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12 Surprisingly Soft Things Vikings Really Did

Vikings were pretty urbane characters when you look past the facial shrubbery and horned helmets. Here's proof as discovered by How To Train Your Dragon 2, in cinemas July 10.

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1. They liked fancy things

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Forget the image of the Viking as a sheepskin-clad brute: they were actually the bling kings of their day. Fancy and intricately-made jewelry, tools, weapons were in high demand and still turn up all over Europe.

2. They gave us many cute words

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Sure the Vikings gave us words like anger, berserk and knife, but did you know they also donated nicey-nice words like cake, husband and freckle to English?

Oh and let's not forget Yule - because they were also very into Christmas.

3. They scrubbed up well (and often)

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Far from being sweaty barbarians, Vikings liked to keep themselves in good order.

Excavations have turned up Viking tweezers, razors, combs and even ear cleaners made from antler and bone.

We also know they bathed every week, unlike other Europeans of the time who preferred bi-monthly dips. Imagine what their towels must have looked like.

4. They spoiled their pets

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Most Vikings were farmers who kept useful animals around, which they often ended up being BFFs with.

Cats were kept for their ability to catch mice, but they were also prized as companions, with kittens given to new brides thanks to their association with Freyja, the goddess of love.

Dogs were a man's best friend even back then: faithful pooches have been found curled up beside their master in Viking burials.

5. They exchanged love letters

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Far from being illiterate mead-swiggers, Norse people had their own complex runic writing system, which they used for both business and pleasure.

Just this year a mysterious 900-year-old code carved into a piece of wood was decoded in Oslo. The message? 'Kiss me!'

We can only hope they got that smooch they were after.

6. They enjoyed spa treatments

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Some of the oldest remaining Viking structures in Iceland are their thermal spring hot tubs, like the one pictured above which was built around 1209 by the brilliantly-named Viking Snorri Sturluson.

That's how much they cared about having a nice soak and a bit of a chill-out.

7. They were (pretty) hip on equal rights

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Since we're talking about people who lived over a thousand years ago, let's stress the Norsemen were advanced on women's rights for their time.

Girl Power it wasn't, but Viking women could inherit property, request divorces and claim their marriage dowries back if the coupling didn't work out, while women elsewhere in Europe didn't have those rights.

Women could also hold high offices - one of the most elaborate Viking burials ever found was for a woman, the so-called Oseberg Queen, and what appeared to be her daughter.

8. They wrote poems

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Forget bull fighting, gladiators or bear-baiting: the Vikings' preferred form of light entertainment was a few stanzas of poetry. The big softies.

So common was it that there were genres: short 'Eddaic' poems and fancier 'Skaldic' ones were equally popular.

Many of them survive - they're basically like Lord Of The Rings, but with more farming.

9. They went skiing in their spare time

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In their native Scandinavia, Vikings used skis as a handy way to get from A to B in the snow - but they also skied for fun. They even had their own god of skiing called Ullr. Here he is, participating in the 902 AD Winter Olympics.

10. They wore highlights

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So fashionable and desirable was blonde hair that brown-haired Viking men would use a soap heavy with lye to dye their hair and beards to suit the fashion.

The soap also helped to prevent head lice - so they were pretty health conscious too.

11. They were great nurses

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Viking medicine was advanced for its time: skeletons from the period show broken bones could be mended, and clever herbal potions were often made.

Viking healers could even perform some kinds of surgery - though we'll stick with our local drop-in clinic if that's okay.

There are more surprises in store - How To Train Your Dragon 2 hits cinemas on July 10.

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