During the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries, various Viking chieftains and Scandinavian rulers used the raven banner as a ceremonial flag. The flag was roughly triangular in Norse artwork, with rounded corners and tassels hanging from each end. It looked similar to the ornately carved “weather-vanes” on Viking longships.
Considered the symbol of Odin, the Viking flag was used to intimidate enemies or to indicate that the dead were given to Odin.
Ravens played a significant role in the Viking age. They were painted on Viking flags as they were believed to bring them good fortune. There was even a belief among the Vikings that the Ravens gave their banners some magical powers.
Therefore, they used them to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies by summoning the power of Odin. Due to Ravens’ connection to Heathen, the God of war, the raven banner was also used as a war flag.
Due to the conflict between Christians and heathens, Christians believed the symbols on these banners were evil and pagan. Therefore, the Raven and its symbols are likely associated with Odin, who is occasionally known as the Raven God.
Due to his shapeshifting abilities and his desire to wander about Midgard in disguise, Odin is known by the name “shapeshifter” as well. He is undoubtedly a curious God who constantly tries to gain new knowledge. Every morning, he uses his two ravens to gather news from across all nine worlds.
Symbolically, ravens are associated with affection, healing, wisdom, death, fertility, and longevity. Their black color represents the color of night, the void, and the Earth itself. Some believe the Raven was born out of darkness, while others believe it brought light to the world.
Odin used ravens as his eyes and ears in Midgard (aka. Earth) to stay updated at all times. Ravens appear in Vikings as a symbol of Odin’s presence in Midgard and his constant monitoring of Ragnar and the Vikings.
- Bayeux Tapestry prominently displays the Raven Flag, which Normans brought to England during their conquests. Its repeated presence on the Tapestry is evident of its existence and usage in the Viking age.
- It can also be found on English coins from the 9th and 10th centuries showing what is believed to be a Raven Flag. Nevertheless, many historians disagree that the coins depict flags or banners; instead, they are depictions of ravens.
- Moreover, the Annals of St. Neots states that the Raven Flag belonged to a mythical ruler, Ragnar Lothbrok. As this evidence is not more than two hundred years old, it can’t be considered an exceptionally reliable argument supporting the use of Raven Flags during the Viking Age.
- As the Orkneyinga Saga tells the tale of Sigurd the Stout, who used the banner for his standard, it makes heavier use of the Raven Banner. He meets an unexpected end at the battle of Clontarf in Ireland, and his Raven Banner becomes a cursed symbol which leads to his defeat.
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions the Raven Flag once as the banner by which the Northmen conquered the island. There is a reference to the flags as “war flags” evoked by the imagery of a raven.
- The Raven Flag appeared in some Norse armies, and they indeed used it. Based on the evidence, the banners were used only during the end of the Viking Age in England.
While no flag has survived time, some clothing remains have been found from sunken ships, which is curious in a way. There is no doubt that the Viking flag was of utmost importance to kings and earls that they wanted to be buried with it.
Hopefully, this article has given you a brief idea about the importance of ravens and the raven flag in the Viking age.