More discussion of Viking era weapons, ships, money, and warfare: spears, cost of iron.

The nails are what’s left of a burial coffin. Object from the exhibition We Call Them Vikings produced by the Swedish History Museum by The Swedish History Museum, Stockholm is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Delightful book on Viking era weaponry takes a practical, hands-on look at use of weapons in combat. In Viking Weapons & Warfare, author John Kim Siddorn takes a very different perspective from the usual Viking book, since he is a reenactor with extensive experience actually carrying a shield and spear in a shield wall during reenactment battles. With his 25 years of reenacting experience, he can speak personally on protection provided by a shield, how quickly untrained people can be brought up to speed on using a spear, how difficult it is to use a sling, and the practicalities of maintaining integrity of a shield wall during close combat.

His book provides extensive discussion on construction techniques and practical usage of various weapons. I won’t go into a detail on that, because to do so would require essentially repeating entire chapters to get an appreciation for the issues involved.

Instead I will pull out tidbits of interest to me that I hope would be of interest to those who already enjoy this blog.

Posts in this series:

  • Spears, cost of iron
  • Shields, armor
  • Helmets, ships
  • Money

Cost of Iron

To put the Viking era into perspective, particularly construction of ships and cost of weaponry, he explains iron for Vikings was about as expensive to them as silver is to us now. With a book written in 2000, that would put silver at around five dollars an ounce.

From August 2020 through May 2021 silver has been running in the range of $22 to $27. From 2013 through summer of 2020 silver was somewhere in the range of around $15. From 1994 through the end of 2004 it was running in the range of $5 an ounce.

Imagine constructing merely a cabinet or bookshelf when the screws cost a dollar or two a piece.

Consider photo at top of this post. Make a guess how much those nails from a coffin weigh. Now guess how much those would cost if they were made out of silver.


Author says the primary weapon in the Viking age was the spear. This is in stark contrast to movies, the popular TV show Vikings, pictures, and common legend. Oh, that is also contrary to essentially every image I use to illustrate my posts.

When he explains spears and swords it makes sense.

By the time you get close enough to take a poke with your 3 foot sword, your opponent had the previous 6 feet of closing distance with which to poke you with his spear. You would be stopped, or severely wounded, or dead by the time you got within swinging distance if your side was armed with swords and your opponents were carrying thrusting spears.

Spears would also cost far less than an axe and a small fraction as much as a sword.

Best wood for spears was ash. It is strong and naturally grows very straight.

Spears would typically be between 7 feet and 9 feet in length.

I’ve sometimes wondered why a person would put a wing on a spear.

If your thrust doesn’t score, you could try hooking your opponent’s shield with the wing as you pull back your spear in order to pull the shield out of place for a moment. Aha. One or two seconds out of position would give your buddy on either side the chance to make a quick thrust against your exposed enemy.

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