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66. VIKING CHIEFTAIN

An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath


66.      VIKING CHIEFTAIN

He wears a cloak, which would be richly embroidered, and a long mail corselet (the hringserkr or hringskyrta, ‘ring-shirt’). Dagger, sword, helmet and shield-face could all be decorated with gold and silver. His main weapon is a double-handed axe which might also be decorated, the blade becoming more crescentic, like that of 120, after the 9th century. The axe is the characteristic weapon of the Vikings in contemporary sources and they excelled in its use; a single axe-armed champion at Stamford Bridge in 1066 is reputed to have killed as many as 40 Saxons!

The helmet he wears dates to the 10th century and echoes the earlier Vendel types, some of which were probably still in use. Despite the misleading and too frequent confusion with Celtic British helmets, NO Viking fighting helmets had horns or wings, though it is possible that horned helmets such as 66a (from the 9th century Oseberg Tapestry) were worn in religious ceremonies since according to Scandinavian myth Odin’s most valued champions, the Einherjar, wore helmets with beaks like eagles and horns like bulls.

Viking shields varied between 24 and 36 inches in width. They were light, made of lime-wood with rims of iron, leather or even bronze, and could be used offensively. Colours were red (by far the most popular), yellow, black, white, and to a lesser extent blue and green; the 64 shields of the 9th century Gokstad ship were painted alternately yellow and black. The leather face could apparently also be divided into halves or quarters and painted in alternate colours, while other sources record shields being painted with mythical scenes, dragons and other creatures. At Nessie in 1015 many of King Olaf’s men had gilt, red or blue crosses on their white shields, though these were Christians. The Gotland picture stones show many shields patterned like that of 59.



Next: 67. VIKING HIRDMAN OR HUSCARL in Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 by Ian Heath