Armor and Equipment

Weapons were limited to free men. Both women and the unfree (such as slaves) were prohibited from carrying weapons.

In the Viking age, iron was difficult and time-consuming to create, and thus, iron was expensive. Anything requiring a lot of iron in its construction, such as a weapon, was an expensive item. Further, some weapons, such as swords, were so difficult to fabricate that only highly specialized smiths could make them, further adding to their value and prestige.

Due to the costs of bog or forged iron, most Vikings use cheaper weapons that require little metal to manufacture, such as spears and axes.

As a result, a typical man was armed with nothing more than a shield and a axe, or perhaps a shield and spear. A poor man might simply use the wood axe from the farm, if he had nothing else available.

A more wealthy man might own a sword, which in the Viking age, was worth a dozen or more milk cows. Since having just one more milk cow might mean the difference between starving to death and surviving over the winter in the Viking age, a sword was a valuable possession indeed.

A man with more wealth, perhaps someone who returned from successful Viking raids, might replace his ordinary sword and shield with ornate, prestige weapons. Perhaps he might add a second weapon, such as a sax (short sword), to his set of arms.

Only the extremely wealthy, those at the top of the social hierarchy could afford to own the full panoply of weapons and defenses shown here: axe, spear, mail, helmet, along with sword and shield. Such displays of wealth must have been rare in the Viking age.

What weapons a man carried were indicative of a Viking’s social status.


The spear was used both as a throwing weapon and as a thrusting weapon. Most evidence indicates that they were used in one hand. Compared to a sword, the spear can be made with inferior steel and far less metal overall. This made the weapon cheaper and probably within the capability of a common blacksmith to produce. The spears had wooden shafts of two to three meters in length. The spear was used both as a throwing weapon and as a thrusting weapon. Most evidence indicates that they were used in one hand.

A Seax is a large, single-edged knife commonly carried by freemen in Norse society. The smaller knives were likely within the fabrication ability of a common blacksmith.

Axes: An axe head was mostly wrought iron, with a steel cutting edge. This made the weapon less expensive than a sword, and was a standard item produced by blacksmiths, historically.

Swords: Constructing such weapons was a highly specialized endeavour, and was likely outside the skill of an average Norse smith; many sword-blades were imported from foreign lands such as the Rhineland. The Viking sword was for single-handed use to be combined with a shield, with a blade length of typically 60–80 cm. Swords were very costly to make, and a sign of high status. They were worn in leather-bound wooden scabbards. Swords could take up to a month to forge and were of such high value that they were passed on from generation to generation.

Some would bring their hunting bows to use in the opening stages of battle, as well. They were made from yew, ash or elm trees. Arrowheads were typically made from iron and produced in various shapes and dimensions, according to place of origin.

The sling is light, cheap, low-maintenance, and easy to find ammunition in most environments.


Armor: The mail shirt is currently interpreted as elbow-and-knee length. Probably worn over thick clothing, a mail shirt protects the wearer from being cut, but offers little protection from blunt trauma. Mail was very expensive in early medieval Europe, and would likely have been worn by men of status and wealth. Such armour is relatively heavy — though the weight is well distributed — and the underlying padding is both expensive (likely layers of linen canvas) and warm. At the Battle of Stamford Bridge the Viking warriors were said to have left their armor back at their base camp due to the unseasonably warm weather.

Shields: Traditionally shields were made of linden (Lime) wood although other timbers may also have been used such as Alder and Poplar. These timbers are not very dense and are light in the hand. They also have a characteristic in that they are not inclined to split unlike Oak. Also, the fibres of the timber bind around blades preventing the blade from cutting any deeper unless a lot more pressure is applied. By the beginning of the eleventh century the bottom edge of the shield evolved downwards to cover the upper leg giving rise the kite shield.

Lamellar: evidence that some Vikings wore this armour, which is a series of small iron plates sewed to a stout fabric or leather cats shirt.

Cloth and Leather: Quilted cloth (gambeson) and leather armours are conjectured as possible options for lower-status Viking warriors.


Although most armour is a valuable commodity, it is almost never looted from the dead. The Vikings are very superstitious about taking armour and weapons from corpses, believing such items are cursed (jewellery and other items are fine however).

Bloodstained leather or freshly broken rings are a giveaway of looted armour, causing most Scandinavian merchants to avoid contact with it at all costs unless the seller can come up with a convincing lie as to its origin and current condition. Failing to do so can cause the seller to gain a reputation as a grave robber, causing the gradual loss of friends and associates.

Vikings who depart overseas, whether for trading or raiding, generally take their armour with them carefully wrapped and stored against moisture, only to be removed just before it will be needed.

Weapons that emerge from the forge unusually hard or resistant to damage are often named and passed down within families for several generations. Weapons are buried with their last owner if he fell in battle.


The mining industry in the early Middle Ages was mainly focused on the extraction of copper and iron. Other precious metals were also used mainly for gilding or coinage. Initially, many metals were obtained through open-pit mining, and ore was primarily extracted from shallow depths, rather than though the digging of deep mine shafts.

Ancient civilizations could use copper because it is found in its native state on the surface of the ground, because it has a distinctive color, and because it is easily worked.

Middle Age Anglo-Saxons took little account of metals other than gold, silver and iron. During many centuries their basic currency was the silver penny, although a few copper coins were occasionally struck.

The furnaces for Iron Working were made of clay and shaped like a tube which was between 1 and 1.5 metres tall and had a diameter of approximately half a metre. In the tube was placed alternating layers of charcoal and bog iron. The furnaces were shaped like a chimney, which guaranteed a strong draught. Thus, it was possible to make the charcoal to burn even stronger but they probably also made use of bellows in order to reach the necessary temperature.

The temperature in the furnaces could not get high enough (higher than 1,200 degrees celcius) for the iron to melt properly but the heat was strong enough to melt away the dirt that was stuck to the iron deposits and allow for the iron to be cleaned. It could now be hammered out to knives, axes and scythes. However, the bog iron was not good enough to be used for long swords which meant that iron was imported from the countries south of Denmark to be used for forging the swords. Swords made of bog iron were extremely brittle and often would break on the field of battle after a blow or two.

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, and is harder, tougher, and harder to melt than iron. Most methods produced iron that had some carbon in it, making it a ‘mild steel’. Unfortunately, the metal would vary in character depending on the accident of carbon mixing in the smelter. The iron that could be used to make armor and weapons were sent to the armorers and sword makers while the iron that was too soft for armor and weapons were used to make everyday objects.


Copper swords were soft and dulled quickly. To get around the issue of the softer metal they were primarily thrusting weapons, this would help preserve the integrity of the blade. The blade length also had to be rather short; they were not practical for anything over a short sword.

Bronze is superior to copper because it holds an edge longer and is stiffer. However, if there’s no temper the blade will shatter, rather then bend. Remind that tempering is to remove brittleness, quenching is to increase hardness (and brittleness as a result). Bronze swords were notoriously treacherous. Too soft and they would bend out of shape in a fight. Too hard and they would shatter on impact. The mixture of the alloy had to precise, higher tin content makes bronze too hard and brittle. I

The reason we used Bronze before we used Iron is that copper and tin have much lower melting points. However, copper and tin are seldom found together. Tin is rare, and often needed to be imported.

Bronze is more dense than steel [8.77 vs 7.85], so a bronze blade is ~11% heavier than a similar steel blade.

The drawbacks to iron are that it rusts and that it is extremely difficult to work with. Iron must be very hot to shape with a hammer. Hot iron becomes cold very soon. A blacksmith has only a few seconds to hammer a piece of iron, before it must be put back in the fire to become hot again.

The advantage of the steel sword was the fact it was more flexible. Its elasticity was slight, but just enough to prove the worked metal stronger, and more reliable.


http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manufacturing/text/viking_weapons_overview.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_Age_arms_and_armour

http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manufacturing/text/bog_iron.htm

Bog Iron http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nawCa-4dWgY

Armor and Equipment

Altmaria Greipr