Weapons

"O Lord save us from the fury of the Northmen."

"A sword age, a wind age, a wolf age,
no longer is there mercy among men."

The Sybil's Prophecy,
    circa 1000 AD

Warfare

The Vikings were the commandos of their time with swift brutal strikes called "Strandhögg" against coastal villages and isolated farms from the sea with shallow-drafted Long Ships that could readily be beached. Or Vikings could sail their smaller coastal raiders up rivers, unloading a horde of greedy, pillaging pagans bent on taking whatever they wanted and burning the rest. Landing larger armies from huge fleets of Long Ships, they ruthlessly march across the countryside like a swarm of locusts. The Vikings could stay as long as they wanted, or until the local kings or nobles could mount an army of their own to fight (and be slaughtered) and somehow push these "scourges" back into their ships until next time. "Danegeld" had to be paid to make sure these "Vikings" did not come back again or at least for awhile.

 At least this is what you are led to believe if you only read the accounts written by the "other side." For example, an early raid in 787ce on Wareham, England by three Danish ships recorded by a mid-10th century historian, or by Alcuin of Northumbria, on the first dateable Viking raid on St.Cuthbert's Monestary on Landisfarne. There is also the 843ce raid up the Loire Valley and the Seine by Vestfold, Dublin and Rouen Vikings. The larger Raids like the 859-62 Saga of Hasting and Bjorn Ragnar Lothbok's sons who sailed with sixty-two Long Ships to Pisa, Italy and sacked it. The 859-62 Danish "Great Army" that led to the establishment of the Danelaw or 1010-11 march of a Danish "Great Army" through East Anglia as recorded in the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" and produced through a series of accidents of Denmark's King Canute to become King of England from 1018-1030. In reality, the Vikings themselves did not see these incursions in that light. In part as "adventure", the sort of thing a young man might do in his youth if from a good family. It was proper work for a professional warrior, where he could get good money as a hireling. It was also a way to gather needed capital to put into a business, a ship or a farm. Most importantly, not all Vikings went "a'viking" or were warriors, professional or amateur. However, like many peoples of the period, they knew how to fight if needed and to defend themselves.

Weaponry

The Sword was the most coveted and sought after weapon. It was the soul of the Warrior; a symbol of the freeman; richly decorated pieces to be given by a Norse Jarl or King to his followers. A finely crafted piece to by owned by a wealthy merchant or rich farmer. Some were found in a few Women's graves as far North as parts of Finland. The early Viking blades were made by master bladesmiths by "pattern-welding," twisting rods of steely iron with lesser wrought iron, or an edge of steel, onto a softer core. The herringbone patterns gave rise to fanciful naming by Saga skalds like "vaegir" (wave-sword), "morðlinnr" (Serpent of Battle), or "hyrr Hroptr" (Fire of Odin), and so on. These were parallel-sided and tapered near the point. Most pommels were generally three lobed with a short guard but some triangular shaped were used and even some flat wheel pommels later as seen on medieval swords. The blades were about two inches wide and 30 inches long. The grips were about 5 inches long and made of wood, bone or cast. They were wire-wrapped with banding, or leather-wrapped. The pommels/guards were generally cast but carved walrus ivory ones have been found, too. There were single-edged swords as well, called "Long Saxes," and had blades 26 to 28 inches long. There were also short swords called Scramaxe.

 By the 900s, a newer shape appeared and the blades were not being pattern-welded but out of good, steely ore that with proper tempering/annealing, made the blades lighter, tougher than before. The first of these newer blades came from a Rhineland-Frankish bladesmith or family of smiths named "Ulfberht". We know this as his name was inlaid into the fullers or "blood-grooves". They tapered more sharply away from the hilt so that the balance point came nearer to it, making them swifter and more manageable in the hand where the older swords had this balance closer to the point. Ewart Oakshott ("Archaeology of Weapons") describes one 10th century Viking sword found in the River Witham in Lincoln England this way: "...its only decoration simple geometric patterns inlaid in copper and brass upon its hilt; yet it has a very splendour of beauty. It lives in your hand too. As your fingers close round its hilt you feel the character of the weapon; it seems positively to woo you to strike. There is no mistaking its message or its purpose." At nearly two pounds, Viking Swords were not the huge, clumsy "dead" pieces of iron, as many believe. Nor do you have to be a "Conan" to use one.

Axes

There were several types of Axes used by the Vikings from single-handed ones with 4 to 6 inch wide curved blades to the larger "Danish" Axe that had a 9 inch curved blade and a 4 foot haft. The later "Great Battle Axes" had wide crescent blades of 12 to 13 inches and by no means could you mistake these for "domestic" axes as perhaps the earlier ones. Many had been dredged up in the Thames dating from the 9th to 10th centuries and are now in the British Museum. With names like "Battle Witch", "Wound's Wolf" and "Monster of Shields" these were very efficient, deadly weapons used in much practiced hands. Some axes of all sizes were found with decorated blades inlaid with silver, brass or gold showing the high regard the Vikings had for them.

Spears

Spears were not just "poor man's weapons," but also highly regarded by Jarls, warriors and farmers as a defensive and offensive weapon. "Out in the field no man should move a foot from his weapons. For a man never knows how soon he may have need of his spear." (Havamál) Used in both hunting and war, some of these spears had two projections out of either side of the socket and were called "Winged Spears". Closely identified with Odin, many of these spears were highly decorated on sockets and on some heads with inlaid silver, copper, brass wire or sheet.

Helmets

The typical Viking helmet or helm was made up of a headband with four strips and had sections of iron hammered and riveted into place. Some were just overlapped hammered iron wedges and riveted or two piece. Some had "goggles" (like the Gjermundhu Helmet) or "eyebrows" with a nasal (decorated or plain). Others had long mail curtains the attached around the rim of the helmet and to the "goggles" to cover the lower face and part of the neck. Many were highly decorated, like the Coppergate Helmet. A few were found with boar crests as in some examples from Anglo-Saxon England. In the "Hrolf Kraki's Saga", King Aedils of the Uppsala Swedes wore a helmet with a Vanir boar's crest as Uppsala was the seat of that worship. Some earlier Vendel Period Helmets had faced masks like the Sutton Hoo and Valsgard with earpieces and metal strips behind and some might have been used up through Viking Times. However, no "horns" were ever used by the Viking warriors themselves in battle. However for ritual or religious purposes there was one that depicted curved horns attached to the metal helm. There are helmet plate dies from Torslund for making decorative panels showing "dancing warriors" with helmets ending in stylized birds' heads. Religious amulets of horned figures with spears and on some existing Vendal helmets with decorated plates show warriors with spears in ritualized combat or "dance". Perhaps hearkening back to older Bronze Age times and rituals since there are a pair of cast bronze "ritual helmets" were found in Denmark from this period and have long curved "horns" ending in bird's heads. However, this is only conjecture and a gray area at best with much discussed as to what the plates and amulets point to.

Shields

Shields were made from laminating planking out of linden or oak riveted with metal strips in the back and a metal shield boss in the front. Approximately 30 to 36 inches in diameter and many were painted or covered in leather. They were not rimmed around the edge with iron like the later Medieval shields or the Byzantine ones used by the Varangian Guard. There was hand and forearm strapping and some had longer leather or cording to sling the shield out of the way over the back while marching or on horseback. "Net of Spears", "Sun of Odin", "War Linden", "The Hall Roof of Odin", "Battle Shelterer" are among many of the poetic names given to this important piece.

Byrnies

Byrnies were mail, short-sleeved shirts that reached about thigh length with half to 3/4 sleeves. Some later byrnies were longer and reached just above or below the knee with full sleeves as used by the Normans or King Harald Hardrada in 1066. The rings were hammered out of iron into thin rods and drawn through a "draw plate" to the right thickness then wound around a bar of the proper diameter to form a coil spring. After being chiseled off, the ends were flattened and punched for a small rivet to go through while making "four in one". This was a single ring with four other rings slid on. To connect two sets of "four in one" a single ring was used sliding through the back two and front two rings of the sets then so on. Really easier than it sounds but very time consuming to make. Laminallar byrnies with metal scales might have been worn if a lucky Viking traveled to Byzantium where these were used. Some of the Rus wore small laminallar scales over their mail shirts for added protection. The short sleeved Mail byrnies weighed about 35-45 pounds and were belted at the waist. The longer hauberks would weigh more, of course. Not so heavy to wear once you are used to it but very hot if worn under a hot sun or heat of battle. It was good against some slashing sword blows but an arrow would go through it and so with a spear-point.

 An Arab writer, Ibn Miskawayh, described Viking warriors who captured the trading town of Berda'a, south of the Caucasus in 943. According to Ibn, every Northman carried a sword and, he writes, "They fight with spear and shield, they gird themselves with a sword and carry a battle-axe and a dagger-like weapon. They fight as foot soldiers, particularly those who come by ship" A fully mail clad Viking warrior with helmet, sword, shield or with a spear or welding an axe would be a formidable sight.  Laurie "the Deep Minded