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Weapons of the Viking Age

Updated on January 19, 2018


The Vikings conquered and spread their influence through most of the continent of Europe. The Vikings were able to use their superior seamanship and military might to take over large tracks of Europe, many Viking leaders created a massive fortune for themselves and their followers. Viking leaders were flexible in their approach to new challenges and given their spartan existence they were quick to adapt to the tactics and desires of the rival groups and people that they encountered.

The Vikings were able to assimilate into the cultures they met, for example within three generations of meeting some Slavic villagers the Swedish Vikings had children sporting Slavic names and dressed very much in a mixture of their dual heritage. Part of the Vikings success was due to the weapons, armour and the various modes of transportation that they once used.


Lameller plate armour as worn by Rus Vikings.
Lameller plate armour as worn by Rus Vikings.

Transportation.


The Vikings owed much of their military success due to the design of their dragon boats/ long ships. The design of the bow and stern allowed the vessel to cut through the most treacherous conditions of the sea. The shape of the ship allowed the ship to cut through the waves with very little water resistance and the width of the boat kept the craft very buoyant. The Viking long ships had to endure freezing winter waters of Scandinavia and the heat of the Mediterranean sun.

The Viking ship builders crafted their ships to withstand the extreme elements and their attention to detail made sure a lot of Viking raiders came back to their loved ones alive. Of course some vessels were lost to the Sea, this was more down to poor luck or freak weather conditions than the design. When the Dutch reclaimed much of their land for farming from the North Sea, they found a few Viking Age long ships and cargo vessels amongst the reclaimed mud and silt.



Armour


The Viking armour that the warriors wore depended on their standing and rank. If you were a peasant soldier recruited by your Lord or Jarl to fight for him, you would have very little in the way of clothing let alone armour. The fighting peasant would wear his everyday woolen trousers and in winter his animal pelt jacket. The higher up the ladder of the Viking hierarchy the more effective and expensive armour you would have. A warrior would have a kit consisting of leather boots, woolen trousers, a padded jacket, a cloth shirt and possibly a helm of some kind.

The next level of warrior usually called a Huscarl will usually be equipped similar to the average warrior but may have better quality armour. In some cases the Huscarl will have link- mail or chain-mail armour and they would have a lot of clothing and padding to reduce damage by their enemies. Those who occupied a higher level of status in Viking society were usually referred to as Thane/Theign. These warriors would often wear protective attire, which looks very similar to those worn by Mongolian horse man. The Lamellar armour that was used, had been around during the great civilizations of Egypt, and it is in many circles thought of as superior to chain-mail.

The armour was stronger and more flexible, and in some designs it did not have the obvious weakness of the chain-mail in the joint areas for the limbs. It could also have its plates replaced a lot easier and quicker than chain-mail. The one disadvantage was the weight of the armour, it was deceptively light looking but on wearing was quite heavy after a while. The Lamellar armour was favoured by Rus Vikings as they would have seen the Horseman of the Ural Steppes using it, and it would have been an item they would have traded pelts,slaves and silver for.


Viking Seax short knife
Viking Seax short knife

How effective were the viking weapons

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Viking Weapons

The Vikings went into battle with a number of offensive weapons, and a Viking warrior usually had a defensive shield with him. Sometimes, depending on the Viking's fighting style they decided that they did not need to use one. A peasant fighter would maybe fight with effectively his "day job" tools as a weapon ( Items such as a hammer, hand axe, knife or bow- depending on their occupation ).

A skilled warrior would choose his own weapon to fight with, he would usually have a shield and either a scram, short knife or long knife( these were called seax or Lang seax ). The warrior could also choose to fight with any number of Viking war axes, the most lethal and largest being the awesome Dane/Long axe. This Two handed axe had a massive arc of attack and was a good a defensive weapon as an offensive one.

The rest of the Vikings would fight with a short knife(seax) and shield. Only the elite of the Viking class fought with a sword this was due to the expense of the metal to construct the sword. An average sword in the Viking Age would have had the monetary equivalent today of a decent sports car. You would have seen a lot of Vikings using spears as they were inexpensive to kit a Viking party out with. The most expensive part of the spear is the tip, the killing end was metal and the Vikings did not have massive reserves of the quality steel that was needed.


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