Muslim Vikings: Warrior Burial Clothes Uncovered With 'Allah' Embroidery

Arabic embroidery appears on Viking-style clothing. Uppsala University

The discovery of Arabic characters showing reverence to Allah embroidered in Viking funerary clothing has turned on its head hundreds of years of thinking about Scandinavians in history, and raises questions over whether any of the culture's famed warriors converted to Islam.

Studying the intricate patterns woven into the bands of silk costumes recovered in boat graves from the Viking Age, researchers discovered the inclusion of long-hidden motifs revering Allah, the Muslim God, and Ali, the first Imam of the Shiite faith, Islam's largest minority group.

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The words remained unseen for so long because the writing appeared in geometric patterns known as Kufic design. Annika Larsson, a researcher in textile archaeology at the department of archaeology and ancient history at Uppsala University, first spotted the characters on clothing from graves in Sweden's Birka and Gamla Uppsala, that were excavated in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"One exciting detail is that the word 'Allah' is depicted in mirror image," Larsson said in a statement given by Uppsala University. "It is a staggering thought that the bands, just like the costumes, were made west of the Muslim heartlands."

It is believed that the Vikings, in their extensive travels, encountered the Islamic ideas of eternal life and paradise.

"In the Quran, it is written that the inhabitants of Paradise will wear garments of silk—which, along with the text band's inscriptions, may explain the widespread occurrence of silk in Viking-age graves," Larsson said. "The findings are equally prevalent in both men's and women's graves."

The Arabic embroidery appears on Viking-style clothing that was in fashion at the time, disproving the idea that the clothes might simply have been looted. To the contrary: The extent of the use of silk in weaving styles from ancient Persia and Central Asia, found in 9th- and 10th-century Viking graves, shows the extent to which they embraced the Eastern ideal.

As a result, Larsson told the BBC, "the possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out."

As part of the ongoing project, experts from Uppsala will conduct DNA analysis on the human remains from the graves to determine their kinship and geography.

While Vikings are often venerated by white nationalist movements, research has shown that the group's mobility meant they were far from culturally homogenous, with trade routes that stretched from Canada to Afghanistan.

The word "Viking" entered the modern English language in 1807, during a time of growing nationalism and empire-building.