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Weapons of the Viking Age

Updated on June 24, 2019
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This veteran writer has been on HubPages for a decade and has created over 100 original pieces.

The Warriors From the Frozen North

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.

The Spoils of War

The Vikings gained much from their aggressive actions across Europe
The Vikings gained much from their aggressive actions across Europe
Defensive strength allowed bloody offensive power to be unleashed
Defensive strength allowed bloody offensive power to be unleashed | Source


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.

Dragon Boat

The Long ship was an important tool for the Vikings in their battles
The Long ship was an important tool for the Vikings in their battles | Source

Armour of the Viking Age

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

Armour in the Viking Age

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 woollen trousers and in winter his animal pelt jacket. The higher up the ladder of Viking hierarchy you were, the more effective and expensive armour you would have. A warrior would have a kit consisting of leather boots, woollen 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. This was a luxury item of war that they would have eagerly traded pelts, slaves and silver for.

Padded Jackets

This basic armour helped keep the Viking raiders safe from minor weapons of war
This basic armour helped keep the Viking raiders safe from minor weapons of war | Source

How effective were the viking weapons

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Knives in the Viking Age

A Viking seax was a short and versatile knife
A Viking seax was a short and versatile knife

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 langseax ). 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.

The Viking Swords

Although Viking swords were rare, they were varied in their design. Many believe that the Vikings were hugely influenced by the swords that were been produced along the Rhine Valley. These Germanic swords took the basic design of the Roman 'spatha'. The weapon smiths added more length and durability to the sword by utilizing the latest steel processes from lands to the east.

The two handed Viking broadsword shared many features that were evident in the Scottish claymore. Its twin edge made it a blade that could compete with the heavier axes that the Norseman usually favoured.

The broadsword offered the Vikings another edge which made the lang seax design redundant. Coupled with the hilt to protect the hand and the ability to decorate the weapon to advertise your status, the broadsword quickly became a favoured weapon among the Viking elites.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Andrew Stewart


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