In 1850, an extraordinary find was discovered by a young farmer in the forest called Lindum Storskov, near Tjele, Denmark. The find consisted of a set of blacksmith equipment – two anvils, five hammers, three tongs, sheet metal shears, two files, a wedge, two nail headers, casting bowls (with traces of tin and lead), a small touchstone, a set of scales, nine weights, five sickles, a key, three iron nails, an axe, two jingles, a spearhead/arrowhead, bronze wires, a lid of a box for scales, bone and bronze fragments of a casket, a mount of a drinking horn, iron fragments and pieces of a helmet (Leth-Larsen 1984; Lund 2006: 325). Thanks to local authorities, the set was sent to Copenhagen, where it was analyzed. The find was published three times – in 1858 (Boye 1858), then in 1939 (Ohlhaver 1939) and finally in 1984 (Munksgaard 1984; Leth-Larsen 1984).
Some other objects from the find from Tjele. Taken from Boye 1858: Pl. II–IV.
The helmet fragment is a very interesting object, that was originally interpreted as a saddle mount. It was Elisabeth Munksgaard, who expressed the theory about the helmet. Still, it is rather an overlooked artefact that was never studied in detail nor scientifically reconstructed. That’s the reason why this article was written.
Munksgaard sums up several important details:
„This winged-shaped object is not a saddle mounting, but the eyebrows and nose-gueard of a helmet, made of iron and bronze. […] We are, unfortunately, not able to judge what the Tjele helmet looked like. There is not a trace of chain mail rest of the helmet, nor any iron plates fit for making up the rest of the helmet. But there are eight fragments of thin iron strips, about 1 cm broad and of varying length which might have been used for joining the plates together.” (Munksgaard 1984: 87)
More than detailed description, her article includes the comparison with the helmet from Gjermundbu. Since she considers the helmet from Gjermundbu to be the closest analogy, it is obvious she interprets the fragment as a part of a spectacle low-domed helmet. This type of helmets was used until 1000 AD (Munksgaard 1984: 88). The dating of the find from Tjele was corrected by Lund (2006: 325, 339), who claims the set belongs to the period between 950–970 AD. Tweedle (1992: 1126) assumed that the mask was multi-pieced; two ocular pieces were riveted to the nasal. The hole in the broader piece of the nasal could support this theory. Moreover, the mask from Kyiv shows the same feature.
The size of the mask is not convincingly given, but both Munksgaard and Tweedle suggest it is 12 × 7 cm (Munksgaard 1984: 87, fig. 4; Tweedle 1992: 1128, fig. 561). Just in the middle of eyebrows, at the base of the nasal, a hole for a rivet is placed. At least one decorated bronze strip was mounted on the eyebrows. It seems that entire eyebrows were symmetrically covered by bronze strips like this one. As a result, the mask was a distictive feature of the helmet, as can be observed in cases of other helmets too (Gjermundbu, Lokrume, Kyiv or St. Wenceslas helmet).
Regarding the construction, we can not say much. Munksgaard gives the information about eight fragments of narrow bands, which makes it possible to imagine that the helmet could have the similar construction as the helmet from Gjermundbu. The dome of the helmet of Gjermundbu is formed by four triangular-shaped plates. Under the gap between each two plates, there is a narrow flat band, which is riveted to asomewhat curved band located above the gap between each two plates. 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. There are two flat bands in the lateral direction. 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. 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.
The scheme of the helmet of Gjermundbu. Made by Tomáš Vlasatý and Tomáš Cajthaml.
Even though the mask from Tjele is just a fragment, we can not underestimate the meaning of this find. It broadens our vision about Viking Age protective gear, its decoration and the makers. Recently, two of my friends have tried to replicate the helmet fragment from Tjele. The reconstruction of the complete helmet is impossible, but I personally think that these both versions are decent and plausible tries that should be accepted by reenactment community.
First, let’s have a look on the work of Dmitry Hramtsov. The dome of this version is based on Vendel Period helmets. Since multi-pieced masks are typical for pre-Viking helmets, such a dome seems to be understandable. Metal bands are, however, much wider than those found in Tjele. The eyebrows are decorated with 14 bronze strips.
The second try is the helmet made by Konstantin Shiryaevand Maxim Teryoshin. In this case, the dome is based on the helmet from Gjermundbu. Konstantin used 16 bronze strips.
Boye, V. (1858). To fund af smedeværktøi fra den sidste hedenske tid i Danmark (Thiele-Fundet og Snoldelev-Fundet). In: Annaler for Nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie, København: 191–200.
Leth-Larsen, B. (1984). Selected objects from the stock of the Tjele smith. In: Offa 41, Neumünster: 91–96.
Lund, J. (2006). Vikingetidens værktøjskister i landskab og mytologi (Viking Period tool chests in the landscape and in mythology). In: Fornvännen 101, Stockholm: 323–341.
Munksgaard, E. (1984). A Viking Age smith, his tools and his stock-in-trade. In: Offa 41, Neumünster: 85–89.
Ohlhaver, H. (1939). Der germanische Schmied und sein Werkzeug. Hamburger Schriften zur Vorgeschichte und Germanischen Frühgeschichte, Band 2, Leipzig.
Tweddle, D. (1992). The Anglian Helmet from 16-22 Coppergate, The Archaeology of York. The Small Finds AY 17/8, York.
Drawn reconstruction of a man from between 850–950 AD. Based on graves from central Norway, including the grave from Voll. Taken from Hjardar, Kim – Vike, Vegard (2011). Vikinger i krig, Oslo, p. 47.
After a month of hard work, I would like to present my article named “The man from Voll : An example of a well-preserved Norwegian male grave“. In this short article, I provided a summary of the rich and well-preserved content of the 10th century inhumation mound from Voll, Overhalla municipality, Nord-Trøndelag county, Norway. The work is supplemented with an abundant catalogue and short reports about the making of spear sheath replicas (Are Pedersen) and a cross-shaped dress pin recreation Roman Král). The article summarizes organic objects in Viking Age graves and suggests how these objects could have been used in the everyday life.
The article can be downloaded by the following button. I hope you will enjoy reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund me via Patreonor Paypal (email@example.com). Thank you!
For my entire reenactment career, I have encountered the problem of slippery shoe soles. Some reenactors solve the problem with rubber soles or metal hobnails, but these are not period solutions. Leather soles are extremely slippery on the wet or frozen surfaces, especially when they are a bit used and scuffed, which means the problem has to be solved in a way.
In Sagas of Icelanders and some other sagas, two terms skóbroddr (“shoe spike”; Eyrbyggja saga, Sturlunga saga, Sverris saga) and mannbroddr (literally “man’s spike”; Þorsteins saga hvíta, Vápnfirðinga saga) occur and they represent spikes that are used when saga heroes travel over the ice or as a cheating device mounted to horse forehead during horse fights. Spikes were not permanently attached to shoes; one could put them on and take them off as needed.
Crampons designed for horse hooves. Taken from Rybakov 1985: 362, Tab. 148, 26-29.
Crampons from sagas have many counterparts in the archaeological material in the whole of Scandinavia and beyond. The term mannbroddr suggests there were also crampons designed for horse hooves (see here). In some cases, it is difficult to determine which crampons were designed for men and which for horses. In this article, we will focus mainly on crampons that were meant to be attached to shoes. We will look at finds from Birka and Haithabu and some other analogies. Their function is to help to get stability on slippery surfaces, mainly ice. Etnographical mentions even attest the usage of crampons by whalers on the ocean, where whales were butchered (Goubitz 2007: 305). It is important to add that some of the graves with crampons from Birka were interpreted as winter graves; crampons and skates could play a symbolic role in this case (Gräslund 1980: 75–76). Fox example, during the exhibition We call them Vikings, The Swedish History Museum in Stockholm described crampons with these words: “The road to Hel is icy and leads north and downwards. Ice spikes ensured a safe arrival.”
Generally speaking, crampons of the Viking Age had no more than four spikes. Spikes are positioned in the way to maximize the friction of the shoe. Crampons can be divided into four basic categories:
Type A, “1-point crampons”. These were made of separate bent bands with only one spike. Bent bands, with no more than three pieces at the same time, were attached to leather or wooden bases. The length of these bases corresponded with the width of the shoes and were connected by straps to the shoe. Birka types 1 and 2 belong to this type (Arwidsson 1986: 111; however, Birka type 2 crampons could be horse crampons; discussion with Sergey Kainov). This type occurs also in Norway (Petersen 1951: 62–63), Latvia, Slovakia (my personal observations) and on territories of the Old Rus (Kainov–Spasov 2005),
The method of attachment according to Kainov–Spasov 2005.
Type B, “3-point crampons”. Crampons of this type are in forms that are roughly trianglar – crampons in the shape of an equilateral triangle with open inner space (Birka type 3), Y-shaped crampons (Haithabu types 1 and 2), T-shaped crampons (Haithabu type 3) and V-shaped crampons (Swedish type 5). Crampons in the shape of an equilateral triangle with open inner space have been found in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Poland, Latvia and Old Russia (Petersen 1951: 62–63; Arwidsson 1986: 111; Kirpičnikov 1973: 170; Kainov–Spasov 2005; Petrov 2006: 174; Wojtasik 1998: 372, Ryc. 10.27,5). Y-shaped crampons were found not only in Haithabu, but also in Schleswig (Saggau 2000: 99–100), in territories of West Slavic tribes and in Lund (Westphalen 2002: 271), in medieval Söderköping (SHM 34183:23), in medieval Riga (Petrov 2005) and Novgorod (Petrov 2006: 173–174); the same pieces were found in the tool chest from Mästermyr, Gotland (Arwidsson–Berg 1999: 16, No. 92–93). Three T-shaped crampons were found in Haithabu (Westphalen 2002: 271). V-shaped crampons were only found in the grave Valsgärde 7, which dates to the 7th century (Arwidsson 1977: 91, No. 1097; Arwidsson 1986: 112). No sure method of attachment is known, but we are aware of several high medieval or early modern methods from Oslo, Tønsberg, Trondheim, Leiden, Riga and Novgorod:
At least eighteen leather stripes designed for crampons, sometimes with shoe soles or with imprinted triangular crampons, were found in medieval and early modern layers of Oslo and Tønsberg in Norway. Examples taken from Johansen – Molaug 2008: 197, Figs. 209–210, Johansen 2008: 127, Fig. 141 and the catalogue of Unimus.
The leather stripe from medieval Tønsberg. The crampon was fixed in the stripe and then covered with round leather piece, which held the crampon in the stable position. Taken from Brendalsmo – Lindh 1982: 27. For more medieval leather stripes designed for crampons, see Ulriksen 1992.
A leather piece with imprinted crampon, found in Gamlebyen, Oslo. Very similar solution as in the previous picture. Dated to the first half of the 14th century. Taken from Færden et al 1990: 263, Fig. 30g, 264.
A very well preserved high medieval crampon from Söderköping, Sweden (SHM 34183:23). Note that holes around the crampon, which are similar to those from Oslo and Tønsberg. Taken from the catalogue of SHM.
Medieval leather stripe and triangular crampon from Trondheim. Taken from Goubitz 2007: 311, Fig. 23b.
Late medieval leather stripe with an imprint of triangular crampon, found in Leiden. Taken from Goubitz 2007: 311, Fig. 23a.
The method used in 13th–14th century in Riga, Latvia. Taken from Petrov 2005.
The method used in 13th–14th century in Novgorod, Russia. The area around the crampon is covered with another layer of leather. Taken from Petrov 2006: 172, 176, Fig. 1, 4.
The method suggested by Kainov–Spasov 2005.
The method suggested by Saggau 2000: Abb. 67:4. The crampon is placed in folded leather stripe. Note that the leather strap is placed on a modern shoe.
This method is etnografically attested from Finland. The crampon is placed in folded leather stripe and fixed by stitching. Taken from Schietzel 2014: 214.
Etnographical methods attested in Finland. Taken from Sirelius 1934: 116, Taf. 55, Abb. 244a-c.
The realization of the method suggested by Spasov-Kainov 2005, group NorraVind.
The attachment method used by Veronica Wik.
The attachment method from Tønsberg replicated by Veronica Wic.
The attachment method used by Amy Pooley when climbing Mr Kosciusko. Credits go to Joshua Button.
Type C, “4-point crampons”. Three X-shaped crampons were found in Haithabu (Haithabu type 4; Westphalen 2002: 271). In Viking Age and medieval Norway, X-shaped crampon with open inner space were used as well (see C13709, C35607, C37183or T2316). Similarly, there is a X-shaped crampon with open inner space and metal holders found in medieval Hovgården, Sweden (SHM 15825:149). The attachment method is not known from the Viking Age and it could be similar to what we have shown in the case of type B.
The crampon from medieval Hovgården (SHM 15825:149). Taken from the catalogue of SHM.
The attachment method used by Karel Sýkora, Marobud.
Other types, “atypical crampons”. We have to mention crampons of the Swedish type 4, that were found in graves Tuna Alsike X and Bengtsarvet 2. They were made of an iron bands, whose length corresponded to the width of the shoe. They had bent ends with loops for attachment and three spikes on the bottom side. Analogical methods with two spikes were found in late medieval or early modern sites from Germany (Heiligenberg, Tannenberg, Dossenheim, Gaisberg; Gross 2012: 448–9) and Russia (Staraya Ladoga). Besides the find from Staraya Ladoga, Kirpichnikov (1973) shows yet another interesting form medieval.
2-point iron band crampon with loops for attachment. Taken from Gross 2012: 544, Taf. 60.11.
Crampons found in Staraya Ladoga (Number. 3; 17th century) and Kniazha Hora (Number. 4, 1150–1240 AD). Taken from Kirpichnikov 1973: 170, Fig. 47.
Viking Age crampons could seem as old-fashioned or primitive pieces of metal. However, in Europe, simple crampons like all those aforementioned were used until the 20th century. Their simple and effective construction uses only a limited number of variants. Therefore, we can see very similar pieces in space and time.
Crampons from the 19th and 20th century with similar designs.
My first chance to use crampons took place in 2015, during the festival of Libušín, in the Czech Republic. I chose crampons of type B (Haithabu type 2, Y-shaped). I am very indebted to Jiří “Link” Novák, who gave them to me as a gift. The attachment method was copied from Danish reenactors, since I had not the sources I have now. This was my first try and I would like to inform you about all pros and cons of this piece of gear.
The most important discovery of this experience was that crampons make shoes a very useful thing. When a crampon is used with leather soled shoes, the result is comparable with rubber sole or hobnails. I have not had a chance to use crampons on an icy surface, but they worked perfectly on the wet or dry grass and were very useful during climbing a hill. I used crampons with thick felt insoles, but I think that woolen insoles and crampons fixed with the second layer of leather can lead to the same comfortable feeling. When the user is careful and slow, crampons can be even used on hard surfaces for short distances (all you feel is the pressure). In battle, crampons are also useful for stability, but rather dangerous and therefore not recommended. I personally think they were used mainly in winter, while they had no benefit in summer. They should be used mainly during winter events (for example hikes), whereas to a limited extent during summer events.
The first try showed that a crampon should be fixed into two layers of leather, because the crampon has a tendency to move and to tear the leather.For the same reason, it is necessary to place the crampon the middle of the leather band, not near the edge. The stitching can be very useful. It is always better have two fixed points on the shoe; my attachment method took advantage of leather straps, which hold the leather band in place. Below, you can have a look at photos of my experience.
I hope you liked reading this article. If you have 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.
Arwidsson 1977 = Arwidsson, Greta (1977). Valsgärde 7, Lund.
Arwidsson 1986 = Arwidsson, Greta (1986). Die Eissporen. In: ARWIDSSON, Greta (ed.) Birka II: 2. Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde, Stockholm: 111–112.
Arwidsson–Berg 1999 = Arwidsson, Greta – Berg, Gösta (1999). The Mästermyr find : a Viking age tool chest from Gotland, Lompoc.
Brendalsmo – Lindh 1982 = Brendalsmo, Jan – Lindh, Jan (1982). Funn fra en utgravning, Øvre Ervik.
Færden et al 1990 = Færden, G., Schia, E., Molaug, P. B. (1990). De Arkeologiske utgravninger i Gamlebyen, Oslo. 7-8, Dagliglivets gjenstander, Øvre Ervik.
Goubitz 2007 = Goubitz, Olaf (2007). Stepping through time : archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800, Zwolle.
Gräslund 1980 = Gräslund, Anne-Sofie (1980). Birka IV. The Burial Customs. A study of the graves on Björkö, Stockholm.
Petrov 2006 = М. И. Петров (2006). Обувные шипы из новгородских раскопок // Новгород и Новгородская земля: история и археология : материалы науч. конференции. Новгород, 24-26 янв. 2006 г, Великий Новгород: 171–178. Online: http://bibliotekar.ru/rusNovgorod/144.htm
Rybakov 1985 = Рыбаков, Б. А. (1985). Археология СССР : Древняя Русь. Город, замок, село, Moskva.
Saggau 2000 = Saggau, Hilke E. (2000). Mittelalterliche Eisenfunde aus Schleswig : Ausgrabung Schild 1971-1975, (Ausgrabungen in Schleswig 14), Neumünster.
Sirelius 1934 = Sirelius, U. T. (1934). Die Volkskultur Finnlands : I. Jagd und Fischerei, Berlin-Leipzig.
Schietzel2014 = Schietzel, Kurt (2014). Spurensuche Haithabu, Neumünster / Hamburg.
Ulriksen 1992 = Ulriksen, Eli. Lærmaterialet. In: Lindh, Jan (1992). Arkeologi i Tønsberg. 1 : Søndre bydel, Oslo: 103–142.
Westphalen 2002 = Westphalen, Petra (2002). Die Eisenfunde von Haithabu, (Die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 10), Neumünster.
Wojtasik 1998 = Wojtasik, Jerzy (1998). Srebrne Wzgórze w Wolinie, wstępne wyniki badań z lat 1961–1969. In: Materiały Zachodniopomorskie, 45, 321–383.
At the request of many reenactors, who are interested in early medieval warfare, my colleagues Roman Král, Jan Zajíc, Jan Bělina, et al. and I decided to write an article that would provide a comprehensive commentary on the use of padding under armor and fabric armor in the early Middle Ages. Given that there is no extant archaeological evidence, we are forced to speculate and discuss dubious literary references, iconography and tested, firsthand experience. In this article, we will formulate a list of design assumptions.
1. The need for padding under mail armor
A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry. Around 1070’s AD
Mail armor is constructed of connected rings of metal. It is logical that the mail armor and possibly other types of armor were used in combination with padding. Mail, which was the most widely used metal armor in Scandinavia, provides good protection against edged weapons and effectively disappaites the force of a blow. If it was worn without padding, a strike to the body would cause surface and internal damage. For the Viking Age (and indeed throughout the early Middle Ages) padding is never directly mentioned as part of combat equipment (mentioned as gerðar, herváðir and herklæði). The same applies to the surviving Scandinavian figures (see eg. Archer 2013) – armor lying close to the body and the undercoat is not noticeable. Padding as the bottom layer can easily be overlooked, but more significantly – when the armor was depicted, padding was not important for either the artist or the viewer of the piece of art; even though padding is as important as the other parts of armor. However, there are illuminations of contemporary European armor, in which the padding is shown (see eg. Skodell 2008), and we will try to show the parallels in contemporary padding across Western and Northern Europe.
2. The material of the padding
The best protection against the strike is layered textiles and/or leather. In the European reenactment the current trend is to produce fabric gambesons that are a few centimeters thick, but scientific investigation (see list at Archer 2014) suggests that two textile layers of fabric or a combination of fabric and leather were used. Iconography, showing the armor close to the body, could support that idea. We validated the use of few layers of wool (up to three) in modern (Eastern style) battles; the warrior is not restricted in movement and is fairly well protected against swords. Axe and spear, however, are problematic due to the force they generate. Similarly, we validated a thinner layer of felted wool.
Sagas and other sources, including The Book of the Hird (Hirðskrá) and The King’s Mirror (Konungs skuggsjá), mention textile armor treyja and panzer / panzari (Falk 1914 : § 87 + § 90; 181 – 182, 185 – 186). These two words were introduced into Old Norse from Middle Low German and they denote multi-layer linen gambesons of High and Late Middle Ages (Hjardar – Vike 2011: 194 – 196). In the Bayeux Tapestry armors are so simplied, they can represent mail, scale, lamellar armors or even gambesons, which are quilted in vertical or diamond patterns. In any case, they may be linked to professionalization of the army in 11th century.
The attack of the “Great Danish Army” from the manuscript M.736, fol. 9v, about 1130 AD.
Determining what style of the padding was used is probably the most difficult of all to answer, because it requires knowledge of contemporary clothing. It can be assumed that the cut of clothing was not entirely consistent over all the lands that the Norse enhabited. Also, it can be postulated that there were gradual improvements – i.e. the strengthening the individual parts and increasing the number of layers with the need of quilting.
Apparently, most of warriors in Sagas of Icelanders fought without armor, which can be interpreted as they could not afford quality armor or they acted too spontaneously to think about protection. However, from two extreme examples (Helgi, the hero of Vápnfirðinga saga, binds a big stone to his chest to avoid the injury, and Þóri Þorsteinsson, the fighter of Hákon the Good and veteran of Battle of Fitjar, cut a hole in an oxen hide and put that over his head) showing the same kind of ad hoc improvisation and the pattern of not having the armor in the fight. In some cases, warriors of sagas put on festive tunics before a fight; in the most dramatic moments of their life, fashion was more desirable than good protection. Frankish and English illuminations from the 10th – 12th centuries depict a variety of warriors clad only in caps and tunics. It is reasonable to assume that padding was virtually identical to those typical, civilian clothes, and their protective function was achieved by layering them. That means, a classic tunic (kyrtill/skyrta), knee-length garment without buttons or fastening, with long sleeves and gores. The neckline could have a lapel and collar to protect the neck, as Skjoldehamn and Guddal tunics. Likewise, coats (Klappenrock) or Eastern caftans with buttons could, of course, serve the same function.
Cotton Ms. Cleo. C VIII, fol. 18v, the end of the 10th century.
This solution is illustrated in at least a few sources. The first is the illumination of the Anglo-Saxon version of The Psychomachia of Prudentius (fol. 18v, see the picture), which dates back to the late 10th century. In this illumination one can see two fighters – dancers in short ring shirts with dagged edges and under tunics that reach the knees and wrists. Practically the same solution appears in several manuscripts illuminations from the 10th – 11th century (see eg. a scene from The Book of Maccabees of St. Gallen, Fulda Sacramentary, The Golden Gospels of Echternach, The life of St. AlbinandStavelot Bible). There are also literary sources with statements about fabric under armor, namely Saga of Magnus the Good (ch. 29), which states that “King Magnus threw off from him his coat of ring-mail, and had a red silk shirt outside over his clothes [ok hafði yzta rauða silkiskyrtu] […].”
Expected reconstruction warrior stored in Gjermundbu, 10th century. Taken from Hjardar – Vike 2011: 155.
This short quotation forces us to imagine a padding as several layered tunics. Personally, we use this solution and it allows the wearer to freely add / remove the number of layers, clean tunics separately and finally use separate tunics outside the combat context. Two Norwegian finds – Skjoldehamn and Guddal – contained paired tunics, which have been experimentally proven by us to be a good protection against cold and padding worn under the mail armor.
We can also imagine that padding could be made from tunics sewn together showing that padding is a special war garment that hardly finds application in a non-combat situations. It is often argued that Byzantine sources describe padding that is similar to a gambeson. An anonymous treatise on the strategy from the 6th century gives a particularly interesting testimony:
“There should also be a space between the armor and the body. It should not be worn directly over ordinary clothing, as some do to keep down the weight of the armor, but over a garment at least a finger thick. There are two reasons for this. Where it touches the body the hard metal may not chafe but may fit and lie comfortably upon the body. In addition, it helps to prevent the enemy missiles from hitting the flesh […].”(The Anonymous Byzantine Treatise on Strategy, §16, ed. G. T. Dennis )
In Scandinavia, the existence of such a one-pieced textile represents the term treyja, which could mean that specialized clothing began to be used in the later period (11th / 12th century onwards), but due to the nature of our sources, we can neither accept or reject this idea with 100% certainty. We have to admit that both variants are possible. Thickness of the special garment could be around 1 centimeter. During the making of such a piece of clothing, we would personally avoid excessive quilting; we would only stitched the layers at hems.
Armors with possible integral lining. A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry. Around 1070’s AD.
Scandinavian iconography suggests that the length of padding adapted to the length of chain mail. It is even possible to think about the intergral lining of the mail armor, as the Bayeux Tapestry suggests; it shows armors carried on spears, not worn by anyone, with wide coloured borders, perhaps suggesting that the padding was in some way integral to the armor itself, and scenes on the border also depict armor being removed from men that are clearly naked underneath, which also suggests integral padding that is removed with the mail. The Psychomachia of Prudentius and other contemporary illuminations, however, shows the opposite. With few exceptions, we can say that until the early 11th century, Scandinavians surely used shorter mail armors, with the length up to 70 cm and short sleeves. Mail components, such as protection over the neck or legs, were missing. During the 11th century, we can observe how the armor lengthened, which was due to Continental influence and which culminated in the use of a complete mail armor set.
We are strictly against the use of modern padding, which is haphazardly stitched together and which looks more like rags or slave clothing. The padding – no matter how it looked – had to be aesthetically pleasing and had to reflect the status of the owner. Some reenactors and organizers of festivals like to say there are no sources, so every version is possible. The goal that we reenactors should achieve is the least disturbing look that is in accordance with what we can see or read in sources. Now we will compare the Viking Recreation combat of the Modern Western European style to Modern Eastern European style. Modern Western (example here) is a style where the head is not a legal target and the force of blows is much less. This style combat is so safe it allows one to use no armor, and the historical look can be maintained. On the other hand, Modern Eastern style fighters (example here) are focused on hits with full force to protected target zones – a system that is illogical from the historical perspective. Western tradition allows to use a tunic as the main protective layer, while it is better to use more layers in the Eastern approach. The result we would like to achieve is that the armor can look historically correct in both styles, but with the different number of layers. On several occasions, we have fought in modern Eastern style battles with nothing but one tunic worn without mail armor; it turned to be a fight for our lives, the realistic feeling which gives one so much adrenalin to ignore hits from blunt weapons. Layered tunics, whether sewn or not, could be a good compromise between these two extreme approaches.
We hold the opinion the image of reenactors is crucial in the reenactment. We strove for a quality article, but we can not completely demonstrate our thoughts without photos. Therefore, you can find a gallery below. We hope that the gallery will extend in the future. If you have any image of the appropriate padding, you can, of course, send it to us and we will publish it.
Fabric armor of Roman Král.
Padding of Roman Král.
Armor of Roman Král.
Fabric armor of Jan Zajíc.
Padding of Jan Bělina.
Armor of Jan Bělina.
Armor of Jakub Jirásek.
My own padding made of tunics.
My own armour.
Integral linen and woolen lining of the armor. David Constantine.
Fabric armor of Hynek Raška.
Fabric armor of Petera Kováč.
Fabric armor of Michal Zemčák.
Fabric armor of Štefan Železník.
Fabric armor of Tomáš Vosátka.
Armor of Matej Chmelár.
Armor of Peter Šimčák.
An interpretation of Vendel Age coat of Matt Bunker.
We believe that the problem has been overlooked so far and the battlefields are full of non-historical armors that look more like the Michelin-Man. In order to change the current trend, the discussion has been led, and therefore we are open to opinion and are willing to participate in further debates. The article was well accepted and a separate addition, “War coat – an experiment“, was written. The most important quote from the article says: “For a traveling fighter, it is impractical to carry civilian clothes and extra special combat protection, I think. It is more advantageous to combine these two requirements into one.”
I hope you liked reading this article. If you have 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.
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)
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).
„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.
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.“ (WZGIII: 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 (WZGIII: 317, Note 75).
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)
Taken from Hjardar – Vike 2011: 190.
We can see that different authors hold different opinions on the method of the decoration:
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.
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.
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.
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 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 sword hilts 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, Late Vendel period 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 into three subtypes (Petersen 1919: 126–134), his typology was recently 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 (C 16380) 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 Geibig’s type 2 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 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. It 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 applied 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 woodworking and leatherworking – 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. It weighs 1280 grams; 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. Each wooden sheet is less than 5 mm thick, which seems to be a thickness of some preserved pieces (Androshchuk 2014: 43). The leather was sewn on the inner side and was stained in the end. The baldric can be suspended thanks to the ash wood bridge-like slide with animal head terminals, which is attached to the scabbard by twisted yarn. Such a method is highly dubious, but possible, if the extent of our knowledge about Viking Age suspension methods are taken in account. Basically, two main methods are known:
slider method. This method seems to be typical for Pre-Viking and Viking Age Scandinavia and England. The scabbard has only one fixed point; the baldic goes through the slider that is placed on the front side of the scabbard, longitudinally positioned a bit below the mouth. The slider can be integral part of the scabbard (for example Broomfield, Wickhambreux), or it can be separate and fitted to the scabbard. Fitted sliders could be made of metal, horn, antler or wood, and could be placed under the leather cover (York, Gloucester) or onto it (Valsgärde). No preserved slider from the Viking Age is known; however, short longitudinal slits in the leather for letting a baldric pass through were observed during the examination of English scabbards (Androshchuk 2014: 105; Mould et al. 2003: 3355-3366).
The diagram of visible slits on scabbards from York. Taken from Mould et al. 2003: 3363, Fig. 1688.
Carolingian method and Ballateare-Cronk Moar type. This method is about two fixed points on the scabbard. Fixed points could be achieved by many ways, but I prefer to point out that they were perpendicularly positioned. The usage of two fixed points was the reason why this method needs a strap-divider. Generally speaking, this method involve the usage of metal parts, and that´s why we can trace this method much better than the previous one, even though it was used in a limited way in Viking Age Scandinavia (see Ungerman 2011).
Carolingian type of suspension. Taken from Androshchuk 2014: Figs. 61, 67.
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.
Mould et al. 2003 = Mould, Q., Carlisle, I, Cameron, E. (2003). Craft Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. The small finds 17/16, York.
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.
Ungerman 2011 = Ungerman, Š. (2011). Schwertgurte des 9. bis 10. Jahrhunderts in West- und Mitteleuropa. In: Macháček, J. – Ungerman, Š. (ed.), Frühgeschichtliche Zentralorte in Mitteleuropa. Studien zur Archäologie Europas 14, Bonn, pp. 575–608.
Żabiński 2007 = Żabiński, Grzegorz (2007). Viking Age Swords from Scotland. In. Acta Militaria Mediaevalia III, Kraków – Sanok, pp. 29–84.
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.
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.”
Gulaþingslǫg 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 beperceived as highly valued objects. The shields could be painted and further accentuated by beautiful decorations. Associating a high quality shield with mythology orancestral 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Byzantian axes, Baltic axes of Kirpičnikov type IV etc., 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 talking about 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 that occured in 10th century in big part of Europe. 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, or better, to the centralisation of power.
Petersen type M is defined as an iron broad axehead with expanded, wedge-shaped and very thin (usually 2–5 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 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 the present days. Vike (2016: 96–97) speaks about six Norwegian axes (13.2–21.3 cm long and 15.3–25.3 cm broad) that weigh 273–603 grams in current state, and the author calculates that original axes could weigh 600–800 grams.
The most massive example I am aware of comes from Wetrowo, Kaliningrad Region. The size of the axe, which is now deposited in Berlin, is quite impressive – 23 cm in length and 33 cm in width. Another big axe was found in the River Thames (see here); it is 24.4 cm long, 28 cm broad and it weighs 966 grams. It is needed to point out that such big axes are very rare. 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 axeheads are decorated. The decoration (often consisting of a cross) can be distinguished into five types:
engraved ornaments. The axe from Blichowo (Kotowicz 2013: 44, Fig. 4; see here) has the butt carved with a Greek cross.
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).
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). This method of decoration seems to be particularly popular in Finland, with at least three examples inlayed with silver found in 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).
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.
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, this type seems to be quite popular in Scandinavia in that type; there are 9 examples, mainly from Denmark and Sweden, 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 are 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.
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: 77–78) 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:
24–60 cm: 13 examples (18.31 %)
60–90 cm: 50 examples (70.42 %)
90+ cm: 8 examples (11.27 %)
The length of 60–90 cm (mainly 70–80 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 70–90 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; 950–1050 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.
Vike (2016: 107–108) points out that Slavic tradition used shafts simply made of young trees of various shapes, but Scandinavian tradition consisted of shafts 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; 29.19 %), maple (44 examples; 21.05 %), ash (36 examples; 17.22 %) and oak (19 examples; 9.09 %).
Shafts of Slavic (number 1) and Scandinavian traditions (number 2). Taken from Vike 2016: 108, Fig. 14.
Cross section of shaft fragments of axes from Lundehall and Langeid.
Shafts of three Petersen type M axes from Lough Corrib were made of cherry wood, as well as the fragment of wood found with type M axe from Langeid. The shaft of axe from Vorma is made of spruce. Shafts of axes from Lednica are made of 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 (4 examples: 2× Oseberg, 1 × Reykjavík, 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. 2–4.2 cm × 2–4.2 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. The problem was recently described by Vegard Vike (2016).
made of 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: 451–453).
made of brass/bronze. Six examples of this decoration were found in Norway (C 24243, C 25583, C 27132, C 29866, C 57235, C 58882; see here). The ferrule of axe from Langeid is made of 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 eight examples come from Gotland (SHM 484 Gr. 4, SHM 4815, SHM 7785:93a, SHM 8064:196, SHM 14855, SHM 14885, SHM 19273, SHM 22297). There are three 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 Region (see here, I am indebted to Piotr Kotowicz for this information). There are at least two finds of decorated shaft wrapping of brass plate from 10th century Latgalian graves in Lithuania (see here and here, Kotowicz 2008: 452–453).
made of 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).
Dominant types of brass/bronze fitted shafts. Taken from Vike 2016: 105, Fig. 12.
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; some metal fitting could serve as external wedges. Even though wedges are not common, we can find some evidence for both wooden and metal wedges. Three axes from Lough Corrib were secured with wooden wedges, as was probably the axe from Hallingby (C 25583). Petersen type M axe from Ballinderry Crannóg was secured with a wooden wedge and a metal nail (see here). Petersen type M axes from Velo Vestre (C 24243) and Hunninge (SHM 19273) are also secured with metal spikes . One axe from Lednica (no. 102; Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2013: 204–205; see here) is secured with a metal wedge. The recently found axe from Hårup, Denmark, was secured with one big nail that goes through the eye (see here). Pedersen (2014: Pl. 4, 21, 32, 57) shows at least 4 more Danish axes secured with metal wedges, including the axe from Trelleborg.
Three main methods of fixing of the axehead to the shaft, Taken from Vike 2016: 109, Fig. 15.
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, 2 finds from Norway, 2 finds from Dublin and 1 from Novgorod. They belong to two types and are made of alder, beech, birch, juniper, oak, pine, spruce, yew and willow wood. Moreover, there are two antler found in Sigtuna. In our context, the most interesting sheaths come from Schleswig; one 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. The second sheath from Schleswig could belong to an axe with 235 mm long edge. There is no doubt that sheaths like these served to protect blades from blunting and rust.
Type 1 Type 2
In this chapter, axeheads, shafts and methods of fixing will be discussed.
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 uses 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 examplehereorhere). 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. 970–995:
“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 4 axes.
Another (Byzantine and Russian pictures). This group contains only 5 depicted axes.
High Middle Ages pictures. 12 axes were selected to this group.
To sum up, 41 axes were included. 38 of them are depicted together with men. We can distinguish two basic forms:
standard axes, with the length varying between 3 and 4 feet (91–122 cm). Sankiewicz and Wyrwa (2013: 76) suggested the length ofapproximately 3 feet and 6 thumbs (107 cm). Axes of this length are usually depicted in the fight. 35 depicted axes belong to this form.
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 (122–152 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 axes did 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 23 cases, warriors with axes wear a better form of body protection (chain-mails, scale armours, gambesons) or noble clothing. Similarly, in 25 cases, warriors have helmets. Together with axes, 11 swords and 8 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.
In at least 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 or a defense. 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 three cases, men carry 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 messengres 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”. A similar design is shown at the miniature axe from Avnsøgård, Denmark. In my article “Axes with crosses“, I agreed with Kotowicz (2008: 447-448, Note 16), who put these “open bladed” 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 (34) 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 of 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, and probably occured in special cases. 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.
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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. Online. Latin version can be reached here.
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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.
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A 14th century depiction of both handed axe from Novgorod. Taken from Paulsen 1956: 99, Abb. 39.
Ve třináctém dílu si představíme muže mnohých kvalit, přátelského a zručného řemeslníka, velitele skupiny Marobud a mého dobrého přítele, který je v českém „vikinském“ prostředí dobře znám. Nejde o nikoho jiného než o Jana Zbránka, alias „Jóna“.
Jan a jeho dvojče Jakub (Valgarð) se na české reenactorské scéně pohybují od roku 2007, respektive od roku 2010, kdy začali jezdit na historické festivaly. Od té doby si vybudovali solidní jméno díky svým bojovým a řemeslným dovednostem, které zahrnují zpracování kovu, dřeva a kůže. V současné době provozují Skallagrim – Viking Jewelry a Janovo zboží můžete zhlédnout v níže přiložené galerii. V současné době se Jan věnuje výrobě odlévaných replik a ražbě replik dobových mincí.
Jan se snaží rekonstruovat norského hersiho (dědičný titul nižšího šlechtice) v 10. století. Je si vědom, že jeho kostým obsahuje spoustu výpůjček z jiných částí Skandinávie, a dodává, že kostým je rozdělaný projekt, který neustále upravuje, doplňuje a který nebude nikdy hotov. Zpětně přiznává, že inspiromat mu pomohl uvědomit si řadu kostýmových nedostatků. Jelikož znám Jana dlouho, tak vím, že jeho kostým bude za dva roky vypadat úplně jinak, protože je člověkem, který se neustále přehodnocuje své názory a podle nich formuje vybavení.
Kostým se skládá z vlněné čapky lemované kožešinou (na fotkách též vlněná čapka s textilním lemem), lněné košile a vlněné tuniky lemované červeným hedvábím (na fotkách si můžeme také všimnout bílé vlněné nebo červené vlněné tuniky), úzkých kalhot stažených modrými ovinkami z ručně tkané a přírodně barvené vlny, které jsou fixované tkanicí nebo replikou háčku z norského Vesle Hjerkinn. Na nohou si můžeme všimnout kotníkové převrácené kožené obuvi. Tunika je přepásána opaskem s mosazným/bronzovým kováním zdobeným ve stylu Borre, na kterém je zavěšený nůž se širokým hřbetem v pochvě s bronzovým kováním a kožená brašna podle ruského nálezu (originál uložený v Moršansku). Civilní kostým dozdobuje stříbrný drátkový náhrdelník („knit“) s replikou kladiva z dánského z Tågesmosenu (kladivo odpovídá typu používanému v 10. a 11. století) a kladiva z norského Huse. Ručně tkaný modrý plášť je sepnut replikou spony z norské lokality Averøen.
Bojový kostým tvoří krzno s vlněné deky, nýtovaná kroužková zbroj s krátkým rukávem a sahající do půli stehen, meč typu O podle nálezu z Dukstadu s pochvou s dřevěným jádrem zavěšenou přes rameno, sekera typu Y, kopí typu G, prkýnkový štít s umbem zdobeným bronzovým plíškem podle nálezu z Birky, replika jednokusové přilby z Olomouci , která je opatřena nýtovaným závěsem přišitým na batvat, který je do přilby upevněn koženým řemínkem, a jednoduchý kožený nátepník.
Následuje galerie. Jan varuje, že některé fotky jsou zastaralé, neaktuální a neodráží současný stav kostýmu.
Za poskytnutí fotek a za popis svého kostýmu děkuji svému hersimu Janu Zbránkovi.