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Thread: Archaeological Report on Viking Shields

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    Supporter Thjoth's Avatar
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    Archaeological Report on Viking Shields

    This is for those of you that may want to reconstruct proper shields, for use in re-enactment or decorating things such as shrines (or just decoration in general, if you're into that). One of the most important things to note is that shields were disposable when they were used as main-line battle implements, so they were constructed cheaply and lightly. I will likely be constructing one soon. This is a bit data heavy, but it's a good read.

    http://woeka.no-ip.org/byfrost/Viking%20Shields.pdf
    "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."
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    Let a man never stir on his road a step
    without his weapons of war;
    for unsure is the knowing when the need shall arise
    of a spear on the way without.
    -Hávamál

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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Archaeological Report on Viking Shields

    Very cool, Thjoth!

    I can't remember if I've talked to you about this before, but are you familiar with Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques by John Clements? He discusses the use of an edge protection running around the shield. The article you reference points out that they were used at some times, but not at others. Clements points out that the advantage of a rimless wood shield is that one's oponent is likely to bury the edge of his/her weapon in the shield edge, giving you a brief, but solid, advantage.

    One thing I noticied in the drawings from the article is that the grip seems to be in line with the grain of the wood - I'm not sure how, exactly, a Viking shield is used, but you might want to make sure you pay attention to what side of the shield is most commonly in the "up" position. Weapon strikes on shields most commonly come from above (right or left), after that they come from below (usually right, unless the swordsman is left handed), but very rarely from the side.

    You'll want to make sure that the weapon is most likely to strike the wood crossgrain, rather than on the end grain - if you've ever split wood with an axe, you'll know why...

    Good luck with the project... I got a shield making date in my future as well!
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    Supporter Thjoth's Avatar
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    Re: Archaeological Report on Viking Shields

    I've seen Clements' stuff before, or at least I'm familiar with the name. Another function of that edge protection (for the iron strip type edge protector), or at least one that I've thought of, is as a hammer. It creates an opening because you turn your shield up, but I can see deflecting a spear with the sword or hand axe and slamming the spearman in the face with that shield's edge. He definitely wouldn't expect it, anyway, and if you do it fast enough he's going to be out cold with no chance to defend himself. It would work especially well on those spearmen that wind up overextending themselves after a few exchanges. I'm sure you know the type.

    In use, the grip/crossbar would be vertically oriented and the individual planks would be horizontal. At least, that's how I always hold them. It's a more natural position, plus by bending your wrist you can deflect strikes to one side or the other without putting a lot of effort into it, and it avoids the splitting problem. Just flick the wrist and step to the side, and even an axe coming at you just glances off. In fact, I think you could safely say that that was probably the way the shields were used more often than not. Just look at how thin they are. If an axe hits that squarely, the axe head is going to come right through basically any part of that except the boss. That's why I think we almost universally have the wrong idea about how the old viking age shields were used, probably thanks to how the later knights of the middle ages used theirs.

    If you've ever seen anyone fighting with something like one of the later ~8" steel bucklers, I think that's how the larger shields were intended to be used in hand to hand combat. Any blow you wanted to stop was caught on the boss (which, if you look at it, is curiously very similar to those small steel bucklers that appeared later) or with your own blade, but by and large you use the wooden portion shield to deflect the strike around you rather than stop it dead. Considering the construction of just about every extant shield, I think that's how they were actually meant to be used.

    I really want to test this, but I don't really have anyone that will try to severely injure me with an axe so that I can try it out, which is unfortunate. I keep asking people to try to hit me with an axe but they keep refusing :/

    EDIT: Also, I forgot. In the link I gave in the OP, it also mentions these iron clamp type devices that are found around the edges of the shield sometimes. It mentions that sometimes the entire edge of the shield is lined with the things, but other times their placement is sporadic, presumably in order to repair damage. If I were a viking and I wanted a light shield that could stop edge blows, I think I would place those clamps in a 45 degree arc across the top of the shield. That would keep it relatively light and save on the cost of iron, but still give that top edge (which, as you noted, gets hit most commonly) good resistance to splitting.
    "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."
    -Thomas Jefferson

    Let a man never stir on his road a step
    without his weapons of war;
    for unsure is the knowing when the need shall arise
    of a spear on the way without.
    -Hávamál

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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Archaeological Report on Viking Shields

    Quote Originally Posted by Thjoth View Post
    I've seen Clements' stuff before, or at least I'm familiar with the name.
    The book I mentioned is very good - Clemments spent a lot of time trying out weapons & shields, with reference to fightbook instructions. He has a couple of chapeters on Medieval shields and sword/shield combat. You might end up disagreeing with everything he has to say, but it would still be a good reference and point to work from. since we really can't find out much about the actual combat techniques of the Vikings, we're pretty much stuck with working backwards from Medieval techniques (early Medieval swords and shields were virtually identical to what the Vikings were using in terms of size, shape and weight, and body mechanicas is always the same, so it's a reasonable way of working).

    Yes - I'd be almost certain that the shield was also used for bashing people in the teeth, probasbly exactly the way you describe it. I know that later swordsmen used the shields that way (the Codex Wallerstein has an entire section on shield only combat - pictures, but no text).


    In use, the grip/crossbar would be vertically oriented and the individual planks would be horizontal. At least, that's how I always hold them. It's a more natural position, plus by bending your wrist you can deflect strikes to one side or the other without putting a lot of effort into it, and it avoids the splitting problem. Just flick the wrist and step to the side, and even an axe coming at you just glances off. In fact, I think you could safely say that that was probably the way the shields were used more often than not. Just look at how thin they are. If an axe hits that squarely, the axe head is going to come right through basically any part of that except the boss. That's why I think we almost universally have the wrong idea about how the old viking age shields were used, probably thanks to how the later knights of the middle ages used theirs.
    That makes sense... like you say, the shield would be too flimsy to take many direct blows, and making it stronger would make it too heavy & unwieldy for effective use. It's amazing how quickly the pounds can add up!

    ...Any blow you wanted to stop was caught on the boss (which, if you look at it, is curiously very similar to those small steel bucklers that appeared later) or with your own blade, but by and large you use the wooden portion shield to deflect the strike around you rather than stop it dead. Considering the construction of just about every extant shield, I think that's how they were actually meant to be used.
    Yup - I'll bet that you are right - even when you are using a bastard or two handed sword, the key is in deflection, rather than stopping. In addition to saving wear and tear on the weapons, deflection also allows you to make openings. In single combat (at least) the key to fighting well is to make use of every possiblity - if, for instance, you sword is pushed out of line, you still have two hands on the hilt, which can be rammed down a nearby throat...

    I really want to test this, but I don't really have anyone that will try to severely injure me with an axe so that I can try it out, which is unfortunate. I keep asking people to try to hit me with an axe but they keep refusing :/
    LOL - you just have to get somebody mad enough...

    I was also thinking about those metal bits used around the edge - they would be great for quick repairs. I was wondering if they might also be used on the end grain to prevent splitting (that's what got me thinking about it in the first place). I've seen pictures of "H" shaped metal bits used on the shield faces, most likely to close up a crack (I'd imagine).
    Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.

    I can't do everything, but I can do something.

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