Vikings Weapons And Combat Strategies

By Viking Lair (Updated 9/27/2018)


1. Introduction 

2. The Body Equipment

   2.1. The Chainmail / 2.2. The Helmet / 2.3. The Shield

3. Combat Weapons

   3.1. The Sword / 3.2. The Spear / 3.3. The Axe / 3.4. The Bow / 3.5. The Sling

4. Fights and strategies

   4.1. Combat Strategies / 4.2. The Glima : Viking Fight


    1. Introduction

    Viking weapons were not only used for battles but also symbolizes the wealth and status of its owners. As stated in some Viking poems, warriors are recommended to wear it all day and all night just in case they need to fight. Women and slaves do not have the right to carry weapons but in every rule, there are exceptions. There have been discoveries and traces of rare burials of women with weapons.

    For those unfortunate ones, they use their work tools for battle and it was possibly modified to look like or at least be used as a good enough weapon. These people were equipped with an axe or some hunting spear that is protected by a wooden shield. They also use their hunting bows when fighting. The wealthiest ones on the other hand, complete their battle equipments with a metal helmet, a long sword and a chainmail.


    2. The Body Equipment

    2.1. The Chainmail

    Chainmails are not easy to produce and this made it very expensive. It is necessary to wear thick padding underneath it to absorb the force of the sword blows or the onslaught of the arrows during battles. Reindeer skin was also used as an armor and deemed effective. Plate armor was not used, but shell or flake armor have been worned as parts of it were found at the Birka site in Sweden.  

    The vikings who had the means used metals rings called “meshes” in the form of chainmails that are connected together to form a protective fabric. All their rings are also rivted to save manufacturing time and weight gain without loss of efficiency.  There are also cases in numerous sagas (Vatnsdæla saga, Vopnfirðinga saga, etc.), mentioning that flat stones have been placed under clothing to protect Vikings.


    2.2. The Helmet

    The viking helmet is iron, bowl-shaped with a nasal sometimes added glasses. The helmet is sometimes made in one piece, but usually it is made from two or four iron plates riveted together by a band of iron circling the head at the forehead and one or two bands passing through the top of the bowl. On some helmets, there was a camail and/or metal plates attached to the bowl-shaped portion to provide additional protection.

    2.3. The Shield

    The Viking shields were initially circular, Germanic type, with a diameter of about 90 cm or more, and 1 to 3 cm thick. They were made of planks of fir, pine, willow or lindenIn some sagas, we speak of shields worn in the back or on the side, which suggests that they could have worn a carrying strap. Pigments found on shields during excavations suggest that they were not entirely covered with leather but painted directly on the wood.  

    3. Combat Weapons

    3.1. The Sword

    The Vikings used saxes (also called scramasaxe, seax, sax, seaxe, scramaseax, scramsax and sachsum) which are multi-German knives (Saxon, Frankish, Viking, etc.), without guard and with a single cutting edge. It measures between 20 cm and 1 m long and were usually worn in a sheath hung horizontally on the belt.  

    The sword is precious because iron was scarce and so expensive that it was worth around a dozen dairy cows at that time. This weapon was so complex to manufacture that only a few highly specialized blacksmiths are capable of producing it. Viking craftsmen often added their own richly decorated knobs, and many swords were given names:  

    • Bastarðr ("bastard")  
    • Brynjubítr ("mordant of byrnie") 
    • Dragvandill (etym.)  
    • Fetbreiðr ("foot-wide", "foot" as in the unit of measure)  
    • Fjôrsváfi ("life-taking"?)  
    • Fótbítr or Leggbítr ("mordant of foot / or leg")  
    • Gamlanautr ("gift of Gamli")  
    • Grásíða ("Gray-side")  
    • Grettisnautr ("gift of Grettir")  
    • Gunnlogi ("war-flame, fire-fight")  
    • Hneitir (exact meaning uncertain, but something like "sharp")  
    • Hvítingr ("white-unique")  
    • Jarðhússnautr ("gift" of an underground room)  
    • Jôkulsnautr ("gift of Jökull")  
    • Kársnautr ("gift of Karr")  
    • Kettlingr ("kitten")  
    • Kvernbítr (mordant of?)  
    • Lang ("long")  
    • Laufi (apparently from "Leaves")  
    • Nadr (?)  
    • Níðingr ("naughty", break-truce)  
    • Skrýmir (maybe "big" is also the name of a giant)  
    • Skôfnungr ("tibia")  
    • Sniðill ("serpette")  
    • Sætarspillir ("peace breaker")  
    • Tumanautr ("gift" of Tumi)  
    • Tyrfingr ( magical sword that is said to be sheathed with flame)  
    • Ættartangi (apparently from the "Tang family")  
    • Ølvisnautr ("gift of Ølvir")  

    3.2. The Spear

    The spear, iron blade on a wooden handle, was the weapon most frequently used by the Viking warrior, either as a weapon of jet or as a rifle whose shaft could be up to 2 or 3 meters. The different found irons are 20 to 60 cm, have the most diverse forms, with or without quillon.

    3.3. The Axe

    At the base of the working tool, the battle axes have been developed with larger cutting edges and longer handles. Long-handled axes could be used instead of swords, especially in open combat. Some axe (rich vikings) were decorated with inlaid precious metals (gold and silver).  

    The edge of some axes is hardened steel welded to the iron head. The double-headed axes belong to a late development typical of the end of the 10th and 11th centuries. However, as the owner of such an axe could not hold a shield at the same time, he would have stood behind the front line of the warriors, rushing only at the proper time to defeat the enemy.

    3.4. The Bow

     Bows were used primarily for hunting, but they were also used in ranged combat. The archers began hostilities with a shower of arrows before the melee. The use of archers is mentioned in several sagas like Njáll the Brûlé and Eyrbyggja among others, for the defense of a strategic point. It is also used in nautical fights as stated in the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason. The arches were made from yew, ash, or elm wood. In general, they measured 1.5 to 2 m in length.   

    3.5.The Sling

    In the Kjalnesinga saga, it is written that Bui Andríðsson never wore another weapon apart from his sling, which he still carried on him. He would have used it with deadly results on many occasions.  

    4. Fights and Strategies

    4.1. Combat Strategies

    The Vikings had no permanent professional army, and tactics. They did not fight in regular formations.

    Youth training in weapons began with hunting, sport and raids. These aspiring warriors sought to enter the service of the most famous armed corps in which they hoped to be rewarded by making a name for themselves by their own feats of arms.

    During the battle , the youngest warriors formed a line with their overlapping shields to form a " wall of shields" for better protection for their ; their leader was well defended by a bodyguard standing nearby. The veterans came in reinforcement behind them. The competition began by using the protection of Odin, and ensued a rain of spears, arrows and other projectiles above of the enemy line.  

    4.2. The Glima: Viking Fight

    Glíma is the traditional Icelandic struggle that originated in the Viking Age. The word Glíma means "lightning", it is also an old Scandinavian expression meaning "to fight". Glima is still practiced today, mainly in Iceland.  

    In the art of Glíma, strength was not as important as technical skills and balance. The fighters exchanged lightning blows and beat each other with both hands and feet. The objective is to knock down the opponent, but the fighter who has made the other fall must stand up as quickly as possible. T

     Viking Battle 360° view 

     Articles sources:

    The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: Its Archaeology and Literature
    Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques


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