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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2010 11:53 am    Post subject: sea weapons of the viking age         Reply with quote

hi all
i need help getting some info on weapons used during the viking age primarily ranged ones used in ship to ship combat. im very nterested in boarding hooks etc. it would make sense if such things were used but i have been trying to find sources for them and am getting no luck can anyone with knowledge in this help?
i have found roman ones but no viking ones so can anyone help?

for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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Vilkas V.




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2010 1:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the only thing that I have read about sea warfare was they exchanged rocks, arrows, and spears, then jumped into the other boat when they got close enough to duke it out with shield and axe.
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Reece Nelson




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2010 2:21 pm    Post subject: viking ship battles         Reply with quote

I had read that they used to tie there ships together and duke it out. Apparently there wasn't a lot of room to engage in a lot of battles on land, so they would resort to battling on open water.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2010 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While not viking age as such, the Kings mirrort has a descriptions of weapons for use on a late model longship;

"Weapons of many sorts may be used to advantage on shipboard, which one has no occasion to use on land, except in a fortress or castle. Longhandled scythes and long-shafted broadaxes, "war-beams "and staff slings, darts,: and missiles of every sort are serviceable on ships. Crossbows and longbows are useful as well as all other forms of shooting weapons; but coal and sulphur are, however, the most effective munitions of all that I have named. Caltrops cast in lead and good halberds [norse; atgeir] are also effective weapons on shipboard. A tower joined to the mast will be serviceable along with these and many other defenses, as is also a beam cloven into four parts and set with prongs of hard steel, which is drawn up against the mast. A "prow-boar": with an ironclad snout is also useful in naval battles. But it is well for men to be carefully trained in handling these before they have to use them; for one knows neither the time nor the hour when he shall have to make use of any particular kind of weapons. But take good heed to collect as many types of weapons as possible, while you still have no need of them; for it is always a distinction to have good weapons, and, furthermore, they are a good possession in times of necessity when one has to use them. For a ship's defense the following arrangement is necessary: it should be fortified strongly with beams and logs built up into a high rampart, through which there should be four openings, each so large and wide that one or two men in full armor can leap through them; but outside and along the rampart on both sides of the ship there should he laid a level walk of planks to stand upon. This breastwork must be firmly and carefully braced so that it cannot be shaken though one leaps violently upon it. Wide shields and chain mail of every sort are good defensive weapons on shipboard; the chief protection, however, is the gambison made of soft linen thoroughly blackened, good helmets, and low caps of steel. There are many other weapons that can be used in naval fights, but it seems needless to discuss more than those which I have now enumerated. "

The main method of norse fleet actions was to tie the ships of the fleet together as to form a solid line, then meet the enemy fleet head on. In this fashion, you could fight the enemy over the bow of the ship, and the risk of being overrun quickly would be slighter.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201


Last edited by Elling Polden on Mon 25 Oct, 2010 2:29 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2010 2:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vilkas V. wrote:
I think the only thing that I have read about sea warfare was they exchanged rocks, arrows, and spears, then jumped into the other boat when they got close enough to duke it out with shield and axe.


The large Danish axes I would guess could be used as gaffing hooks using the bottom horn of the axe when two ships got close enough to board but I don't know anything about grappling hooks being used ?

A few could hold the other ship along side using their axes for others to board ?

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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2010 3:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Weapon-wise they used pretty much what they used in a battle on land although I suspect that more missles were used at sea. The tying together of ships to form sort of a floating fortress is mentioned in the Sagas, especially the Battle of Svoldr where Olaf Trygvasson met his demise. The idea of the attackers was to take on one or two ships in the fortess at a time, kill the crew then cut the ship loose to sink and head to the next one, and so forth. That must have been a heck of a brawl.
Lin Robinson

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K J Seago




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2010 2:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

any idea what they meant by the gambesons "thoroughly blackened"?
just another student of an interesting subject, Happy
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2010 3:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

K J Seago wrote:
any idea what they meant by the gambesons "thoroughly blackened"?


Uhm, no... Big Grin
The use of the word "sverta" in the kingsmirror is a source of much confusion and debate. it could mean "blackened", or be some textile related term that has since been lost.

It seems that in battles that did not involve the tying together of ships, the ships would manouver for positions, exchanging arrows while the crew covered the oarsmen and archers with shields. At closer range, they would throw anything at hand, tough the M1 General Purpose Kinetic munition (aka rocks) where a favorite. Large numbers of rocks from other regions have been found on the sea floor at the site of norse naval battles. These where often quite large, which makes sense as the enemies have shields.

"If you are fighting on foot in a land battle and are placed at the point of a wedge-shaped column, it is very important to watch the closed shield line in the first onset, lest it become disarranged or broken. Take heed never to bind the front edge of your shield under that of another. You must also be specially careful, when in the battle line, never to throw your spear, unless you have two, for in battle array on land one spear is more effective than two swords.
But if the fight is on shipboard, select two spears which are not to be thrown, one with a shaft long enough to reach easily from ship to ship and one with a shorter shaft, which you will find particularly serviceable when you try to board the enemy's ship. Various kinds of darts should be kept on ships, both heavy javelins and lighter ones. Try to strike your opponent's shield with a heavy javelin, and if the shield glides aside, attack him with a light javelin, unless you are able to reach him with a long-shafted spear. Fight on sea as on land with an even temper and with proper strokes only; and never waste your weapons by hurling them to no purpose."

As illustrated by the above passage, a combination of heavy missiles and javelins or spears seem to be the favoured tactic.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Marik C.S.




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2010 3:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

K J Seago wrote:
any idea what they meant by the gambesons "thoroughly blackened"?


My guess would be this means preparing the fabric with tar or something similar - just like the hull of a wooden boat - which would cause it to become black but also prevents the fabric against the seawater and might be more effective than waxing the cloth. A Aketon or Gambeson soaked in water is way to heavy to fight in and though this blackening would make it a bit heavier and maybe stiffer, there is much more gained than lost.
Also in the event of someone falling over board, it might even work as some kind of floating device, like a life-jacket.
But all of that is simply me guessing.
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K J Seago




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2010 10:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

thank you for your idea,never thought of gambies being treated with stuff!
just another student of an interesting subject, Happy
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2010 11:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The gambesons and horse covers used on land are also refered to as "sverta", so it is not something specific to naval combat. Tests indicate that using tar would not be very practical.
The other term used to describe the gambesons is "soft", probably indicating a finely woven fabric rather than a thick coarse one.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2010 12:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

as documents go how reliable is this? and how much actually applies to the viking age?
many of you say the ships were tied together once engaged but how did they do this were some sort of hooks not involved? using an axe would leave you very open to a spear.
most accounts i have seen mention the huge use of javelins and bows on ships. so this seems reasonable and the idea of a selection of specific spears is a good one.
were caltrops and staff slings used in the viking period if so does anyone have references?
what is meant by these: Long handled scythes
war-beams
darts
prow-boar
a beam cloven into four parts and set with prongs of hard steel

were these used in the viking period? if so references finds etc would be great this is good i was looking for unusual weapons etc especially ranged ones i just hope these are appropriate in my period of interest. which is from circa 800-1066.
thanks again for all the help guys.

for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2010 3:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

the text is written at the kings court, as a "textbook" for the kings sons; As such it it is a good representation of what they thought to be good ideas at the time. Some things, like the use of sulphur and such, might be good ideas that where seldom done due to availability.

The ships in question where large longships, with crews of 150 people or more. These where larger than the viking age ones found so far, but the Leidang system demanded 20 and 25-seaters to be outfitted from about 950.

The long handled schyte is tought to be a glaive-type weapon. Darts are a translation of "gavlak", a form of javelin.
The war-beam and the cloven beam are battering ram type weapons suspended from the mast, and swung at the enemy. The prow-boar is a ram fitted to the prow, for running into enemy ships.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Wed 27 Oct, 2010 11:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

is there any idea as to what those javelins were like?
very interesting stuff if you have anymore info or ideas i will be hugely grateful for it.

for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Wed 27 Oct, 2010 12:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Keep in mind this comes from a miniatures gaming site, of all things, but I actually found it a good summary and mostly accurate AFAIK:

Quote:
The common perception of Viking naval warfare is that both sides lashed their ships together to form large “rafts” and that fighting then took place over the ships much as it would on land. This is not so. Firstly, it should be pointed out that neither side was obliged to form a raft. Secondly, that if one side did form a raft then the other frequently would not. Thirdly, if one side did form a raft then not all of its ships would take part; others would act as flank guards and yet others would attack the enemy.

Ships were usually rowed into battle as this gave them the most flexibility of movement. It also meant that boarding an enemy vessel by laying up against it side by side was only done under specific circumstances (usually against a weakened or smaller opponent), as the oars would have to be retracted leaving the aggressor ship unable to move. If the fight did not go well the aggressor ship would not then be able to back oars and get away quickly.

Therefore the more usual method of boarding an enemy vessel was to lay against it bow to bow (or bow to stern) and then fight from the prow. As one man gained an advantage so his opponent would be forced to give way and he could advance onto the enemy vessel. This would let more of his comrades join him in the fray and more defenders would meet them. Naturally this means that only the bravest men fought at the bow. The objective of battle was to clear the enemy ship’s deck of men and then take the vessel as a prize/plunder its cargo. The usual sign of surrender would be for the surviving crew to throw themselves overboard and attempt to swim to the shore for safety.

When ships were drawn together to form a raft there were two methods by which they were held firm. The first was to use boat hooks, grapples, stem and stern chains to lash the prows and sterns of vessels together. These chains would prevent enemy vessels from slipping between the ships in the raft and again provides another reason to fight bow to bow. The second method was to lay the yardarm and sail across the gunnels, as the yardarm was wider than the ship it would also rest upon the gunnels of a vessel that lay alongside it; the combined mass of overlapping yardarms being used to keep the raft formation together.

The advantage of the raft was that it allowed crews to help each other when attacked, making each ship a much harder target than it would be alone and also that it prevented smaller ships from being grappled and hauled into melee with larger ones. The disadvantage of the raft secured by chains was that it had no manoeuvrability. A tactic to defeat this formation was to attack the two end ships, clear their decks and then cut them free revealing the next ships in the line. By these means a secured raft could be pealed almost like an onion until the enemy commander’s ship was exposed to attack. The disadvantage of the raft held firm by yardarms was that individual vessels could be grappled and dragged from the formation by larger ships. They would then be hauled in and engaged in melee.

Missile fire was not the decisive arm of Viking naval warfare. The heavy metal armour and large round-shields of the crew, coupled with the protection offered by the ship itself and the movement of the water limited the effectiveness of bow fire. “Snipers” armed with particularly powerful bows appear to have been used but not in so great a number as to unduly influence the outcome of a battle.

The objective of a battle was the capture of the enemy chieftain’s ship. The chieftain of the fleet would always position his ship in the centre of the battle line or raft (if formed) where, surrounded by all the other vessels in the fleet, he was safest. This also allowed the fleet to see him, which was an important thing to do as fleets usually broke and fled when their chieftain was killed/captured. When allied contingents formed part of a fleet they would look to their own chieftain and flee when he was killed. Standard tactics appear to be to drive away as many supporting ships as possible from the defence of the chieftain (or the raft of which his ship was a part), then launch a bloody assault upon his vessel.

Most battles took place in coastal waters, fjords and rivers. This is because, when battle was expected, extra men were often carried in excess of that needed to operate the ship. The largest ships could carry up to 200 men (including crew) but only for short voyages. It is likely that carrying so many armed men affected the ship’s sea worthiness, impeded the crew’s ability to handle the vessel and depleted available on board supplies very quickly.


The site also has a number of relevant excerpts from several sagas.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Oct, 2010 10:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

again interesting stuff but is there any actual finds of these grapnels or chains?
for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Oct, 2010 12:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan F wrote:
again interesting stuff but is there any actual finds of these grapnels or chains?

Actually, yes - in addition to the numerous mentions in the sagas, there are surviving grappling irons from the period. Off-hand, I remember a mention in The Oxford Illustrated History of Vikings of a hoard or spears, axes and tools including a four-pronged grappling iron, found by the River Thames near the London Bridge.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Oct, 2010 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

any chance of a link? or does anyone else know of one?
again thank you so much for the info.

for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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Mikko Kuusirati




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Oct, 2010 12:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

OK, I quickly googled "viking grappling iron", and it turns out The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings is on Google Books: http://books.google.fi/books?id=nJqf8e1vHFgC&...mp;f=false

They also have Anglo-Saxon England, which mentions the same hoard: http://books.google.fi/books?id=i3s1Q4XXIF8C&...mp;f=false

The third relevant hit I got was the text of Viking Antiquities in Great Britain and Ireland; apparently, there is at least one plate of a grappling iron "of the same description as the specimen found associated with Viking weapons at Old London Bridge," indicating another find separate from that above. Dare I hope that someone here has access to this book...? Happy

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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Nathan F




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Nov, 2010 1:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

so can anyone help with the above mentioned hooks?
also i wanted to ask were harpoons ever used in the viking age for hunting etc? again if so any finds?

for here starts war carrion birds sing, and grey wolves howl
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