Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques

William R. Short

Westholme Publishing

Once again available from your favorite bookseller.

A history of the arms, armor, and individual fighting strategies of medieval Europe's most feared warriors.

A source of enduring fascination, the Vikings are the most famous raiders of medieval Europe. Despite the exciting and compelling descriptions in the Icelandic sagas and other contemporary accounts that have fueled this interest, we know comparatively little about Viking age arms and armor as compared to weapons from other historical periods. We know even less about how the weapons were used. While the sagas provide few specific combat details, the stories are invaluable. They were written by authors familiar with the use of weapons for an audience that, likewise, knew how to use them. Critically, the sagas describe how these weapons were wielded not by kings or gods, but by ordinary men, as part of their everyday lives.

Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques provides an introduction to the arms and armor of the Vikings, the people who lived in Northern Europe during the Viking age, roughly the years 793–1066. Using a variety of available sources, including medieval martial arts treatises, and copiously illustrated with images of historical artifacts, battle sites, and demonstrations of modern replicas of Viking weapons, the author and his colleagues at Hurstwic (a firm specializing in Viking-age combat training and research) and at the Higgins Armory Sword Guild have reconstructed the combat techniques of the Viking age and what is known about the defensive and offensive weapons of the time in general.

Throughout, the author corrects some popular misconceptions about Viking warriors and warfare, such as the belief that their combat techniques were crude and blunt rather than sophisticated. In addition, the book provides an overview of Viking history and culture, focusing on the importance of weapons to the society as well as the Vikings’ lasting impact on Europe through their expeditions of trade and exploration.

Please be aware that in the years since the book was written, our research has advanced. Some of the ideas in the book no longer represent our current thinking about how Vikings fought and used their weapons.

ISBN: 978-1-59416-217-6
192 pages
280 B/W illustrations

Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques

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Book Contents:

chapter 1


  • scope and limits of the text

  • Icelandic personal and place names

  • terminology used in the text

chapter 2

Chapter 1: Overview of Weapons in Viking-Age Society

  • review of Viking history

  • honor and fate in Viking culture

  • law in Viking culture

  • feuds, dueling, and a culture of conflict

  • women in Viking society

  • the place of weapons in Viking society

chapter 3

Chapter 2: Available Sources

  • archaeological sources

  • literary sources

    • medieval combat manuals

    • medieval Icelandic literature

  • pictorial sources

  • forensic evidence

chapter 5

Chapter 3: Shields

  • historical shields: literary vs. archaeological evidence

  • uses of the shield

    • aggressive defense

    • offensive uses

    • passive uses

    • decorative uses


Chapter 4: Helmets

  • historical helmets

    • types

    • construction

    • other defenses for the head

  • helmet use and limitations in combat

chapter 6

Chapter 5: Mail

  • historical mail

    • shirts and other forms of mail

    • mail construction

  • use of mail in battle

    • limits to the protection offered by mail

    • penetration of mail by weapons

chapter 7

Chapter 6: Other Personal Defenses in the Viking Age

  • objects used intentionally for defense

  • objects used unintentionally for defense

chapter 8

Chapter 7: Battle Axes

  • historical axes

    • wood axes: heavy and crude

    • battle axes: light and speedy

  • uses of axes

    • hooking and catching tricks

    • use of the axe hammer and horns

    • techniques from later combat manuals

chapter 9

Chapter 8: Spears

  • historical spears

    • variations in spear heads

    • construction of spear heads

  • uses of spears

    • as missiles

    • as thrusting weapons

    • techniques from later combat manuals

chapter 10

Chapter 9: Saxes

  • historical saxes

    • variations in historical sax blades

    • construction techniques

  • uses of saxes

    • techniques from later combat manuals

chapter 11

Chapter 10: Swords

  • historical swords

    • parts of a sword

    • typical dimensions and weights

  • construction of swords

    • pattern welding with photos of in-process blades

    • decorative techniques including inlay

    • weaknesses of sword blades

  • other aspects of swords

    • acquisition and maintenance of swords

    • scabbard construction

chapter 12

Chapter 11: Viking-Age Sword and Shield Combat Techniques

  • summary of techniques from later combat manuals

  • fundamentals

  • illustrated examples of combat sequences

  • other aspects of the fight

  • weapons training in historical times

  • skill with weapons in historical times


chapter 13

Chapter 12: Other Offensive Weapons in the Viking Age

  • longbow

  • recurve bow

  • atgeirr, bryntröll, and other unknown weapons

  • rocks and other everyday items

chapter 14

Chapter 13: The End of the Viking Age

  • changes in Europe that brought about the end of the Viking Age

  • the Viking heritage






About the Author

Why I Wrote This Book


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