Norse Weaponry Essay

3458 words - 14 pages

So how did the Norse arm themselves? What we know of Norse weaponry and armor is from what we have found predominately in grave sites from the early periods. Additionally, from depictions that were carved on stones, tales in the Sagas, and from legal texts written in the later periods which give us a general idea and paint clues for us to piece together about how Norsemen armed for combat during the Viking Age. During the time the laws in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden required that every able-bodied man should own weapons according to his status. In Norway, a sword or ax, spear and shield must be owned and maintained. In Sweden and Denmark, this was a sword, spear, shield and iron helmet ...view middle of the document...

The Viking shield was a superior and well thought out concept. It was not made from solid wood as were the other culture's shields of the day. This is in contrast of what you would think you wanted from a shield. Something solid enough to block hits from weapons and arrows. Something durable enough to protect you. Something solid enough to protect you from the swing of a sword, thrust of a spear, and arrow with your name on it.
The Viking shield was a brilliant concept and ahead of its time. It was actually made from what we would think of as soft and flimsy wood like fir, alder and poplar. Norse shields were not made from heavy oak or other known solid woods. In the Sagas, it is written that they were to be made from 'flexible' woods such as linden, lime, or basswood. Wow, that's a flimsy wood to be making a shield from. Why would the fierce Vikings use such a flimsy wood, instead of hard woods like their opponents?
This is because, unlike the hard woods such as oak, Viking shields weren't inclined to so easily split upon a successful hard impact. When there was a successful split of the Norse shield by a weapon, the fibers of the wood tended to bind around blade which prevented them from cutting any deeper unless a lot more pressure was applied. Something you definitely didn't want to be wasting your time doing in combat. Hesitating in attempts to finish splitting your opponent's shield gave your opponent the opportunity to split your head open. Another characteristic about the wood the Norse chose to use for their shields was the fact that instead of bearing the blunt of a solid hit, which would also cause the shield to split or shatter, the 'flimsy' wood of the Viking shield would bounce and absorb some of the impact. This made the shield more effective. They also reinforced their shields with leather and occasionally had iron around the rim for added strength.
An addition to the flexibility of the Viking shield that helped repel hits was that it was painted. It wasn't painted for looks or uniformity like the Greek or Roman shields were with identical markings and color to identify them to their lord or unit. The Viking shield was painted specifically for function. One thing you'll notice about a Viking shield is that in a band of warriors, they all had different color shields with different markings. Markings that had no real significance as far as marking units or anything. This was because the Viking shield was painted for a reason with had nothing to do with units or cohorts. It was marked to serve the purpose of hiding the grains of the wood of the shield. If you were able to see the wood grains on a shield, you were able to figure out where to hit it in order to split it. However, the Viking shield was intentionally painted to conceal the wood grains, not to look pretty or mark their loyalties. The cleverness of this was when you went to strike the shield, you had no hint as to where to strike or hit it in its...

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