The helmet from Lokrume, Gotland

Since I am deeply interested in Viking Age helmets, I realized there is no comprehensive article about the helmet from Lokrume. That’s why I decided to translate my Czech article, “Přilba z Lokrume“. I believe this might help to reenactors looking for new kind of helmet evidence.

The first information about the fragment from Lokrume, which is deposited in Visby museum with the sign GF B 1683, was first published by Fornvännen journal in 1907:

„The helmet fragment (consisting of eyebrows and the nasal) from iron is coated with silver plate decorated with niello ornaments. The item, which belongs to Visby Fornsal and which was found in Lokrume parish on Gotland, is the only Viking Age helmet fragment ever found and it is an interesting parallel to several hundreds older helmets from Vendel. (Fornvännen 1907: 208, Fig. 8)

1

Taken from Fornvännen 1907: 208, Fig. 8; Lindqvist 1925: 194, Fig. 97.

Some time later, in 1925, Sune Lindqvist discussed the helmet in his essay on Vendel Period helmets (Lindqvist 1925: 192–194, Fig. 97): „it is made of iron and it is most likely made on Continent, because it is decorated with a thin layer of silver. In Scandinavia, this method was first used in the Viking Age“ (Lindqvist 1925: 192–193). He noticed also the fact that eyebrows do not have animal head terminals, like the helmet from Broa (Lindqvist 1925: 194).

Sigurd Grieg, who studied the helmet from Gjermundbu, reacted to Lindqvist in his book:

In this moment, is is also interesting to mention the Viking Age fragment from Lokrume, Gotland, which was discussed by Lindquist, together with some other helmets. The piece is dated to the Viking Age and the decoration also shows it belongs to the period. The fragment consists of eyebrows and a part of nasal. The fragment is very interesting for us, because its ornaments show the similarity with ornaments known from the sword from Lipphener See (…).
Lindqvist presumes the fragment is an export from the Continent, because the thin silver plate decoration was not used in Scandinavia before the Viking Age. Gutorm Gjessing critised this, when he truthfully said: ‚In our opinion, the helmet fragment from Lokrume can not be understood as a predecessor to Vendel Period helmets, as Lindqvist did (…). The technique – coating with thin silver layer and niello decoration – is very well known from the Viking Age and it is obvious that this technique was very popular on Gotland during its quite extensive production of weapons in the Later Viking Age (…).’“ (Grieg 1947: 44–45)

Grieg, who quotes Gjessing, finds the analogies of the helmet fragment in the 10th century, more precisely, Saint Wenceslas helmet and Petersen type S sword from Lipphener See (Grieg 1947: 45). The most similar analogies of the motive can be found on Petersen type S swords from Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Ukraine.

lokrume_motiv

The reconstruction of the motive, made by Jan Zbránek.

Elisabeth Munksgaard, who wrote a paper on the helmet fragment from Tjele in 1984, mentioned the fragment from Lokrume without any detail (Munksgaard 1984: 87). Almost the same did Dominik Tweddle (Tweedle 1992: 1126), who mentioned the facts the fragment is decorated and does not have animal head terminals.

The most important work presents Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands, written by Lena Thunmark-Nylén. It consists of a detailed photo, dimensions and a commentary (WZG II: 264:1; III: 317; IV: 521–522):

Lokrume parish, GF B 1683
An eyebrow protection from a helmet; made of iron inlayed with silver and nielloed with decoration in shape of airborne braided bands and intertwined circles ; the lenght of 13.2 cm.“ (WZG IV: 521–522)

An eyebrow part of a helmet, without any knowledge of the find context, represents the only example of the Viking Age helmet on Gotland. The item is made of iron, decorated with square inlay, to which a niello band motive is placed. There are transverse bands in the other areas around eyes.“ (WZG III: 317)

Thunmark-Nylén seeks analogies within the corpus of Norwegian swords, and she comes with the conclusion that the dating to the Viking Age is more than clear and without any doubt (WZG III: 317, Note 75).

2

Taken from WZG II: 264:1.

Mattias Frisk, the author of a very good university essay on Scandinavian helmets from the Younger Iron Age (Frisk 2012), wrote the same information as Lindqvist:

„The fragment consists of eyebrows and a short, broken nasal. It is made of iron, coated with silver plate, which is inlayed with square ornaments (…).“ (Frisk 2012: 23)

To my knowledge, the last book to mention the fragment is Vikinger i Krig, written by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike (Hjardar – Vike 2011: 188, 190). The book presents a different lenght (12.8 cm), a quite detailed photo and a short comment:

The second stray find is the mask fragment from Lokrume, Gotland, which is decorated with an ornament, that could be dated to 950–1000 AD. (…) The mask from Lokrume is made of iron, coated with silver and inlayed with square ornament and transverse bands of copper.“ (Hjardar – Vike 2011: 188)

vikingerikrig190

Taken from Hjardar – Vike 2011: 190.

We can see that different authors hold different opinions on the method of the decoration:

  • coating/plating with silver + niello inlay (Fornvännen 1907; Lindqvist 1925; Grieg 1947; Frisk 2011; Hjardar – Vike 2011)
  • silver inlay + niello inlay (WZG IV: 521–522; WZG III: 317)

When I discussed the fragment with blacksmith and jeweller Petr Floriánek (also known as Gullinbursti), the living legend and the best knower of the Viking art in the Czech republic, he explained to me that the decoration could be made in two possible ways:

  • inlay method: grooves are cut to the surface of the item, and they are filled with contrastive material (precious metal) in a desirable shape. Grooves correspond to the motive. The example can be seen here.
  • overlay method: a grid is cut to the surface of the item, and the material is hammered to the grid in a desirable shape. Grooves of the grid do not correspond to the motive. An example can be seen here, or below.
lokrume_muzeum

The fragment, deposited in Visby Fornsal.

According to Petr Floriánek, both methods were popular in the Viking Age and they can be seen applied on many pieces of art, mostly weapons of the second part of the 10th century. The usage of niello, proposed by researchers, is not so likely, in Petr’s opinion. The reason for that is the fact that grooves (with missing material) have the uniform width, which rather suggests the usage of wire. The material could be copper, because copper is more like to fall off, since it has worse adhesion than silver. As Petr says, broad transverse bands are most likely not made by niello method.

lokrume9

The back side of the fragment. Taken from Gotlands Museums samling av fotografier och föremål.

It is important to stress that it is not known to which type of helmet the fragment belonged. Researchers tend to say it was a spectacle helmet, which seem to be a more reliable variant, judging from shapes and dimensions of analogies (Broa, Gjermundbu, Tjele, Kyiv). Petr Floriánek guess the thickness of the mask can be cca 3 mm. The usage of nasal without ocular parts is known from Saint Wenceslas helmet, which was also made on Gotland and its decoration is very similar (see here). That’s why we should not dismiss the nasal variant.

My Belarusian friend Dmitry Hramtsov (also known as Truin Stenja), a very skillful blacksmith and jeweller, made a quite interesting variation of Lokrume helmet. Me and Petr consider this version to be very well done. Dmitry used the overlay method – in photos, you can notice the cut grid with silver and copper wire hammered to the surface. The mask is hollow inside. The mask is riveted with four rivets to the dome of the helmet; two rivets are invisible and soldered with silver. The rest of the mask is based on Kyiv mask, which was made in the same period. The dome of the helmet is based on the construction of Gjermundbu helmet.

 

In the very end, I would like to thank to Dmitry Hramtsov for the chance to publish his photos. My deep respect belong to Petr Floriánek, who gave me many good advices and ideas. Finally, my thanks go to Pavel Vorinin for the photo of the back side of the fragment and to Jan Zbránek for the redrawn motive. 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.


Bibliography

Fornvännen 1907 = Ur främmande samlingar 2. In: Fornvännen 2, Stockholm 1907, 205–208. Available on: http://samla.raa.se/xmlui/bitstream/handle/raa/5533/1907_205.pdf?sequence=1.

FRISK, Mattias (2012). Hjälmen under yngre järnåldern : härkomst, förekomst och bruk, Visby: Högskolan på Gotland. Available on: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:541128/FULLTEXT01.pdf.

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

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

LINDQVIST, Sune (1925). Vendelhjälmarnas ursprung. In: Fornvännen 20, Stockholm, 181–207. Available on: http://samla.raa.se/xmlui/bitstream/handle/raa/796/1925_181.pdf?sequence=1.

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

TWEDDLE, Dominic (1992). The Anglian Helmet from 16-22 Coppergate, The Archaeology of York. The Small Finds AY 17/8, York.

WZG II = Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (1998). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands II : Typentafeln, Stockholm.

WZG III = Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (2006). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands III: 1–2 : Text, Stockholm.

WZG IV = Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (2000). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands IV:1–3 : Katalog, Stockholm.

Interview with Rolf F. Warming

A few notes on Viking Age Shields

rolf

Rolf F. Warming. 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.

rolf_shields

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
iarnspengr 
þriar um þveran. oc mundriði seymdr með iarnsaumi.
Gulaþingsl
ǫg hin fornu

rolf_shields2

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.

rolf_shields3

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

rolf_shields4

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.”
Rígsþula

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.

rolf-stit

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.