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What weapons did the Vikings use?

What weapons did the Vikings use?

There is not a huge amount of evidence about what the Vikings used as weapons apart from a few archaeological finds and writings in norse sagas from the 14th century. The Havmal, a Viking book which was said to be the word of Odin, stated that Vikings should carry their weapons at all time since they never knew when they might need them.

Swords

Contrary to popular belief swords were actually the most sought after weapons for Viking warriors. The problem was that swords were very expensive and difficult to make, therefore only Viking nobles would be able to afford them. It was often the case that a sword would be the most expensive thing that a Viking owned and they would often be passed down through families.

A number of Viking swords have been found at historical sites throughout Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. They are usually double edged and around 90cm long, designed to be wielded in one hand in conjunction with a shield. This design was fairly typical across europe during the Viking age. 

Many of the swords that the early Viking age Scandinavians found in their possession came from the neighbouring kingdoms and were acquired through trade or pillaging. In fact the majority of Frankish made swords were actually found in Scandinavian burial sites due to the scale of their importation.

viking sword - viking style

Axes

This is probably the weapon that Vikings were most famous for, Axes were popular amongst the norsemen due to the fact that they were readily available and easy to make. Whereas swords were a symbol of prestige and wealth the axe was very much the weapon of choice for the average warrior.

In the hands of a skilled Viking soldier axes also have some key advantages over other weapons. They could be used to hook weapons or shields allowing the user to disarm an opponent and leave him vulnerable to a fatal blow. Axes were also usually much lighter than swords and would allow for more nimble and repeated attacks.

Many of the Viking age axes that were specifically designed for war were very long, which gave the user a greater range of attack. This design is also commonly referred to as the 'dane axe'. Shorter axes were also commonly used in battle by ordinary Vikings because they doubled up as tools for other aspects of life.

viking axe - viking style

Spears

Spears were also a common weapon throughout europe during the Viking axe. They were easy to make and cheap due to the fact that they used much less iron than other weapons, and forging a spearhead was considerable easier than forging a high quality sword. Viking age spears were usually made from 4 -10 feet in length, depending on their intended use. When facing cavalry in combat is would have been customary to use longer spears, whereas shorter ones would have been more useful in hand to hand combat.

This was a very effective weapon which could be used with a shield and provided good defence against a mounted opponent, it could be thrust or thrown at an enemy. There was also an extra advantage that a spear had a longer reach than most other close combat weapons, meaning one could keep a distance until the spear was either broken or thrown, and then draw a sword or axe to continue fighting. It was also much easier to learn how to fight with a spear than with other Viking age weapons. 

Some disadvantages of spears were that they were more easily damaged in battle than swords and could be broken by repeated blows to the shaft. They were also more cumbersome than swords and axes, and less advantageous for use on horseback. Changing sides with a spear by lifting it over the horses head was much more difficult that performing the same manoeuvre with a sword and would require much more skill, However it was not common for Vikings to fight on horseback as they usually preferred close hand to hand combat over cavalry charges. 

 

viking spear - viking style

Bow & Arrow

The bow and arrow was the pinicle of military technology in medieval Europe. It allowed long range attacks on the enemy forced to pick them off before they got in range for hand to hand combat. Viking archers had a different approach to many other Europeans at the time. It was often considered to be the weapon of poor or low ranking warriors, since it was cheap, easy to use and not very glorious, however in Viking sagas there are various mentions of noblemen using bows.

The Vikings would often rain arrows down upon the enemy from behind their shieldwall formation. There are also accounts of members of Viking armies who would stay near the edge of a battle and use their skills with a bow to pick off enemy soldiers.

viking weapons - viking style

Einar Thambarskelfir tries the king's bow and finds it too weak - Christian Krogh

Seax

The word 'Seax' itself is an Old English translation for the modern word for 'Knife'. In the modern context this word is used to describe this particular design of knives, swords and daggers that were traditional to the Germanic Tribes of the migration period and Middle Ages. 

The Seax was a single edged knife which was a traditional design in Viking age Scandinavia and was also commonly used by many other Germanic peoples. There have been many Viking historical sites where seaxs of various sizes and lengths have been found. In addition to being a weapon of war the seax was also an essential tool in everyday life for people in the Viking age. 

long norse seax - viking style

Check out our armoury for some handmade Viking Weapons.

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