The First Warriors

Viking Weaponry

Bronze Viking cloak pin, circa 1000

Caption: Bronze Viking cloak pin, circa 1000

The weapons of Viking warriors were more or less elaborate, depending on an individual's wealth. However, all warriors were well equipped with offensive weapons. First were battle-axes, which they wielded with formidable effect. At the outset, they were the only people to use these weapons, although their adversaries soon adopted them. Swords were also highly prized, and spears were widely used. Finally, every warrior carried a knife in his belt. Bows and arrows were also used. The sagas report that Viking colonists in Vinland carried swords, axes and spears. They do not mention any archers in their ranks.

The main pieces of defensive equipment were shields. Every warrior had one. Round and made of wood, they were sometimes covered with leather, painted red and ringed with metal. At the centre was the umbo, a sort of iron boss to protect the hand. Most warriors probably had helmets as well. Usually very simple and conical in shape, they often had a piece covering the nose. Horns, which can generally be found in modern depictions of the helmets of these terrible northern warriors, are a figment of popular imagination. Viking helmets were never adorned with horns. 11 Coats of mail were seldom worn, because of their high cost. Probably only leaders and the wealthiest individuals could afford them, unless they had been seized from enemy soldiers. However, coats of mail evidently made their way as far as America, as witnessed by two fragments dating respectively from the eleventh and twelfth centuries that were discovered during recent archeological excavations in northwestern Greenland and eastern Ellesmere Island. Coats of mail and helmets were made of iron.

Viking clothing consisted of a tunic, woollen trousers, shoes of soft leather, a belt on which was slung a sheathed sword, and perhaps some headgear. When the weather was cold, a woollen cape was added, attached at the right shoulder by a large metal pin.

Additional Images

Fragments of a Viking coat of mail on the right, and iron rivets on the left
Norman (or Viking) helmet, 10th century