what is a viking shield designs and meanings

If you’re interested in the Viking era, then it makes total sense to know all there is about the tools they used at the time, both for war and daily uses. There is indeed a lot of interest in the Viking era, and it’s with good reason. There is a lot of representation of them in the media, and people want to know how accurate they are. In this article, we are exploring the Viking shield and answering various questions about it.

What is a Viking Shield

A Viking shield is different from the typical shield encountered in history for a few reasons. One of them is that they were round and wooden shields that had a grip handle at the back made from an iron boss. These shields also date back to the Iron Age. The shields found during this time were not all the same; there were variations that we shall discuss below. They also had multiple uses that we’ll explore to give you the complete picture when it comes to Viking shields.

What does a Viking shield look like

From the sagas that you find recording Viking warfare, you will find mention of shields made from linden wood. Linden, also called a Tilia tree, is native to the Northern Hemisphere in the temperate region. In the British Isles, the tree was referred to as the Lime tree, though it has no relationship with the tree that actually produces limes. Linden is what Europeans call this species, while the North American equivalent of the same is basswood. The reason that the Vikings would opt for this wood is that though it is lightweight and easy to work with, it is quite strong and stable too.

The reason linden got used was that it did not split the way oak tends to. When someone tried to cut through the shield, the fibers would bind around the blade. That would make it harder for the sword or ax to go further unless a ton of pressure got applied. During that time, it would give the Viking wielding the ax or spear enough time to retaliate with their weapon.

Even though the wood was strong, it was customary for Vikings to reinforce their shields further. They would use leather, but also from time to time iron around the rim of the shield. It is though the leather used weighed seven to ten kilograms, making the shield heavier. It was also said that the Vikings would apply oil on the shield to make it waterproof. The sizes of each shield found during this era tended to differ. The diameters were anywhere between 40 and 120 centimeters, but the most common was between 75cm and 90cm. The sizes were tailored to suit the men that wielded them.

When it came to how these shields look, most of the drawings show that they were painted a singular color though there were some patterns on it. Most of what got painted on the shields were something simple, such as a cross, divided into segments or derivations of sun wheels. However, there are a few shields that have survived from this type. Those found tend to have more complicated designs and also adorned with ornate gold or silver work around the boss and even the strap anchors.

How were Viking shields used

Viking shields are no different from any other shield used; the shields were mostly for defense. It was something soldiers would wield when they were going to war and used to protect themselves against incoming blows from the enemy. Equally, shields got used a lot for the formation of the shield wall. It was a line of interlocked shields that Vikings made, and from between the spaces, they would thrust spears at the enemies. It was a war tactic that ensured minimal casualties on the Viking side and allowed them to inflict more damage on the enemy.

The same shields got used in creating a wedge configuration that would be a strong type of wall that they would be used to break through the enemy’s front line of their enemies. Given that the shield is both strong and light, they were also used to hit the enemy to disarm them or create enough time to strike back with the ax or spear they had in hand. The point was that it wasn’t just for defense but also an integral part of the fighting.

The other application of shields found during the Viking era is on ships. There were shields that hang on the railing, fasted to remain there. These shields are referred to as shied lists. Their purpose was to protect the crew from the winds and the waves in the sea. Even with these shields, there was some decoration very much as those of the war shields.

The difference is that the decoration on those used on the ship tended to have gotten decorated with mythological scenes. That is perhaps the quickest way to tell what shield got used for what, simply looking at how it has been adorned. There were also decorated shields found that date back to the Viking era that is believed to show a person’s purpose or part of what they used to show their title or ranking during ceremonies. These weren’t used during the war, but rather, for ceremonial purposes.

Another interesting use for Viking shields was that it made for a makeshift stretcher that would carry the wounded from the battlefield. Equally, there is evidence that showed that while most soldiers lacked helmets or armor, one thing they did not fail to have was the shield, as it’s what that gave them maximum protection. Even with that, you would have found that a lot of Vikings had wounds on their feet and even heads.


We hope that this article about Viking shields has indeed given you a fuller picture not just for what they used to defend themselves during the war, but also the other ways shields proved to be both unique and useful.


Viking Jewelry