The Vikings have generated quite a bit of interest in the past decade, and with good reason. Many are curious about their depictions in the media; is what we see who they were? In this blog, we have looked at various pasts of the Vikings, and today we take a look at how the Viking shield designs. Again, you might need to shed off what you’ve seen to get a more accurate picture of the shield.
What were Viking shields made of?
From the sagas, we find mention of linden wood as being the primary material in making shields. It was a tree native to the Northern Hemisphere, and thus readily available. The wood’s North American equivalent of the same is perhaps basswood. Apart from being present, what the Vikings loved about the wood was its sturdy yet lightweight nature. What’s more, it was easy to work with.
Other appealing aspects of the linden wood showed itself in battle. It did not have the habit of splitting as other wood did when the shield was struck with a blade. Instead, the edge would get stuck since the fibers were strongly intertwined. While the enemy’s weapon was stuck on the shield, that would give the Viking warrior time to jab, cut or spear their opponent. When in the clear, they would take out the stuck weapon off.
It wasn’t only wood that got used in making the shields. While the wood was strong, they needed to reinforce them further. For that, they would use leather applied in oil on the shield’s surface, waterproof it, and make it harder for a blade to penetrate. That did make the shield, in some cases, even ten kilograms heavier. Depending on the era and wealth, it wasn’t uncommon to find a shield with an iron rim for further protection during battle.
What does a Viking shield look like?
The Viking shield looked similar to a lot of what you’ve seen from the past. They were made from wood and reinforced with leather and had other accessories, as we’ve mentioned. The shield did have variations, depending on the Viking age it got made. One significant aspect that changed was in size. A shield ranged between 40 and 120 centimeters diameter-wise, accomodating many variables in the style and the person wielding it. However, the average size was 75cm to 90cm as per the person’s physique and fighting style.
Something to keep in mind was these shields also needed to be strong enough to act as a makeshift stretcher to take the wounded from battle. Thus, the maker had to keep the material and design in mind. In battle, how well your shield held up had to be just as good as how strong and sharp your blade was. There too was a handle fastened with iron nails at the back of the shield for easy wielding.
What do the colors on Viking shields mean?
Remarkably few shields have survived from the Viking era. Most of the remains have a singular color or none, though there were some exceptions. The colors commonly used on Viking shields, as per the sagas and artifacts, were red and white, but in some cases, yellow and black too got used. This knowing of these two colors is based on findings from the 10th-century ship Gokstad. Inside the ship, they found 32 shields, most of which were whole.
It is thought the shields had simple designs, such as a cross or a sun wheel. In some Scandinavian shield drawings and depictions dating back to the 8th century, there was evidence that the Vikings curved emulate designs into their shield as well, using various typically spirals or overlapping circles. Those that did have a complicated look lead archeologist to believe they belonged to royalty. They would have more intricate shapes drawn and then adorned with silver or gold around the edge or strap anchors.
From the Eririks saga, we derived that the red color was thought to show hostility, almost a “we do not come in peace.”. It is, however, not clear what it, and the other colors, symbolized. As the centuries passed, the colors degraded or got lost while excavating, so it would be difficult to state what each color represented. One can only borrow from surrounding cultures and derive that white was the color of life, while black was the color of death. The Vikings did believe in the sun god and thus having yellow on their shields.
Did Vikings really use shield walls?
Yes, it is believed that the Vikings, given their impressive battle tactics, did use the shield wall. It consisted of a lone of interlocking shield they made for several reasons. The first was to protect themselves from archers, who were often the first line of attack. The Vikings would open or close the shield wall based on how they were advancing and the arrows being hurled at them. This tactic would keep the Vikings going after the quavers ran out of arrows.
The other instance the Vikings made a wall was when they needed to advance and push the enemy back. It made sure that the soldiers experienced minimum casualties, which is all the more important when you’re few in battle. From behind the wall, the warriors would use the spaces to thrust spears at their enemies. What happened if the enemy was strong? The shield wall was used to break through the ranks of the enemies. Using their might, they would ram into the enemy, disarming them.
Shield makes for impressive décor in one’s home. If you’re handy with your hands, making your own Viking shield based on the designs shared here and other places would be ultra-impressive. Otherwise, you can purchase souvenirs online that meet the basic requirements- and more- of a Viking shield.
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