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Kevin Coleman M.




PostPosted: Tue 17 Jan, 2017 12:42 am    Post subject: Scandinavian Armor         Reply with quote

Hello, all. I was doing a bit of reading on a plate in an osprey book that depicted a 10th century Scandinavian mercenary who is idenified as most likely a Swede. He is shown wearing lamellar armor, and in explanation, the book sites a piece of antler found in Birka that depicts a warrior in a helmet and lamellar armor. I am wondering if anyone has a photo of this piece on file, as I cannot seem to find it.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 17 Jan, 2017 1:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The lamellar at Birka is Central Asian in style - perhaps Khazar. It isn't possible to tell who wore it because it was found in what is thought to be a workshop rather than a grave. There were a lot of foreigners at Birka at the time so there is no reason to think that the armour was worn by a Scandinavian.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 17 Jan, 2017 6:26 am    Post subject: Re: Scandinavian Armor         Reply with quote

Kevin Coleman M. wrote:
Hello, all. I was doing a bit of reading on a plate in an osprey book that depicted a 10th century Scandinavian mercenary who is idenified as most likely a Swede. He is shown wearing lamellar armor, and in explanation, the book sites a piece of antler found in Birka that depicts a warrior in a helmet and lamellar armor. I am wondering if anyone has a photo of this piece on file, as I cannot seem to find it.


There does seem to be a sort of background urge to find evidence for "Viking lamellar"! In this case, how big and detailed could this illustration possibly be? Interpreting something like that as a particular form of armor seems VERY much of a stretch, to me. BUT I don't recall seeing the image they're citing, and I'd love to see a photo of it, too.

Matthew
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Bram Verbeek





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PostPosted: Tue 17 Jan, 2017 3:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is reference to a "spangabrynja" which could be scale mail, but it was deemed inferior, and it's literary only. People also use the Varangian guard as a source, a bit more often than realistic in my opinion. Birka was very much a trade hub, even a Buddha was found there, so an isolated piece of armour should be watched a bit warily.
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Mart Shearer




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PostPosted: Tue 17 Jan, 2017 4:31 pm    Post subject: Re: Scandinavian Armor         Reply with quote

Kevin Coleman M. wrote:
He is shown wearing lamellar armor, and in explanation, the book sites a piece of antler found in Birka that depicts a warrior in a helmet and lamellar armor. I am wondering if anyone has a photo of this piece on file, as I cannot seem to find it.


Osprey frequently lists multiple primary sources which the artist used for the plate. Rarely do they link any indiviual source to any specific part of the reconstruction. Do you have the specific quote where they attribute an antler carving found at Birka to the use of lamellar?

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 18 Jan, 2017 1:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bram Verbeek wrote:
There is reference to a "spangabrynja" which could be scale mail, but it was deemed inferior, and it's literary only. People also use the Varangian guard as a source, a bit more often than realistic in my opinion. Birka was very much a trade hub, even a Buddha was found there, so an isolated piece of armour should be watched a bit warily.


There is no evidence for Varangians wearing lamellar either.

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Bram Verbeek





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PostPosted: Wed 18 Jan, 2017 2:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Bram Verbeek wrote:
There is reference to a "spangabrynja" which could be scale mail, but it was deemed inferior, and it's literary only. People also use the Varangian guard as a source, a bit more often than realistic in my opinion. Birka was very much a trade hub, even a Buddha was found there, so an isolated piece of armour should be watched a bit warily.


There is no evidence for Varangians wearing lamellar either.

Yes, I should have elaborated. I meant to say "People also use the Varangian guard as a source that was in an area where they would be able to purchase lamellar".

Not that many people were part of the Varangian guard, I believe there is one depiction of someone that may be part of the Varangian guard that wears what could be lamellar, but I can't remember details.

We see quite a few lamellar armours in Viking reenactment, but the evidence for it is dubious at best. I'd stick to better sourced stuff.
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Kristjan Runarsson





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PostPosted: Thu 19 Jan, 2017 5:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A few things about the Birka Lamellar. There is no way of determining whether those plates all came from one cuirass or more of them. Since they found several types of plates it's highly likely the plates came form more than one cuirass but there is no proof of it that will satisfy hard line skeptics. People have offered several explanations of the Birka find. Firstly that it was a souvenir brought back by somebody from an eastern campaign, basically a wall hanger. A second explanation is that the people at Birka hired Khazar mercinaries to garrison Birka. That sounds mildly plausible until you take into account that the Khazars lived in an area between the Black and Caspian seas. Personally, I'm inclined to go with the third explanation based on Occam's Razor and claim that firstly, if you acquire an expensive suit of armour you are going to use it. Armour was expensive, four marks of silver for a mail coat, two marks for a helmet, one mark of silver for a bargain basement sword, four marks for a really good one, more for a top notch sword. If you had armour worth a kilogram or more of silver you used it, you did not hang it on a wall. Secondly, if you find lamellar armour in a town in the middle of Sweden the people using it were probably Swedes and not mercenaries from thousands of kilometres away.

http://www.blue-salamander.com/projects/armor.html


As for Spangabrynja there are also three theories that I am aware of to explain that. But before we dive into that it is worth diving into what the word 'spangabrynja' actually means. The word 'brynja' is the generic norse word for armour even though many people think it means chain mail or maille to appease the purists (curiously enough it is also a female name). The word 'spöng' basically means an elongated plate so 'spangabrynja' literally translates as 'armour made of elongated plates'. Interpret that as you wish.

The word 'spangabrynja' could thus be a reference to limb armour in the Vendel style. This kind of splint armour was used by the Byzanties during the Viking period and there is a strong possibility that it was still in use during the Viking period:



This set of greaves and arm protectors qualify as 'spangabrynja' since they are made of leather backed elongated plates.

The second explanation is that 'spangabrynja' means lamellar armour for obvious reasons and that is the only explanation that is backed up by a shred of evidence even if that evidence is restricted to Sweden. So why are spangabrynjur mentioned in the sagas? Well a lot of Iclanders seem to have been bumming around in the Baltic area trading and raiding (Egils saga for example). There are a number of swords that have been found in Iceland that are clearly of Swedish (Gotlandic) manufacture, same goes for sword chapes so if this was the case and Lamellar armour enjoyed a moderate degree of popularity in Sweden it is perfectly possible that a few cuirasses eventually made their way to Iceland and eventually Greenland (mentioned in Grænlendingasaga). Additionally we know that some Icelanders served in they Byzantine army where Lamellar was used and a few of these guys achieved a considerable rank. Finally Icelanders, Swedes and Norweginas are known to have spent time in the lands of the Kievan Rus and even a few Norwegians/Icelanders may have served in Rus armies where lamellar would have been in some use.

The third explanation for 'spangabrynja' is that these sagas were written up around the Sturlungaöld, the period of the Icelandic civil wars in the mid 13th century and what the chroniclers are describing is not 200-300 year old Viking age armour but rather armour and arms of the 13th century. One of the heroes of Laxdæla is for example described as wearing a kettle hat that was very popular in Iceland/Norway/Denmark/Sweden from the 13th and into the 16th century but did not exist during the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. So why is it unthinkable that 'spangabrynja' may refer to a coat of plates similar to those found at Visby and which were coming into fashion at that time? The only real problem with this theory is that such relatively new military technology could have made it's way to a backwater like Iceland so quickly but it is not by any means unreasonable. After all, even modern backwater conflicts pretty quickly draw arms merchants peddling relatively modern guided weapons in an attempt to secure business and I'm sure this was the same in the 13th century.



My take on Viking age armour (feel free to disagree) is that:
  1. Armour was not very common among the Norse. Despite the absence of evidence I think that by far the most common armour among vikings was helmets. If you ever build a time machine and find that your first test flight landed you in the middle of a real Viking age battle you will quickly find out that, unlike modern re-enactments, the air is full of rocks, arrows, spears, hatchets, and anything else that can be throw. On top of that you are allowed to stab people in the face and brain them over the skull. If you have a good axe and enough shields your next priority is to protect your head.
  2. The by far most common type of torso armour was chain mail. During the first half of the viking age I doubt more that 5-10% of warriors wore such armour and no no more than 10-15% wore helmets.
  3. Lamellar armour was worn mostly in the Baltic but it may have appeared being worn by a few warriors who had served under Swedish kings, Byzantine Emperors, Kievan Rus kings or who had raided in the Baltic.
  4. Armour became more common as the period of christianisation drew closer.
  5. Do not take literally everything you read in the Sagas. The grand tradition of Norse storytelling not withstanding, and blasphemous as it may be, I have serious trouble believing that an oral tradition could have preserved details of people's exact equipment, the type and colour of their clothes and the construction details of the armour over two or three centuries.


If you are going to portray a group of, say, 20 Norwegian/Icelandic/Danish vikings of the period from 950 to 1050 you should have maybe 10 guys with helmets, 5 wearing mail and maybe one or two wearing Lamellar. The later the period the more armour would have been worn. Only towards the very end of this period, i.e. the decades leading up to 1066 would you would have had most people in Viking armies wearing some kind of amour.


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Mark Lewis





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PostPosted: Thu 19 Jan, 2017 6:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kristjan Runarsson wrote:
A second more plausible explanation is that the people at Birka hired Khazar mercinaries to garrison Birka which sounds mildly plausible until you take into account that the Khazars lived in an area between the Black and Caspian seas.

There have been some finds of quiver fittings and archery accessories from graves and the garrison area at Birka that have been described of being in the style of steppe peoples, eg. Turkic tribes or Magyars... hadn't seen Khazars mentioned specifically before. Are you familiar with these finds and do you have any thoughts on this theorized connection?
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Kristjan Runarsson





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PostPosted: Thu 19 Jan, 2017 7:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Lewis wrote:
Kristjan Runarsson wrote:
A second more plausible explanation is that the people at Birka hired Khazar mercinaries to garrison Birka which sounds mildly plausible until you take into account that the Khazars lived in an area between the Black and Caspian seas.

There have been some finds of quiver fittings and archery accessories from graves and the garrison area at Birka that have been described of being in the style of steppe peoples, eg. Turkic tribes or Magyars... hadn't seen Khazars mentioned specifically before. Are you familiar with these finds and do you have any thoughts on this theorized connection?


Your guess is as good as mine and I'm not married to the idea that the owners or makers of this equipment were Khazars. The source could just as easily have been some other eastern culture including steppe nomad craftsmen working for Byzantine or even Kievan Rus rulers or western craftsmen imitating steppe nomad equipment. There is this paradox, the stuff came out of the ground, it was there in Sweden but there are not enough other finds to draw any conclusions abut how this stuff got there. I can only list the possible explanations and invoke Occam's raszor.

  1. The mayor of Birka travelled all the way to the Kaspian sea region and hired a bunch of Khazar warriors to garrison his town.
  2. A Bunch of Khazar warriors travelled all the way to the Baltic and were bumming around Sweden when the mayor of Birka hired them go garrison his town.
  3. Sweden is full of Rune stones that read something like "...x went east with Ingvar and died there...". This campaign led by this Ingvar has by some scholars been traced to the Black Sea/ Caspian region. Maybe somebody brought this stuff back after capturing it? Either during Ingvar's expedition or another one.
  4. Unlike the Swedes the Byzantines were in pretty frequent contact with the Khazars and other steppe tribes, as were the Kievan Rus. Perhaps some Swedes who travelled there and spent time fighting for Byzantine or Kievan Rus rulers captured this stuff or just bought it from craftsmen in the camp of a group of Khazars serving as mercenaries in Byzantine/Kievan armies?
  5. Maybe these articles were traded all nice and peaceful like across the Black Sea, all the way up the rivers to the Baltic? If people are willing to entertain the theory that crucible steel for +VLFBERH+T blades travelled all the way to Germany and Scandinavia from Northern Iran then why not composite bows and associated archery equipment?

This could just as easily be Swedes being influenced culturally by a foreign culture as a bunch of Khazars garrisoning a town in Sweden (btw. the whole Birka garrison idea has been questioned). To take an unrelated example, we think of these Petersen type swords as Viking swords but they are not. Arab traders describing Norse people comment that "...the men all carry Frankish swords..." (don't remember the Arab chroniclers name unfortunately). Many Viking swords actually had frankish blades and many of the hilt styles are originally German/French. What we think of a Viking swords is actually a case of German/French culture, largely probably that of the Ottonian empire rubbing off on the Norse.

If I was running a Viking re-enactment event I would be tempted to ban sabres, lamellar armour, steppe nomad style helmets and composite bows. I would, however probably allow this stuff on a strict quota basis so as to keep the look of the warriors reasonably authentic but at the same time avoid people getting their panties in a knot over spending money on lamellar armour and not being allowed to use it (btw. I have lamellar armour and like it way better than chain mail so I'm not prejudiced against lamellar, I just don't think that the evidence warrants more than 2-5% of the Vikings on the field wearing it).
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Thu 19 Jan, 2017 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The whole discussion about armour (having them or not) in the viking world is really so speculative, because so very few fragments have been found.
The Iron Age Hedegaard bog find of a chain shirt where chemical composition shows likely a local Danish production and thus it is clear that mail armour was produced locally for a long time.
See this thread: http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=31490&highlight=

Bog Iron (Myremalm) is prevalent in all of Scandinavia (especially Denmark were some estimations points to 25% of the country being boglands in the very wet Iron Age). Myremalm production was used in Denmark from 500 BC to 1600 AD.
The cost and time of making armour makes it reasonable that only a few warriors wore them - the reason is in my opinion not only wealth but rather restriction of access to the elite craftsman.

It seems that elite craftsmen were tied to "central places" already from the Iron Age (Gudme & Himlingøje) and it probably continued into the Viking Age. The craftsmen at Hedeby were actually war booty from the sacking by Danish King Gudfred of the Scandinavian/Vendish town of Reric in 808; so it really supports the notion that elite craftsmen in the Scandinavian world were high-prestige thralls (having a patron and not supported by their own subsistence). They were probably restricted in their movements to the town or central place and provided the local (or major) ruler with weapons, armour and jewelry. These goods were then distributed to his hird or given as alliance gifts. It is not as strange at it first sounds as Venetian glass makers were not allowed to leave the Venetian republic.
A ruler's ability to keep elite warriors around him depended on his generosity with gifts. Not being able to provide that, he would immediately be known as a miser and lose all his prestige and honour and his men would leave him; so it would be reckless not so forcefully control his craftsmen.
The legend of the smith Völund being hamstrung could be seen as a reality, when rulers took more draconian measures to control the craftsmen. His revenge shows that going so far could backfire.

My point is that likely most armour and weapons in the Scandinavian viking age (at least until around 1000 AD) were gifts from rulers to their retainers. You didn't have an open marked for elite crafts and anyways hird retainers were given gifts, food and lodgings (and eventually land on retirement at least seen on Danish runestones) & not receiving any pay to "go shopping" with.
As some retainers travelled from service to service looking for a ruler of fame and "luck", they could over time have a quite eccentric mix of equipment culturally (probably the more exotic and the more unique and lavished the better). Chamber graves of elite warriors in Denmark during the Jelling dynasty before Harald Bluetooth changed to christianity seems to support that what you also find in Birka.
With Canute the Great we see a development towards paid soldiers in the retinue! From this pay they could buy their own equipment in towns with now free craftsmen (York for instance), though gift giving would likely still have been the norm among some of the "hird" soldiers. The transition is unclear.

So the armour mentioned from Birka could very likely be a gift to a warrior in service in the east at some point, that had attached himself to Birka.

Alternatively:
Whether this armour is a war booty is harder to say. It really seems that weapons - especially swords - was "souled". Meaning that parts of the soul of each owner went into the sword. "Killing" of blades is likely the explanation for the twisted blades we sometimes find in graves.
So was armour regarded as "souled"? It seems not really, since they are very rarely found in graves - probably regarded as clothing. So it was maybe just discarded when worn out (or remelted).
So it is much more possible that a warrior to steal armour as a trophy, than it would be with weapons..... Then again it would bring you much more prestige to wear an armour given as a gift from someone famous, then an armour you stole from some dead guy.

About the owner being Khazar. Highly unlikely unless you had a guy being able to communicate with Swedes; but Scandinavian kings has both finno-ugric, slavic, anglo-saxon and frisian elite warriors, so a lone Khazar is certainly not impossible. But that is for DNA to decide (if he excisted he might have carried "normal" viking weapons).


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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 19 Jan, 2017 12:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
The word 'spangabrynja' could thus be a reference to limb armour in the Vendel style. This kind of splint armour was used by the Byzanties during the Viking period and there is a strong possibility that it was still in use during the Viking period:


No it couldn't. The saga, Grænlendinga þáttur, makes it pretty clear that a spangabyrnja is a cuirass of some kind, not limb armour.. In the saga of Harkon Herdabried, Gregorius Dagsson was hit in the waist with a boat hook but was saved by his spangabyrnja - more evidence that it was not limb armour. Scale armour is a better translation for spangabyrnja given that it was more prevalent than lamellar in north-western Europe.

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Matthew Bunker




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Jan, 2017 8:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:
Vimose bog find of a chain shirt where chemical composition shows likely a local Danish production .


Niels, I know the shirt very well but wasn't aware of a study of it's chemical compostion which identified it as being Danish. Can you give me a source for that please?

Thanks

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Jan, 2017 1:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
About the owner being Khazar. Highly unlikely unless you had a guy being able to communicate with Swedes; but Scandinavian kings has both finno-ugric, slavic, anglo-saxon and frisian elite warriors, so a lone Khazar is certainly not impossible.

Must have been a magical one-way portal. Are you suggesting that the Vikings could travel to Khazar lands and bring back a souvenir but the Khazars could not go the other way and fight in Scandinavia?

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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2017 8:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Bunker wrote:
Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:
Vimose bog find of a chain shirt where chemical composition shows likely a local Danish production .


Niels, I know the shirt very well but wasn't aware of a study of it's chemical compostion which identified it as being Danish. Can you give me a source for that please?

Thanks


Hi Matthew.

I remembered incorrectly that is was not the Vimose mail, but the Hedegaard mail fragment, that with all likelihood is made locally (either in Northern Germany or in west-central Jutland, but NOT a celtic import - but when the chemical composition fits where it was found the most parsimonious conclusion must be that it was locally made).
Haven't stumbled across any article which have examined the Vimose mail for metallurgy and slag compositions.
It was because I had the information in my Vimose thread: http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=31490&highlight=
Point is that local production in "central places" did occur at least from the roman iron age (both with weapons and jewelry), but it is very unlikely that these are "shops" for commerce, but restricted workshops for gift/alliance distribution.

PS: Off course one can't rule out that Germanic warlords simply captured (or convinced) Celtic or Roman craftsmen and brought them back to Denmark to work for them.


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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2017 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Quote:
About the owner being Khazar. Highly unlikely unless you had a guy being able to communicate with Swedes; but Scandinavian kings has both finno-ugric, slavic, anglo-saxon and frisian elite warriors, so a lone Khazar is certainly not impossible.

Must have been a magical one-way portal. Are you suggesting that the Vikings could travel to Khazar lands and bring back a souvenir but the Khazars could not go the other way and fight in Scandinavia?


No, I'm just stating that you probably won't hire a person you can't communicate with. Communication is pretty important in combat.
It seems more likely (common) that Scandinavians already traveling long distance up and down russian rivers would pick up more languages; whereas Khazar warriors being probably more horse-based mercenaries and had a lot of other possible places to be hired than Birka. It is basically just that we don't have any indication of Khazars running around in Scandinavia.
Off course a Khazar warrior could be the case at Birka, we just never know before we have a Y-chromosome DNA reconstruction, as weapons in itself is not enough for establishing ethnicity of the wearer.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2017 2:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You only need one person who shares a common language.
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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2017 7:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
You only need one person who shares a common language.


True in theory, but I would reckon to be efficient in combat you need to know the common tongue of the group. Translation in the heat of combat would be awkward as is having the commander issue it several times in multiple tongues. [Just see the problems with the Austro-Hungarian army in WW1].

Germanic warfare seems to be based on lines of spearmen with the elite warriors at opportune times issuing boar-head formation attacks to punch through. So I guess that it could function in this attacking conditions if a person stayed with the "hird" group just followed the leaders charge.
In a defensive situation as an attack on Birka it would perhaps be problematic as you would probably spread out the warriors at defensive key points, so the foreign soldier was forced to always be around the translator guy to function most efficiently?

From the sources describing foreigners in viking hirds (finno-ugrian, slavic or west-gemanic) it never seems to mention any language problems, so it would be reasonable to assume that those hired had learned "Scandinavian". Easy for a west-germanic speaker, but way more difficult for finno-ugric or turkish speaking people as they had to change language-group.

An arabic merchant from Spain (al-Tartushi) actually visited Hedeby and Ibn Fadlan was send to the Volga Bulgars and met Rus vikings on the way. To what extent the Khazars had wide traveling merchants and warriors is unknown to me, but some mercenaries for Byzantines seems very likely. [At least until around 900AD, when the Byzantines started to back the Iranian-speaking Alans against the Khazars].

But it is also noteworthy to include in the discussion the Comitatus structure of a typical germanic/scandinavian hird. As mentioned probably dominant at least until Canute the Great's paid housecarls.
In this warrior brotherhood you were expected to take part in the communal ritual aspects, which would include eating pig and drinking alcohol. "One for all and one for all" - "can you trust a guy that wont even eat and drink with you to have your back when lives are at stake" - would likely to the warrior ethos? Some people in Scandinavia still feel this way today.
As the Khazars (nominally at least) were jewish and Arabs muslim, that could explain why they are not recorded as being members of viking hirds, in contrast to mentioned finno-ugric, slavic and west-germanic people which would have no problem with these communal rituals.

NB: I don't rule out any Khazars being in an Scandinavian hird, but just more likely (and only that) that it was westerner who had received a Khazar gift at some point in his career.
Armor and weapons doesn't prove ethnicity - especially in cultures with prominent gift giving reciprocal components.
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Matthew Bunker




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2017 1:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:



Haven't stumbled across any article which have examined the Vimose mail for metallurgy and slag compositions.
.


This paper from 2015 reveals some interesting details about the Vimose shirt.
http://gladius.revistas.csic.es/index.php/gla...ew/278/282

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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Wed 25 Jan, 2017 11:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Bunker wrote:
Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:



Haven't stumbled across any article which have examined the Vimose mail for metallurgy and slag compositions.
.


This paper from 2015 reveals some interesting details about the Vimose shirt.
http://gladius.revistas.csic.es/index.php/gla...ew/278/282


Thanks Matthew Happy
So very interesting that the Vimose mail seems to have a specific Germanic variation (Denmark & Northern Germany) of mail fixtures of a typical Roman mail fashion (looking like a tunic).

Conclusions from the paper:
"The mix of elements in the Vimose coat points to a local Germanic manufacture, but whose construction was inspired
by the Roman tunic
. The local origin of the Vimose coat is supported by the typical shape of the riveted rings, especially
the exceedingly long overlap, large diameter, and gauge of the riveted rings, which bear no resemblance to Roman
examples of mail.
"

"The neck opening fixtures now allow it to be narrowed down to the 2nd - early 3rd century (B2-C1b) and, given the
similarity with the Brokaer fixtures, a date of the 2nd half of the 2nd century may be suspected
."
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