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What Weapons Did The Vikings Use - A Short History

Many stories about the Viking wars have been told throughout history. The courage of the Viking warriors was so famous that it became part of a legend. 

However, courage is not the only thing that made the Vikings more superior warriors than their contemporaries.

The Vikings had superior technology when it came to making weapons, which turned them into supreme warriors, who are not forgotten even today, ten centuries later.

 




Viking Weapons and Armor

It can be said that conflicts were a way of life in the Viking Age and an almost indispensable part of a Viking's everyday life. Even when we are not talking about the frequent raids (for which the Vikings were also famous), high moral codes required these Norse men to be ready to defend their honor at any moment.

This meant that adult men always carried weapons with them. Even when they slept, their weapons were at hand. If we consider the harsh circumstances in which the Vikings lived, it is clear that they could have been attacked at any moment.

Viking weapons could be divided into offensive and defensive. Since the Norse men were known for their raids, offensive weapons are mentioned more often. 

However, the Vikings also had so-called defensive weapons in their war equipment, which served to defend against enemy strikes. 

We should mention that the Vikings did not carry weapons only in battles. The weapons also served to emphasize social status.

So the question is, did all Vikings had the means to own just any weapon? Were the poor Vikings armed as well as the rich ones? Lastly, what Viking weapons were most commonly used in the Viking era?

We will try to clarify these and other important issues and dilemmas below, so stay with us.

Types of Offensive Viking Weaponry in the Viking Age

Wooden fence with shields, axes, swords and helmets

Although in many ways superior to their rivals, the Vikings did not use any form of writing to pass their stories during their reign. Therefore, there are no reliable records from that period that describe the Viking wars and the weapons they used during the fighting.

Therefore, it is clear that archaeological research and records are the most reliable source of information on this topic. Archaeologists found Viking weaponry in graves, sunken ships, lakes, and places where Vikings fought.

According to archaeologists, Viking warriors used the following types of weaponry:

  1. Swords (single-sided and double-edged),
  2. Spears,
  3. Axes (ordinary and battle-axes),
  4. Bows and arrows,
  5. Daggers (short sword or Viking seax).

Swords

Viking swords were the most prestigious weapon of the Viking Age. But, unfortunately, this meant that swords could not be held by all community members but only by those who belonged to the social elite.

The Viking swords were much more than just a fighting weapon in Viking culture. Instead, the Viking swords were a symbol of masculinity, family ties, loyalty to the ruler, as well as an essential part of ritual funeral rites.

At the beginning of the Viking Age, swords were mostly one-sided. However, as the Vikings perfected their weapons-making techniques, double-edged swords became more and more common.

The sword blades were made of iron. In its central part, along its entire length, the iron blades had a shallow groove to make the sword lighter and easier to manipulate.

Since a large amount of iron was needed to make the blade, swords were not as common as is believed. Iron was expensive, and only the wealthiest Vikings could afford this prestigious weapon.

In Norse mythology, the god of swords is considered to be the god Freyr. According to legend, he had a magic sword that had the power to fight his enemies on his own. 

However, when Freyr fell in love with the giant Gerd, he was willing to do anything to win her heart, even to give up his sword.

After losing his sword, he used an antler to fight Beli, but his fate during Ragnaros was already predetermined. Without a sword to defend him, Freyr dies during Ragnarok in a battle with a fire giant Surt.

Spears

The spear was the most common weapon of Viking warriors. It could be afforded by all warriors, which made it a standard weapon for the Nordic peasant class.

The lances carried by the Vikings had an iron head between 20-60 cm long, which was riveted to a wooden shaft. As a result, less metal was needed to make the spears, which made them cheap to produce. 

Also, the metal used to make the spear could be of more inferior quality, which is why it was considered a lower-quality weapon than a sword.

Despite this, the Vikings considered the spear to be a sacred weapon used even by the god Odin (the Nordic god of war and ruler of Asgard). It is believed that Odin's spear, Gungnir, was enchanted to always hit the desired target.

Because of that, the Vikings threw spears at the enemies in order to break their lines and thus weaken their army. Also, the Vikings believed that they were sacrificing enemy soldiers to Odin by throwing spears.

Axes and Battle Axes

Viking warrior holding an axe and a shield

Axes were also a common weapon of the Vikings, whose purpose was multiple. Thus, Viking axes were used as a tool during daily activities but also as a weapon in battles.

The Vikings mostly carried a small axe behind their belts, which served as a useful tool or defensive weapon.

Battle axes were specially designed for the needs of warfare, which means that they were different from ordinary axes. 

The axe heads of both ordinary and battle-axes were made of iron, while the blades of these axes differed in width (battle-axes had significantly wider blades). Also, battle axes were mostly one-sided. 

The handle of an axe was made of wood and could be of different lengths.

Many Viking weapons were given names, so certain axes had their own names. According to the Nordic sagas, 17 Viking axes had their names. One of the most famous was the axe called "Hel" named after the Goddess of Death.

King Magnus of Norway and Denmark inherited this famous axe from Olav Haraldsson (his father).

It is believed that Viking axe heads were so precisely made and sharp that, in the hands of an experienced warrior, they could cut even a helmet and a protective chain mail (metal protective shirt).

 





Bows and Arrows

In addition to the weapons described above, the Norse people were also skilled in handling bows and arrows. Apart from war, bows and arrows were also used during hunting.

The arches were made of wood (yew, ash, and elm) and were sometimes decorated with metal fittings. 

The bows used in hunting were often decorated, while those intended for war were not practical to decorate (often broken and difficult to repair).

The tips of the arrows were made of iron, bones, wood, and even animal horns.

Viking Seax

When we talk about the early medieval period, it is important to know that there are many knives that have a rich history. One such legendary knife is called "seax" and comes from Scandinavia. 

The Seax is a weapon possessed by almost every Viking warrior. Therefore, this knife depicts a deep Viking history.

The Viking seax was the longest combat knife. The blade of this knife was metal and 30 to 60 cm long, and the handle was most often made of wood and sometimes of bones or horns.

Viking seax was used in the early period of the Viking era, and as we have already mentioned, it was owned by almost all Viking warriors. The Seax was usually worn in a sheath, which was hung around the waist. 

Depending on the length, seax knives had different names.

Some of these names include "langsax" or "scramasax." However, in Nordic saga records, the term "sax" is most commonly used, and sometimes "höggsax" and "handsax."

Types of Defensive Viking Weapons in the Viking Age

As we said before, the Norse men also wore Viking weapons and armor during battles that had a defensive purpose.

Such weapons are called defensive Viking weapons and include:

  1. Helmets,
  2. Shields,
  3. Chainmails (metal protective shirt).

Helmets

Viking halmet

The Norse people mostly wore helmets that protected their heads from enemy blows during a battle. Helmets were usually made of iron and, in rare cases, of leather. The helmets were rounded to cover the upper part of the head, and some of them also featured nose guards.

Shields

Viking shields were mainly round and made of wood. On the inside, shields had a handle that was protected with iron.

The shields were sometimes edged with a metal ring for more superior durability. The diameter of the Viking shields was generally a little less than one meter.

Metal Protective Shirts (Chainmail)

Some Viking warriors could afford protective armor in the shape of a metal shirt. More precisely, only those who were extremely rich could wear this kind of armor on the battlefield.

Thousands of iron rings, which were nailed to each other by the hand, were needed to make this armor. These shirts provided the warriors with additional protection from stab wounds and cuts of enemy weapons.

Just as offensive weapons had their names, so did these protective armors. The most famous among them was called "Emma" and was owned by Harald Hardrada.

Viking Weapons and Armor: The Takeaway

As we said initially, the Viking Age was a time of violence, and wars were an integral part of Scandinavian life. Accustomed to fierce fighting, the ancient Norse warriors were not afraid of death.

However, the Vikings understood the importance of weapons. And, even though fear was not present in their war campaigns, they still went on raids with the best weapons at hand.

The warriors of the Viking Age were united in the fight for one goal - supremacy. Some fought with a sword, some with a spear or an axe, but that did not diminish their influence and dominance.

Until our next meeting,

Skåll!

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