Are you interested in learning more about Viking helmets? Do you want to know everything there is about the design and use of these famous and popular helmets that were a symbol of identity and courage?
If you do, stick around, and you'll find everything you ever wanted to know about this Viking cultural heritage. I'll briefly present some vital information about Viking-era helmets and answer some of the most popular questions related to them. So, keep reading and explore this little-known part of Viking history and culture.
Let's get started!
The first thing we need to clarify is that knowledge of early military technologies from the Viking Age relies heavily on relatively rare archaeological findings, pictorial representations, and to some extent, on oral records preserved in the Nordic sagas.
Therefore, although it is difficult to imagine a terrifying Viking warrior without wearing a helmet on his head, there is not much reliable evidence that the Vikings really used them en masse.
However, let's see what is known so far when it comes to Viking helmets, their appearance, crafting, and use in general during the Viking Era.
Viking Helmet Facts: What were Helmets Made Of?
As we have said, the historical facts about Viking helmets are very unreliable and rely heavily on Nordic sagas. Therefore, the knowledge we have today about Viking helmets is very limited.
Let's stop for a second and see what the reason for this is?
The reason is the very small number of found helmets from the Viking period, which, according to some scientists, proves that iron helmets were not often made back in the day.
On the other hand, some scientists believe that the reason for not finding Viking helmets lies in the fact that they were made of quality metals and that after some time, they were remelted for other purposes.
However, if we consider the fact that iron was very expensive when the Vikings lived, we can presume that Vikings made only a small number of iron helmets. Accordingly, there is a third belief that helmets were made of leather, which, unlike iron, disintegrates over time. So, leather helmets would be another logical explanation of why Viking helmets could not be discovered during archeological excavations. They simply fell apart over time.
Did the Vikings Wear Horned Helmets?
Although at the mention of a Viking helmet, most people imagine a horned helmet like the one worn on our heads by the well-known comic book hero Hagar the Horrible, we have to tell you that this picture is absolutely wrong.
There is no evidence that the Vikings wore horned helmets. Moreover, given the small number of helmets recovered from the Viking period, it is more likely that most Nordic warriors could not afford a metal helmet as part of their war equipment (as I've already mentioned).
The helmet's design with horns on it was created in 1876 as a figment of the imagination of a costume designer called Karl Emil Doepler. According to some beliefs, the misconception about Viking's horned helmets was spread by Christians because they wanted to free Europe from the pagan way of life led by the Vikings. The helmets' horns were aimed at presenting the Vikings as a savage people who looked like devils.
Did they succeed in their intentions? We don't know, but one thing is sure. There is no proof that horns ever really existed on Viking helmets.
How Many Helmets Were Found from Viking Age?
As we mentioned earlier, there were very few discoveries of Viking helmets. More precisely, out of a total of three found helmets, only one was well preserved, while only rusty remains were discovered of the other two.
The only complete Viking helmet was the "Gjermundbu helmet," named after the eponymous farm where it was excavated (northern Norway). It is believed that this helmet was created around 970 AD and was made of iron.
As for the construction, this helmet consisted of a horizontally placed metal hoop, to which two vertical metal strips were attached (one from ear to ear, the other from forehead to nape). Four metal plates were attached to this helmet, forming the shape that would probably completely protect a Viking warrior's skull. An interesting part of the "Gjermundbu helmet" was the shield (plates) that protected the warrior's eyes and nose. Besides, on top of this helmet was a spike, which could serve as a dangerous weapon in war, whether for an attack or self-defense.
Today, the "Gjermundbu helmet" is on display at the Museum of National Antiquities (Oslo, Norway).
In the other two discoveries, only rusty fragments of Viking helmets were unearthed. The first discovery was in the municipality of Tjele (Denmark), and the second in the parish of Lokrume (island of Gotland, Sweden).
When Did the Vikings Wear Helmets?
Viking helmets are believed to have been an integral part of battle equipment a Viking would wear in times of battle. With a helmet on their heads, the warriors had a terrifying look that provoked fear in their opponents. Viking helmets provided additional protection by covering part of the face (mainly nose), and they also provided anonymity to the warriors.
All this and much other information about Viking helmets were mainly obtained based on research on the "Gjermundbu helmet." Clear evidence of damage was seen on this helmet, which is why it is believed that it was used in challenging battles.
However, several important questions arise…
How is it possible that only one helmet was discovered in the mass grave in which dozens of Norse warriors were buried? If all Vikings wore helmets in times of battle, why were they never found? Is there a possibility that the helmets were still worn only by warriors who were in prominent positions back in the Viking age? Could it be possible that Norse people were wearing mostly leather helmets as iron was hard to come across in Viking's world? And finally, could this unusual gap in the archaeological findings be solid proof that helmets were not as widespread in Norse culture as is believed?
This, as well as many other questions, will, unfortunately, remain unanswered for now.
The lack of evidence, or rather the lack of helmets discovered, is a great mystery to archaeologists. The belief that most warriors used to wear helmets during the Viking age cannot be proven, but neither can it be disputed.
That is why we have no choice but to wait for irrefutable evidence of helmets' use by the Vikings. Maybe one day, a mass grave of Viking warriors will be located in which there will be a helmet right next to each of them. In case this does not happen, we will never be able to claim with certainty that most Viking warriors wore helmets.
All we know for sure at this moment is that one Viking used to wear a metal helmet in his war campaigns. With its owner, that helmet fought many wars and probably saved the Viking warrior from deadly blows many times. The brave Viking warrior was buried with his helmet on Gjermundbu farm, taking with him the secret of the famous Viking helmets.
Until our next meeting,