Petersen Type O sword replica

Bringing a thousand years old sword to life

In this article, I would like to present the work of my friend and colleague, craftsman Jan Zbránek from Marobud group. With my cooperation, he made an excellent blunt version of the Petersen type O sword from Dukstad (B 1103).



The start

The whole project started in spring 2016, when Jan ordered a blunt blade from swordsmith Ondřej Borský, aka Ernest’s Workshop. The idea was to create a more quality and unique sword than the average standard in the Viking reenactment. Another criterium was the fact the sword should be suitable for the impression of the 10th century Norway. Jan had no experiences with swordmaking, but he has bronze casting skill, since he makes jewelry for his store Skallagrim – Viking Jewelry. That’s why Jan asked me whether there are any Norwegian swords with bronze cast hilts.


The initial research

Bronze cast swords occur in every corner of the Viking world. Basically, bronze cast hilts are typical for Petersen types O and W swords, as well as for some type Z swords and for rare types beyond the Petersen typology. Even though both types O and W date to the first half of the 10th century, Jan decided for the type O, because it has more examples in Norway and it is more decorated. Examples of the type O were found in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, France, Germany, Great Britain and Ireland, while sword of the type W were found in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Great Britain and Eastern Europe (Androshchuk 2014: 71–72, 79–80; pers. comm. with Lars Grundvad).

Petersen type O is described as the sword with the hilt that consist of the lower guard, the upper guard and the five-tongue-lobed pommel. The type is considered to evolve from the Carolingian type K (Żabiński 2007: 63). Even though Petersen divided the type O to three subtypes (Petersen 1919: 126–134), his typology was upgraded by Androshchuk (Androshchuk 2014: 71–72). As a result, type O is now divided into two main subtypes. The subtype O1 is characteristic by the pommel and guards that are cast in bronze (/made of iron core covered with bronze), often decorated with various knots. There are at least 12 examples of this subtype in Norway (Androshchuk 2014: 71). The subtype O2 is remarkable for the pommel and guards that are made of iron and decorated with silver plaques with engraved interlacing or animal motifs. There are at least 8 examples of this subtype in Norway (Androshchuk 2014: 72). While the subtype O1 is more or less evenly distributed in Norway, the subtype O2 has more coastal concentration, suggesting the higher probability of being imported objects (Żabiński 2007: 63). All swords of the type O are two-bladed, and there is a sword with an ULFBERHT inscription on the blade and two other swords with pattern-welded blades within the Norwegian material (Androshchuk 2014: 71).

Jan made up his mind to recreate the a relatively unknown find B 1103 from Dukstad mound, which belongs to the subtype O1. Together with the sword, an axehead and two spearheads were found. The Unimus catalogue has only vague information about the sword and quotes a book which is about 150 years old. Unfortunately, we have not contacted the museum of Bergen, so we had to improvise. Still, I dare to say that our improvisation is based on scientific knowledge.

Photos of the original sword from Dukstad (B 1103), Universitetsmuseet i Bergen.


Geibig’s typology of blades. Taken from Geibig 1991: 84, Abb. 22.

For example, the catalogue contains the information that sword is “30 inches [76 cm] long and intentionally bent“, but the attached picture of the sword clearly shows the blade belongs to the Geibig’s type 2, which is dated to period between 750 and 950 AD and is characterised by a gently tapering blade with long fuller of near uniform width, blade length between 74 and 83 cm, blade width between 4.8 and 6.2 cm and fuller width generally between 1.7 and 2.7 cm (Geibig 1991: 85, 154; Jones 2002: 22–23).

The size given by the catalogue is not impossible – there is a Petersen type O sword in British Museum collection (1891,0905.3.a), which has the same lenght – but this sword is described to have an “extremely short blade” (Pierce 2002: 90). The fact that the blade is bent complicated our chances for closer estimation and we rather used average, typical parametres of original blades; 77 cm long and 5.5 cm wide blade. This fact makes the complete sword 92 centimetres long, which is not so far from several type O swords (Kaldárhöfði: 91 cm; Berg: 95.8 cm; Eriskay: 97.5 cm).

While the original handle is “3 1/2 inches [9 cm] long“, Jan made his handle 1 cm longer for comfortable usage, which is a necessary compromise. Androshchuk lists 140 swords with the the lengths of handles ranging from 6 to 10.8 cm: “Most swords have grips 8.5-9.5 cm long, which could be estimated as the average width of a human palm. However, there are also other lengths of grips, which evidently means that sword hilts were assembled with taking into account the physical data of the customers.” (Androshchuk 2014: 105). The rest of the sizes on the sword recreation were proportionally estimated. The decoration, which is not well preserved in the case of B 1103, was carefully redrawn and compared to other known decoration of type O swords. It has to be stressed we had no chance to examine the sword personally, so we could miss some details that are invisible on the photos, like the side decoration of both guards.


Some examples of the decoration of subtypes O1 and O2.

The recreation

The result of the research was put to the graphic visualisation. Jan´s brother Jakub made a 3D layout under our detailed supervision. When both visualisations were made, Jan could better imagine the finished sword. After unsuccessful tries to make models of wood, Jan decided to order plastic models from a Czech company called MakersLab. What a fascinating experience to hold in hands the object which was on the paper seconds ago.


Models were brushed, polished and prepared for casting. Jan used the simpliest method, the casting into two-piece sand mould. During the first casting, two of three components were successfuly cast. The last component, the upper guard, was cast during the second try. For was a good experience for Jan, because until that time, he cast only small pieces of jewelry. Subsequently, metal fittings were shaped to the desired form; the sand mould casting is not perfect and a cast object requires a lot of additional work.



Examples of the applied wire on the pommel, B 4385, B 1780 and C 13458.

Afterwards, the chiselling of the ornament followed. When the work was done, it was necessary to put the fittings onto the tang. To reduce the risk, Jan used a modern drilling-machine and a file. After the work was successful and aesthetic, Jan fixed the twisted silver wires around the pommel and in-between lobes of the pommel. In case of original sword, the wire was missing, but five holes for the wire are still visible. Various methods of the applicated bronze or silver wire can be seen on some type O swords (for example, the sword from Eriskay; or B 1780 and B 4385 within the Norwegian material).


The final phase consisted of the woodworking – the handle and the scabbard. Regarding the handle, the original sword had no traces of the handle; however, several swords of the subtype O1 have relatively well preserved oval handles of wood, including swords from Kaldárhöfði, Eriskay or Rossebø. The wooden handle was then covered with leather for a better grip; the application of the leather corresponds to the Androshchuk type I: “grips with oval-shaped cross-section, made of wood; in some cases there are traces of leather and linen wrapped around the grip” (Androshchuk 2014: 104). When the handle was done, the sword was finished. The balance point of the sword is placed 15 cm from the lower guard.

The core of the scabbard was made of two sheets of spruce wood covered with cow leather decorated with raised lines and mouth. The scabbard is sewn on the inner side. The baldric can be suspended thanks to the ash wood bridge with animal head terminals, which is attached to the scabbard by twisted yarn. The leather was stained in the end.


The sword and the scabbard were finished after a half of year in October 2016 and presented during the private event of Marobud group, Sons of the North.



The project involved many people who deserve our thanks. Firstly, we would like to thank to Ondřej Borský (Ernest’s Workshop) and his skill, because the blade is very well done. Secondly, our praise goes to Jakub Zbránek and his grafic skills. We have to mention also guys from MakersLab, who did a good job, and Unimus catalogue. We would like to also express our gratitude to Martin Zbránek and Valentina Doupovcová for documentation. The project would have not existed without the support and patience of our families.

In case of any question or remark, please contact us via Marobud page or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon. Thank you!



Androshchuk 2014 = Androshchuk, F. (2014). Viking swords : swords and social aspects of weaponry in Viking Age societies. Stockholm.

Geibig 1991 = Geibig, A. (1991). Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter : eine Analyse des Fundmaterials vom ausgehenden 8. bis zum 12. Jahrhundert aus Sammlungen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Neumünster.

Jones 2002 = Jones, L. A. (2002). Overview of Hilt and Blade Classifications. In. Oakeshott E. – Peirce, I. G. Swords of the Viking Age, pp. 15–24.

Peirce 2002 = Peirce, I. G. (2002). Catalogue of Examples. In. Oakeshott E. – Peirce, I. G. Swords of the Viking Age, pp. 25–144.

Petersen 1919 = Petersen, J. (1919). De Norske Vikingesverd: En Typologisk-Kronologisk Studie Over Vikingetidens Vaaben. Kristiania.

Żabiński 2007Żabiński, Grzegorz (2007). Viking Age Swords from Scotland. In. Acta Militaria Mediaevalia III, Kraków – Sanok, pp. 29–84.

Algumas Observações Sobre Escudos da Era Viking

Traduzido por: Lucas CarvalhoVestanspjǫr

     Esta é uma tradução autorizada de um artigo publicado por Tomáš Vlasatý, colega historiador e recriacionista histórico da República Tcheca, mentor do projeto Forlǫg e membro do grupo Marobud. Trata-se de uma entrevista com Rolf Warming a respeito dos escudos da Era Viking, especialmente na região da Dinamarca. Você pode apoiar o autor através de seu perfil no site Patreon.

Entrevista com Rolf F. Warming

Rolf F. Warming. Foto tirada por Jacob Nyborg Andreassen da Combat Archaeology.

Rolf Fabricius Warming é um arqueólogo dinamarquês cujos assuntos de seus estudos têm sido proeminentemente sobre combate e conflitos no passado, abrangendo desde a violência Mesolítica até a formação do estado organizado no início do período moderno. Rolf tem um mestrado em Arqueologia Marítima e atualmente está finalizando o seu projeto de dissertação para outro diploma de mestrado (em Arqueologia Pré-histórica), que é focado em escudos da Era Viking e práticas marciais. Ele possui patente de sargento do Exército Real da Dinamarca e também é mestre e instrutor-chefe de um sistema de artes marciais, de aulas e de seminários a nível nacional e internacional. Ele é o fundador da Combat Archaeology, uma organização comprometida com a pesquisa, interpretação material e outras questões sobre assuntos de combate e conflitos no passado.

Quantos fragmentos de escudos da Dinamarca da Era Viking nós temos encontrados e constatados?

Até o momento dessa entrevista nós temos exatamente 40 fragmentos de escudos positivamente identificados como sendo da Dinamarca da Era Viking (incluindo as regiões de Schleswig e Scania). Há um adicional de 3 artefatos variados que podem representar outros achados de escudos da Dinamarca da Era Viking, mas existem muitas incertezas quanto à natureza destes achados até o momento.


Uma visão geral dos fragmentos de escudo da Dinamarca da Era Viking.

Como aparentava ser o escudo comum?


Um esquema da construção de um escudo. Sugerido por Sergei Kainov e Oleg Fedorov.

É difícil apresentar uma descrição simples de como o escudo comum aparentava ser. Os restos de escudos sinalizam designs bastante individualizados, tanto em termos de elementos de construção quanto de dimensões. Alguns escudos recebiam complementos de reforço e acessórios decorativos, enquanto outros escudos diferiam em termos de morfologia e dimensões de bossa. Vários tipos de escudo parecem ter sido usados durante a Era Viking. O escudo plano e redondo é o mais bem conhecido destes, mas parece que escudos redondos e convexos também estiveram em uso. É possível, também, que algumas formas de escudos pipa possam ter sido utilizados já no século X, embora seja convencionalmente compreendido que estes escudos apareceram por volta da época da Tapeçaria de Bayeux (aproximadamente 1070 d.C.), que contém as primeiras representações de tais escudos.

No entanto, sob o risco de perder rigor científico, as seguintes observações podem ser dadas afim de oferecer uma descrição básica para caracterizar a maioria dos escudos planos e redondos comuns: a grande maioria dos achados de escudos da Era Viking são escassos em metal. Muitas vezes os escudos só são reconhecidos pelos fragmentos sobreviventes da bossa, a peça central de metal do escudo, que muitas vezes constitui a única parte metálica do mesmo. Contudo, é possível que escudos construídos estritamente de material orgânico também possam ter existido, a julgar pelo escudo quase intacto de Tira, na Letônia, que é datado do século IX e foi equipado com uma bossa de madeira. As bossas de ferro dos escudos redondos da Era Viking eram usualmente presas na placa de madeira usando 4~8 rebites de ferro, sobre um buraco relativamente circular.


Um esquema da construção de um escudo. Sugerido por Kim Hjardar e Vegard Vike.

A placa do escudo consistia em cerca de 6~8 tábuas de madeira macia, que tinham uma espessura de não mais do que 10 mm no centro, sendo afiladas suavemente em direção às bordas do escudo. Nos casos em que os achados permitiram uma estimativa em diâmetros das placas do escudo, as medições forneceram uma variação entre 75 e 90 cm aproximadamente. Tipicamente, o cabo de madeira, que poderia consistir de madeira mais dura em comparação com as tábuas, se estendia através da placa do escudo e era rebitado em múltiplos locais. Por uma questão de economia e visando assegurar uma construção leve, era desejável que dois dos rebites que prendem a bossa do escudo também prendessem o cabo ao atravessarem a placa.

Muito provavelmente os escudos eram revestidos com uma camada de couro fino, aplicada na parte frontal da placa; uma camada de couro semelhante também poderia ser aplicada na parte traseira da placa do escudo. Uma borda de couro cru poderia ser costurada na extremidade do escudo com fios de algum material orgânico, talvez tendões ou cordões de couro. Mais tarde, escudos redondos do período Medieval parecem ter sido construídos de forma mais robusta e isso incluiu, entre outras coisas, mais reforços de ferro, a julgar pelo que as fontes históricas nos apresentam.

Nota complementar sobre a aparência dos escudos: nos comentários do artigo original, Rolf responde duas questões onde evidencia informações valiosas sobre os escudos:

Qual é o diâmetro aproximado do furo do escudo? – Com base no diâmetro interno de bossas registradas, o furo central dos escudos é de aproximadamente 9~14 cm de diâmetro. Essa variação está de acordo, inclusive, com as medidas registradas do escudo de Trelleborg.

Quanto pesava um escudo comum? – Difícil dizer. Meu escudo, que se baseia em achados arqueológicos escassos em metal, pesa 3,8 kg. Acho que é uma boa média aproximada para escudos sem muito metal.

E sobre escudos mais caros?

Tipologia e cronologia de alguns tipos de bossas de escudos escandinavos da Era Viking. Feito por Kim Hjardar e Vegard Vike.

No caso de escudos redondos mais caros, a extremidade revestida de couro cru poderia ser ainda mais reforçada com a utilização de algumas braçadeiras de bronze ou ferro. Entretanto, em algumas descobertas excepcionais de Valsgärde e Birka, na Suécia, as braçadeiras cobriam partes maiores da borda do escudo ou até mesmo toda a sua circunferência. Outros escudos mais elaborados continham cabos com pontas decoradas com ornamentos de ligas de cobre ou de ferro, em formato de trevos, máscaras humanas e cabeças de animais, por exemplo. A parte traseira do longo cabo e sua empunhadura poderia ser reforçada com ligas de cobre ou de ferro e, algumas vezes, os cabos foram decorados com chapeamento de prata, laços de fitas, padrões trançados e máscaras humanas. Ocasionalmente, a empunhadura ou todo o cabo do escudo poderia ter sido construído de metal. Apenas em casos excepcionais a bossa do escudo continha um formato mais elaborado (tal como um rebordo dentado) ou continha a concavidade adornada com metais não-ferrosos (tais como tiras de bronze finas).

Embora alguns destes acessórios fossem mais elaborados, não significa que fossem acessórios supérfluos ou puramente decorativos como, em contraste, ocorrera nos períodos anteriores constatados através da arqueologia. Os acessórios tinham uma função e eram em, grande parte, usados no intuito de proporcionar uma “força adicional”. Ainda sobre o uso de tantos acessórios elaborados, parece que os escandinavos da Era Viking não evitavam a oportunidade de exibir excessivos elementos decorativos. As máscaras humanas, as cabeças de animais, os laços de fitas e padrões trançados parecem ter sido recorrentes temas decorativos. Tanto as fontes históricas quanto os microscópicos vestígios de cores indicam que as próprias placas dos escudos recebiam decorações e que isso não se limitava aos escudos mais caros.

Ao longo da história, armas foram dadas como presentes e, a julgar tanto pelos registros arqueológicos quanto pelas fontes históricas, não há dúvidas de que os escudos também eram vistos como objetos de grande valor, podendo estes serem ainda mais realçados com belas pinturas e decorações. Associar um escudo de alta qualidade com a mitologia ou com realizações ancestrais, evidentemente o tornaria um objeto de grande admiração e um presente muito decente.

Ilustrações de escudos com base em evidências pictóricas. Feito por Marobud.

Como os escudos poderiam ser usados?

Dado o desenvolvimento e a coexistência de diferentes tipos de escudos e diferentes tipos de bossas, bem como as discrepâncias regionais em preferências de armamento ofensivo, é claro que não há uma única resposta que possa ser dada sobre a forma como eram utilizados os escudos. Assim como é, de fato, muito difícil falar sobre algo chamado “estilo de luta viking“. Ao invés disso, os materiais sugerem que os estilos de combate variaram entre as regiões da Escandinávia e no decorrer de toda a Era Viking, expressando, inclusive, influência de outras culturas, como a dos carolíngios. O que também complica as coisas é que os aspectos funcionais dos escudos podem ser examinados em vários níveis, incluindo o operacional, o tático e os níveis estratégicos de guerra. No entanto, é evidente que qualquer inferência feita em qualquer aspecto funcional de escudo deve ser fundamentada no conhecimento sobre como o escudo era usado a nível individual.

Vamos focar no escudo plano e redondo comum – que normalmente se pensa ao caracterizar o combate da Era Viking – e como ele era utilizado no contexto de combate em ambientes confinados. Na Era Viking, assim como nos sistemas de combate militar e de artes marciais do mundo moderno, muito provavelmente existiam várias abordagens de combate. No entanto, a construção dos escudos planos e redondos nos permite examinar alguns dos fundamentais princípios subjacentes que podem ter regido predominantemente o uso desse escudo em combate. O escudo plano e redondo era um escudo fino e leve que era segurado pela empunhadura central, sem quaisquer enarmes (cintas que podem prender o escudo mais firmemente no antebraço). Isto, juntamente com o furo central (protegido pela bossa), permitia que a mão segurasse o escudo em um ponto muito próximo do seu centro de massa, com o formato circular do escudo facilitando a maneabilidade. A fragilidade do escudo exigia justamente essa maneabilidade, já que o usuário do escudo teria que fazer uso do conceito da deflexão se ele não quisesse que o escudo quebrasse rapidamente. Ao invés de uma mera defesa passiva, o escudo era usado ativamente. Isto era feito com o escudo na posição horizontal de frente para o corpo adversário ou em um ângulo oblíquo com a borda virada para a frente. Em ambos os casos, todavia, a experimentação prática com espada afiada e escudo plano e redondo indica que existe uma forte correlação entre o grau de deflexão à medida na qual o escudo é ativamente utilizado sendo empurrado para a frente. Se esta forma de utilizar o escudo não contribuiu para o comportamento agressivo notório dos vikings, é, pelo menos, muito alinhada à imagem legada destes soldados de infantaria leves e agressivos, que refletia a natureza dos combatentes escandinavos durante a maior parte da Era Viking.


Uso ativo do escudo. Recriacionista Roman Král.

Em suma, o que temos é um escudo muito usado ativamente. Em situações defensivas o escudo poderia ser empurrado para a frente ou manobrado de maneira que desviasse a entrada de golpes; em situações ofensivas, onde o usuário do escudo atacava, o escudo poderia agir como uma arma impressionantemente ofensiva, podendo ser usada para criar aberturas para um golpe de machado ou de espada, especialmente através de pancadas poderosas com a borda. Assumindo que a construção do escudo plano e redondo não era diferente para nenhuma situação, os escudos eram usados com estes princípios tanto no âmbito do combate singular quanto no combate em formação; não há, que eu saiba, nenhuma evidência de uso de escudo estático como suporte, mesmo quando se fala de conceitos como “shield wall” (a famosa muralha de escudos). O caso é diferente no restante do período Medieval, onde escudos mais robustos foram usados. Curiosamente, há também algumas evidências que sugerem que essa tradição de escudos usados ativamente continuou além da Era Viking, se fundindo com algumas técnicas medievais de espada e broquel.

No vídeo abaixo, a Combat Archaeology faz uma demonstração de arqueologia experimental com um escudo plano e redondo da Era Viking:

O Vestanspjǫr agradece ao amigo Tomáš Vlasatý pela iniciativa da entrevista e pela oportunidade de trazermos este trabalho à lingua portuguesa, bem como agradecemos ao mestre Rolf Warming por compartilhar este rico conteúdo com a comunidade recriacionista internacional.

Vestanspjǫr thanks the friend Tomáš Vlasatý for the initiative of the interview and by our opportunity to bring this work to the Portuguese language, as well as we thank the master Rolf Warming for sharing this rich content with the international reenactment community.

– Artigo original no blog Forlǫg

– Página oficial do projeto Forlǫg no Facebook

– Página oficial do projeto Combat Archaeology no Facebook

The helmet from Gjermundbu

On March 30 1943, Universitetets Oldsaksamling in Oslo gained the information that a farmer named Lars Gjermundbo found and dug into a huge mound on his land near the farm of Gjermundbu, Buskerud county, southern Norway. The place was examined by archaeologists (Marstrander and Blindheim) the next month and the result was really fascinating.


The plan of the mound. Taken from Grieg 1947: Pl. I.

The mound was 25 meters long, 8 meters broad in the widest place and 1.8 meters high in the middle part. The most of the mound was formed by stony soil; however, the interior of the middle part was paved with large stones. Some stones were found even on the surface of the mound. In the middle part, about one meter below the surface and under the stone layer, the first grave was discovered, so called Grav I. 8 meters from Grav I, in the western part of the mound, the second grave was found, Grav II. Both graves represent cremation burials from the 2nd half of the 10th century and are catalogized under the mark C27317. Both graves were documented by Sigurd Grieg in Gjermundbufunnet : en høvdingegrav fra 900-årene fra Ringerike in 1947.

Grav I consists of dozens of objects connected to personal ownership and various activities, including fighting, archery, horse riding, playing games and cooking. Among others, the most interesting are unique objects, like the chain-mail and the helmet, which became very famous and are mentioned or depicted in every relevant publication.

Předpokládaná rekonstrukce bojovníka uloženého v Gjermundbu, 10. století. Podle

Possible reconstruction of the gear that was found in Grav I, Gjermundbu. Taken from Hjardar – Vike 2011: 155. The shape of the aventail is the weak point of the reconstruction.

© 2016 Kulturhistorisk museum, UiO

The helmet is often described as the only complete helmet known from the Viking Age. Unfortunately, it is not true, for at least two reasons. Firstly, the helmet is not by any means complete – it shows heavy damage and consists from only ca. 10 fragments in the current state, which means one fourth or one-fourth or one-third of the helmet. To be honest, fragments of the helmet are glued onto a plaster matrix (some of them in the wrong position) that has the rough form of the original helmet. Careless members of academia present this version as a reconstruction in the museum and in books, and this trend is then copied by reenactors and the general public. I have to agree with Elisabeth Munksgaard (Munksgaard 1984: 87), who wrote: “The Gjermundbu helmet is neither well preserved nor restored.

Secondly, there are at least 5 other published fragments of helmets spread across Scandinavia and areas with strong Scandinavian influence (see the article Scandinavian helmets of the 10th century). I am aware of several unpublished depictions and finds, whose reliability can not be proven. Especially, helmet fragments found in Tjele, Denmark, are very close to Gjermundbu helmet, since they consist of a mask and eight narrow metal bands 1 cm wide (see the article The helmet from Tjele). Based on the Gjermundbu helmet, Tjele helmet fragments and Kyiv mask (the shape of the original form of Lokrume fragment is unknown), we can clearly say that spectacle helmet type with decorated mask evolved from Vendel Period helmets and was the most dominant type of Scandinavian helmet until 1000 AD, when conical helmets with nasals became popular.


An old reconstruction of the helmet, made by Erling Færgestad. Taken from Grieg 1947: Pl. VI.

To be fair, the helmet from Gjermundbu is the only spectacle type helmet of the Viking Age, whose construction is completely known. Let´s have a look at it!


The scheme of the helmet. Made by Tomáš Vlasatý and Tomáš Cajthaml.

My mate Tomáš Cajthaml made a very nice scheme of the helmet, according to my instructions. The scheme is based on Grieg´s illustration, photos saved in the Unimus catalogue and observations made by researcher Vegard Vike.

The dome of the helmet is formed by four triangular-shaped plates (dark blue). Under the gap between each two plates, there is a narrow flat band, which is riveted to a somewhat curved band curved band located above the gap between each two plates (yellow). In the nape-forehead direction, the flat band is formed by a single piece, that is extended in the middle (on the top of the helmet) and forms the base for the spike (light bluethe method of attaching the spike is not known to me). There are two flat bands in the lateral direction (green). Triangular-shaped plates are riveted to each corner of the extended part of the nape-forehead band. A broad band, with visible profiled line, is riveted to the rim of the dome (red; it is not known how the ends of this piece of metal connected to each other). Two rings were connected to the very rim of the broad band, probably remnants of the aventail. In the front, the decorated mask is riveted onto the broad band.

© 2016 Kulturhistorisk museum, UiO

Since all known dimensions are shown in the scheme, let me add some supplementary facts. Firstly, four somewhat curved bands are shown a bit differently in the scheme – they are more curved in the middle part and tapering near ends. Secondly, the spike is a very important feature and rather a matter of aesthetic than practical usage. Regarding the aventail, rings have the spacing of at least 2 cm. On contrary to chain-mail, rings from the helmet are very thick and probably butted, since no trace of rivets were found. It can not be said whether they represent the aventail, and if so, what it looked like and whether the aventail was hanging on rings or on a wire that was drawn through the rings (see my article about hanging devices of early medieval aventails). Talking about the mask, X-ray showed at least 40 lines, which form eyelashes, similarly to Lokrume helmet mask (see the article The helmet from Lokrume). In spite of modern tendencies, neither traces of metal inlay nor droplets of melted metal were found. There is a significant difference between the thickness of plates and bands and the mask; even the mask shows uneven thickness. Initially, the surface of the helmet could be polished, according to Vegard Vike.

I believe these notes will help to the new generation of more accurate reenactors. Not counting rings, the helmet could be formed from 14 pieces and at least 33 rivets. Such a construction is a bit surprising and not so solid. In my opinion, this fact will lead to the discussion of reenactors whether the helmet represents a war helmet or rather a ceremonial / symbolical helmet. I personally think there is no need to see those two functions as separated.

I am very indebted to my friends Vegard Vike, who answered all my annoying question, young artist and reenactor Tomáš Cajthaml and Samuel Collin-Latour. I hope you liked this article. In case of any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon.


GRIEG, Sigurd (1947). Gjermundbufunnet : en høvdingegrav fra 900-årene fra Ringerike, Oslo.

HJARDAR, Kim – VIKE, Vegard (2011). Vikinger i krig, Oslo.

MUNKSGAARD, Elisabeth (1984). A Viking Age smith, his tools and his stock-in-trade. In: Offa 41, Neumünster, 85–89.

Karel’s journey – pilgrimage to Rome

In the time of fast way of living and the focus on making money, one young man decided to break the yoke of modernity, to leave his home and set off for Rome, only in early medieval clothing and with limited knowledge of English. The will to live is his weapon, an unbeatable sense of humor is his shield. His name is Karel Sýkora, and this is the story of his travel.

karel1Around one year ago, my mate from Marobud, advanturer and good friend Karel Sýkora (25) decided to embark on a long and hard journey traveling on foot, only in historical costume. After doing his final exams on forging in June 2016, we participated in Viking Age festivals throughout most of Europe. Meanwhile, the plan was set – when “the season is officially over”, he ends with his job, leaves all his property at his parent’s house and sets off to Rome. It means ca. 1500 kilometers or 1000 miles. This incredible plan actually happened and Karel is on his way at this very moment!



The main purpose of all of this is to be free as much as possible, to be your own master. Karel was fed up with a lot of stress and obligations in our modern world, he needed his head cleaned. The second reason is the fact he feels he is getting older each year and there will be no real freedom in the future because of work and family. In his opinion, the way is the goal, he wants to test his experiences and costume in reality and to make some new memories that could be worthy of remembrance. Rome was picked from three different reasons – first of all, it is in the right position, not so far, not so near, secondly, the way is not overcrowded when compared to Santiago de Compostela, and thirdly, many pilgrims in history made a pilgrimage to Rome as an act of faith.

Since there is no other way to became more historically accurate, he decided to take his tablet and to document the complete travel. Besides the tablet, the only unhistorical things were ID cards, money, bottles, glasses, and a hammock at the start of the travel. It is necessary to say that he keeps unhistorical objects unvisible for the most of the travel and he has them only for practical purposes.

The travel started on Sunday, September 11 by the monastery in Velehrad, Moravia, Czech Republic. The plan was and still is to go via Slovakia, Hungary, border areas of Austria, Slovenia and Italia. The way is not given, but it leads mainly by rivers, through forests and national parks with rests at our friends, churches, monasteries, historical open-air museums and kind native. The traveler slept the first night in a house in Archaeological open-air museum Modrá. The next significant stop was Mikulčice by Morava River on Thursday, September 14 and Pohansko by Dyje River the next day. Karel crossed the Czech-Slovakian border on September 16, that means ca. 100 km per 5 days.


Until that time, Karel was barefoot, but he was suffering from lots of small wounds, so he started to wear shoes, which turned to be a mistake in rocky Little Carpathians and on modern roads since shoes are almost destroyed by now. The traveler visited a hill called Vysoká and military area Záhorie with its nice sand dunes. From Sunday, September 18 to Tuesday, September 20, Karel spent his time with our friend Samuel, the leader of Herjan group, in Pezinok, where he recovered a bit.

After that, Karel continued to Danube River that forms the border between Slovakian and Hungary. He managed to get to the river on September 22 and he slept in the protected natural area Dunajské luhy, which is located between two braches of one of the biggest European rivers and is accessible only by a ferry. Karel missed the second ferry to the Hungarian side, so he decided to change the way, go back to the Slovakian side of the river and to continue to the border point Medveďov.


So it happened and Karel crossed the river and Slovakian-Hungarian border on September 24 in the morning. The next stop was the city of Győr. By that time, the travel has already taken ca. 250 kilometers in 13 days. In Győr, he met new early medieval friends – reenactors – and spent a beautiful weekend with them. We would like to thank mainly to Danial Koncz for taking care of Karel. They held a banquet, consisting of traditional Hungarian goulash and a lot of alcohol, and visited Pannonhalma Archabbey, which was founded in 996. There the party divided, and Karel continued in the direction Szombathely.


On September 26, Karel visited the village Vaszar and was forced to repair the torn strap on his backpack. He moved forward to old town of Pápa the next day.

On September 28, Karel stopped at a campsite in Vinár, where he had a shower and a small rest. Then he continued to Celldömölk and then to the spa town of Sárvár the next day. He was forced to go barefoot on the road for nearly 20 kilometers; as a result, his feet were brushed to the blood. Karel put his shoes on again and enjoyed a Hungarian beer as a small reward. After a small examination of local sightseeings, Karel changed the way and followed Rába river in the direction Körmend. Later that day, he found a lovely place with hay by a small inlet of the river. Karel stated it was relatively cold in the night several hogs visited him. Fortunately, nothing happened.

Friday September 30 was the rest day and Karel repaired his stuff (new wedges in his trousers, some reparations on shoe soles and the backpack), made a new documention of the costume and took a bath in Rába River. On the first October day, he felt the coming autumn and decided to go south as fast as possible, in the direction Vasvár.


The next part of the travel, the crossing of Hungarian-Slovenian border, is not well documented, yet it was crucial for the rest of the journey. It was raining all the time, with windy weather and the constant problems with period shoes. On October 2, Karel reached Katafa and slept there. He continued through the national park Őrségi to Őriszentpéter the next day, but the strap of his backpack broke again and he had to repair it. October 4 was the day of the crossing Hungarian-Slovenian border; Karel crossed it 5 minutes after noon. After a small visit of Romanesque rotunda in Selo, he slept near Moravske Toplice. The crosswind from mountains was so cold he could not sleep well and he run out of hard liquor that he got from Daniel in Győr.

On 5th October, Karel reached Murska Sobota. It was a bit sad day, since it was no longer possible to continue in period shoes. He tried to repair them several times, with no long-term result. It is need to add that shoes were 2 years old before the start of the journey and they were not the best. Even though, Karel showed the hard will when he was able to go 60 kilometers in torn shoes and wet weather. He was forced to buy a modern pair of shoes. It is an important finding – for a long journey, at least two good pairs of shoes are needed, a sewing set is good too. Karel visited the local museum with Celtic exhibition and then continued in the direction Ptuj. On October 6, he slept near Gabrnik.

On October 7, Karel visited the town of Ptuj and its castle with armoury. Then, he moved to the monastery of Ptujska Gora and asked monks for asylum. On the next day, he visited ruins of castles in Studenica and Zbelovo and he slept by Dolga Gora. Karel reached Šentjur on October 9, and after he bought some provisions there, he moved to ruins of Rifnik castle and slept in the palace. The Slovenian countryside is woody, hilly and very nice and Karel enjoyed many spectacular panoramas. It is important to mention that the autumn nights and mornings are cold, with the temperature reaching below 0°C. Karel has his woolen sleeping bag and woolen blankets, but he needed to isolate the cold from the earth, so he bought several rugs. This is also an important finding, which will be useful in the following expeditions.

On October 10, Karel passed Rimske Toplice and reached Radeče and Sava River. It was raining all the day, so he was forced to put his hood on. The next day, he moved to Sopota and slept in an old wooden cabin. It was exactly a month from the start of the visit, and Karel said he did not realize the passing of time. On October 12, Karel reached Šmartno pri Litiji and he managed to move to Ljubljana the next day, where he met his friends from archaeological services “Skupina STIK” and “Arheofakt”. Slovenian friends took a good care of him, fed him, showed him an archaeological park and made an interview with him. Karel could rest for two days in Ljubljana, and he continued to Logatec on October 16. By that time, the travel has already taken ca. 700 kilometers (435 miles); it means Karel was in the middle of the travel.

On October 17, Karel visited and slept near a Roman fortress Ad Pirum in Hrušica. He was invited to visit his friend Ivan to Trieste, so he continued to Ajdovščina the next day and he met there Turkish pilgrim which was on his journey for more than a year. At night, Karel slept at the site of another abandoned castle, Turn near the historical town of Štanjel. On Wednesday, October 19, at 2:38 PM, Karel crossed Slovenian-Italian border in Dol pri Vogljah and continued to Opicina, where he met his friend Ivan. Finally by the sea.

What lies in the future of this project? Check our Facebook project out to find more!

Interview with Rolf F. Warming

A few notes on Viking Age Shields


Rolf F. Warmring. Photo taken by Jacob Nyborg Andreassen, Combat Archaeology.

Rolf Fabricius Warming is Danish archaeologist, whose studies have preeminently been on the subject of combat and conflict in the past, ranging from Mesolithic violence to organized state formation in the early modern period. He holds an MA degree in Maritime Archaeology and is currently finalizing his dissertation project for another MA degree (in prehistoric archaeology), which is focused on Viking Age shields and martial practices. He has the rank of sergeant in the Royal Danish Army and is a master and the chief instructor of a martial arts system, teaching classes and seminars on a national and international level. He is the founder of Combat Archaeology, an organization committed to researching and interpreting material and issues on the subject of combat in the past.

How many shield fragments have we found in Viking Age Denmark?

At the time of writing, we have exactly 40 positively identified shield remains from Viking Age Denmark (including Schleswig and Scania). There are an additional 3 miscellaneous or missing artefacts which may represent other shield finds but too many uncertainties exist as to the nature of these finds at this point.


An overview of shield fragments from Viking Age Denmark.

What does the average shield look like?

Nu scolo menn vapn sin syna sem mælt er i logum. scal maðr hava breiðöxe.
æða sverð. oc spiot. oc skiolld þann at versta koste er liggia scolo
þriar um þveran. oc mundriði seymdr með iarnsaumi.
ǫg hin fornu


A scheme of  the shield construction. Made by Sergei Kainov and Oleg Fedorov.

It is difficult to offer a simple description of what the average shield would look like. The shield remains signal quite individualized designs, both in terms of constructional elements and dimensions, at least as far as shield bosses are concerned. Some shields were fitted out with more reinforcing or decorative fittings while other shields differed in terms of shield boss morphology and dimensions. Several shield types also appear to have been in use during the Viking Age. The flat round shield is the most well-known of these, but convex round shields also appear to have been used. It is possible, too, that some forms of kite shields could have been employed as early as the 10th century, although these shields are conventionally understood to appear around the time of the Bayeux Tapestry (c.1070) which contains the earliest depictions of such shields.

However, at the risk of losing scientific rigor, the following observations may be given to offer a basic description of features that may be said to characterize the majority of the common flat round shields. The vast majority of Viking Age shield finds are sparse in metal. Often the shields are only recognized by the surviving fragments of the shield boss, the metal centerpiece of the shield, which frequently constitutes the only metallic part of the shield. However, it is possible that shields constructed of purely organic material may have existed as well, judging from the nearly intact shield from Tira, Latvia, which is dated to the 9th century and was equipped with a wooden shield boss. The iron shield boss of Viking Age round shields was usually fastened to the board with 4-8 iron rivets over a somewhat circular hole. The shield board itself consisted of c. 6-8 softwood planks which had a thickness of no more than 1 cm in the center and tapered gently towards the edges of the shield. In cases which have allowed for an estimation of shield board diameters, the measurements have yielded a range between c. 75 and 90 cm. Typically, the wooden handle, which could consist of hardwood or some more rigid timber compared to the planks, appears to have spanned across the shield board and riveted onto here in multiple places. For the sake of economy and ensuring a lightweight construction, it was desirable to let two of the rivets from the shield boss flange pass through the handle. The shields were most likely equipped with a thin leather facing which was applied to the front of the shield board; assumedly, a similar leather facing could also be applied to the back of the shield. A rawhide edge could be stitched to the shield rim with a thread of some organic material, perhaps sinew or leather. Later round shields of the Medieval period appear to have been of a more robust construction and included, among other things, more reinforcements of iron, if we are to judge from the historical sources.


A version of the shield construction suggested by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike.

What about more expensive shields?

Baugs þá ek bifum fáða       bifkleif at Þorleifi.
Þjóðolfr hvinverski : Haustlǫng


Typology and chronology of some types of Scandinavian shield bosses. Made by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike.

In the case of more expensive round shields, the fastening of the rawhide edge could be further enforced by use of a few bronze or iron clamps. In a few exceptional finds from Valsgärde and Birka in Sweden, however, the clamps cover larger parts of the shield rim, even its full circumference, in which case it is more likely that they have served to reinforce the rim as a whole. Other more elaborate shields are fitted out with trefoil-shaped handle terminals of copper-alloy which have been decorated with human masks and animal heads. These appear to have fastened the handle more firmly to the shield board. The back of the long handle and grip could be reinforced with copper-alloy or iron fittings which are sometimes seen decorated with silver plating, ribbon lacing or braiding patterns and human masks. Occasionally, the entire grip or handle appears to have been constructed out of metal. In only exceptional cases is the flange of the shield boss given a more elaborate shape – such as a toothed flange, or the shield boss adorned with non-ferrous metal – such as thin bronze strips – which could be fastened around it’s flange or the wall. So, although some of these fittings are of a more elaborate kind, there is no evidence for superfluous or purely decorative fittings, which, by contrast, are known from the war booty sacrifices of preceding periods. The fittings, or that to which they are attached, all have a function and are largely for the purpose of providing additional strength. However, when using such elaborate fittings, the Viking Age Scandinavians do not appear to have shunned away from the opportunity to display excessive decorative elements. The human mask, animal heads as well as the ribbon lacing and braiding patterns appear to have been recurring themes. Both historical sources and microscopic traces of color also indicate that the shield boards themselves could be decorated, although this is, strictly speaking, not limited to expensive shields.

Weaponry has throughout history been given as gifts. And judging from both the archaeological record and historical sources, there is no doubt that also shields could be perceived as highly valued objects. The shields could be painted and further accentuated by beautiful decorations. Associating a high quality shield with mythology or ancestral achievements would of course render the shield an object of much admiration and a fitting gift.

Designs of shields based on pictorial evidence. Made by Marobud.

How could shields be used?

“Upp óxu þar      Jarli bornir,
hesta tǫmðu,       hlífar bendu,
skeyti skófu,      skelfðu aska.”

Given the development and coexistence of different shield types and shield boss types as well as regional discrepancies in offensive weaponry preferences, it is clear that no single answer can be given as to how the shields were used. It is, in fact, even difficult to speak of a so-called “Viking fighting style”, as such! Instead, the material suggests that combative styles varied in the course of the Viking Age and across the various Scandinavian regions, expressing also influences from other cultures, such as the Carolingians. What also complicates matters is that the functional aspects of shields can be examined on many levels, including the operational, tactical and strategic levels of warfare. Nonetheless, it is evident that any inferences made into any functional aspects of shields must be grounded in knowledge about how the shield was used on an individual level.

Let us focus on the common flat round shield, which is commonly thought to characterize Viking Age combat, and how it was employed in the context of close quarter combat. Like the military combative systems and martial arts of the modern world, there probably existed various approaches to combat and even nuances of what some considered the same combative styles. Nonetheless, the construction of the flat round shields allows us to examine some of the main underlying principles that may have governed most combative uses of this shield. The flat round shield was a thin, lightweight shield which was held by the center grip, without any enarmes (i.e. straps that could fasten the shield more firmly to the forearm). This, along with the center hole (protected by the shield boss), which allowed the hand to grip the shield closer to its center of mass, and the circular shape of the shield greatly facilitated maneuverability. The fragility of the shield necessitated precisely such maneuverability since the shield-bearer would have to make use of the concept of deflection if he did not want the shield to break easily. Rather than a mere passive defense, the shield was used actively. This could be done with the shield held flat in front of one´s body or at an oblique angle with the rim facing roughly forwards. In both cases, however, practical experimentation with a sharp sword and round shield reconstruction indicates that there is a strong correlation between the degree of deflection and the extent to which the shield is actively thrusted forward. If this use of the shield did not contribute to the notorious aggressive behavior of the Vikings, it is at least very much in line with the bequeathed image of these light and aggressive infantrymen that assumedly reflect the nature of Scandinavian combatants throughout most of the Viking Age.


Actively used shield. Reenactor Roman Král.

In short, what we have is a very actively used shield. In defensive situations the shield could be thrusted forward or maneuvered in a manner that would better deflect incoming attacks; in offensive situations, where the shield-bearer himself would attack, the shield could act as an offensive striking weapon that could be used to create openings for one’s axe or sword, particularly through powerful strikes with the shield rim. Assuming that round shield construction did not deviate to any extreme extent, the shields were employed by using these principles in both the context of single combat and in formation fighting; there is, to my knowledge, no supportive evidence of static shield use, even when speaking of such concepts as “shield-walls”. The case is different in the medieval period where more robust shields are used. Interestingly, there is also some evidence suggesting that this tradition of actively used shields continues beyond the Viking Age, now merging with some branches of the medieval sword and buckler tradition.

With all my respect and admiration, I would like to thank to Rolf Warming and his unique project Combat Archaeology for the interview. I hope you liked this article. In case of any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon.

Norské saxy a bojové nože

Nůž z Osebergu.

Po článcích o bojových nožích z Haithabu, Švédska a Ruska mám tu čest představit přehled norských dlouhých nožů doby vikinské. Každý exemplář je opatřen krátkým popisem a pokud možno obrázkem. Kromě nožů jsou rozebrány také pochvy.

Článek je možné prohlédnout či stáhnout zde:
Norské saxy a bojové nože doby vikinské

English summary

This article is a short summary of what we know about long knives in the Viking Age Norway. Two main sources were used – Petersen’s Vikingetidens Redskaper and UNIMUS catalogue. The result is only a representative number; the article is not complete.

In Norway, long knives were used until the 10th century. From 16 more or less preserved blades, 2 knives belong to the Merovingian type (ca. 100 years old by that time) and were deposited in 9th century graves. In the 9th century, Merovingian type was replaced with lighter, narrower and shorter knives. The typical knife used in Viking Age Norway had a straight blade with relatively uniform features:

  • 20–50 cm in length (ca. 10 cm long handle), 2–3 cm in width

  • in most cases, both blade and back are evenly straight; the blade tapers near the point

  • the wooden handle, sometimes with a bronze ferrule

Sheaths covered both blades and handles and were decorated sometimes. Sheaths show that Anglo-Saxon seaxes and Swedish scabbard knives were rarely used in Norway .

In 14 cases, knives were found in graves/mounds, eight times with a sword, seven times with an axehead, six times with a spearhead, sometimes with other tools. Graves belonged to women in at least two cases.

The function is difficult to guess. Merovingian type were probably deposited from symbolical reasons. Light long knives could serve as kitchen knives, hunting knives and weapons in case of need.

Two-handed axes


For all my reenactment career (ca. 10 years), I encounter so-called Dane axes, two-handed axes used in second lines on the battlefields. These weapons are very popular and terrifying and the same time. What the most problematic part of fighting with this kind of weapon is the fact that modern warriors tend to implement their own ideas of what works on modern battlefields and they avoid of those ideas, which are, in their opinion, not functional. Historical background of this weapon is put aside, when the weapon is replicated and used; simply because modern rules of fighting are different and historical background is unknown or unattractive to many warriors.

There are many kinds of early medieval axes that could be considered as two-handed; however, there is no strict line between one-handed and two-handed axes and we can only judge by our common sense. This short overview will discuss two main types of two-handed axes that were used in Scandinavia; this time, we disregard Baltic axes of Kirpičnikov type IV (however, they can be added in the case of interest). I am absolutely aware of the fact that some reenactors and modern warriors will disagree with the result of this article. In such a case, please feel free to write your comments below and to bring your evidence.


A replica of the type M, made by Petr Floriánek, carried by Petr Váka. Courtesy: Radka Opočenská.


In this chapter, axeheads, shafts and methods of fixing will be discussed.

Petersen´s axe typology.

Axehead (Petersen type M)

When referring to a “Dane axe”, we actually refer to axeheads of Petersen type M. The type M was introduced around ca. 950 and it was so popular it was used from England to Russia until 13th century (Petersen 1919: 46–47). The type was developed from older types of Scandinavian axes (like F, G, H), due to the need for bigger war axes. One of the reasons can be associated with the fact that protective parts of war gear were used more often; Petersen type M should be seen as a reaction to usage of maille and helmets.

Petersen type M is defined as an iron broad axehead with expanded, wedge-shaped and very thin (sometimes 2 mm) blade and projecting lugs on either side of the head. Axes of type M from Birka are 20–22 cm long, 16–18 cm broad and they weigh 385–770 grams (Vlasatý 2016). 12 axes of type M from Danish graves are ca. 13–24.6 cm long and ca. 10–21.7 cm broad (Pedersen 2014: 131–134, Find list 2). Russian axes belonging to the type M are 17–22 cm long, 13–20 cm broad and they weigh 200–450 grams (Kirpičnikov 1966: 39). Baltic axes of the same type are 12.5–23.5 cm long and 12–22.5 cm broad (Kazakevičius 1996: 233). 13 Polish axes of type M (IIIA.5.1 and IIIA.5.3 according to Kotowicz) are 13.6–21 cm long, 11–20.6 cm broad and they weigh 200–450 grams (Kotowicz 2014).

The most massive example I am aware of comes from the River Thames (see here); it is 24.4 cm long, 28 cm broad and it weighs 966 grams. The given weight of axes is only partial; many axes are rusted, but the original weight can be counted from the amount of iron material that remained in axes to modern times. For example, the axe from Langeid (C58882/4; 20.7 cm long and 25.4 cm broad) weighs 550 g in current state, but it originally weighted ca. 800 grams. It has to be said that there are at least three phases in the evolution of the type M; the older versions are smaller and have narrower necks, while the more recent are bigger and more massive (see the chart). The type M is often mistaken for Petersen type L, which was developed at the same time (Petersen 1919: 45–46). Generally speaking, the type L is shorter (ca. 11–20,5 cm) and narrower (ca. 6.5–17 cm). Nevertheless, some bigger examples of the type L (like B 9694) can be easily mistaken, since they have average sizes of the type M. It is true that the line between types L and M is very narrow sometimes (and artificial!), but both types have their own specific nuances, when it comes to proportions (as well as the symmetry and thickness) of the blade, the neck and the eye.

It has to be mentioned that “In the 10th cent. in the northern part of our continent, especially after Christianisation, the number of axes in graves increases significantly. They often belonged to persons of lower social position. As a rule, they were the only military equipment of the dead” (Kotowicz 2013: 51-52). Piotr Kotowicz (2011: 52) pointed that axes became “a symbol of the warrior’s profession” by that time. It is true that most of axeheads are found alone in graves; on the other hand, I was able to collect at least 19 Scandinavian graves that contain axehead of type M together with another type of weapon or riding equipment (the list is here) – the spearhead is the most common second weapon (13), as well as shield boss (9), sword (7), the second axe (3), weapon knife (2) and arrows (2). In these graves, riding equipment occur in 11 cases. What is more, two Gotlandic axes of Petersen type M were put to graves with men wearing lamellar armours (Snäckgärde, SHM 484, see this article). That’s why I tend to say that Petersen type M axeheads are indicators of the high status, or at least warrior status.

A considerable number of Petersen type M is decorated and the decoration (often consisting of a cross) can be distinguished into five types:

  1. engraved ornaments. The axe from Blichowo (Kotowicz 2013: 44, Fig. 4; see here) has the butt carved with a Greek cross.
  2. punched dots and grooves. This type can be seen on one axe from the River Thames (Paulsen 1956: 87, Abb. 32; see here). Vertical pairs of grooves can (or could) be seen on axes from Kongsgården (Rygh 558; C 3210; see here) and Lednica (Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2013: cat. no. 81; grooves are now invisible, see here).
  3. inlay. The axe from Hultsjö (SHM 737; see here) is inlayed with ornaments (including cross) in silver. The same method can seen on the axe from Skensta (SHM 6814; Paulsen 1956: 112, Abb. 48; see here). Three famous Finnish axes are inlayed with silver as well: Posio (KM 24379; Paulsen 1956: 116, Abb. 50, see here), Humikkala (KM 8656:H47:5; Paulsen 1956: 117, Abb. 51; see here) and Köyliö (Kotowicz 2013: 49, Fig. 9; see here).
  4. overlay. The famous axehead from Botnham (Ts 11937; see here) is decorated with Ringerike ornament in gold. The grid to which gold was hammered is still visible.
  5. The last kind of decoration is special and it covers so-called “axes with crosses” – axes with blades decorated in their inner parts with incised Latin crosses (and sometimes with grooves as well). There are 5 Scandinavian finds of the type with open blades, the list can be seen here; all of them are dated to the second half of the 10th century. Another example comes from the vicinity of Plock, Poland (Kotowicz 2013: 51, Fig. 11; see here).

Examples of decoration. From left: the axes from Thames, Skensta, Hultsjö, Bothamn and Närke. Taken from Hjardar – Vike 2011: 163.

There are at least two Swedish axes (Nässja, SHM 5237; Tåby, SHM 6126) that prove the mixing of Scandinavian and Eastern traditions. These two axes have Petersen type M blades, but instead of projecting lugs, they have an egg-shaped or rounded middle piece (sides the eye for the shaft) and a projecting butt with round or square cross-section. Axes like these show how variable this kind of weapon is, combining two functional elements into one piece.

Schematic pictures of both methods.

The axehead could be made by at least two methods. On the beginning of both methods, there was an iron ingot or a welded billet containing iron plates of different quality. The material could be folded several times for better quality. Afterwards, the body of the axehead was shaped. The first method, the easier one, is about forging the rough shape, splitting the frontal part, inserting the high-carbon steel blade and punching the eye for the shaft in the end. The second method lies in forging the rough shape in unwrapped (opened) symmetrical or asymmetrical shape – without the need to punch the eye for the shaft – and welding the frontal part, splitting the frontal part and inserting the high-carbon steel blade. On some examples, the ridge formed by inserted blade is very visible. In both cases, some finishing touches might be needed, as well as decoration, polishing, sharpening etc.

Very good example of the first method can be seen in the video below:

Axehead (Lunow type)

In my recent article “Axes from Birka“, I discussed a very interesting type of axehead, so-called Lunow type. The type is characteristic with its massive and long T-shaped blade, sometimes with four projecting lugs on either side of the head and a small butt.


The distribution of Lunow type. Taken from Michalak – Kotowicz 2014: 112. Fig. 5.

Michalak and Kotowicz (2014: 112) register 22 finds of this type, coming from what is now Denmark, Germany, Poland, Russia and Sweden. It seems that the centre of this type was situated in Greater Poland, Brandenburg and Pomerania. They can be dated to ca. 940–1050 AD. Sizes varies between 13–21.4 cm × 13–29 cm. The best known examples were found in Lunow, Brandenburg an der Havel and Poznań-Dębiec, however, there are 9 examples found in Scandinavia (mainly Denmark), including axes from Birka (SHM 35245:95), Haithabu (two examples), Over Hornbæk (grave BPW), Rosenlund (grave KR), Suderbys (SHM 11128), Lindholm Høje (grave 2149), Ulbjerg and Lund. The examples from Birka and Lund very similar to the best known specimens from Poland and Germany; they are decorated with silver and copper inlays as well, the rest consists of typologically similar axes. I would like to suggest that examples from Dolmer and Trelleborg should be included among the rest as well, as they belong to the same tradition. The full list of Scandinavian finds with sizes can be seen here. Similarly to some axes of Petersen type M, the example from Rosenlund was found together with a sword, a spearhead, a shield-boss, stirrups and spurs. We can connect these axes with so-called taparøx, rare Slavic axes mentioned in literary sources.


Some axes of Lunow type 1 – Poznań-Dębiec (Luboń), Poland; 2 – Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany; 3 – Lunow, Germany; 4 – Lund, Sweden; 5 – Birka, Sweden; 6 – Over Hornbæk, Denmark; 7 – Lindholm Høje, Denmark; 8 – Haithabu, Germany; 9 – Suderbys, Gotland, Sweden; 10 – Rosenlund, Denmark.


The question of shafts is problematic, since there are not so many complete examples from the period and those that survived are not well known. Let’s begin with the length.

Sankiewicz and Wyrwa (2013: 7778) made probably the most comprehensive list of complete axe shafts from early, high and late medieval Europe. From their list and some other finds these authors were probably not aware of, a very interesting result arises:

  • 2460 cm: 13 examples (18.57 %)
  • 6090 cm: 49 examples (70 %)
  • 90+ cm: 8 examples (11.43 %)

The length of 6090 cm (mainly 7080 cm) is the most common and both aforementioned and many other researchers consider this length to be a standard; Kirpičnikov (1966: 28) suggests 80 cm to be an average length, as well as Mäntylä (2005: 110) gives the length of 7090 cm and Kotowicz (2008: 447) writes that shafts varied between 60 and 80 cm. They agree on the statement that longer shafts should be seen as two-handed. In our simplified list, there are 8 examples of shafts longer than 90 cm, consisting of shafts from Behren-Lübchin (94 cm; 12th century), Lednica no. 85 (97 cm; 9501050 AD), Novyja Valosavičy (100 cm; the end of 10th century – the beginning of 11th century), Lednica no. 84 (107.5 cm; 11th century), Kirkkomäki (108 cm; 11th or 12th century), Pahošča (110 cm; the end of 10th century – the beginning of 11th century), Vorma (111 cm; 13th century) and Břeclav (115 cm; 9th or 10th century, see here). What is more, three Petersen type M axes found in Lough Corrib probably had shorter shafts, around 80 cm, as well as other finds, axes from the River Robe and the River Shannon (see here). As will be mentioned in following chapters, these lengths are most likely typical for two-handed shafts of battle axes.

Some axes with shafts: 1 – Vorma, 2 – Lednica (no. 84), 3 – Kirkkomäki, 4 – Lough Corrib.

Some shafts included to the list were simply made from young trees of various shapes, but shafts longer than 90 cm were as a rule made by splitting of massive log. Thanks to this method, shafts were (relatively) straight and hard. In spring and summer 2016, I made a research on what species of wood were used to construct shafts in Middle Age Europe (the result can be seen here – this research is not complete!). The result is that combination of hard and light wood growing in the vicinity of the site was the desired quality of the shaft material. Evergreen wood species were used very rarely (only 1 example). The most common species are hornbeam (61 examples; 29.33 %), maple (44 examples; 21.15 %), ash (36 examples; 17.31 %) and oak (19 examples; 9.13 %).


Cross section of shaft fragments of axes from Lundehall and Langeid.

Shafts of three Petersen type M axes from Lough Corrib were made from cherry wood, as well as the fragment of wood found with type M axe from Langeid. The shaft of axe from Vorma is made from spruce. Shafts of axes from Lednica are made from hornbeam (no. 85) and maple (no. 84). The most common wood species found in Viking Age Scandinavia as materials of axe shafts are maple (6 examples: 2× Barshalder, 2 × Sønder Onsild, 1 × Grimstrup, 1× Træhede), birch (3 examples: 2× Oseberg, 1 × Sønder Onsild), alder (1 example; Fyrkat), elm (1 example; Nyrbo), beech (1 example; Haithabu) and cherry (1 example; Langeid).

The eye usually has an oval, egg (droplet) shaped or round cross section. Sizes of eyes varies between ca. 24.2 cm × 24.2 cm (Polish: 2.4–4.2 cm × 2–2.8 cm, Russian: 3.5 × 2–2.5 cm, Baltic: 3 × 2–4,22 cm). From my experience, most shafts have droplet shaped cross section and preserved fragments of shafts prove it.

The only type of decoration of shafts we are able to find consists of metal. There are only two kinds of such a decoration, including:

  • plate ferrules in the upper part of the shaft. The meaning of such a ferrule is obvious – it makes the axe firmer in the strained part and makes the axe to look more splendid.
    • made from iron. An iron ferrule was found with the Petersen type E axe from Hemse (Hemse annex; SHM 5645; see here), but is now missing. Another one was found with Petersen type M in a 11th century grave in Bilczewo, Poland (see here). For more Polish, Russian and Hungarian analogies from different periods, see Kotowicz (2008: 451453).
    • made from brass/bronze. Six examples of this decoration were found in Norway (C 24243, C 25583, C 27132, C 29866, C 57235, C 58882see here). The ferrule of axe from Langeid is made from rectangular plate that is 0.5 mm thick; the plate is nailed to shaft with 12 brass nails (11 mm long, 2.5 mm thick). It has to be mentioned that a slight layer of wood under the ferrule was removed, so there is no visible step between the undecorated part of shaft and the decorated one. At least two Norwegian ferrules (C 27132, C 29866) have four projections in the lower part peeping under the axehead. Another six examples come from Gotland (SHM 484 Gr. 4, SHM 4815, SHM 14855, SHM 14885, SHM 19273, SHM 22297). There are two more finds discovered in the River Thames, one of them is ornated with rich motives and has 9 projections in the lower part (see here). Another example of brass ferrule comes from Klincovka, Kaliningrad Oblast (see here, I am indebted to Piotr Kotowicz for this information). There are at least two finds of decorated shaft wrapping from brass plate from 10th century Latgalian graves in Lithuania (see here and here, Kotowicz 2008: 452453).
    • made from silver. A very nice example comes from Kalihnovščina, Nothern Russia (see here). The ferrule is placed below the axehead and ends in four cross-shaped projections in the lower part.
  • a butt on the bottom part of the shaft. The only find of this decoration comes from Barshalder (SHM 27778: 11, see here).

The schema of Langeid axe. Made by Vegard Vike.

Fixing of the axehead to the shaft

There are two major methods, how axeheads were fixed. The first one is mounting the axe head from the tapered bottom. This method could be combined with a kind of securing of the axehead, for example with leather. The second method lies in mounting from the upper end of the shaft and securing the axehead with a wooden or metal wedge or nail. Both methods were used in the Viking Age Europe; for example, the first one can be seen on one of Oseberg axes and on many axes from Lednica and Mikulčice. Since the upper end has to be thicker and forms so-called forskapti (for example axes from the River Robe and the River Shannon), the first method can be easily recognized. Axes with shafts decorated with ferrules were mounted from the upper end, but the wedges do not occur in their case. Even though wedges are not common, we can find some evidence. Three axes from Lough Corrib were secured with wooden wedges. The Petersen type M axe from Ballinderry Crannóg was secured with a wooden wedge and a metal nail (see here). One axe from Lednica (no. 102; Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2013: 204205; see here) is secured with a metal wedge. The recently found axe from Hårup was secured with one big nail that goes through the eye (see here).


In one of my previous article, I mapped all finds of Viking Age axe sheaths (see here). To sum up, there are 13 finds of wooden sheaths from Haithabu, 2 finds from Schleswig and 2 finds from Dublin. They belong to two types and are made from willow, yew, oak, ash, spruce and birch wood. In our contexts, the most interesting one comes from Schleswig; the sheath is decorated with two pictures of two-handed axes, one of them belonging to the Petersen type M. Thus, the function of this object is clear and there is no doubt that sheaths like these served to protect blades from blunting and rust.

                           Type 1                                                                  Typ 2

Literary sources

Sagas and chronicles contain some pieces of information that can be useful for comparing with what we know from archaeology. The most importantly, we can learn how two-handed axes were called, used and perceived.

It should be said in the first place that Old Norse people did not call these axes “Dane axes”. Petersen type M axes, together with axes of type F, belong to a broader term breiðøx. Literary sources work carelessly with terms, so it is sometimes hard to say which passage refer to two-handed axe. Terms like þunnsleginn øx (“axe that is hammered thin”), háskeptr øx (“long-handled axe”) or simple “big axe” are small clues that can refer to two-handed axes. Let’s have a look on The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Fóstbræðra saga), where we can find typical passages:

Þorgeirr had a broad axe, a mighty weapon, keen-edged and sharp, with which he had sent many a man to dine [in Valhalla].” (ch. 3)

Bjarni forged a broad axe for Þormóðr, according to his will. The axe was hammered right down to the cutting edge, had no weal to obstruct it and was thus extremely sharp.”  (ch. 23)

Even though Þorgeirr´s axe is a mighty broad axe, he use it as a one-handed weapon in fight (for example ch. 8). As the result, to be sure we refer to two-handed weapons, we have to pick passages about breiðøxar that are held on both hands; even this approach can be wrong, because warriors, in case they had no shields, used weapons with both hands (see for example here). In such a way, only two axes in sagas can be named as two-handed – Hel, the axe of Óláfr Haraldsson (Saint Óláfr) and his son Magnús the Good, and Rimmugýgr, the axe of Skarphéðinn Njálsson.

Literary sources are far from being much descriptive. They contain information only about owning, carrying and fighting with what we could call two-handed axes. As we can see, axes have their own names and are owned by famous people. It corresponds nicely with what we can see from their occurrence in warrior graves and their decoration – Petersen type M axes are markers of the high rank, of a status similar to “hero”, “champion”, “professional warrior”. With no doubt, axes of this type were owned and used by noblemen and their hirðir (“retinues”).

One of the most interesting passages from Old Norse sources can be searched in Saga of Magnus the Good (Magnús saga góða), where King Magnús, just before the battle of Hlýrskógheiðr (1043), throws away his own chain-mail and runs to the array of enemy, starting the battle with two-handed axe Hel (tha axe that used to belong to his father) in his hands. I believe this mention corresponds to depicted fighting scenes that incude two-handed axes:

Then King Magnús stood up, and ordered the war trumpets to sound, and at that moment the Víndland army advanced from the south across the river against him; on which the whole of the king’s army stood up, and advanced against the heathens. King Magnús threw off from him his coat of ring-mail, and had a red silk shirt outside over his clothes, and had in his hands the battle-axe called Hel, which had belonged to King Óláf. King Magnús ran on before all his men to the enemy’s army, and instantly hewed down with both hands every man who came against him. So says Árnórr jarlaskáld:

‘The unsluggish ruler stormed forth with broad axe, and cast off his byrnie; a sword-clash [BATTLE] arose around the ruler of the Hǫrðar [NORWEGIAN KING = Magnús], as the prince clenched both hands around the shaft, and the shaping guardian of heaven [= God] allotted earth; Hel clove pallid skulls.‘’” (ch. 29)

At least two English sources mention “the apologetic gift” of earl Godwin of Wessex given to Harðaknútr, the last Danish king of England, in 1040. The gift consisted of a ship of 80 warriors equipped with gilded “Dane” axes:

Each of them had a gilded helmet on the had, a Danish axe on left shoulder and a spear in right hand.” (William of Malmesbury : Gesta regum Anglorum, II, § 188)

Also, each of them had a chain-mail, a partially gilded helmet, a sword with gilded handle by the waist and a Danish axe, decorated with gold and silver, hanging on the left shoulder. In the left hand, each of them had a shield, whose bosses and rivets were gilded as well, and they had spears in their right hands, the one, which is called atagar in English language.” (Florence of Worcester : The Chronicle)


Axe-bearers from pictures stones from Tängelgårda I and Alskog Tjängvide I, Gotland.

It should be streesed that these are the oldest mentions of the Latin term “Danish axe” (securis Danica), together with the passage from De Miraculis Sancti Eadmundi (ch. 21), written by Hermannus The Archdeacon in late 11th century (“According to Danish fashion, Osgod Clapa had armrings on both hands and gilded axe was hanging on his shoulder.“). It is accepted (see for example DeVries 1999: 217) that Petersen type M came to England during the Conquest of Knútr the Great, and two-handed axes could be weapons of his troops called þingmenn. This elite retinue survived until 1066, as an be seen on the Bayeux Tapestry and skaldic poetry, and these troops were understood as very tough opponents by Norwegians in 1066 (see Úlfr stallari : Lausavísa). DeVries (1999: 217) thinks that English warriors used Petersen type M axes more commonly than Scandinavians. However, the Scandinavian origin of this weapon was still understood, as it was called “Danish axe”. In his major work The History of The English (Historia Anglorum), Henry of Huntingdon, 12th century historian, mentioned the popular story of Norwegian warrior, who killed more than 40 chosen Englishmen with the axe during the Battle of Stamford Bridge (1066):

Here a single Norwegian, whose name ought to have been preserved, took post on the bridge, and hewing down more than forty of the English with a battle-axe, his country’s weapon, stayed the advance of the whole English army till the ninth hour. At last some one came under the bridge in the boat, and thrust a spear into him, through the chinks of the flooring.” (Historia Anglorum, VI, §27; trans. Forester 1853: 209)

The same story, but with slightly different details, can be found in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (version C) and Deeds of the Kings of the English (Gesta regum Anglorum) of William of Malmesbury (see here). Even though details vary – in other versions of the story, the axe and the number of slained opponents are missing, the Norwegian is equipped with a chain-mail and the way of his death is different as well – these passages are important proof of the skill of owners of these axes. I have to add that the popular theory that the Norwegian was a berserkr is rather a result of modern creativity.

“Danish axes” occur several times in high medieval sources, mostly in connection with King Stephen of England (Battle of Lincoln 1141; he allegedly fought with the axe until it was broken) and Richard the Lionheart (Battle of Jaffa 1192). Also, they are included in Old French romans in the form hasche Danoise (“Danish axe”).


Irishmen equipped with two handed axes. Topographia Hibernica, Royal MS 13 B VIII, folio 28r.

What is insteresting is the fact that literary sources can show how axes were carried. In connection to “Danish axes”, Latin sources from England contain the phrase in humero dependente (“hanging on the shoulder”), in humero sinistro (“on the left shoulder”) and in sinistro humero pendentem (“hanging on the left shoulder”). In Old Norse literature, there is a quite nice parallel to this phrase, hann hafði øxi um ǫxl (“he had axe across the shoulder”) – one occurrence of the phrase is connected with Skarphéðinn Njálsson, the owner of two-handed axe Rimmugýgr (“Skarphéðinn was foremost. He was in a blue cape, and had a targe, and his axe aloft on his shoulder“; Njáls saga, ch. 92). The aforementioned quote from Florence’s Chronicle is important as well – we can see that warriors could have many weapons, including hanging axes, and could change them. The design of hanging device is unknown and to learn more, experiments are needed. The picture from Hunnestad Monument shows a warrior with his two-handed axe on the right shoulder. Similarly, Varangian guardsmen greeted the Emperor by axes raised on right shoulders:

Guardsmen were holding them in the right hand, leaning the blade against the left wrist. When the Emperor came, they brought up the axes to lean them on their right shoulders. During the time of the name-day of the Emperor, the Varangians saluted him and banged their axes, which emitted rhythmical sound.” (Kotowicz 2013: 52)

Slavic axes called taparøxar (from Slavic topor, “axe”, and Old Norse øx, “axe”) are mentioned in sagas and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (version A) sometimes. In sagas (Ljósvetninga saga, Njáls saga, Vatnsdœla saga), they occur as prestigious objects among Norwegian-Icelandic elite. The shape is not know, nor the length of the shaft; however, I believe that Lunow type or Russian types of one-handed axes (like Kirpičnikov types I, II, III) are possible. I think the best mention of the axe comes from Ljósvetninga saga (ch. 2), where it occurs as a gift of jarl Hákon, the ruler of Norway in ca. 970995:

Jarl [Hákon] said he [Sǫlmundr] should first deliver his gifts, a Russian hat to Guðmundr the Mighty and taparøx to Þorgeirr Ljósvetningagoði.


A replica of the axe from Langeid, made by Vegard Vike and Anders Helseth Nilsson.

In literary sources, axeheads and shafts are frequently decorated. We already mentioned English sources, where axeheads are gilded. In sagas, what is interesting is the fact that axes decorated with gold are mentioned as gifts from specific rulers (Haraldr hárfagri, jarl Hákon, Sigurðr Hloðvirsson, Haraldr harðráði) and are given to important Icelanders. It seems that mentions like these are oral formulas – for example, both Þorkell from Vatnsdœla saga (ch. 43) and Þorstein from Þorsteins saga Síðu-Hallssonar (ch. 1) receive øx gullrekna (“gilded axe / axe inlayed with gold”) from Sigurðr Hloðvirsson, jarl of Orkney, and in an analogical manner, both Brandr from Brands þáttr ǫrva (ch. 1) and Halli from Sneglu-Halla þáttr (ch. 10) get in possession of øx gullrekna thanks to generous Haraldr harðráði. My point is that the quantity of mentions is not so important, since it rather reflects features of orally-derived prose of high and late medieval Iceland. If we study material like this in order to get relevant information about weapons, we should focus on what parts of weapons are decorated and what is the context. To sum up, saga literature mentions axeheads decorated with gold (gullrekinn and gullbúin) and shafts covered with silver or iron wrappings (vaf) or plates (spengðr). The “fore-haft” (the part above the axehead) of the axe, that was given to Sneglu-Halli, was decorated with “a big silver knob [silfrhólkr] with a precious stone on it” (Sneglu-Halla þáttr, ch. 10). Let’s say that gold, silver and any other kind of decoration is mentioned as an indicator of the maximum richness and the status, and such a decorated gift is a proof of king’s favour, which gives the importance to the receiver of a gift, the character of the story, and his descendants.

Before we move forward to the next chapter, the last thing – the terrifying aspect of axes – has to be mentioned. Unlike swords, axes are named after Norns, troll-women and monsters etc. in poetry (for example Norn skjaldar, “the norn of the shield”, or brynflagð, “the troll-woman of the chain-mail”, and so on). One of the most illustrative mention I know comes from Halldórr ókristni’s Eiríkrflokkr (st. 7), it says: “slender monsters of the land of Þriði [ÞRIÐI = ÓÐINN, LAND OF ÓÐINN = SHIELD, MONSTERS OF THE SHIELD = AXES] yawned with iron-mouths at people“. In literary sources, axes are often synonyms of awe, brutality or hard power (“Even though we are not lawmen, we will solve the suit with axe butts” says Þorsteinn in my favourite sentence in Vatnsdœla saga, ch. 37). No wonder, because axes are very destructive tools and weapons, designed for chopping and they can not be easily blocked. On the other hand, facing to these deadly weapons is the feature of a brave man.

Depictions (pictorial evidence)

In this chapter, I divided the pictorial evidence between four groups from different areas and periods. Only those axes that resemble Petersen type M were included. Groups are:

  • Bayeux Tapestry. This group contains no less than 20 axes.
  • Scandinavian pictures. This group contains at least 3 axes.
  • Another (Byzantine and Russian pictures). This group contains only 3 depicted axes.
  • High Middle Ages pictures. 12 axes were selected to this group.

To sum up, 38 axes were included. 36 of them are depicted together with men. We can distinguish two basic functions and forms:

  1. standard axes, with the length varying between 3 and 4 feet (91122 cm). Sankiewicz and Wyrwa (2013: 76) suggested the length of approximately 3 feet and 6 thumbs (107 cm). Axes of this length are usually depicted in the fight. 32 depicted axes belong to this form.
  2. above-standard axes, with very long shafts reaching to the head of the wielder. Edge and Paddock (1988: 31) calculated the length to 4 or 5 feet (122152 cm). The axe depicted on Byzantine ivory plaque seems to be even longer. The context suggests they were used as symbols during ceremonies; these symbols are important for stressing the crucial persons in the piece of art and their sizes could be disproportionally enlarged. On the other hand, axeheads are not enlarged, so we can assume these symbolic axesdid in fact have long shafts. 6 depicted axes belong to this form.

Axes of the first form seem to be weapons of renowned warriors. As the rule, wielders of axes are tall. In 21 cases, warriors with axes wear a better form of body protection (chain-mails, scale armours, gambesons). Similarly, in 25 cases, warriors have helmets. Together with 29 axes, 10 swords and 6 shields are depicted, what is in agreement with aforementioned statements (warriors could have many weapons […] and could change them). One axeman holds a blowing horn. Two depicted men from pictorial evidence are described as Leofwine Godwinson and King Stephen of England. On the contrary, five axes are shown in hands of men not dressed in armour; two of them seem to be peasants, not warriors.

At least in three cases, two-handed axes of the first form are depicted in hands of men leading the attack/defense (in one case, a flag is right behind the leader). Axes seem to be very good weapons during the siege, the fight against cavalry and during a charge. In one high medieval case, a two-handed axe is used on horseback. In a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry, a man holds a shield in the left hand, a spear in the right hand and the axe is hanging in his back or is hidden behind his kite-shield. Two depicted shields are located on backs of their wielders, and even though they are not actively used, they could give some kind of protection. In two cases, men fight with a two-handed axe just in one hand in combination with a shield. One depicted axe had the axehead cut off by a sword.

A considerable number of warriors (12) hold the axe in the left-hand forward grip; however, we can find some men with the right-hand forward grip (8). It is speculative whether the artists wanted to show the real fighting techniques or the perspective of period style was more important. To avoid any misleading result, let’s say that the owners knew how to use these axes in the most effective way and probably changed the grip in order to gain the advantage.

Regarding the second form of two-handed axes, we can try to count all the contexts of their usage. Harold Godwinson is depicted to hold his axe during the meeting with messangres of Duke William. In two cases, axes are used during a meeting of King Edward the Confessor and Harold Godwinson. Another two axes are shown when Harold Godwinson is offered the English crown. In all five cases from Bayeux Tapestry, long two-handed axes are connected with the English ruling power, King Edward the Confessor and Harold Godwinson. The maker of the Tapestry probably wanted to stress their nationality and status by giving them the typical weapon (on the contrary, Normans are always depicted with swords as symbols). Finally, the sixth axe is depicted on a small Byzantine ivory plaque, dated to the 10th or 11th century (see here). The plaque shows a man in underpants, holding the axe in the right hand and (Petersen type X) sword in the left hand. The axehead seems to have the similar design to what we previously called “open blade”. In my article “Axes with crosses“, I agreed with Kotowicz (2008: 447-448, Note 16), who put these axes in connection with pelekophori (“axe-bearers”), Varangian guards. It seems probable this kind of axe served for ceremonial greeting of the Emperor, as mentioned above.

The most of depicted axes of both types seem to be top-mounted, since the shafts are thicker in the lower part. At least three (high medieval) pictures shows bottom-mounted axes. No visible decoration of both axehead and shafts is visible; the colour of axeheads can be interpreted in many ways. The bronze axe amulet from Haithabu shows the shaft with a large knob (the curved bottom end of the shaft).

A note for reenactors

A replica of the type M, made by Scott Roush.

We can clearly see that original two-handed axes were used in completely different way than modern versions. The most visible difference is the length of the shaft, causing the need to fight in the first line with the lacking protection of limbs (gloves). Modern versions of two-handed axes are based on 6 aforementioned axes with very long shafts, which are not shown to be used on the battlefield. Such an approach is an ignorance of the majority (28) axes and archaeological material. In the real fight, two-handed axes require a lot of free space, so they have to be placed in the first line or on the side of the formation. The sharp axe is almost unstoppable, destroying both shields and bodies. The placing in the first line and the shorter shaft have to be compensated by quality armour that reduces the risk of mortal wounds. However, there are no period gloves able to give the protection against sharp weapons. From my experience, I can say that a man with a 110 cm long axe has to be enormously movable, in order to be safe and effective. If we are talking about the real fight, stopping in front of the enemy line is the worst idea, the best option is to run forward and attack. A combination ow two-handed axe and a shield passively hanging in front of the warrior, which is a common trend today, is ineffective in the real fight (it can be pierced with a spear anytime), slows down the warrior and has no real support in historical sources (on the Bayeux Tapestry, warriors had shields on their backs). The act of deploying two-handed axes always has a great morale impact on both sides. As a result, warriors with two-handed axes, leaders, and their retinues belonged to the heaviest armoured infantry and the most skilled troops that occured on late Viking Age and high medieval battlefields.


A replica of the type M, made by Ronan Jehanno.

To be fair, modern versions (with 2.5 metres being the maximum length I have seen) are perfect weapons for a modern way of fight and its rules. In the “Eastern style”, rules are set to be “dead” after the first proper hit into the areas covered with armour – the system that is illogical from the historical perspective. Long two-handed axes are good for this purpose, as well as the hooking of shields and weapons. That’s why we should draw a very clear line between what is period and what is modern. However, when we make compromises, I tend to advise the length of the axe that reaches to the chest or the chin of the wielder. Such a length allows the wielder perfect control of the weapon. In any case, the length should be referential, not standardized to the particular number.

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle = The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Edited and tranlated by Michael Swanton, New York 1996.

Florence of Worcester : The Chronicle = The chronicle of Florence of Worcester with the two continuations; comprising annals of English history, from the departure of the Romans to the reign of Edward I. Translated by Thomas Forester, London 1854. Online. Latin version can be reached here.

Henry of Huntingdon : The History of the English (Historia Anglorum) = The chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon. Edoted and traslated by Thomas Forester, London 1853. Online. Latin version can be reached here.

Hermannus The Archdeacon : Miracles of St. Edmund (De Miraculis Sancti Eadmundi) = Hermanni archidiaconi liber der miraculis sancti Eadmundi. Edited by Thomas Arnold. In: Memorials of St Edmund’s Abbey, vol. 1, London, 1890, 26-92. Online.

William of Malmesbury : Deeds of the Kings of the English (Gesta regum Anglorum) = William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the kings of England. Translated by John Allen Giles, London 1847. OnlineLatin version can be reached here.

Njal’s Saga (Njáls saga) = Njal’s Saga. Translated by Robert Cook. In: The Complete Sagas of Icelanders III Reykjavík, 1997 : 1–220. Icelandic version of the saga can be reached here.

The Saga of Magnús the Good (Magnús saga góða) = Sagan af Magnúsi góða. Edited by N. Linder an H. A. Haggson. In: Heimskringla Snorra Sturlusonar III, Uppsala 1872. Online.

The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Fóstbræðra saga) = The Saga of the Sworn Brothers. Translated by Martin S. Regal. In: The Complete Sagas of Icelanders II, Reykjavík, 1997 : 329–402. Icelandic version of the saga can be reached here.

The Saga of the People of Ljósavatn (Ljósvetninga saga) = Ljósvetninga saga. Edited by Benedikt Sveinsson, Reykjavík 1921. Online.

The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal (Vatnsdœla saga) = Vatnsdœla saga. Edited by Einar Ól. Sveinsson. In: Íslenzk fornrit VIII, Reykjavík, 1939, 1–131. Icelandic version of the saga can be reached here.

The Saga of Þorsteinn Síðu-Hallssonar (Þorsteins saga Síðu-Hallssonar) = Þorsteins saga Síðu-Hallssonar. Ed. Jón Jóhannesson. In: Íslenzk fornrit XI, Reykjavík 1950. Icelandic version of the saga can be reached here.

The Tale of Brand the Generous (Brands þáttr ǫrva) = Brands þáttr ǫrva. Edited by Einar Ól. Sveinsson and Matthías Þórðarson. In: Íslenzk fornrit IV, Reykjavík 1935. Icelandic version of the story can be reached here.

The Tale of Sarcastic Halli (Sneglu-Halla þáttr) = Sneglu-Halla þáttr. Edited by Jónas Kristjánsson. In: Íslenzk fornrit IX, Reykjavík, 1956: 261–295. Icelandic version of the story can be reached here.


DeVries 1999 = DeVries, Kelly (1999). The Norwegian invasion of England in 1066, Woodbridge.

Edge – Paddock 1988 = Edge, David – Paddock, John Miles (1988). Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight, London.

Hjardar – Vike 2011 = Hjardar, Kim – Vike, Vegard. Vikinger i krig, Oslo.

Kazakevičius 1996 = Kazakevičius, Vytautas (1996). Topory bojowe typu M. Chronologia i pochodzenia na źiemiach Bałtów. In: Słowiańszczyzna w Europie średniowiecznej, Wrocław: 233–241.

Kirpičnikov 1966 Кирпичников А. Н. (1966). Древнерусское оружие: Вып. 1. Мечи и сабли IX– XIII вв./ АН СССР, Москва.

Kotowicz 2008 = Kotowicz, Piotr N. (2008). Nie tylko żeleźca. O rzadziej postrzeganych elementach średniowiecznych toporów. In: “Ad oderam fluvium”: księga dedykowana pamięci Edwarda Dąbrowskiego, Zielona Góra: 441–465. Online.

Kotowicz 2013 = Kotowicz, Piotr N. (2013). The Sign of the Cross on the Early Medieval Axes – A Symbol of Power, Magic or Religion? In: Weapons Brings Peace? Warfare in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Wratislavia Antiqua 18, Wrocław: 41–55. Online.

Kotowicz 2014 = Kotowicz, Piotr N. (2014). Topory wczesnośredniowieczne z ziem polskich : Katalog źródeł, Rzeszów.

Mäntylä 2005 = Mäntylä, Sari (2005). Broad-Bladed Battle-Axes, Their Function and Symbolic Meaning. In: Rituals and Relations. Studies on the Society and Material Culture of the Baltic Finns, Helsinki: 105–130.

Michalak – Kotowicz 2014 = Michalak, Arkadiusz – Kotowicz, Piotr N. (2014). Wczesnośredniowieczne cmentarzysko z okolic Bukowca w powiecie międzyrzeckim, czyli o pewnym odkryciu w archiwum w Wünsdorfie. In: Wielkopolskie Sprawozdania Archeologiczne, t. 15: 107–124.

Paulsen 1956 = Paulsen, Peter (1956). Axt und Kreuz in Nord- und Osteuropa, Bonn.

Pedersen 2014 = Pedersen, Anne (2014). Dead Warriors in Living Memory. A study of weapon and equestrian burials in Viking-age Denmark, AD 800-1000, Publications from the National Museum. Studies in Archaeology & History Vol. 20:1 2. (Catalogue), Copenhagen.

Petersen 1919 = Petersen, Jan (1919). De Norske Vikingsverd, Kristiania.

Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2013 = Sankiewicz, Paweł – Wyrwa (2013), Andrzej M. Topory średniowieczne z Ostrowa Lednickiego i Giecza, Lednica. Online.

Vlasatý 2016 = Vlasatý, Tomáš (2016). „Sekeru s sebou“ – katalog seker z Birky, komentář a srovnání [“Carrying the axe” : a catalogue of axes from Birka, a commentary and comparison]. Projekt Forlǫg Reenactment a věda. Online.


A 14th century depiction of both handed axe from Novgorod. Taken from Paulsen 1956: 99, Abb. 39.

“Stříhat a česat”

úprava vlasů a vousů ve vikinské Skandinávii

V tomto dlouho připravovaném článku se pokusím nastínit, jakým způsobem se ve Skandinávii doby vikinské přistupovalo k úpravě hlavového porostu. Jedná se o komplikovanou problematiku, kterou je možno zkoumat z nejrůznějších možných úhlů. Tento článek proto bude spíše shrnujícím úvodem a tokem mých myšlenek, který bude průběžně doplňován o nové poznatky a obrázky.

1. Jak k minulosti přistupovat z naší perspektivy?
Článek, který svým námětem nepochybně přiláká zástupce z řad reenactorů, musí začít popisem toho, jak ke zkoumání něčeho tak neuchopitelného, jako jsou tradice úpravy hlavy, máme přistupovat. V současnosti si totiž pod pojmem “viking” nejčastěji představujeme dva modely, a sice:

  1. neupraveného, špinavého, zarostlého válečníka
  2. válečníka s velmi dlouhými vlasy a vousy

Přeskočíme nesrovnalost, že laická představa o vlasech staroseverských žen je zřejmě odlišná, a přesuňme se v této úvaze dále. Výše zmíněné pohledy jsou způsobeny zejména dvěma faktory. Jedním z nich je běžný a nadčasový jev zvaný juvenoia, který spočívá v tom, že každá generace se cítí být vyspělejší než ta předchozí. Vědomě či nevědomky si tak říkáme, že naši předci byli méně nároční na hygienu, a tak vzniká přirozená tendence vyobrazovat středověk – a dobu vikinskou obzvlášť – jako dobu hrubosti, surovosti a jednoduchosti. Druhým faktorem je fakt, že velká část současná generace, pomineme-li její složitý vývoj za posledních 50 let, akceptuje myšlenku, že dlouhé vlasy jsou symbolem volnosti a vzdoru proti diktujícímu systému, řádu nebo společnosti. Do této množiny populace často patří posluchači tvrdé muziky, z nichž – podle mé zkušenosti – pochází nejvíce zájemců o dobu vikinskou. V této “vikinsko-metalové subkultuře” vzniká představa, že čím delší vlasy, tím drsněji, atraktivněji a “vikinštěji” daný jedinec vypadá.

Z těchto dvou hlavních důvodů – a samozřejmě mnoha dalších – dochází k idealizaci, díky které je stará látka stravitelná pro moderního člověka a může ho oslovit. Je však zcestné pokládat moderní archetyp vikinga, totiž metalistu s kladivem na krku a vlasy po pás, za dokonalý odraz staroseverské předlohy, k jejíž věrné rekonstrukci je třeba vynaložit čas a úsilí. Nemluvě o tom, že původní předloha by moderního zájemce nemusela zaujmout, protože nepůsobí dostatečně volnomyšlenkářsky nebo drsně. Proto bych tuto kapitolu zakončil tím, že rekonstrukce staroseverských účesů a zvyků při jejich tvorbě je možná, leč po jedinci vyžaduje, aby se oprostil od současné kultury a začal bádání úplně od začátku, s nepopsaným papírem. Tímto začneme i my.

2. Čistota a špína

Vhodný začátek spatřuji v poněkud obecnějším pojednání o hygienických nárocích doby vikinské. Náš pohled na hygienu doby vikinské je často ovlivněn spornou pasáží Ibn Fadlanovy Risaly. Ta kromě toho, že udává, že se Seveřané nemyjí po vykonání malé a velké potřeby a ani po souloži, zachycuje známý moment: otrokyni chodící mezi členy družiny s mísou, do níž muži smrkají a ve které si myjí hlavu. Tyto pasáže je třeba chápat z Fadlanovy perspektivy – v tehdejším islámském světě bylo běžnou praxí, že po každém použití tělesných funkcí následovala očista (Montgomery 2000: 7, pozn. 23). Je velmi pravděpodobné, že Fadlan, uvyklý tradici, že jednou použitá voda již nesmí být znovu využita, viděl v nádobě s vodou zdroj nečistoty, ačkoli voda byla vyměňována po každém použití.

Na tehdejší evropské poměry byly Skandinávci kromobyčejně čistotní. Bylo tradicí se v sobotu po večeři vydávat na kolektivní koupel (laug) k teplým pramenům (Cleasby–Vigfússon 1874: 49, 374, hesla bað, laug). Díky tomu je ve skandinávských jazycích sobota dodnes označována jako „koupací den“ (stsv. laugardagr; nor. a dán. lørdag, švéd. lördag). Tutéž informaci podává i s přídavkem anglický mnich a kronikář Jan z Wallingfordu ze 13. století:

Podle zemského zvyku si [Dánové] každý den česali vlasy a koupali se o soboty, jakož si často pravidelně měnili oblečení a svá těla zdobili mnohými povrchnostmi. Tím ohrožovali počestnost vdaných žen a dokonce přesvědčovali vznešené dcery, aby se stávaly jejich souložnicemi.

(Jan z Wallingfordu: Kronika, O utrpení svatého Eduarda, krále a mučedníka)

Koupání o soboty nepřímo potvrzuje tzv. Masakr na den sv. Brikcí (13. 11. 1002), kdy anglický král Æðelréd II. nechal z obavy o svůj trůn pobít všechny Dány ve svém království, včetně vysoce postavených a asimilovaných obyvatel. Při této příležitosti využil toho, že byla sobota a Dánové se koupali. Zda bylo při těchto koupelích využívány byliny, jako například mydlice, není známo.

Kromě sobotní koupele můžeme říci, že běžný a průměrně čistotný starý Seveřan začínal svůj den kolem sedmé hodiny ranní hygienou, která sestávala z omytí rukou, obličeje a vlasů, učesáním a odstraněním nepříjemných vší:

Každý den ráno přichází otrokyně s velkou nádobou plnou vody, kterou podává svému pánovi. Ten si ve vodě omývá ruce, obličej a vlasy, poté noří hřeben do vody a češe si vlasy, smrká a plive do nádoby.
(Ibn Fadlan: Risala, § 89)

Nadto lze prokázat mytí rukou před jídlem, přičemž v citaci ze Ságy o Njálovi si můžeme povšimnout, jak náročný je Flosi při výběru ručníku, když pohrdá děravou osuškou a použije lněný ubrus:

Vody potřebuje,
kdo k jídlu přišel,
utěrky a uvítání (…).”
(Výroky Vysokého 4)

Pak byly prostřeny stoly a Flosi a jeho lidé si omyli ruce. Flosi se podíval na ručník a viděl, že je plný děr a na jednom konci že je ho kus utrženo. Nechtěl se do něho utřít a odhodil jej na lavici. Utrhl pak kus ubrusu, utřel si do něho ruce a podal jej svým lidem. Pak se posadil za stůl a vybídl ostatní, aby jedli.”
(Sága o Njálovi 116)


Misky nalezené v elitních dánských hrobech. Převzato z Pedersen 2014b: 179, Map 16.

Omytí rukou, obličeje a vlasů a následné česání a sušení jsou zřejmě nejpodstatnějšími a nejčastěji zaznamenanými projevy hygieny. Pokud by se zdálo, že tyto literární zmínky mohou být fikcí a nemusí se vztahovat k žité realitě, můžeme se ještě zaměřit na archeologické nálezy. Na základě četnosti hřebenů v archeologickém materiálu se předpokládá, že hřeben (kambr), podobně jako nůž a brousek, nebyl sdíleným předmětem celé komunity, nýbrž každý dospělý jedinec měl svůj vlastní (Ambrosiani 1981: 161). Totéž platí o břitvách (viz článek “Zavírací nože“). Archeologicky lze doložit několik malých stolků (ve staroseverštině označených jako skutill, borðskutill, trapiza), které zřejmě sloužily k odkládání misek s vodou při osobní hygieně (Voss 1991: 198–199; viz článek “Staroseverské stoly a stolky“). K osobní hygieně mohlo být užito hned několik druhů misek, ale nejpatrnější jsou zřejmě bronzové, které byly nalezeny v elitních hrobech obou pohlaví a které povětšinou pocházejí z Anglie či Irska: Pedersen (2014a: 136) eviduje až 35 bronzových misek z historického Dánska, zatímco Petersen (1951: 387) vytřídil 36 podobných misek z Norska. Z pochyb nás zaručeně musí vyvést fakt, že v některých miskách byly objeveny kusy lnu (lněných ručníků, Pedersen 2014a: 134) a že se na bronzové misce z norského Kaupangu, která se datuje do let 875–925, nachází runový nápis í mundlaugu (doslova “v nádobě na mytí rukou”; Stylegar 2007: 97–99). Dochází tudíž ke skvělé shodě mezi písemnými a hmotnými prameny.

Čistota nemá pouze praktický a estetický význam, ale někdy až rituální. Překvapit nás nemůže zvyk, podle nějž se zesnulým patřilo “nachystat koupel (…), omýt ruce a hlavu, učesat a osušit ji” (Píseň o Sigrdrífě 34). Stejně tak Snorri Sturluson zanechává poznámku “Dlužno proto připomenout pro výstrahu, že zemře-li člověk s neostříhanými nehty, rozmnoží stavivo lodi Naglfaru, kterou by bozi i lidé nejraději nikdy neviděli hotovou.” (Gylfiho oblouzení 51). Zajímavěji již působí neupravené vlasy a nemyté ruce, které jsou podle eddické poezie (Vědmina věštba 33, Baldrovy sny 11) známkou truchlících pozůstalých. Můžeme předpokládat, že zanedbávání každodenní očisty bylo průvodním jevem devítidenního pohřebního obřadu, a musí souviset s narušením řádu. Zármutek je tak vyjádřen změnou fyzického vzhledu. Něco podobného platí i u slibů – Harald Krásnovlasý měl údajně vykonat slib, že si neostříhá ani neučeše vlasy, dokud si nepodrobí celé Norsko, aby odhodláním svého ducha oslnil spanilou Ragnhild. Když se mu sjednocení povedlo, neměl prý vlasy “ostříhané a učesané po deset zim, a proto se mu přezdívalo lúfa [se scuchanými vlasy]” (Sága o Haraldu Krásnovlasém 23). O určité formě rituální čistoty můžeme uvažovat při čtení příběhů o Þórólfu Mostrarskeggu, který se svěřil do Þórovy ochrany, zabral na Islandu mys Þórsnes, kde konal na něm význačný sněm, a sněmoviště a přilehlý kopec Helgafell považoval za tak posvátná místa, že se na nich nesměla vykonávat potřeba, nesměla na nich být prolita krev a nesmělo se na ně hledět, pokud člověk nebyl umytý (Kniha o záboru země 85 [verze S]), Sága o lidech z Eyru 4).

3. Vlasy
Hlava je – kromě centra inteligence – tou částí těla, podle které se lidé rozeznávají. Lidské oko jí proto přirozeně věnuje nejvíce pozornosti, zatímco ostatní části těla jsou při rozeznání spíše vedlejší. Hlava hraje důležitou roli při určování etnické a sociální příslušnosti, záměrů, vlastností, stáří a (ne)sympatií. Vlasy a vousy byly a jsou klíčové zejména v otázce praktičnosti, módnostistáří a příslušnosti, a jejich úprava je zástupným vyjádřením kolektivních (tradice, móda) nebo individuálních hodnot.

Velmi dlouhé vlasy jsou nepraktické, protože ztěžují každodenní činnosti a jsou náročné na údržbu. Na těchto dvou důvodech například fungují současné armády, které potřebují uniformního vojáka, kterému nepolezou vlasy do očí a který v případě války nebude sužován a zdržován parazity. Tuto analogii však lze promítnout do doby vikinské pouze částečně. Je nutné podotknout, že vlasy mají svou cenu pouze tehdy, když jsou udržované. Neupravené vlasy slouží pouze k hanbě. Vlasy, o něž nebylo pečováno na denní bázi, byly znakem tuláků a žebráků, jako například tuláka Oddiho ze Ságy o pobratimech 23), který si vysloužil příjmí Veš (Lúsa-Oddi).

Když se podíváme do staroseverské literatury, můžeme si povšimnout něčeho, co bychom s trochou nadsázky mohly nazvat posedlostí vlasy. Domnívám se, že se jednoduše zachovalo poměrně velké množství informací, ze kterého lze zpětně rekonstruovat. Vlasy spolu s vousy ve staroseverské obrazotvornosti představují hlavový porost (hǫfuðhár), který se liší od tělního porostu (líkhár) a který vyrůstá z hlavové pokožky (svǫrðr) jako stromy ze země. Mezi základní vlasová kritéria logicky patřily barva (hárslitr), kvalita (jemnost/hrubost, rovné/kudrnaté), hustota a účes (háralag, hárferðhárskurðr).

Seveřané evidentně znali celou škálu barev od zlaté (glóbjartr), přes zrzavou (rauðr), hnědou (jarpr) až černou (svartr); častěji však užívali pojmy jako “světlovlasý” (bjartr / fagr /hvítr / ljóss á hár) nebo “tmavovlasý” (dǫkkr / svartr á hár). Světlé vlasy, které se ve skaldské poezii asociují se sněhem, byly považovány za vznešenější, což se zrcadlí jak v etymologii (fagr je zároveň “světlý”, “krásný” i “jemný”), tak v literatuře, ve které jsou kladní hrdinové blonďatí a záporní hrdinové tmavovlasí. Šedé vlasy jsou označovány jako hæra (prošedivělé vlasy jako stokkit hár), přičemž se k nim pojí některá úsloví – například rčení “nečesat šediny” (kemba ekki hærur) se pojí s člověkem, který zemřel příliš brzo. Není mi znám jediný doklad barvení vlasů, ale zároveň jej úplně nevyvracím.

Podobné škály bychom mohli hledat i v souvislosti s kvalitou a hustotou vlasů, třebaže nejsou v pramenech tak patrné. Žádoucí byly husté (mikill, þykkr) a současně jemné vlasy, na rozdíl od vlasů řídkých (þunn) a “drsných jako metla” (hárið er eins og þyrill):

Poté dal jarl Rǫgnvald Haraldovi příjmí Krásnovlasý, a všichni, kteří jej viděli, pravili, že je to velmi trefné příjmí, protože měl vlasy husté a krásné.
(Sága o Haraldu Krásnovlasém 23)

Měl vlasy husté a krásné [/jemné] jako hedvábí, ovázané kolem hlavy zlatou čelenkou.”
(Sága o svatém Óláfu 28)

Byly známy jak rovné (beinn), tak kudrnaté vlasy. Existuje řada výrazů pro kudrnaté vlasy. Nejčastěji se pojí s adjektivy hrǫkkr (viz termín “kudrnatý jako hobliny”, hrǫkkr sem lokarspánn) a kárr. Také slovo  označuje kudrnaté nebo vlnité vlasy a souvisí s výrazem lóð (“chomáček vlny”). Také slova leppr/lokkr a sveipr označují kadeře, pramínky kudrnatých vlasů.

V kultuře, která přikládala vlasům takový význam, není překvapivé, již samotný akt přípravy účesu byl jasně čitelným gestem. Stejně jako vyholené vlasy, tak i “příprava” vlasů (greiða hár/breyta hár) někoho jiného byla znakem podřízenosti. Dlouhé vlasy merovejským králům, kteří se označují také jako “dlouhovlasá dynastie”, propůjčovaly právo vládnout. Násilné ostříhání bylo chápáno jako zneuctění a bylo užíváno ke znemožnění vlády a k politické neschopnosti (viz Bartlett 1994). Z toho důvodu také merovejská a karolinská nařízení draze penalizují ostříhání dětských vlasů v klášterech bez souhlasu rodičů.

3.1. Mužské účesy

Mužské účesy lze považovat za relativně dobře zdokumentovatelné, ačkoli jsou stále opředené mnoha otazníky. Jak bylo řečeno v úvodu, v současné době si pod typickým mužským účesem doby vikinské představujeme vlasy dosahující až po pás. Některé prameny, pokud bychom je nečetli kriticky, takovýto účes podporují, jako například Příběh o Hauku Hábróku (kap. 5):

“Král Harald byl nad ostatní muž krásnější a vznešenější. Měl vlasy tak jasné jako hedvábí nebo tepané zlato, které mu spadaly v kadeřích tak nízko, že si je mohl zastrčit za opasek (svá fagrt sem silki eðr barit gull, ok liðaðist í stórum lokkum, ok var svá sítt at hann mátti drepa undir belti sitt)”.

U takových pramenů – kterých naštěstí není mnoho – je problém, že referují o době vzdálené několik století a že mají jiný cíl, než věrohodně zaznamenat veškeré historické peripetie. Autor výše zmíněného příběhu tak pouze předkládá důkaz, že král Harald Krásnovlasý měl opravdu majestátní vlasy a že byl hoden svého jména. Střízlivější prameny, a sice skaldská a eddická poezie a tehdejší umění, předkládají poněkud odlišnější a obsahově ne tak bohatý obrázek, nicméně stále vypovídající.

Zdaleka nejběžněji zmiňovaná úprava mužských vlasů se nazývá skǫr. Píseň o Rígovi (strofa 15) jej jmenuje jako typický účes mužů střední třídy (“nad čelem byl skǫr“), zatímco v jiných básnických dílech se jedná o účes boha Þóra a několika skaldů (např. Egil Skallagrímsson, Sigvatr Þórðarson). Skǫr doslova znamená “obruba, lem” (krátké vlasy lemující obličej?) a mohlo jít o škálu podobných účesů dosahujících uší až ramen. Pokud s touto úpravou vlasů spojíme některá vyobrazení, zjistíme, tento sestřih mohl být kombinován s pěšinkou (reik) či ofinou (brúsi / toppr), případně mohl být zčesán dozadu (aptr-kemba). O velmi podobném účesu referuje autor Královského zrcadla (§ 30) ze 13. století:

Než předstoupíš před krále, ujisti se, že máš vlasy a vousy pečlivě upravené podle dvorní módy, když chceš, aby tě přijal ke dvoru. Když jsem byl u dvora já, byly módní krátké vlasy nedosahující ani ušních lalůčků a zčesané dolů tam, kam vlasy přirozeně spadaly. Ale později se začala zastřihávat ofina [toppr] nad obočím.

Výběr uměleckých děl z let 600–1300.

V případě vlasů “spadajících na ramena” lze uvažovat o tom, že mohly být nošeny rozpuštěné nebo svázané do ohonu (skopt / skoft).


Mezi další úpravy hlavy lze počítat pleš (skalli) a nakrátko ostříhané vlasy (spé-skorinn). Často se setkávám s otázkami, zda staří Seveřané nosili nebo akceptovali vyholené hlavy nebo dredy. Dredy můžeme s ohledem na výše uvedené informace okamžitě zavrhnout. V případě vyholené hlavy se musím vyjádřit tak, že částečně (na způsob normanského účesu) nebo úplně vyholené vlasy byly v severském prostředí považovány za rys otroků (Foote – Wilson 1990: 76), i ve 12. století byly považovány za směšné (viz Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson : Lausavísa 4) a ještě nejméně do 14. století měli kněží problém s pravidelným holením tonzury:

Kněží nesmějí chodit v roztrhaném oblečením (…) a mají si holit své kníry a vousy a stříhat temeno [krúna] jednou do měsíce.
(Grágás: Oddíl křesťanského práva, §6 [Grágás : Konungsbók, ed. Finsen, str. 21])

Duchovní by si měli holit vousy a temena tak často, jak je třeba, a měli by mít tak krátký kruhový účes [hárskurð kringlóttan svo stuttann], aby byly vidět ušní lalůčky, nebo zaplatí marku [stříbra].” (Nařízení Eilífovo a Jónovo 36; Diplomatarium Islandicum II, str. 532)

Poněkud překvapivým zjištěním pro mne byl fakt, že existovala “národní móda”. Jsme schopni zaznamenat něco, co bychom mohli nazývat “norské účesy” a “dánský účes”:

“[…] těla, vynesená mořem na pobřeží, mají být pohřbívána, mají-li po norsku ostříhané vlasy [hafa hárskurði norræna].
(Starší borgarþinský zákoník I: 9 [Norges gamle Love indtil 1387, str. 345])

“Také ti povím, bratře Edwarde, když ses mě na to zeptal, že jednáš nesprávně, když se zříkáš anglických způsobů, kterých se přidržovali tví otcové, a miluješ způsoby pohanů, kteří tě omezují na životě, a tímto dáváš najevo, že pohrdáš svým rodem i staršími, když je urážíš přečiny, že se odíváš do dánské módy s holým krkem a vlasy zaslepujícími oči.”
(Dopis bratru Edwardovi, rok cca 1000 [Bremmer 2007: 33]).


Goliáš z Eadwigova žaltáře, fol. 93r, 1012–1023.

Nevíme, v čem přesně spočíval rozdíl mezi “norskými účesy” a “dánským účesem” a zda se oba výrazy nevztahují k jednomu účesu. Osobně bych se přikláněl k tomu, že “po norsku ostříhané vlasy” do sebe zahrnují skandinávské účesy. Přinejmenším v případě “dánského účesu” je zmíněn holý krk a ofina, kterou popisuje i norské Královské zrcadlo. Byla vyslovena teorie, že dánský sestřih je možné spatřit v anglosaských iluminacích – je možné, že umělci 11. století záměrně zvýrazňovali zlé Goliáše tím, že je zobrazili jako typické Dány, tehdejší nepřátele anglosaské Anglie (Ewing 2006: 17).

Obecně vzato lze vysledovat větší množství mužských účesů, z nichž většina dosahovala po uši nebo po ramena. Nejsem si vědom jediného důkazu mužských vlasů dosahujících po prsa. Jednalo se o praktičtější módu, která nebyla nepodobná běžným účesům dnešní doby a která se všemožně snažila vyvarovat podobnosti se ženskými účesy. Při úvahách na účesy bychom neměli zapomínat, že každý člověk má odlišně tvarovaný obličej, takže každému sluší jiný účes, a že účes odrážel postavení. Zároveň bychom neměli vyřazovat roli tradičních, lokálních účesů. Nejsme schopni zaznamenat postřižiny, ačkoli vlasy mohly sehrát jistou úlohu při přechodu chlapce v muže – stejně jako franské capillatura a barbatoria. Je možné, že vlasy panovníků byly považovány za posvátné, a přinejmenším v případě Óláfa Svatého byla jeho svatost dokazována i takovým zázrakem, že na jeho lebce rostly vlasy (Sigvat Þórðarson: Posmrtná dráápa na svatého Óláfa 23). Stojí za zmínku, že v elitních okruzích se vlasy spínaly hedvábnými čelenkami protkanými zlatými nebo stříbrnými nitěmi (silkihlaðgullhlað) – Einar Helgason ve své básni Vellekla (13) z 10. století opisuje norského vládce Hákona jako nositele hedvábné čelenky, zatímco v mohyle objevené v severonorském Nessu, která se datuje rovněž do 10. století, byla nalezena karetkovaná tkanice z hedvábí a stříbra připevněná na zadní straně lebky 50–60tiletého muže (Vedeler 2014: 42–43).

3.2. Ženské účesy
V dochované ikonografii a literárních zmínkách mají ženské vlasy poměrně uniformní délku, úpravu i barvu. Za nejhonosnější barvu je, stejně jako v případě mužských vlasů, pokládána blond zlatá, což má i mytologickou analogii v bohyni Sif a jejích zlatých vlasech. Délka vlasů dosahovala nejméně po prsa, nejdéle až po zem, v závislosti na postavení a denních činnostech:

Když pak Hallbjǫrn osedlal koně, šel do ložnice, kde Hallgerð seděla na stupni a česala si vlasy, do kterých se mohla se mohla celá skrýt a které jí sahaly až po zem. Ze všech žen na Islandu měla ona a Hallgerð snúinbrók nejkrásnější vlasy.
(Kniha o záboru země 152 [verze S])

Je zajímavé, že stará severština používala pro ženské vlasy výraz haddr, což doslova znamená “dlouhé vlasy vyžadující česání”. Zjevně bylo nepřijatelné, aby si žena zkrátila vlasy na mužskou délku (skera sér skǫr):

Oblékne-li si žena mužské šaty, ostříhá-li si vlasy na skǫr [tj. na mužskou délku] či kvůli své úchylnosti chopí do ruky zbraň, bude potrestána vyhnanstvím (…).
(Šedá husa [Grágás] K254; Starý 2010: 203.)

Při zkoumání ženských účesů si můžeme povšimnou tří základních variant. První z nich jsou rozpuštěné vlasy (laust hár), které byly znakem neprovdaných dívek a panen. Další úpravou byly vlasy nošené ve v jednom nebo ve dvou copech (hárflétta; “hárið fléttask niðr á bringu” [vlasy v copáncích spadaly na prsa]).


Interpretace uzle: svázaný šátek.

Nejhonosnější úpravou byly vlasy nošené v uzlu. Tento účes se objevuje na mnoha desítkách sošek a rytin valkýr přinejmenším z období 8. do 10. století. Evidentně slouží jako identifikátor soudobého ideálu krásy. Pokud tato umělecká díla odrážejí skutečné účesy, pak musely být nošeny význačnými ženami při význačných událostech, například při hostinách. Byl vysloven i názor, že uzel ve skutečnosti představuje svázaný šátek, ale tuto teorii ve světle nejnovějších nálezů nelze akceptovat. Moje kamarádka, kolegyně Jana Břečková, tento účes otestovala, a povšimla si několika důležitých informací. Uzel je na uměleckých dílech uvázán na zátylku nebo temeni hlavy, v několika případech tvoří drdol. Nejsme schopni říci, jakým způsobem byl vázán – jeho schématičnost a uniformnost naznačuje jednoduchou konstrukci (viz zde). Na rozdíl od názorů, že tento účes lze považovat za honosný, protože byl časově náročný, jsme se shodli, že uzel lze vyrobit velmi rychle, ale vyžaduje velmi dlouhé vlasy, které by běžné pracující ženě překážely. Uzel vlasy velmi zkrátí, a pokud na soškách valkýr vidíme vlasy dosahující v uzlu pod pás, bez uzlu by tyto vlasy dosahovaly ke kolenům. Uzel sám od sebe příliš dlouho nevydrží a rychle se povoluje, a proto je potřeba jej fixovat, například jehlicí nebo stuhou (hárdregillhársíma). Z toho vyplývají dvě možné konstrukce uzlu: nejdřív svázat vlasy následně dělat uzel × udělat uzel a následně svázat vlasy pod uzlem. Jana na závěr dodává, že podle jejího názoru je lepší vázat uzel z mírně uleželých vlasů.

Obecně vzato, písemné prameny nejsou v otázce ženských účesů příliš informativní, ale zase jsou v relativní shodě s ikonografickým materiálem, který v drtivé většině vyobrazuje ženy z profilu. Ženské účesy, přinejmenším honosný uzel, vykazují značnou uniformnost napříč časem i prostorem. Nevěsty a provdané ženy své vlasy navíc zakrývaly závoji, čelenkami, čepci a šátky, o kterých pojednává samostatný článek.


4. Vousy

Jestliže Hannah Probert (2014) v úvodu svého článku “Bigger is Better: Anglo-Saxons and their Beards” píše, že “pro Anglosasy mohl být vous stejným nebo větším ukazatelem mužnosti než genitálie“, pak můžeme s čistým svědomím prohlásit, že totéž platí i pro staré Seveřany. Nikde se však nemůžeme dočíst, že by se ve vikinské Skandinávii objevila kritika nošení dlouhého vousu na způsob kárající dopis anglosaského mnicha Alcuina, který vytýká northumbrijskému králi Æthelredovi okázalou výzdobu vlasů a vousů šlechty, která byla potrestána božím zásahem – nájezdem na Lindisfarne (793):

Popřemýšlej o oblečení, o úpravě účesu a o požitkářských návycích vládců i prostého lidu. Pohleď, jak úpravou vousů a vlasů napodobujeme pohanský způsob.
(Alcuin: Dopis Æthelredovi [Alcuin of York, přel. G. F. Browne, s. 130-1])

Vous musíme vnímat jako známku fyzicky vyspělého muže, jako sexuální znak, který souvisí s mužovou plodivou silou. Jako příklad si můžeme uvést islandské rčení “jsem tak starý, že si vidím na kníry” (jeg er nú svo gamall, sem á grönum má sjá). Vousy jsou kromě toho kromobyčejně praktické v chladnějším a/nebo větrnějším klimatu. Na bezvousé (skegglauss) dospělé muže staří Seveřané pohlíželi přinejmenším zvláštně, jak dokládá výběr pasáží o významném islandském právníku Njálovi, kterému nerostly vousy:

“[…] tvůj otec, bezvousý stařík [Njál]. Mnozí, kteří ho poprvé vidí, nepoznají, je-li to muž nebo žena.” (Sága o Njálovi 123)

‚Z čeledi jsme viděli jen jednoho, a ten vozil hnůj nahoru na louku.’
‚Proč právě tam?’
‚Říkal nám, že tam roste lepší seno než na jiných místech.’
‚I Njál dovede prohloupit,’ pravila Hallgerð, ‚přestože jinak na vše ví radu.’
‚Jak to myslíš?’ ptaly se ženy.
‚Řeknu vám hned: protože si nepohnojí svou bradu, aby byl jako jiní muži. A říkejme mu bezvousý stařík a jeho synům pohnojené brady. A ty, Sigmunde, udělej na to nějaký verš, ať ukážeš, že jsi básník.’
(Sága o Njálovi 44)

U starých Seveřanů můžeme zaznamenat tři hlavní úpravy vousů. První z nich je plnovous (skegg), druhá je bradka (barð) a třetí knír (ve staroseverštině vždy v plurálu, grǫn, kanpar). U některých vyobrazených knírů můžeme spekulovat o použití vosku. Chmýří se nazývalo  nebo hýungr. Vousy měly svou cenu pouze tehdy, když byly udržované a zastřihávané (skapat), stejně jako vousy sedláka v Písni o Rígovi (strofa 15) nebo vousy skulptur na oseberském vozíku. K udržování vousu mohlo být užíváno hřebenu, nůžek a břitev (hárknífr). Neexistuje jediný doklad korálků nošených ve vousech. Autor Královského zrcadla (§ 30) podává čtvrtou úpravu vousů – kotlety – které se dostaly do módy až po době vikinské:

A zatímco dříve bylo zvykem nosit krátký vous a malý knír [snǫggvan kamp], poté se začaly nosit kotlety [jaðarskegg] podle německé módy, a já pochybuji, že kdy přijde móda, která je vhodnější do boje.”


5. Vlasy a vousy v zákonech

Vlasy a vousy se v zákonících objevují za různých okolností, které jsou, podle mého názoru, důležité pro širší pochopení problematiky.

Z výše zmíněného citátu ze zákoníku Šedé husy je patrné, že délka vlasů byla nejen v době vikinské důležitým distinktivním rysem, který odděloval mužské pohlaví od ženského. Společnost vytvářela jasné hranice mezi mužským a ženským světem a jejich překročení, čili narušení normality, byť jen nošením účesu, oblečení nebo předmětů přináležící do sféry vlivu opačného pohlaví, bylo tvrdě trestáno jako projev úchylky.

Další důležitým zjištěním je míra, do jaké vlasy a vousy souvisí s osobní ctí. Modernímu člověku se může zdát až směšné, že dotek nebo poničení porostu – tedy něčeho, co může znovu bez problémů dorůst – bylo penalizováno přísněji, než trvalé ublížení na zdraví. Útok na pečlivě a dennodenně ošetřovaný sexuální symbol pochopitelně cílí na zesměšnění vzhledu jedince, což mělo dalekosáhlejší důsledky než zranění. Proto se ve staroseverských zákonících můžeme dozvědět, že:

Uchopíš někoho za vlasy jednou rukou, zaplatíš dvě unce. Uchopíš oběma, zaplatíš půl marky.
(Gotlandský zákoník 19: §26 [Samling af Sweriges Gamla Lagar, VII. band, str. 41])

Když se muž dotýká kníru jiného muže zhoubnou rukou, zaplatí plnou náhradu. Když se muž dotýká vlasů jiného a tahá za ně, zaplatí polovinu náhrady. Když dělá oboje a ještě ho mlátí, nazývá se to ‚zápolení’ [tuttan] a zaplatí mu plnou náhradu. Když muži zahodí své zbraně a vzájemně se tahají za vlasy, nazývá se to ‚přátelská rozepře’ [vingretta], a nikdo neplatí náhradu.
(Starší gulaþinský zákoník §195 [Norges gamle Love indtil 1387, str. 70])

Podobné zákony můžeme najít po celé soudobé Evropě. Vybral jsem ilustrační ukázky z anglosaské Anglie a Kyjevské Rusi:

O vousu. Kdo poškodí vous a zůstanou [po tomto činu] stopy a [na ulici] vyběhnou lidé, pak [zaplatí] knížeti pokutu 12 hřiven; když u toho nebudou lidé a nic nebude dokázáno, potom se pokuta neplatí.“ (Ruská pravda §67 [Svatí a hříšníci, ed. a přel. M. Téra, str. 250])

Když mu ostříhá vlasy, aby mu uškodil na vzhledu, zaplatí náhradu 10 šilinků.
Když mu ostříhá vlasy na způsob mnicha, aniž by ho spoutal, zaplatí náhradu 30 šilinků.
Když mu ostříhá vous, zaplatí náhradu 20 šilinků.
Když ho spoutá a pak mu ostříhá vlasy na způsob mnicha, zaplatí náhradu 60 šilinků.
(Kniha zákonů Alfréda Velikého §35 [The Laws of the Earliest English Kings, přel. F. L. Attenborough, str. 79])

Vlasy můžeme v zákonících najít i v souvislosti se zakázanými čarodějnickými amulety:

Pokud se v povlečení a polštářích nalezne [důkaz] čarodějnictví, lidské vlasy, nehty, žabí nohy nebo jiné předměty, kterých je zapotřebí k čárům, nechť je vedena žaloba (…).”
(Starší borgarþinský zákoník II: §25 [Norges gamle Love indtil 1387, str. 362])

Další kontexty zmínek vlasů jsou různorodé. Jako příklad si můžeme uvést, že pokud byl člověk zasažen zbraní na tom místě, “které nekryly vlasy ani ošacení”, měl nárok na áljóseyrir, “náhradu za utrpění na vzhledu” (Zákoník sněmu ve Frostě III: §45). Vlasy se objevují nejméně ve dvou orálních formulích, hold eða hár (“maso a vlasy”; v souvislosti s pochovanými nebožtíky) a horn ok hár (“roh a vlasy”; v souvislosti s čarodějnicemi).


6. Srovnání ženských a mužských vlasů na zlatých fóliích

Cenným zdrojem informací jsou v mnohých ohledech tzv. “zlaté fólie” (guldgubber), které v tisícovkách nalézáme na sídlištích doby vendelské a vikinské. Jedná se o miniaturní plíšky ze zlata, které vyobrazují antropomorfní nebo zoomorfní postavy. V tomto článku zmíníme pouze ty, které se znázorňují páry. Jejich interpretace se různí, stejně jako jejich nálezové okolnosti. Zlaté fólie jsou jedinečným ikonografickým materiálem, na němž lze ukázat stereotypy staroseverského odívání.

Tyto fólie vždy vyobrazují honosně vystrojený pár, přičemž žena a muž si čelí – někdy na sebe pouze koukají, někdy si předávají větévku, jindy se objímají a často se líbají. Na základě těchto kritérii badatelé interpretují tento pár jako nejrůznější mýtické páry, např. Freye a Freyju, nebo častěji Freye a Gerðr. Pokud bych mohl vyslovit své vlastní stanovisko, tak tento druh fólií souvisel se šťastným domovem, harmonií a láskou (mohou tematizovat svatbu, nebo prostě poklidné soužití), což lze potvrdit tím, že některé fólie byly nalezeny v základových jámách síní. Postavy jsou vždy vyobrazeny velmi podobným způsobem; pokud to nesvědčí o podobné módě, přinejmenším je to důkazem o výrobním stereotypu. Postavy jsou oděny ve formálních šatech. Muži jsou oděni do tunik či kaftanů, kalhot, bot, někdy plášťů a náramků. Jejich vlasy dosahují uší či ramen a nejčastější úpravou vousů je plnovous a bradka, což může být způsobeno schématičností tohoto typu pramene. Ženské postavy jsou oděny do dlouhých šatů s vlečkou, někdy zástěry a přehozu. Jejich vzhled umocňují dlouhé vlasy svázané v uzlu a občasný náhrdelník nebo brož. Pouze ve výjimečných případech jsou mužské vlasy natolik dlouhé a ženské vlasy natolik krátké, že mezi jejich délkami není takřka rozdíl.


7. Historicky korektní účesy a úpravy vousů


Fredrik Hellman.

johan johansson

Johan Johansson.


Viktor Kralin.


Roman Král.


Makar Babenko.


Pavel Voronin.


Václav Štursa.


Ingrid Aune Nilsen.


Natália Barboriaková.



Ibn Fadlan: Risala Ibn Fadlan and the Rusiyyah, přel.  James E. Montgomery, in: Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 3, 2000, 1–25. Dostupné online z:

Kniha o záboru země = Landnámabók I-III: Hauksbók, Sturlubók, Melabók, ed. Finnur Jónsson. København 1900.

Sága o Njálovi = Njáls saga. Přel. Ladislav Heger. In: Staroislandské ságy, Praha 1965: 321–559. Původní text je dostupný z:

AMBROSIANI, Kristina (1981). Viking Age combs, comb making and comb makers : in the light of finds from Birka and Ribe, Stockholm.

Robert Bartlett Symbolic Meanings of Hair in the Middle Ages. In: Transactions of the Royal Historical Society Vol. 4 (1994), pp. 43–60

CLEASBY, Richard – VIGFÚSSON, Gudbrand (1874). An Icelandic-English dictionary, Toronto.

PEDERSEN, Anne (2014a). Dead Warriors in Living Memory. A study of weapon and equestrian burials in Viking-age Denmark, AD 800-1000, Publications from the National Museum. Studies in Archaeology & History Vol. 20:1 1. (Text), Copenhagen.

PEDERSEN, Anne (2014b). Dead Warriors in Living Memory. A study of weapon and equestrian burials in Viking-age Denmark, AD 800-1000, Publications from the National Museum. Studies in Archaeology & History Vol. 20:1 2. (Catalogue), Copenhagen.

PETERSEN, Jan (1951). Vikingetidens redskaper, Oslo.

STYLEGAR, Frans Arne (2007). The Kaupang Cemeteries Revisited. In: D. SKRE (ed.). The Kaupang excavations, vol. 1, Århus: 65–101. Online.

FOOTE, Peter – WILSON, David M. (1990). The Viking Achievement, Bath.

EWING, Thor (2006). Viking Clothing, Stroud.

VEDELER, Marianne (2014). Silk for the Vikings, Oxford–Philadelphia.

Alcuin of York, přel. G. F. Browne

Attenborough, F.L., trans. 1922. The Laws of the Earliest English Kings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 79

O použití slov „viking“, „vikinský“

Při odkazování na aktivity raně středověkých Skandinávců 8.–11. století se běžně užívají slova jako „vikingové“ nebo „vikinský“. V tomto příspěvku se pokusím ukázat, že jde o poněkud zavádějící označení, která se někdy používají z důvodu úspory času a prostoru a z absence lepšího označení, zatímco jindy se z neznalosti používají zcela mylně.

Začnu poněkud obecněji. České slovo viking, které se zásadně používá s malým v a adjektivum zní vikinský (nikoli vikingský), je převzato ze staroseverského víkingr. Termín víkingr označuje člověka, který se vydává na víking („nájezd“, ženského rodu; ze slova vík, „zátoka“), sezónní nájezd podél pobřeží. Slovo víking se obvykle pojí se slovesy vara („být“) a leggja („ležet“) – vara í víking („být na víkingu“), leggja í víking („ležet/dlít na víkingu“).

Pojem víkingr mělo zcela jistě mnoho zabarvení, protože někdy je použito v záporném, jindy v neutrálním nebo někdy dokonce oslavném kontextu. Zjevně dost záleželo na sociálním statutu víkinga a také na pleněné oblasti. Vyhoštěné psance, kteří se shlukovali do bratrstev a za mysy číhali na obchodní lodě, neměl nikdo v lásce, jejich skutky byly odsuzované a králové se všemožně snažili jejich konání zabránit vysíláním úderných jednotek. Svobodní muži, kupříkladu z Islandu, kteří by se rozhodli vyplenit dánské pobřeží, by zcela jistě upadli v nelibost dánského krále, ale před domácím publikem by získali věhlas. Zejména panovníci jsou oslavováni pro své vikinské aktivity, v čem musíme spatřovat projev propagandy. Jak jsem ukázal ve svém článku „Dobrodruh a pecivál“, společnost doby vikinské tíhla k oslavě zahraničních výprav, při nichž se projevovala statečnost, prokazovala se fyzická síla a získávaly se peníze. Touto optikou je potřeba pohlížet i na tento problém. Jak jinak bychom si mohli vykládat slova sedmiletého Egila Skallagrímssona, který, když mu jeho matka po prvním zabití v dětské hře řekla, že z něj bude dobrý víkingr, složil slavnou strofu „Þat mælti mín móðir“, pojednávající o jeho budoucích vikinských aktivitách a zabíjení protivníků; strofu, kterou se dodnes učí islandské děti (video níže)?

Možnost našeho bádání je ztížena tím, že prameny jsou poměrně různé povahy. Některé prameny mluví o vikinzích jako lidech na okraji společnosti, krvelačných nebo bojem ostřílených vyhnancích a záporácích, a jakmile se v textu objeví, obvykle to znamená varování. Někdy se dozvídáme poměrně bizarní informace, jako například:

„V Norsku žil proslulý muž jménem Ǫlvi Dítě a byl velikým víkingem. Dostalo se mu přídomku Dítě, protože nedovolil vrhnout děti na hroty kopí, jak to víkingové dělávali.“

(Kniha o záboru země)

Jiné ságy podávají realističtější pohled, se kterým se osobně ztotožňuji více, a sice vikingové jako sezónní nájezdníci, kteří se na vrcholu svých fyzických sil vydávají do zámoří, aby shromáždili cennosti a věhlas, a zimu tráví na svých statcích daleko od místa nájezdu:

„Úlf byl muž tak velký a silný, že neměl sobě rovného, a za mládí dlel na víkingu a plenil. (…) A když skončili s pleněním, (…) [oženil se a] odešel na své statky. Úlf byl muž bohatý na země a hotové peníze, přijal úřad zemana, tak jako jeho mužští předkové, a stal se mocným mužem.“

(Sága o Egilu Skallagrímssonovi, kap. 1)

Celkově vzato jde o to, do jaké míry byli vikinské aktivity průvodním jevem staroseverské společnosti a nakolik byli akceptované. Dříve jsem zastával názor, že vikinské nájezdy byly podnikány zejména psanci a že byly odsuzované společností. V posledním roce jsem svůj názor přehodnotil. Rozhodně neexistuje jednoduchá odpověď:

Vikinské nájezdy jasně ukazují několik soudobých trendů. Například souvisí s absencí efektivně fungujících armád – králové byli obklopeni svými dobře vyzbrojenými družinami, ale jejich přesun vyžadoval čas. I nájezd několika málo lodí byl v době, kdy už 60 mužů čítalo velké vojsko, velkým problémem, se kterým si místní předáci nemohli poradit, a museli vyčkat příjezdu autority s dostatečnou silou. Nájezdy fungující metodou bleskové války tak skončily mnohem dříve, než na ně mohl někdo zareagovat, a proto byly tak účinné a tehdejší lidé v nich viděli možnost zaručeného výdělku. To, že takové nájezdy byly možné jen díky kvalitním lodím, je známou skutečností. Nájezdy dále odráží tehdejší soudnictví. Právo bylo omezeno geograficky, respektive na populaci obývající jisté území. Našemu myšlení, které je uvyklé Interpolu, se vzpírá myšlenka, že někdo vykoná trestný čin v zahraničí, vrátí se domů a zůstane nepotrestaný nebo bude dokonce oslavován. Tehdejšímu člověku ale toto přišlo jako samozřejmost – právo platí pouze tam, kde je někdo ochotný ho vymáhat. V praxi to znamená, že tehdejší Nor mohl odplout do Irska, vyrabovat zlato, ukořistit pěkné Irky a vrátit se do Norska, protože irské autority (tehdy zaměstnané bojem o moc v samotném Irsku), jej těžko mohly stíhat – teoreticky by to mohly udělat jen dvěma způsoby, a sice se pomstít, anebo přijet k norskému soudu a vymáhat odškodnění, což jsou oboje dost neuvěřitelné představy. Neexistovala žádná moc, která by nájezdníkům nakazovala ve smyslu „Nesmíš plenit v zahraničí“. A představa morálních apelů typu „Není to trochu nefér, krást lidem jejich cennosti?“ je naivní. V první řadě, svědomí je až křesťanský výdobytek a staroseverská společnost založená na kultuře cti a hanby by se na takové apely koukala dosti nevěřícně. Logicky by následovala odpověď ve stylu „Já ho férově získal.“ Stejně nerozumné by bylo si myslet, že víkingové tvořili nějakou sounáležitou uniformní masu, která systematicky napadala země v okolí Skandinávie, právě naopak. Norští vikingové plenili v Dánsku, dánští vikingové plenili ve Švédsku a tak dále. Potíž mohla nastat jenom tehdy, když svobodný muž – nájezdník chtěl přepadnout statky někoho, kdo měl dost peněz nebo moc vymáhat pomstu nebo náhradu, případně přepadl někoho ze stejné země. Věřím, že různý kontext v pramenech (záporný, neutrální, kladný) reflektuje, zda jde o výčet skutků člověka, který se proslavil skutky v cizině, nebo jde o popis nájezdu na domácí půdu – každý nájezd tak má dvě odezvy, kladnou v domácím prostředí a zápornou ve vypleněné zemi. Již zmíněný Egil Skallagrímsson, se vydal z Islandu do Kuronska, po cestě plenil, následně obchodoval, poté zase plenil a na zpáteční cestě vyplenil město Lund, jednoduše proto, že ho hnala vidina finančního zisku a neexistovala žádná moc, která by mu zabránila v jeho získání. Tím se dostáváme k tomu, že vikinská výprava šla ruku v ruce s obchodem – do značné míry byly plenitby jen další konsekvencí obchodu a naopak. Obchod je živnost nestálá, a ve chvíli, kdy se nezdaří, je nájezd první logické východisko, jak z dané situace vytěžit aspoň nějaké peníze, které zaplatí posádku, jídlo a třeba i chod domova; stejně tak je třeba nashromážděný lup a otroky někde směnit za mnohem skladnější a univerzálnější měnu – stříbro -, nejspíše v obchodním městě. Značná část nájezdníků nebyla jen tupými piráty ve smyslu dnešních somálských pirátů (ačkoli takoví jistě existovali rovněž), nýbrž byli finančně gramotnými obchodníky a zároveň zkušenými bojovníky – v jedné ruce drželi váhy a v druhé kopí. S tím také souvisí fakt, že většina takových nájezdníků určitě nebyla nízkého původu, a nebyli hnáni hladem a podobně. Tedy alespoň ne hladem fyzickým. Finanční gramotnosti se člověk musel někde naučit, nejspíše na dobře prosperujícím statku, a totéž se týká bojového vybavení, které si nemohl dovolit každý a ne každý s ním uměl zacházet. Opuštění domova v tomto období znamená odchod z lidu, do něhož se člověk narodil, a také ztrátu statusu, který si člověk pracně budoval, takže statek musel být zajištěn rodem nájezdníka po celou dobu jeho nepřítomnosti. Představuji si to tak, že vůdce výpravy a vlastník lodi (která je sama o sobě velkým bohatstvím) shromáždil posádku mladíků z lepších rodin v kraji, u kterých byla naděje, že budou dostatečně vybavení, zasvěcení do boje a mořeplavby, inteligentní a disciplinovaní. Pro mladíky výprava představovala možnost, jak poměrně rychle zbohatnout, proslavit se a podívat se do zahraničí, což byla ceněná zkušenost. Ačkoli principy nájezdných výprav, a sice prokazování statečnosti, fyzické síly a vydělávání peněz, byly vlastní celé společnosti, vikingové představovali pouze určité procento populace, zatímco většinovou společnost tvořili statkáři. Proto je zcestné, když hovoříme o vikinské společnosti, vikinské mytologii nebo vikinském válečnictví, protože se dopouštíme synekdochy a zaměňujeme část za celek. Je to jako říct „pirátská společnost“, „pirátská mytologie“ nebo „pirátské válečnictví“. Nejzřetelněji je to vidět na faktu, že vikingové ani nemuseli být Seveřané; známe také skotské nebo estonské vikingy. Slovo víkingr tedy neoznačuje etnicitu nebo příslušnost k určitému národu, nýbrž určitou činnost nebo profesi. Právě proto je třeba psát české slovo viking s malým v. Pro většinovou populaci Skandinávie používáme pojem „staří Seveřané“, zatímco ona sama sebe zvala buďto Seveřany, nebo se nazývala pomocí přináležitosti k protonárodu (Dán, Nor, Švéd) nebo kmeni (Skåňan, Rogalanďan, Gotlanďan atd.). Laicky řečeno: ne každý Seveřan byl viking, a ne každý viking byl Seveřan.

Ještě je potřeba se zmínit o době, kdy se můžeme bavit o vikinských nájezdech. Tradiční datace doby vikinské je 793–1066. Za počátek doby vikinské pokládá rok 793 u příležitosti vyplenění Lindisfarne, ale pravda je taková, že první severské lodě do Anglie připluly plenit již roku 789. Tendence k rozpínavosti však měli Skandinávci dříve. Za doby vendelské docházelo k expanzi do Pobaltí. První nájezd, který je mi známý, byl podniknut roku 515 do dnešní Francie. Proto je poněkud nerozumné spojovat dobu vikinskou s nájezdy, byť v období let 793–1066 dochází k jejich kulminaci. Daleko spíše za počátek doby vikinské můžeme označit jazykové a kulturní změny ve Skandinávii, které proběhly v 2. polovině 8. století a které Skandinávii oddělily od zbytku germánského obyvatelstva a které byly dovršeny kolem roku 800. Totéž platí i o konci doby vikinské, za který lze pokládat velmi postupné přijímání křesťanských inovací a budování centralizovaných států. Dobu vikinskou tak spíše můžeme řadit do let 800–1100, přičemž jde o umělé mezníky, díky kterým může moderní člověk tuto dobu lépe uchopit.

Nyní se pojďme podívat, jakým způsobem s pojmy „viking“ a „vikinský“ pracuje mezi různými skupinami obyvatel.

Většinová populace České republiky chápe pojem „vikingové“ ve smyslu „nájezdníci, příslušníci severských kmenů“. Takového interpretaci se nemůžeme divit, jelikož je založena na pramenech západní provenience, zatímco severské prameny, které poskytují ucelenější obrázek, jsou málokdy brány v potaz. V některých případech je slovo „viking“ použito jako označení pro nezvykle zarostlého a barbarsky vypadajícího muže. Není pochyb o tom, že na celém světě, tedy včetně země, která nemá zkušenost s vikinskými nájezdy, dochází k řadě stereotypů. Doba vikinská, vikingové a termíny jako „vikinský“ fungují jako zástupné pojmy, do nichž si lidé vkládají vlastní představy a tužby. 

Obecné povědomí nejvíce ovlivňuje televize a internet a obsah těchto médií. Jako příklad si můžeme uvést píseň, kterou na serveru Youtube nalezneme pod názvem „icelandic vikings battle song“. Pokud se začneme pídit po zdroji této libé melodie, zjistíme, že se jedná o cover na středověkou švédskou baladu o dvou sestrách (De två systrarna), který vytvořila skupina In Extremo. Tudíž píseň není ani islandská, ani válečná, ani se nikterak nepojí s dobou vikinskou. Co nás musí překvapit nejvíce je ale fakt, že si tuto píseň pustilo již na tři čtvrtě milionu posluchačů. A podobných případů můžeme najít desítky a stovky.

Mým dalším oblíbeným příkladem je „11th century Rus boot“, která v koluje na Pinterestu a kterou shlédne každý zájemce o dobovou obuv, která zadá relevantní heslo do vyhledávače Google. Každý poctivý reenactor však musí poznat, že měřítko použité u fotky pochází ze švédského historického muzea, a při troše snahy se lze dopátrat, že bota pochází ze 14. století.

Stejné jednání vykazují i poučení laikové, kteří pod pojmem „vikingové“ chápou uniformní skandinávské kmeny, které obývali Skandinávii výhradně v letech 793–1066. Nepřipouštějí si fakt, že se doba vikinská rodila v kulturní a jazykové změně a expanzi do pobaltského a severomořského prostoru v 7. a 8. století a byla završena dlouhodobým kulturním přerodem do křesťanské společnosti a pomalým ustáváním nájezdů, které trvaly až hluboko do středověku, a namísto toho píší články s překvapujícími nadpisy typu „Viking Age Started Earlier than Previously Thought, Archaeologists Say“. Konkrétně tento článek reflektuje obchod se sobím parožím mezi Norskem a Dánskem na počátku 8. století, ale hovoří o něm jako o „důkazu, že vikingové navštívili Ribe, nejstarší Skandinávské město, ještě před svým nechvalně známým pleněním“. Další příklad jsem uvedl ve článku „Paraziti v době vikinské“, který je reakcí na článek „Did marauding Vikings have such a bad attitude because they suffered from chronic WORMS?“. U těchto poučených laiků často dochází k chybné interpretaci odborných studií.

Řada odborníků, zejména skandinávských a anglických, používá pojem „vikinský“ ve smyslu „vztahující se k letům 800–1100“, což jim ve světle tohoto článku nelze vytýkat. Za hranou však stojí obvyklý pojem „vikingové“ užitý ve smyslu „všichni obyvatelé vikinské Skandinávie“. Další generalizace se v odborné literatuře dopouští například ti badatelé, kteří zkoumají „vikinské“ meče. Tento přídomek si raně středověké meče vysloužily pouze proto, že k jejich prvnímu detailnímu zmapování byly užity norské meče doby vikinské. Pojem „vikinský“ v tomto ohledu nabývá smyslu „vyrobený v době vikinské“.

Fascinace dobou vikinskou se za poslední století stala světovou záležitostí a promítá se do chápání laiků i odborníků. Obecně lze říci, že pojmů „viking“ a „vikinský“ se rozhodně nadužívá, a to kvůli zjednodušení nebo neznalosti. V mnoha ohledech korektnější by byly pojmy „starý Seveřan“ a „staroseverský“, ačkoli ty se mohou ve svých nejextrémnějších smyslech mohou vztahovat na období let 500–1500. Zatímco v českých odbornějších kruzích se pomalu začíná používat termín „starý Seveřan“, v zahraničí kulminuje použití generalizujícího slova „viking“, v lepším případě „Viking Age“. V případech pojmů „viking“ a „vikinský“ jde o nesmírná zjednodušení, díky nimž lze tuto historickou epochu a její obyvatele co nejsnadněji pojmenovat. V jiném případě by byl potřeba obsáhlý komentář či výklad, pro který se nedostává prostoru. Kvůli absenci takového výkladu se však dostáváme do slepé uličky, jež nám neumožňuje plně vstoupit do myšlenkového světa starých Skandinávců.

Archaeology of Viking Age Færoe Islands

I have to privilege to present you the article of Czech archeologist, linguist, re-enactor and my friend Ľubomír Novák. This article is an English translation of his two previous articles on Færoese archaeology: Archeologie bez nálezů: nejstarší minulost Faerských ostrovů and Archeologie (skoro) bez nálezů: doba vikinská na Faerských ostrovech.

Archaeology of Viking Age Færoe Islands

Mgr. Ľubomír Novák, Ph.D.,

«Maðr er nefndr Grímr kamban; hann byggði fyrstr manna Færeyjar. En á dǫgum Haralds hins hárfagra flýðu fyrir hans ofríki fjǫldi manna; settusk sumir í Færeyjum ok byggðu þar, en sumir leituðu til annarra eyðilanda.»
“There was a man named Grímur Kamban who was the first to settle in the Færoe Islands. In the days of Harald Fairhair, a great number of men were seeking refuge from the tyranny of the King; some men settled themselves in the Færoe Islands and farmed there, while other men sought out other deserted places.”
(Færeyinga saga, 1)


Map of the Færoe Islands (source: to the Saga of the Færoemen (Færeyinga saga; Fae. Føroyingasøga) from the beginning of the 13th century, the Færoe Islands were first settled by Grímur Kamban. Originally, it was supposed, that Grímur Kamban settled the Færoes during the rule of Norwegian king Harald Fairhair (c. 872-930) as in the same time many people fled from Norway and colonised Iceland, Shetland, Orkneys and many other places in North Atlantic. The Færoese Saga, however, does not bring the oldest information concerning human presence on the islands – Irish monk Dícuill in his Liber De Mensura Orbis from ca. 825 mentions an archipelago northwards from Britain that was settled by Irish hermits for some hundred years.

Many other islands lie in the northerly British Ocean. One reaches them from the northerly islands of Britain, by sailing directly for two days and two nights with a full sail in a favourable wind the whole time…. Most of these islands are small, they are separated by narrow channels, and for nearly a hundred years hermits lived there, coming from our land, Ireland, by boat. But just as these islands have been uninhabited from the beginning of the world, so now the Norwegian pirates have driven away the monks; but countless sheep and many different species of sea-fowl are to be found there…” (Dícuill, Liber De Mensura Orbis, 7.2)

Viking farm at Kvívík on Streymoy eroded by sea waves (source: is quite a long tradition of archaeological study of the Færoe Islands; however, there are no many suitable locations where excavations may take place. On the individual islands of the archipelago there is a relatively little space suitable to establish a settlement, thus almost all contemporary Færoese settlements (býlingar) are located on places of older villages – one can state, that approximately a half of the present villages existed already in the 15th century. Majority of Færoese villages (and towns) is located on the shore of the individual islands, there is virtually no inland settlement – such statement fits as well for contemporary settlement pattern as well as for the mediaeval settlement. For the Viking Age settlement there are typical shepherd shielings (ærgi, locally argi, ergi or eyrgi – this word comes from Old Irish áirge; Modern Irish áirí, Scottish Gaelic àirigh or àiridh, Manx eary; cf. also Old Norse ǽrgi or Danish erg) which are located in Færoese inland areas and reflect pastoral economy based on sheepherding. Indeed, the name of the Færoe Islands (ON Færeyjar, Fae. Føroyar) is supposed to mean “Sheep Islands”.

Hiberno-Norse ringed pin from a grave at Tjørnuvík on Streymoy (source: S. Dahl – J. Rasmussen: Víkingaaldargrøv í Tjørnuvík. In: Fróðskaparrit 5, 1956, Fig. 6)In its beginnings the Færoese archaeology focused on understanding of the original settlement of the islands, which was connected with the Viking Age, eventually there was an attempt to find some traces of an older, pre-Viking settlement. Historical sources mention so-called papar (i.e. fathers = priests or monks), who lived in the Færoe Islands before the coming of Norsemen. Several Færoese place-names contain words of Irish origin or point to presence of the Irish: e.g. the village of Vestmanna (Old Færoese Vestmannahǫfn) on Streymoy – vestmaður (pl. vestmenn) ‘Westerner, Westerling’ is an archaic name for the Irish, thus the village (or better harbour – Fae. havn, ON hǫfn) was more likely founded/settled by people originally from Ireland and/or Scotland, or by Norsemen who came there from Norse colonies in the British Isles. Of Irish origin are names of islands of Mykines (from Old Irish *muccinis ‘pig island’; cf. ModIr. muc inis; ScG. muc innis, Mnx. muc innis/insh/innys/ynnys) and (Stóra and Lítla) Dímun (from OIr. dímuin ‘two hills/tops’; cf. ModIr. dhá mhuin; ScG. dhà mhuin, Mnx. ghaa vooin); also the Mannafelsdalur plain (under the Skælingsfjall mountain on Streymoy) more likely comes from Old Irish Mag inna bFál (cf. Middle Irish Maġ na ḃFál, ModIr. Magh na bhFál, ScG. Magh na Fàl, Mnx. Magh ny Vaal) ‘plain of the wall’ (instead of Fae. ‘dale of fallen men’) – the plain used to be an important place on Færoese history as there ran the border between the Færoese sýslur (sg. sýsla ‘district’). On the Mannafelsdalur plain there took place annual meeting of the alþing and probably here it was decided to accept the Christian faith in 999 AD.

Section of Viking house at Sandur on Sandoy (source: M. J. Church – S. V. Arge – K. J. Edwards – Ph. L. Ascough – J. M. Bond – G. T. Cook – S. J. Dockrill – A. J. Dugmore – Th. H. McGovern – C. Nesbitt – I. A. Simpson: The Vikings were not the first colonizers of the Faroe Islands. In:  Quaternary Science Reviews 77, 2013, Fig. 2)Presence of the Irish in the Færoe Islands prior to the Norse colonisation (landnám) may be observed in combination of several sources, such data, however, cannot fully prove Dícuill’s description of a set of Atlantic Islands with the Færoese Islands as the Dícuill’s islands also may be ascribed to Shetland (?) – Irish words in Færoese toponymy may have appeared also during the landnám. Another source may be a genetic analysis of the contemporary Færoese population – it shows, that the Færoese (as well as the Icelanders) have ‘Celtic’ (i.e. Hiberno-Scottish/ Gaelic) ancestors: 87% of Færoese men are genetically of Norse/Scandinavian origin, on the other hand, 84% of Færoese women are of Hiberno-Scottish origin. Genetics brings valuable information, but it cannot tell the date – the Hiberno-Scottish origin of Færoese women thus may be explained in two ways. (1) The landnám of the Færoe Islands had two directions, part of the Færoese originated in Norway, another part settled the islands from Scotland and Ireland – in both cases the settlers were probably ‘ethnic’ Norse (mainly among men). The colonisers from the British Isles brought Gaelic women with them. The Gaelic women may have been slaves as well. Such hypothesis may be indirectly supported by the beginning of the Færoese Saga – the byname of Grímur Kamban probably comes from Old Irish cambán ‘crooked’ (ModIr. camán, ScG. caman, Mnx. camane). (2) The Færoe Islands were settled by the Gaels even before the landnám, the high ration of women of ‘Celtic’ origin may be explained by genocide of original male population, women were either then enslaved or the Norse settlers married them. A third interpretation is at hand as well – a combination of the two theories given above.

Southern wall of the Viking house at Sandur on Sandoy (source: S. V. Arge: Viking Faroes: Settlement, Paleoeconomy, and Chronology. In: Journal of the North Atlantic 7, 2014, Fig. 5)Archaeology is thus the only possibility to answer the question concerning the earliest settlement of the Færoe Islands. Origins of Færoese archaeology can be set to the year 1898, when was founded the Færoese Antiquary Society (Føroya Forngripagoymsla) – a company connected mostly with the name of the Færoese nationalist leader and poet Jóannes Patursson (1866–1946), who pushed for beginnings of collecting archaeological finds in the Færoe Islands. The Færoese antiquarians initially focused on research of the landnám of the Færoe Islands, along with the development of archaeology as a discipline also the research focus changed, the focus on archaeology of the Viking period, however, continues today. As I mentioned above, a complication for Færoese archaeologists is the fact that virtually all spots suitable for human settlement have been taken already during the landnám, however, with increasing population of the archipelago old villages grew in size and new villages have been established as well. The continuity of the settlement pattern complicated archaeological study as many archaeological features have been disrupted or destroyed by younger activities. Another problem is geological processes – present coastline differs from the situation ca. 1000 years ago as the archipelago gradually sinks. Such feature is well observable e.g. in Kvívík on Streymoy, where were unearthed two Viking Age houses, lower parts of both of the houses have eroded by the sea.

For understanding of the older history of the Færoe Islands it is necessary not to focus just on traditional archaeological methods based mainly on artefactual studies since there are known only few archaeological finds. Archaeological research of last two decades focuses on collection of environmental data – such data brought unexpected results. According to a research of the Icelandic botanist Jóhannes Jóhansen presence of plantain (Plantago lanceolata; Fae. jóansøkugras) was found that on all of the islands of the Færoese archipelago. Plantain does not occur naturally in the Færoes; it had to be brought there by men. Samples obtained on various places with Viking Age sites showed occupation since the second half of the 7th century, i.e. long before presumed come of Northmen. Much more interesting are samples acquired at Sandur on Sandoy dated to 390 BC and even from the Saksunarvatn inlet by the village of Saksun on Streymoy – here the oldest date shows interval 3330-3145 BC! Saksunarvatn is not the only site that shows rather an old sign of human presence in the Færoes, other prehistoric evidence of plantain pollen comes from Hoydalur on Streymoy – 1905 BC. Evidence of plantain pollen shows human presence in the Færoe Islands in the Aeneolithic period, however, there are no other data to validate human settlement, we cannot even tell anything about its duration or from where were the islands colonised.

Excavations of a Viking Age longhouse at á Sondum at Sandur on Sandoy yielded layers that contained charred barley seeds dated to the 4th century AD. By the analysis of charred barley it was possible to identify two settlement stages that preceded the Norse landnám – a younger stage from the period of 6th-8th centuries AD and an older stage dated to the 4th-6th centuries AD. Barley, as well as plantain, does not occur naturally, thus its presence on Sandoy testifies human presence. Evidence of human presence from the period of the 6th-8th centuries in not only proved by palaeobotanical data from á Sondum, comparable data are known as well from other sites as e.g. Tjørnuvík on Streymoy, Gøta on Eysturoy or Hov on Suðuroy; older settlement horizon is attested as well at Argisbrekka by the village of Eiði on Eysturoy. As for the supposed prehistoric settlement of the Færoes, also the pre-landnám habitation on the Færoes brings rather more questions than answers. It is certain, that there was grown barley between the 4th and 8th centuries AD in the Færoe Islands. According to testimony of Dícuill we may also suppose sheep breeding, but there are no other data. As for the interpretation of prehistoric pollen samples from Saksunarvatn we have no information on ethnicity or geographic origin of these settlers. It is known from written sources, that Irish monks settled uninhabited areas of the Atlantic Ocean, however, palaeobotanical data from the Færoes can be interpreted not only as an evidence of hermits from the British Isles.

According to recent archaeological and palaeobotanical research in the Færoe Islands it is more than obvious that the Norse landnám is not linked with the first colonisation of the archipelago, which was rather a necessary stop on a journey between the British Isles or Norway further towards Iceland. Importance of the Færoes increased just after the discovery of Iceland and Greenland – economic matters allowed the local population to retain good condition for the development of their own culture. The preceding settlement was probably only a short-term occupation of the isles, present state of knowledge cannot precisely determine how long the islands were occupied in prehistory or before the landnám. An unanswered question still remains from where came the forgotten inhabitants of the Færoes before the coming of Norse (and British) colonisers in the Viking Age. Despite the fact that research confirming pre-landnám settlement of the Færoe Islands brings more questions than answers, they are a valuable source for understanding the past of this piece of land hidden in the waves of the Atlantic.

Title page from the Færoese Saga (source:æreyinga_saga_manuskript.jpg)The beginnings of the Viking Age on the Færoes is conventionally set to 825 AD – according to Dícuill, in this year Norse pirates drove out Irish monks inhabiting an archipelago located two days and two night sail from the northernmost islands of Britain. Other testimony in also the Færoese Saga (the Saga as such was compiled by Carl Christian Rafn in the beginning of the 19th century from several Icelandic saga manuscripts, it is supposed, that there was an original pre-13th-century Saga of the Færoe Islanders, such saga is, however, not preserved), which mentions the first Norse settler – Grímur Kamban (ON Grímr kamban). By the testimony of the Saga, it was originally supposed, that Grímur Kamban settled the Færoes in the days of Harald Fairhair, but according to Dícuill, it is now supposed, that Grímur Kamban arrived with the Norse pirates mentioned by Dícuill around 825 AD and the main colonisation of the Færoes took place later during the rule of Harald Fairhair. The Færoese Saga is a valuable source concerning the history of the Viking Age Færoes during ca. 960–1035 AD, lot of events described in the Saga, however, take place in Norway, so other sources of knowledge of Færoese history are needed as well. Archaeology of the Færoes was in its beginnings connected with an attempt to find evidence of Viking settlement – such aim was linked with growing national self-awareness of the Færoese and also with an effort to gain independence on Denmark.

Viking trade routes in the Northern  Atlantic (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen:  Aspects of Viking-Age Society in Shetland and the Faroe Islands. In: D. Waugh (ed.): Shetland’s Northern Links: Language and History. Lerwick (: The Scottish Society for Northern Studies), 1996, s 118.)

As the Færoese antiquarians initially tried to prove ancient Norse settlement of the archipelago, their main source was the study of the Færoese Saga. Such happened in case of a burial mound by Hov on Suðuroy – the mound was identified with a burial of a “great idolater” Havgrímur of Hov. The mound was dug in 1835 by a local farmer; finds of fragments of iron and a skull cannot be further investigated, but it is judged that they may have belonged to a high status person as was Havgrímur from the Saga – for this reason the mound is today called Havgrímsgrøv ‘grave of Havgrímur’.

The first archaeologically excavated site in the Færoes were ruins at Fransatoftir by Hvítanes on Streymoy, which have been excavated in the beginnings of the 1930’s – originally it has been supposed that these ruins come from the period of the Scanian War (1675–1679), the excavations, however, unearthed a Viking Age house. Regarding the Faroese Viking Age archaeology, one of the most important excavations was a research of a landnám farm at niðri á Toft at Kvívík on Streymoy. The excavations took place in 1940’s and were led by the first Færoese archaeologist Sverri Dahl. More information yielded excavations from the 1980’s at á Toftanesi at Leirvík on Eysturoy – during these excavations there were used modern archaeological methods that yielded new, unexpected results.

Reconstruction of the farm in Leirvík on Eysturoy (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013, s. 188)Norse farms belong to the best known sources of knowledge of the Viking Age Færoes. In Kvívík there were unearthed relics of two stone buildings – a longhouse (Fae. skáli, langhús) and a byre (fjós), the byre was later enlarged by a barn (løða). Both buildings were built of two dry stack walls made of stone and turf; the walls were filled with earth. The longhouse was a hall structure with a long hearth (langeldur) in the middle of the house; along the walls there were earthen benches (bekkur, pl. bekkir) which were joined with a pole structure that supported the roof. The Kvívík byre was internally arranged by several wooden partitions for livestock housing; in the middle there was a groove, which led cattle feces out of the byre. The Kvívík farm is a typical representative of a Viking Age farmstead in the North Atlantic, similar farms have been found also on other sites in the Færoes, e.g. at heima á Oyrini and á Toftanesi at Leirvík and at vesturi í Horni at Syðrugøta on Eysturoy or at við Hanusá at Sørvágur on Vágar. All Færoese farms show many common features – apart from the same construction type they all have the same orientation in north-east direction with entrance facing east – moreover, such features are not characteristic just for the Færoese longhouses, the same orientation has been observed in Orkney, Shetland, Iceland and Greenland as well. All villages were located by the sea on a place, where it is possible to pull a ship ashore – this feature is linked to boat-houses; such structures are archaeologically unknown, their existence, however, may be supposed by references in the Færoese Saga.

Wooden bowls (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013, s. 102)Færoese archaeologists tried to find places mentioned in the Færoese Saga – such happened for villages of Gata (Fae. Gøta) on Eysturoy and Sandvík (Fae. Sandvík, earlier also Hvalvík) on Suðuroy; villages such as Hof (Fae. Hov) on Suðuroy, Dímun on Stóra Dímun, Skúfey (Fae. Skúvoy/Skúgvoy) on Skú(g)voy, Sandey (Fae. Sandoy) on Sandoy, Þórshǫfn (ON Tórshavn) on Streymoy and Svíney (Fae. Svínoy) on Svínoy often bear their Saga name even today, their existence has not been, however, proved archaeologically. An exception may be only the village Sandey named after the island on which it is located may be identified with the modern village of Sandur – there on the site of við Kirkjugarð (i.e. ‘by the Church’) was found and partially unearthed a large cemetery; moreover at the site of undir Junkarisfløtti there was mainly by use of methods of natural sciences found out, that at this place there should have been an important centre of the southern part of the archipelago. Such interpretation of Sandur is supported by the fact that there stood an early 11th century church; at Sandur there were also identified remains of a boat-shaped longhouse. Another important centre of the Færoes, the village of Kirkjubøur, which later became the seat of the Færoese bishop of the Færoes, is not mentioned in the Saga. There is a question why, as we have to suppose an existence of an important settlement at Kirkjubøur even before the Christianisation of the Færoes, otherwise it would be impossible that there would be established an important centre of Færoese ecclesial history. Such site may be linked with the nearby village of Velbastaður (ON *Vébólstaðr; cf. ON ‘pagan shrine’).

Soapstone bowl (source: Sverri Dahl: Um tíðarfesting av føroyskum fitisteinsfundum. In: Fróðskaparrit 4, 1955, s. 76)There are no many archaeological finds from the Færoes. The finds are usually objects of daily use. Pottery is less common, instead of ceramic vessels were used vessels made of soapstone; pottery more often appears in the late Viking Age. According to material it may be judged, that majority of the pottery production was made locally. Common finds are whorls and weaving weights, which prove a developed textile production – according to the Færoese Saga (and other sagas as well) it is known, that the Færoese exported so-called vaðmál (Fae. vaðmal), i.e. homespun woollen cloth. Other common finds include net and line sinkers, which prove importance of fishing in the Færoes. Jewellery finds are quite rare – there have been find glass (usually blue and yellow) and amber beads, at Leirvík there was also unearthed a bronze brooch decorated in Borre style, the brooch has analogies in Trelleborg, Hedeby, Birka and Novgorod; and a ringed pin of so-called Hiberno-Norse style, which is a typical artefact of the Viking Age North Atlantic. An exceptional find is a jet (lignite) arm ring, which shows links with the British Isles. At Kvívík there was found a skin shoe.

Kvívík shoe (source: Margarethe Hald: Primitive Shoes. Copenhagen (: National Museum of Denmark), 1972, s. 160)

Hnefatafl from Leirvík on Eysturoy (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013, s. 94)In comparison to other areas of the Viking world there are quite well attested wooden finds from the Færoe Islands – in many cases these finds represent building waste, but there are also many wooden tools or their fragments. Kitchen utensils such as bowls and spoons even show preference of specific kinds of wood used for their production; except for kitchen utensils there are also finds of barrel and bucket fragments and a large scale of other utility tools. An interesting find is a two-sided gaming board from Leirvík – on one side there is a game field for the Viking game called hnefatafl (Fae. nevatalv), on the other side there is Nine Men’s Morris. Wood was used also for toys such as boats or horses. Juniper branches were used for ropes.

Færoe Islands in the Viking age (source: Símun Vilhelm Arge – Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir – Kevin J. Edwards – Paul C. Buckland: Viking and Medieval Settlement in the Faroes: People, Place and Environment. In: Human Ecology 33/5, Historical Human Ecology of the Faroe Islands, 2005, p. 603)There are not many known Viking Age graves in the Færoes – except for the Havgrímsgrøv burial mound on Suðuroy, also other mound has been excavated unprofessionally – the mound Øttisheygur by Giljanes on Vágar. The biggest excavated cemetery is yviri í Trøð at Tjørnuvík on Streymoy. At Tjørnuvík there were excavated several graves, the first certain Viking Age grave was excavated in May 1956. The graves were oriented head towards the north and all except one were covered with stones. An exception was a single grave without a stone mound – this grave was surrounded by stones in the shape of a Viking ship. There are only few finds; one grave yielded a Hiberno-Norse ringed pin. Other cemeteries were unearthed at Syðrugøta on Eysturoy and at við Kirkjugarð at Sandur on Sandoy. Still unexcavated is the burial mound Tormansgrøv by Vágur on Suðuroy – this mound resembles Havgrímsgrøv in many aspects.

Toys – wooden boats from Lerivík on Eysturoy (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013, s. 100)

Glass beads from Leirvík on Eysturoy (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013.s. 93)Majority of raw materials for production of objects of daily use were imported to the Færoe Islands – there were only a few trees on the Færoes, especially juniper and willow; valuable source of wood was also driftwood from North America or Siberia. Local sources of wood disappeared shortly after the landnám and wood was usually imported; wood was used mainly for tool production or for buildings; instead of firewood was used dried peat. Alike it was with other raw materials – of local origin was only tuff and basalt, other materials such as soapstone and slate were imported, same as iron or non-ferrous metals. Imported material was often re-utilised – e.g. shards of soapstone vessels were used again for spindle-whorls or sinkers. All luxury objects were of course imports. Main commercial ties of the Færoe Islands were connected to the Norwegian trade routes, whether directly from Bergen or Trondheim, or with intermediate stop in Shetland; the second direction of (not only) business contacts aimed for the British Isles, particularly to Shetland and the Hebrides. The Færoe Islands played an important role, especially as an intermediate stop on the way to Iceland – this is also mentioned in Icelandic sagas.

Brooch from Leirvík on Eysturoy (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013, s. 85)An evidence for contacts with Scandinavia is above the imports mentioned above also a unique coin hoard from the very end of the Viking Age from heima á Sandi at Sandur on Sandoy. The hoard was found by an accident in 1863 while digging a grave. The 98 coins, dated from the end of the 10th century to the second half of the 11th century AD, are really a unique find. Together with the coins was found also a silver arm ring. The coins from this hoard are not the only coins found in the Færoes – in a nearby cemetery at við Kirkjugarð there was unearthed a fragment of a Central Asian Samanid Kufic coin.

Samanid coin from Sandur on Sandoy (source: Símun Vilhelm Arge: Forn búseting heima á Sandi. In: Frøði 5, 2001, s. 10)

Owners marks from Leirvík on Eysturoy (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013, s. 98)The most important part of the Færoese economy was sheep herding together with cow and swine breeding. Significant was also fishing and catching of sea birds. In agriculture prevailed barley cultivation; agriculture, however, played only a minor rôle when compared to livestock breeding. Sheep herding was important for the ancient Færoemen in two ways – the first one was meat and milk, the other was wool. Due to a toponymic study it is known, that there were shepherd’s shielings in the Færoes, such shielings were quite distant from villages. The shielings are known as ærgi in the Færoese language – the word is of Old Irish origin and it points to a similar sheep herding in Scotland – sheep herding on ærgi was typical for the Viking Age Færoe Islands, but it changed by the end of the 13th century AD as it may be understood from a legal document called the Sheep-letter (Fae. Seyðabrævið).

Archaeology is not the only source that can help to understand Norse settlement of the Færoes – helpful may be also toponymy (as it was demonstrated in case of ærgi above), e.g. names of villages Ørðavík (from ON *Hǫrðavík ‚inlet of people from Hordaland‘) on Suðuroy and Signabøur (ON *Sygnabǿr ‚village of people form Sogn‘) on Streymoy point to the origin of their settlers from Hordaland (ON Hǫrðaland) and Sogn in Norway. The rune stone from the village of Sandavágur on Vágar, dated to ca. 1200 AD, reminds a settler from Norwegian Rogaland: »Þorkæll Ǫnondarson, austmaðr af Rogalandi, bygði þenna stað fyrst« (Fae. Torkil Onundarson, eystmaður av Rogalandi, bygdi henda stað fyrst) – ‘Þorkell Ǫnundarson, Easterner/Easterling from Rogaland was the first settler in this area’.

Hiberno-Norse ringed pin from Leirvík on Eysturoy (source: Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013, s. 89)Archaeology of the Færoe Islands in many aspects proved information written in the Færoese Saga, modern archaeological methods may, however, bring even more answers on questions concerning the Norse settlement of the archipelago. Problem of archaeological excavations is the fact that many present villages disappeared under modern buildings as present villages lie roughly on the same places as earlier settlements. Another complication is gradual sinking of the Færoes and thus many monuments are eroded by the sea. Despite the fact that there are only little archaeological finds from the Færoe Islands, we can quite well study life conditions of the local population in the Viking Age. According to the context of found artefacts can be concluded that the apparent isolation of the archipelago from the outside world did not prevent their contact with the surrounding areas – Norway, Iceland, Shetland, Orkney, Hebrides, and also Denmark.

Selected bibliography:

Thomas D. Als – Tove H. Jorgensen – Anders D. Børglum – Peter A. Petersen: Highly discrepant proportions of female and male Scandinavian and British Isles ancestry within the isolated population of the Faroe Islands. In: European Journal of Human Genetics 14 (2006), pp. 497–504. <>

Símun Vilhelm Arge: The Landnám of the Faroes. In: Arctic Anthropology 28, 1991, pp. 101-120. <>

Símun Vilhelm Arge: Viking Faroes: Settlement, Paleoeconomy, and Chronology. In: Journal of the North Atlantic 7 (2014), s. 1-17. <>

Símun Vilhelm Arge – Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir – Kevin J. Edwards – Paul C. Buckland: Viking and Medieval Settlement in the Faroes: People, Place and Environment. In: Human Ecology 33/5, Historical Human Ecology of the Faroe Islands, 2005, pp. 597-620. <>

Mike J. Church – Símun Vilhelm Arge – Kevin J. Edwards – Philippa L. Ascough – Julie M. Bond – Gordon T. Cook – Steve J. Dockrill – Andrew J. Dugmore – Thomas H. McGovern – Claire Nesbitt – Ian A. Simpson: The Vikings were not the first colonizers of the Faroe Islands. In: Quaternary Science Reviews 77 (2013), pp. 228-232. <>

Sverri Dahl: The Norse settlement of the Faroe Islands. In: Medieval Archaeology 14, 1970, London, s. 60-73. <>

Hans Jacob Debes: Problems Concerning the Earliest Settlement in the Faroe Islands. In: Fróðskaparrit 38-39 (1989-1990), pp. 23-34. <>

Jóhannes Jóhansen: Jóansøkugras (Plantago lanceolata) og forsøgulig búseting í Føroyum. In: Fróðskaparrit 34-35 (1986-1987), pp. 66-75. <>

Ditlev L. Mahler: Sæteren ved Argisbrekka. Økonomiske forandringer på Færøerne i vikingetid og tidlig middelalder. Tórshavn (: Faroe University Press), 2007. <>

Carl Christian Rafn: Færeyinga saga oder Geschichte der Bewohner der Färöer im isländischen Grundtext mit färöischer, dänischer und deutscher Übersetzung. Kopenhagen (: Schubothe), 1833. <>

Steffen Stummann Hansen: Aspects of Viking-Age Society in Shetland and the Faroe Islands. In: D. Waugh (ed.): Shetland’s Northern Links: Language and History. Lerwick (: The Scottish Society for Northern Studies), 1996, p. 118. <>

Steffen Stummann Hansen – Inga Merkyte – Joanna Bending: Toftanes, a Viking Age Farmstead in the Faroe Islands: archaeology, environment and economy. Acta Archaeologica 84/1. Oxford (: Willey, Blackwell), 2013. <>

Arne Thorsteinsson: Forn búseting í Føroyum. In: Fróðskaparrit 26 (1978), pp. 54-80. <>

Jonathan Wylie: The Faroe Islands: Interpretations of History. Lexington (: University Press of Kentucky), 1987. <>

George Vaughan Chichester Young: From the Vikings to the Reformation: A Chronicle of the Faroe Islands Up to 1538. Douglas (: Shearweter Press), 1979. <>