iga province. There is some belief that he escaped death and lived as a farmer in Kii Province. Momochi is also a branch of the Hattori clan.
Yagyū Muneyoshi (1529-1606) - A renown swordsman of the Shinkage-ryū school. Muneyoshi's grandson, Jubei Muneyoshi, told tales of his grandfather's status as a ninja.
In popular culture

Jiraiya battles a giant snake with the help of his summoned toad. Woodblock print on paper. Kuniyoshi, c. 1843.Main article: Ninja in popular culture
The image of the ninja entered popular culture in the Edo period, when folktales and plays about ninjas were conceived. Stories about the ninja are usually based around historical figures. For instance, many similar tales exist about a daimyo challenging a ninja to prove his worth, usually by stealing his pillow or weapon while he slept. Novels were written about the ninja, such as Jiraiya Gōketsu Monogatari, which was also made into a kabuki play. Fictional figures such as Sarutobi Sasuke would eventually make way into comics and television, where they have come to enjoy a culture hero status outside of their original mediums.

Ninja appear in many forms of Japanese and Western popular media, including books (Kōga Ninpōchō), television (Ninja Warrior), movies (Ninja Assassin), Satire (REAL Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book) video games (Tenchu), anime (Naruto), manga (Basilisk) and Western comic books (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Depictions range from realistic to the fantastically exaggerated, both fundamentally and aesthetically, and often portray ninja in non-factual ways for humor or entertainment.