The Vikings are best remembered as warriors and there’s little doubt that they were fearsome fighters. All Vikings were free men and most considered it their duty to carry weapons – not just to carry out the sort of plundering raids that the Vikings are famed for, but also to defend their families. But what weapons did they use?
Swords were the most prized Viking weapon. However, the craftsmanship involved in making them meant that they were extremely expensive, so they were likely to be the most valuable item that a Viking owned. If, that is, they could afford one at all (most couldn’t).
The prestige of swords was such that they were often passed down through generations or given as generous gifts to people of high status.
Viking swords were usually double-edged and around 90 centimetres in length and 4-6cm in width. When crafting a sword, the blacksmith’s aim was to ensure that it was both light and strong. To achieve this, a skilled blacksmith would use pattern welding, an exacting process that involved twisting and forge-welding several pieces of differently composed iron together.
The very finest examples of the Viking sword-making craft are probably the legendary Ulfberht swords, which were strong, flexible and sharp thanks to a remarkably sophisticated manufacturing process that has baffled modern archaeologists.
Until the discovery of Ulfberht swords it was thought that the temperatures required to accomplish such results only became possible during the Industrial Revolution, some 800 years later!
The axe was a popular Viking tool, used by most people on a day-to-day basis. But the axes that the Vikings used for chopping wood were usually of a more straightforward build than those designed specifically for fighting.
Battle axes were built with long handles, which granted warriors a better reach, and would typically be light and well-balanced for use in nimble combat.
Probably the most common Viking weapon, spears were typically cheaper to make than other weapons as their manufacture required less iron. They were also effective and versatile, and could be either thrown or thrust at the enemy.
Spears took many forms; they ranged from 3 to 10 feet in length and were equipped with a variety of differently shaped spear heads.
Initially used for hunting, the effectiveness of bows and arrows in combat soon became apparent to the Vikings. In battle, the Vikings would typically use bows at the beginning of a clash from long range, potentially taking out a good proportion of the enemy’s front row.
Wood with strong buckling properties that would allow archers to generate more power was vital in the construction of the bow, with ash and elm usually favoured.
On average, Norse bows were able to shoot an arrow up to 200 metres. Arrowheads were usually made of iron and came in numerous shapes and sizes, depending on their function – some were designed for hunting while others, like the Trefoil and Bodkin arrowheads, were designed for armour piercing.