Viking fighting equipment

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The fighting equipment of Vikings is drawn from pre-Christian burial remains, sacrifices and other lost and now recovered artefacts. This brief guide covers the period coming associated with the Vikings in Western Europe of 800 to 1100.

The sagas give us some indication of their fighting methods and weapons but due to their being written many hundreds of years later, are deemed to be, at best, unreliable sources.

Equipment

Arms

  • spear - sometimes with wings and generally socketed. Some were light enough to be easily thrown.
  • axe - common household tool sometimes with pronounced beard.
  • saex - knife
  • langseax - longer, single edged blade substituted by some in place of a sword.
  • sword - single handed weapon with short crossguard that might be straight or slightly curved forward on both sides of the blade and thought to be an influence of the Saxons. Blade could be pattern welded, would have a rounded tip and the blade would usually be no longer than 76 cm (30 inches). Pommel of various types (cocked hat, 'tea cosy' and lobed predominating). Hilt small only just large enough to accommodate an average sized modern hand. Only used by the wealthy.
  • Dane axe - large axe designed for use with two hands. Likely only used by the wealthiest of warriors and only in good quaility armour
  • longbow - of yew, with side nock on the upper limb which could have an odd bent section. Lower limb tied to string.
  • arrows with tanged heads and self nocks. Eagle feather flights bound onto the shaft in a spiral pattern.

Armour

  • none
  • padded armour (gambeson or aketon) - conjectural with no known examples surviving
  • leather/reindeer hide - conjectural with no known surviving examples. One saga mentions a number of warriors being equiped with reindeer hides that could turn swords as well as mail, but these are magical.
  • mail - short sleeved and short in the body composed of alternating rows of punched/welded links (roughly rectangular or flattened round section) and riveted (roundish drawn wire) of approximately 1.2 to 1.5 mm diamter with an internal diameter of 5-6mm internal diameter for the rings. Wealthy only. The length later, likely in the 11th century, changed to include elbow or forearm length sleeves and knee length body probably split in the front and back.
  • shield - centre boss style. Width between 65 to 95 cm in diameter, and thickness of approx 8mm. Covered with leather with an iron boss.
  • Norman or kite shield a possibility for 11th century Vikings.
  • Conical centre boss shield - conjectural
  • spectacle helmet - Gjermundbu style with round top, multiplate construction with mail aventail.
  • spangenhelm - pointed helmet with nasal. Single or multiplate construction -conjectural from ill defined picture stones and contemporary helmets
  • helmet - conical or rounded with metal frame and hardened leather sides.

Clothing

Misconceptions

  • two handed swords - not known
  • double headed axes - not known
  • swords with dragons
  • swords with circular pommels
  • swords with elaborate basket-style hand guards
  • swords with very heavy, blunt blades.
  • greaves - not known
  • vambraces - not known
  • gauntlets - not known
  • furry vests - not known
  • furry ugg-boot style shoes - not known
  • cross gartering - not known
  • rough amber necklaces
  • calf length 'sea boots' - this appears to be an invention of The Vikings group in the UK