If you’ve watched enough movies, animations, or Asterix to be specific, then it’s likely that you associate the horned helmet with the Vikings. In this article, we are going to tell you all about the Viking helmet, and stating what the facts and the myths are. Ultimately, you’ll be able, to tell the truth about a people void of the stereotypes that many have come to embrace.
What’s a Viking helmet called
The truth is that Viking helmets did not have a horn. Those that do have are the imagination of one costume designer called Carl Eml Doepler. The actual Viking helmet that did not have horns were called spangenhelms or Gjemundbu helmets or even Coppergade helmets apart from the simple Viking helmet. These names were a reference to how the helmet got made, which was through putting different pieces together (you will learn later why).
Where did the idea of the horned helmet come from?
As mentioned, it was the idea of the costume designer Carl Eml Doepler, and even then, one cannot say it is his sole fault. It is popular culture that picked it up and turned it into one of the things that we associate with when it comes to Vikings, though inaccurate. It is essential to know that the idea of the horned helmet hailed from Germany.
What does a Viking helmet look like
As mentioned in the introduction, many assume that the Viking helmets contained horns at the top of them. However, that was not the case. They were quite essential; they consisted of a bowl that, when you put on your head, would form the helmet. Additionally, they had a nose guard too, which was also part of the helmet’s design. While the idea that the helmets had a horn appear to add more character to the Vikings, that is not the reality of what they did indeed wear.
Traditionally, the helmet itself got made from one piece of iron that goes hammered into shape. However, there was an easier method of combining several pieces of iron, which was referred to as the spangenhelm style of the helm. Apart from being easy, it required less labor. It was thought that the iron they used at the time, the bog iron, was harder to work with and couldn’t make a full bowl version of an iron helmet in one go.
For the most part, when people see the nose guard on the helmet, they are unsure of what the reason for it is. If you think about it, when someone hits your face during combat, it is very likely that your nose will break. However, if you have a guard that can prevent that, at least on the first blow, then you have something else to worry about and focus your attention on. The other thing to note is that the nose guard tends to be further away from the face, so getting your nose broken will be rather hard unless quite a lot of force gets used.
The other aspect that people think about when it comes to helmets is what got used on the inside to create a barrier between the head and the helmet. The reason for that is that if the helmet got hit and there was nothing between the helmet and the head, then the skull would receive the full blow from the weapon and cause a dent. Therefore, it only makes sense for there to be a shock absorber that would insulate the fighter from seeing stars as is typical in animations and other movies.
Instead, it is thought that the Viking would use either a think later of leather or sheepskin that would absorb most of the force and keep the skull safe. In the case of the sheepskin, it would have served another purpose apart from insulating most of the shock. The other use for a later of leather, and then, perhaps, a layer of ship skin, was that it could also absorb the sweat that inevitably comes from being out in the sun or being engaged in combat.
How useful were helmets?
However, from Viking sagas, we learn that these helmets were not strong. In one of the narratives, we learn that a man struck another with an ax on the helmet, and the result was that the other man got through overboard, for they were on the ship and into the sea. That happened when the character, after making the strike and trying to remove their ax (which had penetrated the helmet and skull), and tossed the man overboard as he was trying to use equal force to remove their ax.
It is not only axes that could go through the helmet. There is also literature that a sword was equally able to penetrate the helmet. One is, therefore, likely to assume that helmets got used for less serious bumps in the battlefield that would otherwise protect them from bruising and the rest. Otherwise, the helmet could also serve a person’s disadvantage, which was also unfortunate. Hitting an opponent’s helmet gave a person enough time to deal with another blow while the opponent was disoriented.
Overall, helmets were expensive to make. For that reason, there were not commonplace on the battlefield. For those who could afford them, they used the even after the battle, making mends where possible. The helmet’s owner would use if as long as it was still functional and even handing down the helmet for use until it could no longer get used because the metal got thin. Even then, the remaining evidence of helmets that got used is available in fragments are the metals were unable to withstand the test of time.
The Vikings tend to have a larger than life definition to war, the most mistaken being a helmet that contains to horns. That is not the reality on the literal ground, where it’s been discovered that the Vikings were indeed simple when it came to their helmets.
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