Vikings Shield

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Vikings Shield

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Vikings Shield Zusätzliche Information

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Posted by Pepper McFarland on Sep 15th The shield was made of six wooden planks, butted and glued together. The planks were Quaking Aspen Populus tremuloides , a hardwood having similar properties to Basswood Tilia , also known as Linden outside of North America.

The boss was attached to the front by clinched forged nails, and the handgrip was similarly attached to the back.

A rawhide edging was attached to the rim by tacks. No iron reinforcements were used on the back, and no facing was used on the front. The shield was affixed to a wooden stand that simulated a human grip on the shield.

A cut was made from a ward without a wind-up, as one might do in a combat situation. The axe penetrated the shield easily. The axe split the plank from one end to the other, and the fragments were held in place by the rawhide edging.

If a hand had been holding the shield when the blow struck, the axe would have partially severed the hand.

With the second blow, the shield was destroyed. Again, the plank was split from end to end, and the rawhide edging failed.

The handgrip broke in several places, and the shield fell apart. The same test was made on an identical shield that was faced with leather.

The first blow penetrated the shield, but did not split the planks. There was no damage to the shield, other than the penetration, and the shield remained an effective defense.

Even after four solid blows, the shield was still intact, without any splits. It remained a solid, usable defense, demonstrating the benefit of a facing on shield.

It wasn't until the sixth blow that the shield failed, due to the shattering of the handgrip. This failure suggests that a solid iron reinforcement would be beneficial for extending the utility of the shield faced with leather.

A slow motion video of one of the axe blows may be seen here. The benefits of using a shield constructed of layers of wood compared to a shield contructed of planks is clearly visible in the photos to the right.

The unfaced planked shield offers little protection after just two hits, while the unfaced plied shield continues to offer significant protection, even after it had been penetrated by an axe five times.

The unfaced plied shield left was pierced many dozens of times with a spear and remained intact, while the unfaced planked shield right flew apart into pieces on the second hit, with shards of wood and rawhide edging flying in all directions.

Further research and tests are planned. Would a hand have been able to hold a shield given this kind of impact?

Would bones have broken under the force of the blow? What are appropriate responses for each combatant when a weapon penetrates and is trapped by the shield, which happened several times during these test cuts?

In addition to its obvious defensive uses, the shield can also be used offensively. The edge of the shield can be used for punching, turning it into a very effective set of "brass knuckles".

If a combatant does not take care to control his opponent's shield, he may quickly find his teeth have been knocked out. The attack can be made with the arm and shoulder, or very powerfully and quickly using the hips.

Using the high shield position described earlier on this page, it's easy to imagine delivering a lethal one-handed punch with the edge of the shield.

However, the saga suggests that Björn used two hands. A speculative reconstruction of this move is shown in this combat demo video , part of a longer fight.

A speculative reconstruction of that move is shown to the left, and in this combat demo video , part of a longer fight. Hurstwic has conducted research on how and when a Viking warrior might choose to throw his shield, detailed in this short video.

A fighter might run in under an opponent and bash him or smother him with his shield, shown to the right and in the same combat demo video.

The stories also describe instances where the shield was used completely passively. Shields were thrown on fallen combatants during a battle to protect them from further injury.

His companions freed Grani and laid him in a hollow and covered him with shields. A swimmer under attack from missiles thrown from the shore might cover his back with his shield to protect himself while swimming.

We tried this to test whether it was possible to swim with a shield on one's back, and whether the shield provided any protection.

Swimming with a shiled while wearing Viking clothing was no problem. The shield seemed to provide some significant protection to the swimmer from arrows fired from the land, although the archers commented that the shield made the swimmer a better target.

The stories suggest that slaves were used as human shields. His two slaves threw themselves on his fallen body to shield him. The earl ordered the captured men killed at once, but Sveinn demurred, pointing out that it was night, when men should not be killed.

The captives were bound, and later in the night, they were able to cut their bonds and escape. During a recent practice, I discovered what should be obvious: a shield makes an excellent sail.

A gusty wind makes controlling the shield very much more difficult. One wonders if a skilled fighter would take advantage of that in the same way he might contrive to put the sun in his opponent's eyes.

The stories say that a fighter might hold a second weapon at the ready in his shield hand, while fighting with his primary weapon in the other hand.

Later in the fight, he threw down his spear and took up the axe in his right hand, using it to cut through Snorri's spear shaft, and then through Snorri's head.

The use of shields was nearly universal in Viking combat. Someone without a shield would be, quite literally, defenseless, and would likely be cut down very quickly.

So, most every fighting man had a shield. The stories say that occasionally, some men chose not to carry a shield, notably when they carried a two-handed weapon, or a different weapon in each hand.

He carried a sword and an axe, but no shield. Did he think his opponents didn't know how to fight? Since the shield could and did break in combat, people expecting to be in a protracted fight such as a duel might have several shields on hand.

The sagas are filled with examples in which shields split or punctured under the force of incoming spears, axes, or swords. While fighting Gunnar in chapter 43 of Grettis saga , Atli delivered a blow with his sword that sliced through Gunnar's shield and part of Gunnar's knee.

Atli's next blow killed Gunnar. Shields were treated differently than other weapons, perhaps because they were so disposable.

Shields apparently were not named, in the way that swords, mail, and other weapons were. Shields had uses outside of combat. Elaborately decorated shields were given as gifts.

In Egils saga chapter 81 , the earl gave the poet Einar a shield that was carved with scenes from legends, overlaid with gold, and set with jewels.

Shields were used as decorations inside the longhouse. Later in Egils saga , Einar took the shield and left it as a gift for Egill, hanging it on the wall above his bed.

Shields were hung on the walls for decorations. Shields were used as stretchers, to carry away men wounded in combat.

When he stepped into the fray, he was struck on the head with an axe. On board ship, shields were arrayed along the gunwales, providing some additional protection from wind and waves to the crew.

Hung along the sides, the shields interfere with the operation of the ship, so some believe shields were arrayed in this manner only to create an imposing appearance while entering or leaving harbor.

There are some students of Viking age fighting styles who say that a shield was the only defense needed, and that proper use of a shield makes other defenses such as helmet and mail unnecessary.

Others would disagree, saying that even with a shield, the other defenses are necessary. However, since helmet and mail were expensive, due to the cost and limited availability of iron, there were probably many combatants using only a shield for defense.

Test cuts were made, using a replica Viking axe against a replica Viking shield. Much poetry was associated with viking weapons.

The richest might have a helmet and mail armour; these are thought to have been limited to the nobility and their professional warriors retainers.

Several layers of thick woollen clothing may have been used by poorer warriors. The average farmer was likely limited to a spear, shield, and perhaps a common axe or large knife seax.

Some would also bring their hunting bows mostly long bow or flat bow to use in the opening stages of battle. Two distinct classes of knives were in use by Vikings.

The more common one was a rather plain, single edge knife of normal construction, called a knifr. These are found in most graves, being the only weapon allowed for all, even slaves.

Smaller versions served as the everyday utility tool, while longer versions were likely meant for hunting or combat or both.

Weapon knives sometimes had ornamental inlays on the blade. The tang ran through a more or less cylindrical handle, the blade was straight with the edge sweeping upward at the tip to meet the back of the blade in a point.

This is evidenced by the large number of knives found in burial sites of not just the men, but the women and children too. The other type was the seax.

The type associated with Vikings is the so-called broken-back style seax. It was usually a bit heavier than the regular knife and would serve as a machete - or falchion -like arm.

A wealthier man might own a larger seax, some being effectively swords. With the single edge and heavy blade, this somewhat crude weapon would be relatively simple to use and produce, compared to the regular sword.

A rather long tang is fitted to many examples, indicating they may have had a longer handle for two-handed use.

The smaller knife-like seaxes were likely within the fabrication ability of a common blacksmith. The Seax was in widespread use among the Migration period Germanic tribes, and is even eponymous of the Saxons.

It appears in Scandinavia from the 4th century, and shows a pattern of distribution from the lower Elbe the Irminones to Anglo-Saxon England.

While its popularity on the continent declines with the end of the Migration period, it remained in the British Isles where it was taken up by the Vikings.

The large, sword-like seaxes are primarily found in connection with Viking settlements in England and Ireland, but do not appear very commonly in Scandinavia.

Its shape was still very much based on the Roman spatha with a tight grip, long deep fuller and no pronounced cross-guard.

It was not exclusive to the Vikings, but rather was used throughout Europe [6]. Swords were very costly to make, and a sign of high status.

They were rarely used and some swords found in graves were probably not sturdy enough for battle or raiding, and instead were likely decorative items.

Early blades were pattern welded , a technique in which strips of wrought iron and mild steel were twisted and forged together, with the addition of a hardened edge.

Local craftsmen often added their own elaborately decorated hilts, and many swords were given names, such as Leg-biter and Gold-hilt.

Owning a sword was a matter of high honour. Persons of status might own ornately decorated swords with silver accents and inlays.

Most Viking warriors would own a sword as one raid was usually enough to afford a good blade. The poor farmers would use an axe or spear instead but after a couple of raids they would then have enough to buy a sword.

Constructing such weapons was a highly specialized endeavour and many sword-blades were imported from foreign lands, such as the Rhineland.

Swords could take up to a month to forge and were of such high value that they were passed on from generation to generation.

Often, the older the sword, the more valuable it became. A distinct class of early single edged swords is known from Eastern Norway at the time.

These had the same grips as the double edged swords, and blades of comparable length. The blades varied from long and slim, like the more common two edged swords, to somewhat heavy, giving the weapon a more cleaver-like balance.

As mentioned above, a sword was so valued in Norse society that good blades were prized by successive generations of warriors. There is even some evidence from Viking burials for the deliberate and possibly ritual "killing" of swords, which involved the blade being bent so that it was unusable.

Because Vikings were often buried with their weapons, the "killing" of swords may have served two functions. A ritualistic function in retiring a weapon with a warrior, and a practical function in deterring any grave robbers from disturbing the burial in order to get one of these costly weapons.

Viking swords displayed at Hedeby Viking Museum. A Danish axe on the Bayeux tapestry. The most common hand weapon among Vikings was the axe — swords were more expensive to make and only wealthy warriors could afford them.

The prevalence of axes in archaeological sites can likely be attributed to its role as not just a weapon, but also a common tool.

This is supported by the large number of grave sites of female Scandinavians containing axes. The larger forms were as long as a man and made to be used with both hands, called the Dane Axe.

Some axe heads were inlaid with silver designs. The double-bitted axes depicted in modern "Viking" art would have been very rare as it used more material and was seen as a waste during hard times, if they existed at all.

No surviving examples, authentic artwork or clear descriptions from records support the existence of double-bitted axes used by vikings.

Double-bitted axes were not forged by the Norse. Just about every axe they forged was single headed. Vikings most commonly carried sturdy axes that could be thrown or swung with head-splitting force.

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.

Like most other Scandinavian weaponry, axes were often given names. According to Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda , axes were often named after she-trolls.

The spear was the most common weapon of the Scandinavian peasant class. Throwing spears were constantly used by the warrior class; despite popular belief, it was also the principal weapon of the Viking warrior, an apt fit to their formations and tactics.

They consisted of metal heads with a blade and a hollow shaft, mounted on wooden shafts of two to three metres in length, and were typically made from ash wood.

The spear heads could measure between twenty and sixty centimetres with a tendency towards longer heads in the later Viking Age. The barbed throwing spears were often less decorated than the ostentatious thrusting spears, as the throwing spears were often lost in battle.

The spear was used both as a throwing weapon and as a thrusting weapon, although there was some specialization in design.

Lighter, narrower spearheads were made for throwing; heavier broader ones, for stabbing. Limited evidence from a saga [ citation needed ] indicates that they may have been used with two hands, but not in battle.

The head was held in place with a pin, which saga characters occasionally pull out to prevent a foe from re-using the weapon.

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.

Despite this, the spear held great cultural significance to the Viking warrior, as the primary weapon of Odin , the king of the Norse gods and the god of warfare, was the spear Gungnir.

A polearm known as the atgeir is mentioned in several sagas of Icelanders and other literature. Atgeir is usually translated as "halberd", akin to a glaive.

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Vikings Shield Video

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