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Viking Weapons - Sword, Axe, Spear, and Shield, and Bow
The Vikings were among the most prolific warriors, traders, sailors, and explorers of the ancient world, and their weaponry while relatively simple was employed with brutal effectiveness. Using specific variations of the most common weapons of the day, the Vikings struck fear into their enemies and gained power and influence almost overnight.
Today, their influence can still be felt throughout the world in popular media, from television to video games. Here, we will take a look at the tools of the trade that made the Vikings one of the most influential forces of the ancient world.
Exceptionally rare, about 171 Viking swords have been recovered bearing one variant or another of the name ULFBERHT. While most are suspected reproductions, some of these were crafted from what is known as crucible steel, an exceptionally high-quality steel high in carbon and with minimal impurities. Steel of this caliber would not be seen otherwise in Europe until the Industrial Age and made for a weapon vastly superior in performance to typical weapons of the day.
It is speculated that this steel was likely obtained in the Middle East by Viking traders, as nothing of similar composition has been found in Europe during the Viking Age.
Double-edged and pattern welded with a soft steel core and hardened edges, the Viking Sword was a primary weapon employed not only by the Vikings but many European fighters of the time. With its fullered blade and heavy pommel, it was a well-balanced and relatively light blade capable of both slashing and thrusting actions. In the right hands, it was a weapon to be feared. Early designs had a single wide fuller (trench in the middle of the blade) while some later designs featured several smaller ones. Among Viking weapons, the sword was likely the most valued both as a weapon and a status symbol.
The blades were typically around 2 1/2 feet long and 2 inches wide (on average for both measurements) with a smooth taper at the edge. They were designed for use with one hand, typically in conjunction with a shield.
Viking swords were, according to evidence, rare. Given the difficulty in the crafting of a quality sword, they were expensive commodities that most simply could not afford. Those who did own swords cared for them carefully and passed them down from generation to generation.
All but synonymous with Vikings, the axe was among the most commonly used weapons by the Vikings, largely because they were relatively cheap and quite effective. A variety of shapes and designs exist, both in one- and two-handed varieties. Common to nearly all, however, was a tapered blade with horns at both the top and bottom of the edge.
The cutting surface was typically up to 12 inches, with about a 3 foot haft (handle) for the single-handed variety, and two-handed axes were known to have hafts of up to five and a half feet.
Fairly lightweight and well-balanced, the Viking Axe was not a brutish weapon at all but in fact a quick, capable tool and extremely effective in the right hands. In addition to the obvious offensive use, the top horn on the blade was reportedly used as a thrusting point and the lower horn could be used to hook an opponent's shield or limbs.
Probably the most widely used weapon in the Viking Age, the spear is also one of the most ancient weapons employed by man. A long, straight shaft with a leaf-shaped socketed head, there is sadly little evidence as to the average length of the Viking spear, and with a huge variance in the length of the heads (anywhere from 8 inches to 2 feet), it is difficult to specular with any accuracy.
Not only a thrown weapon, the spear was also employed in close-combat by many warriors of the era. Evidence suggests that the most common use was, in fact, as a thrusting weapon used to attack opponents at a safe distance
Viking shields were round, constructed from lighter varieties of wood (such as fir and pine) with a diameter of about three feet, though some artifacts were much smaller. Gripped in the center behind an iron boss, the Viking shield was most likely lined with leather on the edges to prevent splintering and to better secure the planks. Additionally these shields were often painted, occasionally with elaborate decorative designs, though most frequently with one or two colors.
Formation fighting was common with Vikings, frequently in the form of the skjaldborg (shield fort) which is comparable to the Greek Phalanx.
Constructed of yew, ash, or elm and ranging from 60 to 80 inches in length, the Viking bow was typical of European longbows of the era. Simple and effective in design with a range of roughly 600 feet, these bows were used for both hunting and warfare. Arrows would have most likely been roughly two and a half feet long with a variety of heads for both hunting and warfare.
What would be your weapon of choice?
Note from the author
There were almost certainly many more weapons employed by the Vikings than these few listed here. I've chosen these only because they are the most commonly employed based on historical and literary evidence.
© 2013 JG11Bravo