The Vikings – Explore the Exciting History of the Viking Age and Discover Some of the Most Feared Warriors

The Viking Age! A brief footprint in the course of history that impacted generations hundreds of years into the future.
The Vikings Painting

Vikings Origins & Norse Mythology

 

Where did Viking Civilization Begin?

 

Vikings trace their roots back to the three modern countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway which make up Scandinavia.

The land encompassing the three countries was rustic in the 7th and 8th century. A.D. Winters were brutally cold, and inhabitants made a living through cultivating the land and fishing.

Many individuals living in Scandinavia were farmers in addition to being brave warriors. They would grow crops such as barley, rye, onions, garlic, peas, and beans, as well as a wide array of animals living on the farm. It was not uncommon for Viking farmers to raise pigs, sheep, chickens, and goats. It was essential to grow plentiful amounts of hay in the treacherous winter months so cattle could survive.

There was constant work to be completed on the farm throughout the year and no member of the household was exempt. The men, women, and children had specified tasks to complete to ensure all the daily chores would be completed. Since the children were needed at the house to complete work, there was no schooling for Viking children. The boys had to emulate the tasks that their fathers completed, while the girls observed their mothers. 

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Norse Mythology

Before the Vikings gradually converted to Christianity, they practiced a polytheistic religion with multiple gods and goddesses. The unique deities of Norse mythology are a representation of the way the Vikings carried out their daily lives.

Mythical tales of war, love, tragedy, and several other stories of the human spirit were shared from generation to generation. We may never truly understand the full extent of the complexities of Norse mythology since written documents did not appear until during or after the Viking transition to Christianity.

A glimpse into the epic tale of the world’s creation paints a vivid picture of the grander of Norse storytelling. According to the Norse legend, there was a deep, dark abyss called Ginungagap. Surrounding Ginungagap, were the lands of fire and ice.

The land of fire lay to the south and was called “Muspelheim.” The land of ice lay to the north and was referred to as “Niflheim.” These extreme, polar opposite environments were on a crash course to collide with one another inside the great void. The elements of fire, lava, and ash meshed with the elements of ice, snow, and water.

After colliding, the fire began to melt the ice and the remnants would create the first giant known in Norse mythology, Ymir. From the body of Ymir, several other giants formed, and they were known as Jotuns.

When the lands of fire and ice crashed into one another, Ymir was not the only creature created in the aftermath. A humungous cow named Audhumla was formed by the dripping ice inside the abyss of Ginungagap. While Ymir fed on the milk of Audhumla, the first of the Aesir gods was revealed in a salty patch of ice.

The first Aesir god was named Buri and he would have three sons with his wife, Bestla. One of the three children of Buri and Bestla would be one of the most captivating figures in all Norse mythology, Odin.

Buri and Bestla would have two other sons in addition to Odin, Vili and Ve. The giant Ymir could reproduce asexually, and further giants grew from his sweat and legs. This led to the Aesir being surrounded by Giants and the band of brothers were determined to vanquish Ymir. The brothers attempted to kill Ymir while he slept, and a horrendous, bloody affair soon followed.

The onslaught would lead to the eventual death of Ymir and most of the giants were unable to escape the blood that rained from the sky. With Ymir now defeated, Odin and his brothers used his corpse to create the world as the Vikings knew it.

Ymir’s blood became all the bodies of water. His body transformed into the land. The mountains were constructed from his bones. The scattered rocks were made from his teeth. His hair turned into the grass and trees. His skull created the sky, and the clouds were remnants of his brain. His eyelashes were used to form Midgard; the world which would house humans.

The first humans were named Ask and Embla and the gods constructed a fortress around Midgard to protect humans from possible destruction by the giants.

The brothers would go on to create other worlds besides Midgard, which would house the Gods, giants, and dwarves. The first four dwarves encountered the brothers as they were creating the world, and they assigned them the great responsibility of holding Ymir’s skull in the sky to prevent it from crashing down. The dwarves were named North, South, East, and West.

There are nine worlds in Norse mythology all rooted together by a tree, named Yggdrasil. Some of these worlds were already in existence before the formation of the first giants and some were created by the Aesir gods after they successfully destroyed Ymir.

The first two worlds, Niflheim and Muspelheim, met one another in the great abyss to create the first of the giants.

The mythological home of the gods in Norse mythology was named Asgard. The almighty Odin and his wife Frigg were the rulers of the land of the gods.

Vikings who die a glorious death in battle, half of them will spend their eternal years inside Asgard at Valhalla. The other half are said to be sent to Fólkvangr, but it remains unclear what determines the final destination for each Viking.

Before a Viking can live by Odin’s side in Valhalla, they exist in the human world of Midgard. The human world is connected to the land of the gods, but it is physically impossible for humans to travel from Midgard to Asgard.

After the defeat of Ymir, the giants are sentenced to live in Jotunheim. The land of the giants is a chaotic wilderness where a rule of law did not influence its inhabitants. The terrain and environment are as unforgivable as it is wild. Likely seeking revenge for their condemnation to such a world, the giants are constantly at odds with Aesir gods who inhabited Asgard.

Another branch of gods on the tree of Yggdrasil is the Vanir gods. They made their home in Vanaheim; with little evidence indicating the exact location or the type of environment. At one point, there is a war between the Vanir and the Aesir and a few of the Vanir went to live in Asgard.

Elves are another fixture of Norse mythology and they have their own world named Alfheim. The leader of Alfheim is the god Freyr. The elves were radiant creatures who lived in a beautiful realm.

The home of the dwarves, who assisted the band of brothers, would be known as Svartalfheim. The dwarves lived in low-lying places such as caves and beneath rocks. They were excellent at building weapons and jewelry.

The last of the nine worlds in Norse mythology is Helheim and one can likely infer what this world entails. Helheim, ruled by Hel, is the place of eternal suffering and misery for humans in the after-life. This realm is reserved for the most despicable of humans in Midgard such as murderers and thieves. At Ragnarök, the pre-Christian Viking prophesized the end of the world. The inhabitants of Helheim will be used in an attempt to destroy Asgard.

Now that we have outlined the story of creation and the encompassing worlds in Norse mythology, let’s tackle some of the prominent figures whose names have surely been on the thoughts of all pre-Christian Vikings.

Odin, the most powerful and knowledgeable of the Viking gods, is one of the most charismatic of all the gods in Norse mythology. Sometimes called the Allfather, Odin is the most formidable and leader of the Aesir gods.

He is the god of war, wisdom, death, and can observe everything that occurs in all nine realms from the seat of his throne. The mythological Norse god has only one eye since he traded one eye to take a sip from the Well of Wisdom to gain unbelievable amounts of knowledge.

The wise and all-powerful leader of the Aesir gods is the father of Thor, bravest warrior of all the gods that inspired Vikings into every battle they fought. 

An immensely popular god in Viking folklore is Thor, God of Thunder, son of the all-mighty Odin and a giantess named Fjörgyn. Thor was the bravest of warriors and defender of Asgard, the realm of the Aesir gods. Thor’s strength, bravery, and courage cannot be equaled by any friend or foe. He is feared by the giants he constantly battles. Thor’s weapon of choice, a hammer named Mjölnir, equally iconic, and symbolizes strength, fury, and elements of thunder and lightning.

When Thor left Asgard to do battle with giants, he rode his chariot hauled by two goats. Whenever lightning and thunder would fill the sky in the human world, the Vikings who worshipped Thor believed he was defending them. Although Thor was at battle with many giants, his biggest enemy was Jormungand, the serpent that surrounded the human world. Thor was a relentless protector of the humans who inhabited the world of Midgard.

The God of War title in Norse Mythology belongs to the most courageous of all the gods, Tyr. Legend has it, Tyr once placed his arm inside the mouth of the feared wolf Fenrir. This act would cost Tyr his hand, but this would not deter him from being the bravest of the gods and a representative of justice and order.

Balder, the son of Odin and a brother of Thor, is regarded as the most beautiful of all the Norse gods. He is considered the God of Light and his mannerisms and intellect were revered as much as his physical beauty. The home of Balder and his wife is regarded as the most extravagant in all Asgard.

Vidar is another son of Odin and, like Thor, had a mother who was a giantess. Vidar, known to be one with nature, would spend a great amount of time meticulously crafting a shoe. He is of legendary strength with only his brother Thor surpassing him.

The last Viking god we will cover is Freyr, the God of Fertility. We briefly touched on Freyr being the leader of Alfheim and the elves that inhabit the world. Freyr was formerly known as a Vanir god, but he was sent to live in Asgard at the conclusion of the Aesir-Vanir War.

Freyr fell in love with a giantess named Gerd. It was love at first sight for Freyr and he would do anything to wed the most radiant creature he had laid his eyes on. Although it was a tremendous challenge to convince Gerd to accept his proposal, the two would eventually be wed.

The catastrophic end of the world and destruction of the gods in Norse mythology is depicted at Ragnarök. This doomsday prediction included humans, and gods and goddesses who lived in Asgard. It was foretold Asgard was to be invaded by powerful giants.

The monster, which would be the biggest threat to the humans, who lived in Midgard was the mighty serpent who would rise from the sea to cause destruction across the land. Asgard would be destroyed by the giant Surtr who lived in the fiery land of Muspelheim. He was prophesied to use his powers to set the homes of all the gods and goddesses ablaze. In addition to the destruction caused by Surtr, the violent wolf Fenrir would spread his terror.

Along with the destruction of their homes, the final days of many of the most prominent legends of Norse mythology were believed to occur at Ragnarök. The powerful leader of the Aesir gods, Odin, was to be killed by Fenrir. The courageous Tyr would perish in his fight with the monstrosity that guarded the underworld of Helheim. Freyr would be slain by Surtr protecting his home in Asgard.

Even the God of Thunder himself would be unable to escape his ultimate demise at the end of the world. Thor would die in a manner only fitting for the strongest of all the Viking warriors in Norse mythology. He would be pitted in a battle to the death against the serpent that threatened to destroy all of Midgard. Thor would fight valiantly and would even kill the beast, but the poison it spewed in battle would prove fatal.

The Vikings and their deities were powerless to prevent this destruction, but there were several telltale signs that the end of days was near. Some of those signs were the slaying of Balder, three consecutive winters highlighted by brutal war, and the disappearance of the sun and moon.

The world would plunge into utter chaos and violence would engulf the land. The brutal battle between the gods and goddesses of Asgard, the giants, and the inhabitants would soon commence.

Although Ragnarök would be the end of the world as the Vikings knew it, a new world was foretold to be born from the ashes. A pair of humans who miraculously survived the horrors caused by the serpent and the population would grow once more.

Numerous gods would live through the destruction of Asgard, including two of Odin’s sons and Thor’s sons. They would, along with the remaining gods and goddesses, start over in another land.

The intricacies of Norse mythology certainly go beyond the stories and characters discussed within this text. Since legendary tales of brave gods who conquered giants were passed down orally for generations, it is a rather difficult process to determine how much we really know about the ancient pagan religion of the Scandinavian people before the introduction of Christianity.

Luckily, many of these traditions were recorded around the 13th century for historians to study throughout history.

Many of the deities of Norse mythology and their adventurous stories were preserved through the writing of the Icelandic Sagas as the religion gave way to Christianity.

 

Walk in the Shoes of a Viking

 

Viking Daily Life

During the Viking Age, most of the inhabitants living in Scandinavia were on farmland or a fishing community. There were no major towns or cities, and the population was thinly scattered across the land. Much of work within the household fell onto the women’s shoulders, and the bulk of the labor chores outside was the men’s responsibility. The work was so grueling and physically demanding that men would need assistance to acquire the full harvest.

It was not uncommon to see slaves in a typical Viking household working the field to do most of the grunt work that needed to be completed; the dirtiest and most grueling tasks such as pulling the plow to harvest the soil or dunging the fields.

Farmers and their families would have tremendous challenges not only to reap a bountiful harvest, but just to survive the treacherous conditions of the environment. Disease and malnourishment were rampant in Scandinavia during the Viking Age, and children were the group who suffered the most. Nearly half of children born during this time period would not live to their twentieth birthday.

Farming conditions for Scandinavians were difficult enough on their own, but Viking families had to take precautions against raids or natural disasters. A poor harvest season could mean the difference between life and death.

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Jobs in Viking Society

Living in Scandinavia in the Middle Ages was no easy task and there were slim pickings for what a Viking could do to earn a living. Women were expected to tend to the household so they did not seek jobs outside the home. Men sought work outside the home. The most common career for a Viking male was to become a farmer.

Due to the vast coastal regions of Scandinavian land, a career as a fisherman was another ideal route for a Viking to put food on the table. Skilled fishermen not only supplied their families with enough fish but could bring their catch to local markets to sell for a profit or trade for other valuable goods.

Outside of farming and fishing, the next best thing for a Viking man was to learn a specialized craft to be a trader or craftsman. Constructing anything useful could help a man go a long way in the Viking Age since there was not an official currency within the civilization.

Bartering was common during this time period and traders would travel to foreign lands to acquire extravagant goods that they could trade to other Vikings in Scandinavia. A well-versed trader could make a handsome living if they played their cards right.

If a Viking man refused to work off the land or become a skilled trader of goods, then raiding and looting would virtually be his only option.

Viking Social Structure

Much like every civilization in humanity, the Vikings had the rich and elite in addition to the poor within society. The highest class of Vikings were considered kings and royalty. They ruled over larger groups of people as the chieftain state that once ruled the region began to dwindle. Being a Viking king had its perks, but also came with distinct responsibility to the people under the throne.

A Viking king could earn money and land from the commoners by imposing taxes. However, the king could not keep all the money summoned from the commoners for himself. In order to ensure the safety of his land, a Viking king had to hire the fiercest warriors to defend his kingdom with honor.

In return for their bravery and loyalty, a Viking king would routinely lavish his men with spectacular clothing, jewelry, women, and anything else they wanted. In addition to spending money on his loyal warriors, the king had to spend money on riches for himself to ensure he personified the image of royalty. A Viking king had to possess all the material possessions that exhumed royalty to maintain respect from his subjects.

Going down the line in the Viking social classes, the highest ranking non-royal members of society were referred to as Jarls. These prominent members of society often had prestigious jobs that gave them a high status and earned them a significant amount of income. It was not uncommon for Jarls to own large plots of land and to be considered among the most established merchants. Jarls would work directly under the king and earn money by keeping him updated on everything going on within his realm.

The majority of individuals in Viking society were commoners referred to as Karls. Although the Karls did not have as much power and nobility as the Jarls, they still lived a free life and could enjoy a level of prosperity. Many Karls had blue collar-type jobs such as a farmer, but some possessed skills to do other types of work in the community. Some Karls were fortunate enough to own a piece of farmland and had the power to hire workers or own slaves.

The lowest members in Viking society were slaves who were called Thralls. There were little to no rights the Thralls possessed, and they had to perform any work given to them by their owner. Although some Thralls were born into their position in society, many of them were captives the Vikings seized when they went on raids abroad. Most Thralls were given some level of free will from their owners by having the opportunity to possess a small amount of money, leave the property on occasion, and marry if desired. Unfortunately, any child belonging to a Thrall would be born into the same position in society.

Viking Slave Trade

The Vikings were frequent participants of a rampant slave trade. Slaves were among the most valuable items the Vikings had to offer other civilizations in foreign trade markets. Raids in Eastern Europe, Ireland, and Great Britain were the source of many Viking slaves. However, slaves could also come domestically within Scandinavia. Being staunch believers of law and order, Vikings would often punish those who committed crimes by forcing them into slavery.

Due to the extensive locations Vikings were able to conquer during the Viking Age, the slave trade was extremely valuable and brought loads of wealth. Vikings set up trading centers throughout Eastern and Western Europe where many slaves were traded. Slaves were obtained by Vikings on many occasions to perform back breaking physical labor such as difficult farm tasks and expansive construction projects.

Slaves were often treated brutally as accounted by the 10th century Arab diplomat, Ahmad Ibn Fadlan. During his 920s encounter with Vikings in modern-day Russia, Fadlan noted that female slaves were repeatedly sexually abused by their owners and the corpses of slaves were regularly left in the streets for animals to feed on.

Archaeological evidence from recently discovered Viking tombs paints a grizzly picture of what happened to the slaves of a Viking who passed away. One horrifying example is the tomb of a Viking male on the Isle of Man containing a female corpse with a brutal wound to the top of her skull. The female’s remains were found scattered with the ashes of animals. Other discovered Viking tombs included decapitated bodies thrown in them.

These archaeological discoveries, in addition to written records, suggest that slaves became human sacrifices when their owner died; slaves sacrificed after their owner’s death so they could serve him in the afterlife as they did in the mortal world.

Although slavery existed well before the arrival of Vikings, the Norsemen took full advantage of its economic incentives. Whether slaves were obtained domestically or abroad, slavery appeared to play a more prominent role in Viking society than originally thought.

Men in the Viking Age

It is believed that male Vikings were a group of nothing more than savage beasts who only desired to pillage communities for lavish riches and decimate anyone who stood in their path. Although Viking raids were violent and gruesome, there is a lot more than meets the eye of this group of men who were arguably the most impactful group in Europe for roughly three centuries.

Although Viking men were indeed among the greatest warriors of their time, they were primarily farmers and explorers. Nearly every Viking was expected to know how to live off the land and growing up as a farmer was not optional for most. It was a matter of life and death since living in rural Scandinavia was not for the faint of heart. It took a group with the toughness and tenacity of the Vikings to survive for generations. A source of this toughness can be attributed to overwhelming pride felt by most men in Viking society. If a man was deemed incapable of being a farmer, he would lose the respect of the entire community.

Toughness was instilled in men at an early age as they were expected to use weapons and work on the family farm as a child.

It was common for Viking men to seek a wife and start a family. During rough conditions, it was beneficial to have a wife running the household and cooking a hot meal every night and to have many children helping on the farm or learning a valuable skill.

A Viking man was expected to be tough as nails, an adept fighter, skilled farmer, or craftsman, and a provider for the family. Anything less would have made a man an outcast from this civilization rooted in toughness.

Women in the Viking Age

With the farmers gone, this gave the women of the household a unique opportunity. In order to maintain the harvest and the overall structure of the household, it is possible that women possessed influence unlike other regions of the world during the Middle Ages.

Despite the women of the Viking Age being responsible for typical chores associated with females in most medieval societies, they exhibited higher amounts of liberties than other women in this time period. Viking women were still responsible for the cooking, cleaning, and upbringing of the children, but they had more say within their marriage.

Women had the unique opportunity to own their own property and could even legally file for divorce against their husband. The wife/mother of a typical Viking family was not afraid to take charge, especially if the man of the household was away for any reason. The woman in a typical Viking household would not tolerate a lack of respect from anyone, including her own husband. Men in the community could even be reprimanded or severely punished if caught trying to force himself on an unwilling woman.

Despite the protection that women had within Norse Scandinavia, there were certain aspects of Viking culture women were not allowed to partake in. Viking women were not permitted to join raids, trading expeditions, or to carry weapons. They held a distinct domestic role within the household and were not allowed to stray too far from those responsibilities.

Viking Children

Boys and girls were both put to work at a young age and they had tremendous responsibilities around the home.

Boys learned valuable skills from the craftsmen or farmers of their family. They would often have to utilize the learned skills to be self-sufficient and take care of themselves early in life. Fighting was encouraged among boys growing up as it was believed to instill toughness.

Girls on the other hand, would learn domestic skills such as cooking and cleaning by watching their mother. They played a vital role in sewing together new clothes and repairing old clothes that had been damaged.

Other valuable skills included how to start a fire, how to steer a boat, how to ride a horse, and how to use various Viking weapons. The children would be prepared for life performing real-world tasks in their daily lives. There was no traditional school.

Viking Law

There were no official countries or kingdoms in the pre-Christian Viking world. Those who lived in proximity of each other were members of tight-knit communities.

Each community was likely led by a chieftain who owned a plot of land or simply led the warriors of the community into battle. Even though the chieftains held the greatest portion of power and political control, there was an extensive legal process that shaped many communities.

It may come as a surprise to those who only think of Vikings as vicious ruffians whose only desire was to plunder, but they were ardent practitioners of law and order. Members of a community would gather together in an assembly known as “þing”—pronounced ‘thing’ in English. This gathering was open to all men who owned land and was possibly open to women who were filling the shoes of their absent male relative.

The assemblies were mostly seen within small communities, but larger stretches of land and populations were known to create their own assemblies. All eligible participants of the assembly worked together to review and adjust the current laws and add new laws if needed. If any of the participants had an unsettled quarrel among them, the assembly would be the place to settle the matter.

Even though all the laws for the community and internal disputes between parties were settled by the þing, there was no legal process to enforce the enacted laws. Families took matters into their own hands when enforcing the results from a hearing at the assembly. If the losing party failed to divvy up what they owed, they could be killed by the winning party’s family. Law and order were no laughing matter to the Vikings.

The most well-known Viking assembly during the Viking Age was in the Thingvellir area of Iceland. This annual meeting gathered representatives from all over Iceland starting in the year 930 and it is widely considered to be the world’s oldest Parliament.

The annual meeting at Thingvellir would attract the most influential figures on the island to decide on legislative and judicial matters. Individuals from all walks of life attended the event including farmers, merchants, even worldly travelers.

Unfortunately, further complexities of the Viking legal process have been shrouded in history due to lack of written texts.

Viking Entertainment

Viking life was not all about raiding foreign lands. There were lots of games and activities to pass the time. Games that Vikings participated in included strategic board games to test the mind, and brutal physical games to test strength and stamina.

The board game which dominated Viking livelihood was called Hnefatafl and the chess-like game of wits followed the Vikings to many places they traveled. Much of the rules of the game have been lost in history, but the main emphasis was for one player to surround the other who was defending his king with a weaker force. Hnefatafl is believed to have disappeared from Scandinavia sometime after the Viking Age ended in the 12th century.

Games that tested physical acumen in the great outdoors were popular in Viking livelihood. Competitions between men would stimulate warrior skills and prepare Norsemen for future battles. Battle skills to be tested included archery, wrestling, sword fighting, and stone throwing. Contests such as running, swimming, and other physical activity could be become extremely competitive to the point of competitors getting injured or killed.

There was no limit to the competitive nature and rough play no matter it it was adults or children. Young boys would play fight with wooden weapons that would stimulate actual weapons Viking used in battle. The competitiveness was groomed within Vikings at a young age and they carried the drive into adulthood.

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Viking Technology

 

Seafaring Technology

In addition to farming and fishing, Scandinavians were frequent traders with nearby regions by way of the sea.

The Vikings turned the world on its head with the invention of a versatile ship with capabilities unmatched by any other civilization at the time. The advancements in sea navigation gave the Norsemen a distinct edge in naval transportation that fueled their capabilities as traders, raiders, and explorers. The superior ships crafted by the Scandinavians were perhaps their greatest technological contribution to humanity.

The Viking ships were designed to withstand the treacherous conditions of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, and to navigate the narrower passageways of inland rivers. There were distinct vessels constructed for raid and trade, and they were each easy to navigate and land.

War ships were designed with shallow drafts that eased the process of steering through miles of rivers and allowed for a quick docking when a harbor was unavailable. Warriors could quickly spring off the ship into an attack in the blink of an eye. Powered by the natural aerodynamic forces and man power of oars, longships could reach incredible top speeds of 15 knots. Reversing direction was manageable due to an evenly constructed bow and stern in case danger lay straight ahead.

Knarr ships, vessels designed specifically for trading expeditions, could be constructed for a transatlantic voyage or for a shorter trading venture along the coastline. The knarr ships built to cross the Atlantic were more durable and could store more people, animals, and cargo.

No matter if intended for battle or peaceful trade, all Viking ships were constructed with a unique design that gave them the decisive edge at sea. Vessels were designed with a clinker technique as opposed to the commonly used carvel technique of this time period. The clinker method featured overlapping planks as opposed to side-by-side planks seen in the carvel construction method. This design enabled Norsemen ships to be quicker, lighter, and easier to navigate through a diverse range of waters.

The scariest rendition of Viking longships crafted for raids were the dragon heads placed at the bow of the ship to simultaneously cast off evil spirits on their journey and frighten the daylights out of their enemies.

As the Viking Age progressed, the dragon head and square sails of their ships became easily recognizable and struck fear into those who felt most vulnerable to being slain by the fierce pagan warriors.

The diversity of uniquely crafted ships was the catalyst that allowed the Vikings to make such a big impact on the world. The greatest warriors, conquerors, explorers, and traders of Scandinavia would not have been able to achieve their historic feats if not for the Viking seafaring acumen. They would have never made it across the North Sea or steered through Europe’s massive rivers without them.

Viking Weapons

The Vikings were some of the fiercest warriors throughout all of history. What kind of weapons did they terrorize the Middle Ages with?

Norsemen were always armed regardless if they were on a longship ready for a raid or lying in bed at night. Whether rich or poor, all Vikings possessed at the bare minimum an ax and a shield. The complete set of weapons for Vikings included a sword, ax, spear, bow and arrows, chainmail armor, and a shield.

In Viking society, only rich men could afford to own a sword due to the extensive cost it was to craft. Made from iron, the sword was a source of pride for a Viking warrior. A Viking’s sword was double-edged and often given a nickname and decorated with a unique design to fit its user. A Norsemen wealthy enough to own a sword would never let their sword leave their side.

Axes and spears were more common weapons freely available to a wider scope of social classes. Battle axes were light and easy to handle, but they packed a powerful punch in battle. Much like swords, they were crafted with unique designs by their user. Spears were easy to construct since they did not need nearly as much iron to create. The weapon was perfect for thrusting into enemies during battle.

A round shield was instrumental for a Norsemen to have in battle to defend himself. Shields were constructed out of wooden boards attached together with a space left to place the handle. Poorer Viking warriors usually only possessed a shield for protection, but wealthy Vikings would don chainmail armor and a helmet for extra protection.

The weapons that Vikings utilized to wreak destruction on many parts of Eastern and Western Europe did not require any stretch of the imagination to create. They included common weapons that had been used by civilizations hundreds or thousands of years before. What made the Vikings stand out was the skill, brutality, and warrior spirit they possessed to decimate opponents.

The Svinfylking

The Vikings were elite warriors and their success on the battlefield came as no accident. They had to master a perfect strategy to vanquish any and all enemies during their adventurous raids. 

One of the secrets to Viking success was a battle formation called the Svinfylking, which is reminiscent of the mighty Spartans over one thousand years earlier. A group of two dozen Viking warriors or more would place their shields together in a wedge and drive toward the enemy with full force. The shape of this wedge formation mimicked that of a spear.

The Vikings locked in this wedge formation would charge the enemy almost like a raging boar in order to break their frontline. The Norsemen were powerful warriors and the veracity behind their boar formation could destroy the shields of many of their enemies. Vikings could place many of these formations side by side to decimate combatant frontlines and gain the decided edge early in battle.

Another component that made the boar formation even deadlier was the use of archers to the rear of the men with shields to fire arrows at the enemy. They would also throw spears once the enemy’s frontline was destroyed.

The Svinfylking could deter combatants who rode on horseback by pushing them aside with the strength of their interlocked shields. Once the riders were shoved aside, they were vulnerable to spear attacks from the sides of the formation.

This wedge formation that the Vikings utilized in battle was extremely difficult to defend against and many great warriors succumbed to its massive strength. Any army that went to war with the Vikings would have to muster the fortitude necessary to withstand an attack or brilliantly figure out a way to flank the position of the disciplined battle formation.

Viking Shield

In addition to the fierce battle formation the Vikings fought with, they were successful in battle due to possessing a shield that was impeccable. The Viking shield was arguably one of the sturdiest and deadliest out of all warriors in history.

At first glance, the Viking shield looks like colorfully painted pieces of wood. However, it had a distinct design that made the shield stand out from the other shields used by their enemies. Most shields were constructed out of wood, but a Viking shield had a more advanced design that offered them extra protection.

A Viking shield could protect Norsemen from a variety of weapons including swords, spears, and arrows. The shield proved to be the most valuable asset for every Viking warrior, and it gave them a decided edge in battle.

Unlike their counterparts, Vikings utilized flexible wood such as lime or basswood to craft their shield. A shield made of more flexible wood was not as likely to break on impact as rigid wood that many other warriors used in battle.

On top of using wood that absorbed blunt impact more effectively, Vikings reinforced their shield with leather and iron for added strength. The centerpiece of the shield was molded with iron and it served multiple purposes for Vikings in battle. The iron center could not only block blows, but it could be turned into an offensive weapon that could deliver devastating impact.

The Viking shield was an instrumental tool that protected them from death blows on the battlefield but also allowed them to deliver fatal blows. The innovative design of their shield was a product ahead of their time and it gave them another advantage over their enemies.

An Honorable Death

For a Viking warrior, fighting to the death was engrained into their psyche. It was an honor for a Norsemen to die in battle; and should they be slain on the battlefield, they would receive a worthy burial. Only the bravest and most honorable Viking made it to Odin’s side in Valhalla of the afterlife.

Since it was considered a noble act in Viking society to die in battle, Vikings went into battle with no fear and would lay everything on the line. Those who were regarded as feeble or incapable of battle would spend the afterlife elsewhere.

For Vikings who died in an honorable fashion, their burial process differed by the amount of wealth and possessions they owned. Vikings of the common class would either be cremated or buried in the ground. The burial process was more ceremonial for the noblest of Viking warriors. To commemorate the death of a beloved warrior, the deceased body would be placed on a ship and would be surrounded by his personal belongings. This was the ideal way to cast off a brave and noble member of the Viking warrior elite.

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