World History

What kind of weapons and armor did Vikings use?
Answered by Craig C. Freudenrich and Science Channel
  • Craig C. Freudenrich

    Craig C. Freudenrich

  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Vikings were warriors; their raiders used many offensive weapons in battle, including bladed weapons, axes and missiles. They protected themselves with armor, helmets and shields. Offensive weapons were essential to raiders. Here are some of the common bladed weapons:

    • Every Viking carried a knife. The most common knife was the scramseax or seax. It had a 12 to 24 inch (30 to 60 centimeter) single-edged blade with a handle. The seax was for fighting an enemy up close.
    • A sword was a great asset if you could afford one. Viking swords were double edged and twice as long as knives. A Viking could wield his sword with one hand and often hold his shield in the other.
    • The spear was a common bladed weapon; its heads were 8 to 14 inches (20 to 60 centimeters) long and the wooden shafts were 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) long. The spear could keep an enemy at a distance and strike him under or over his shield. Spears were both thrust and thrown.
    • Every Viking had an axe used for farming. Axe heads were made of iron and had single cutting edges 3 to18 inches (7 to 45 centimeters) long. The wooden handles were either about 20 inches (0.5 meters) or 60 inches (1.5 meters) long. Viking warriors could wield axes to hurt their enemies or to hook shields out of the way.

    Vikings also used wooden bows made of yew that were longer than axes and similar to English longbows. The bows had a draw weight of 90 pounds (40 kilograms) of force and could shoot arrows 1,600 feet (480 meters). A sling was a more affordable missile weapon, and was made of a leather pouch attached to 39-inch (1-meter) long strings. Slings could hurl stones up to 1,300 feet (400 meters) to break enemies’ bones. The Vikings also used lighter throwing spears or javelins, usually when enemies were within 20 to 40 paces.

    Fighting is about defense, too. To protect their bodies, Vikings wore clothing padded with heavy leather or mail, which were interwoven steel rings. Mail could be knitted to form a shirt (hauberk), hood and leggings to protect against cuts and slashes. Vikings wore steel helmets of many shapes and varieties. Some helmets covered the eyes and others had simple nose guards.

    Vikings typically carried round wooden shields that were about 32 to 36 inches (80 to 90 centimeters) in diameter and often covered or trimmed with leather. The shield may have had a center metal bowl called a boss and was held by a wooden handle. Shields were used both defensively and offensively (to punch the enemy).


    Iron blades for Viking swords
    Iron blades for Viking swords (European/The Bridgeman Art Library/Getty Images)

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  2. Vikings used brutal weapons and heavy armor. Their weapons included a range of swords (including a long sword that was as long as a man's arm), bows, lances, javelins and axes that could split a person's skull. Their shields were made of wood and coated with iron. Viking armor included padded leather shirts with iron breastplates or chain mail shirts for the wealthier warriors among them. Contrary to popular belief, the Vikings didn't wear horned helmets, which would have been bulky and not protective enough in battle. They instead wore iron helmets with face guards.

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