Viking warfare – weapons – 5/

Slavic warriors reenactors on the seashore with weapons and shields training in fighting. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Survey of weapons used by Vikings and their opponents is described in Norse Warfare: A Portrayal of Combat, Raids, and Plunder in the Viking Age by Martina Sprague.

This is a continuation of a series of posts describing various aspects of warfare in the Viking era explained in the book.

Offensive weapons

Book provides interesting background on weapons of the time.

Swords were used for slashing or chopping and not thrusting. Thus they had a blunt tip.

They were typically 3 feet long and 4 inches wide.

Weight would be in the range of between 3 up to 4½ pounds.

That would make the Viking swords longer, wider, and heavier than a Roman Legionaire’s gladius.

Heavy two-hand battle axes were difficult to use at very close range. In addition, they required sufficient swinging room, so you could not use them in a shield wall. It had a longer reach than a sword or a light axe.

The power in a broad-axe was such that it could cut through a shield. The heavy axes were quite effective in chopping through a shield wall, creating a break which could be exploited. Once a shield wall was breached, the defense would quickly collapse, thus ending the battle in a bloody slaughter.

The smaller, one-hand battle axe could be used at very close order, so it was used in a shield wall.

Book suggest most Vikings would carry one or more spears, which would be thrown at the beginning of the battle. Many would have a bow and plenty of arrows.

Defensive weapons

Because of the expense, only rich Vikings would have an iron helmet and chain mail. Book says it would take a year to make one coat of mail.

As a result most Vikings would have been wearing leather as the only protection. Text indicates that would likely be sufficient to deflect a slashing blow from a sword or hand axe.

Shields were made out of linden or ash, which are hardwoods. They were lightweight and therefore not likely to survive more than one battle. They would not protect against a broad-axe.

Because they were light and easy to make, I get the impression that Vikings would probably have taken along several shields on their ventures. The long cold winters would allow plenty of time to make several shields, plenty of arrows, and new handles for axes.

No advantage in weaponry

These weapons, the broad-axe, hand axe, slashing sword, bow and arrows, spears, wood shields, and leather jackets, are the same weapons as carried by their opponents.

Both the Vikings and their opponents in England and the continent used the shield wall. The technology in battle was the same on all sides.

What made the difference with the items discussed much earlier in this series, specifically mobility, surprise, and the ability to withdraw if resistance was encountered.

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