A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors

Viking Shield Model II Shield
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy, with input by Alexi Goranov

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The shield is one of the most ancient protective devices employed by warriors. Regardless of what form, shape, or size it took, and what construction materials were used, the purpose of the shield was to protect its bearer from blows and missiles during battles. Archeological, literary, and artistic evidence shows that such protective implements were widely used from antiquity until the late 18th century, and are still employed in some parts of the world.

European warriors during the Viking Age (usually defined as the mid-8th to the mid-11th centuries) were no exception and often used shields for protection. Viking shields were almost always flat and round in shape and made of large variety of wood planks, and were often covered with leather. A hole cut in the middle accommodated the shield's grip and the fist of the bearer. The grip had a metal strip for a core, likely with organic scales added to create a more comfortable shape. The hole in the middle was covered with an iron boss of varying shape and size. The front of the shield was usually painted, sometimes with intricate patterns. The edges of the shield were often covered with hide or metal bands for reinforcement. The sizes of these shields varied, without a doubt, but on average their size would have been about 30 inches in diameter. The Viking warriors used the shields not only for individual protection but also interlocked them with the shields of warriors standing on each side to form a "shield wall", a defensive formation that was hard to penetrate as each person was protected in part by the shields of those standing next to them.

The Viking Shield firm, run by Jim Adelsen, is a source for Viking arms and armour, from swords to helmets, to various Viking accoutrements such as jewelry and tunics. As their name implies, their handmade shields are a large part of their business, and they have different models to accommodate different needs. The Model II version reviewed here is meant to be a reasonably accurate shield, sacrificing some authenticity when compared to other models in order to keep price reasonable, but still able pass the standards of many reenactment groups.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:8 pounds, 9 ounces
Overall diameter:29 inches
Boss diameter:7 inches
Boss opening:6 inches (where gripped)

Replica created by Viking Shield of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Handling Characteristics
There is very little surviving information on exactly how individuals fought with shields. One of the common images most modern people have about fighting with a shield is that the shield is held with the face towards the enemy, and that the fighter "hides" behind it, moving it around whenever the oncoming attack is from a different angle. If one used this shield in such manner, the shield feels a little slow in motion and recovery. The shield is a little hefty, and moving the shield around will tire the arm fairly easily if one is not used to it. That said, recent research shows that this may not be how people fought.

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Detail of Planks

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Forearm Strap

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Detail of Boss

Stephen Hand has published articles in the SPADA and SPADA II Anthologies of Swordsmanship on his research showing that Viking shields may have involved less movement of the shield, and more movement of the feet. Hand shows movements such as holding the shield so that the rim faces towards the opponent. When the opponent attempts to attack the open side, one would rotate the shield to cover the inside of the body while simultaneously stepping out of the way and attacking. In this manner the user moves around the shield more than the shield moving more around the user.

I have found that this shield is not cumbersome at all when used with this style of fighting. I do find it slightly on the heavy side, and Jim Adelsen of Viking Shield did concede that historical shields were often built of lighter materials. Many modern users will use their shields in ways where they take more repeated direct impact rather than trying to make glancing deflections, which will wear the shield down faster. Also, warriors probably did not worry too much about replacing a cracked shield. Modern users are more likely to be upset when spending well over a hundred dollars and having their shield show signs of damage. Because of this it is not surprising for this shield to be slightly overbuilt for modern users, even though our historical counterparts seemed to value speed more.

There is a leather forearm strap on this model. I am unaware of historical evidence for the existence of this during this period, though I have noticed that the way most modern shield users hold their shields with the face always forward, the strap makes it easier to carry. On the other hand, fencing in the method outlined by Stephen Hand's work, the strap does not allow for the shield to pivot from left to right, requiring some modification of the technique. This does not mean it can't be used, and many later shields certainly did have a forearm strap, but this should be taken into account when deciding how one wishes to fence.

The central boss is made from 13-gauge mild steel, which is quite thick and should be more than enough for most reenactment or combat groups to fulfill safety requirements.

Fit and Finish
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Rawhide Edging

This is a very attractive shield. It is made of five planks of half-inch plywood, with a cedar grip riveted to the back. The face of the shield is painted but not covered with leather or rawhide as often was done historically. He felt that the extra weight from using thicker wood was already enough, and adding a leather covering would have been too much.

The rim is covered with rawhide to defend the edges of the shield against repeated contact. Jim says he has seen shields with sewn-on rawhide edging, but chose to rivet his edgings to ensure that they do not come off easily.

The boss was typically lined, historically. This example is not and is presumed to be a cost-saving measure. Overall, the shield is well made and smooth, without any noticeably irregular surfaces.

Sources for quality shields are limited, and this becomes an even bigger concern when looking for specific types of shields. Viking Shield is a very nice choice providing a quality product that leaves room for some different options, depending on how accurate the customer needs the shield to be. This Model II shield is a very good piece for most fighters or collectors. While not everything is absolutely accurate, it still captures most of the main elements nicely, and is something that is fully functional and will last a long time whether it sees repeated use or just hangs over the mantle.

About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.

SPADA: An Anthology of Swordsmanship in Memory of Ewart Oakeshott, by Members of Swordplay Syposium International
SPADA II: An Anthology of Swordsmanship, by Stephen Hand (Editor)

Photographer: Bill Grandy

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