An Overview of Viking Age Wargear

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The Viking Age is defined as lasting from 800 to 1100AD. Many of the the weapons and armour from this period have their origins in the late Roman period.


The British Isles during this period are being regularly raided by the Vikings of Norway and Denmark. The initial raids were soon followed by a period of settlement. This Norse influence on the Anglo-Saxons is reflected in the wargear. Viking style swords and spearheads have been found throughout the area traditionally known as the Danelaw.

In the Carolingian Empire at this time, Charlemagne is starting to use mounted cavalry. These 'knights' where to go on to ultimately become the feudal Norman knights made famous at the Battle of Hastings in 1066AD. It appears that across Western Europe that more armour was worn in the south than the north. This has been possibly attributed to the Islamic influence in southern France.

The mail shirt is recorded as the most expensive piece of equipment costing 12 Solidi in the 'Laws of the Ripuarian Franks' dated to the mid C8th [NICOLLE 2005]:p.28. This is compares to a sword for 3 Solidi. A warhorse is also priced at 12 Solidi, whereas a normal horse is 3 Solidi. To put this in perspective a cow is valued between 1 to 3 Solidi.


Although helms and armour were worn during this period it is a matter of some debate regarding how much armour was available and who would have worn it. A number of convincing arguments have been put forward in recent times that suggest that armour was not common in this period [THOMPSON 2010]. The first British manuscript to depict a helmet or mail shirt is Boulogne, MS11 fol. 104v dated to the late C10th. Armour is however occasionally depicted in late Carolingian Manuscripts produced in Western European at this time.
Weapons have a varied appearance and must have been made in small workshops. Decoration is common and pattern welding is used for decoration. Many small axe head shapes are in use. Spears are wide and are a combination of leaf and angular shapes.


We have a number of depictions of helms and armour from this period. This is supported by a number of stray finds that have been dated to c1000AD. An argument has been made that the renewed Viking raids may have led to the rapid adoption of the Frankish mounted knight style of warfare. New developments in warfare include the anti-horse Dane Axe, metal stirrups - allowing combat from horse back and the chain mail piecing bodkin head.
The conical helm that has been phasing in over the 10th century now become universal and the more traditional domed helmet disappears. There is clear evidence that the helmets of the rounded, crested, form were being superseded by pointed helmets somewhere around the year 1000AD [TWEDDLE 1992]:p.1129.

Other all military equipment becomes more uniform. Swords become plainer and pattern welding is no longer used. Spears also become longer and the use of the smaller hand axe becomes less common


With the arrival of King Edward the Confessor and his Norman retinue Britain once again aligns itself to the latest European fashions. Kite shields make their first appearance in manuscripts as does a longer front split mail shirts with integral coif.


Weapons Armour Missiles


Nicolle, David (2005) Carolingian Cavalryman AD 768-987. Osprey: Warrior 96 [NICOLLE 2005] ^ *
Thompson, Andrew (2010) Why is Anglo-Saxon armour so rare?. (Available Online) [Accessed: 2011]. [THOMPSON 2010] ^ *
Tweddle, Dominic (1992) The Anglian Helmet from Coppergate. York Archaeological Trust: 17/08 [TWEDDLE 1992] ^ *