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David Knupp




Location: Florida
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PostPosted: Sat 22 Dec, 2018 12:32 pm    Post subject: 12th Century Hebridean Armor/Shields         Reply with quote

I'm working on a Scottish history exhibit for a small museum and am looking for any primary sources that show what Hebridean armor in the 12th century would have looked like. I would like to assemble a kit that resembles what Somerled would have used.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Dec, 2018 1:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've been on the look out for similar information for quite a while but find it hard to identify any pictorial evidence before the classic 13-15th century grave slabs. So far as I know the earlier archeological finds in that area resemble typical Viking gear. Considering the prevailing Norse influence in that area (indeed some think Somerled's mother was Norse) one might be justified at looking at typical 12th century Norse sources. For example the 'Korsoygaden' sword, firmly dated to 12th century, was found in Norway along with remnants of a buckler but appears to have British influence. And so on for garb and armor.
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David Knupp




Location: Florida
Joined: 19 Oct 2016

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PostPosted: Sat 22 Dec, 2018 1:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was indeed planning on using my own del tin late period Viking sword for the display. What is known about 12 century Norse Shields? Had they adopted a kite shield or did they still use a round shield?
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Dec, 2018 2:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David Knupp wrote:
I was indeed planning on using my own del tin late period Viking sword for the display. What is known about 12 century Norse Shields? Had they adopted a kite shield or did they still use a round shield?


I recall that the kite shield was adopted late in Scandinavia; that they were using transitional round shields (smaller than the classic viking shield). But I don't recall the source. Anyone?
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sat 22 Dec, 2018 7:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Regarding 12th century Scandinavian sources on arms and armour, we do not have much to work with, and most of the sources seem to date from late in the century. Trying to draw broad conclusions about equipment used in the century is difficult if not impossible. For the Hebrides, the situation is even more challenging. Nevertheless, let's look at the sources available.

I believe Doug was referring to this carving, from Grötligbo Church in Sweden, identified as being late 12th century. The two warriors are fighting with what seems to be swords and bucklers, although it could be an instance of very small wooden shields with bosses—hard to say. It's not clear why this carving is attributed to the 12th century. The only reason I can suggest is that the nasal helmets are clearly consistent with other 12th century Scandinavian finds, and we know from the Baptismal font at Lyngsjö that more modern style of helmets are appearing circa 1200 AD.



The Baldishol Tapestry from Norway depicts a kite shield- perhaps flat topped. It is dated to the very end of the 12th century. Importantly, this image is one of the only ones that provides insight into mail armour from this time. It would appear that the fashion was to wear very long hauberks, as opposed to the mail chausses that were starting to appear during the 12th century.



The Hylestad stave church door depicts Sigurd slaying the dragon Fafnir. This image is dated to the end of the 12th century or early 13th century. Sigurd is clearly using a flat top kite shield, and we can still see the nasal helmet in use.



The Valþjofstaður Door in Iceland likewise depicts flat top kite shields and nasal helmets. It is dated to 1200. If Iceland by the end of the 12th century was using flat top kite shields, it seems reasonable that the Hebrides may well have been, too.



The aforementioned baptismal font with the slaying of Thomas Beckett, from Lyngsjö, Sweden. This font suggests that near the end of the 12th century in some parts of Scandinavia, the equipment was more or less identical with Western Europe. Notice the square-topped nasal helmets, which are fairly common in Western Europe during the second half of the 12th century. The shields are flat top kites. Notice, again, the mail hauberk is extremely long.



The last source is the Lewis Chessman. While these were found in the Hebrides, their place of manufacture was probably elsewhere, with Norway and Iceland as possible contenders. As a visual source, they are bedeviled by the fact it's difficult to date them precisely. They could be from the 12th or 13th century. The British Museum gives them as circa 1150-1200 AD, suggesting a firmly 12th century date. The National Museum of Scotland, however, says late 12th century to early 13th. Notice the nasal-style helmets, but sans-nasal. Many shields are flat-top kites, as shown by Chessman 118. Notice, however, there are flat-top kite shields with more rounded sides, like that of Chessman 123.

Lewis Chessman 118:

Lewis Chessman 123:

Let's review the evidence. In terms of visual sources which depict arms and armour from the Hebrides, we have no specific evidence. Given the Hebrides' Scandinavian relationship, it seems reasonable to consider sources from Scandinavia. Even here, it seems like there is little we can be safe in speaking about for the 12th century prior to say circa 1180 AD. The evidence suggests that flat top kite shields were common by the end of the century, with the possibility of bucklers/tiny round shields still being in use, and perhaps some older-style tear drop shaped kites. Helmets were almost certainly nasal helmets with conical shapes as was common in other parts of Europe in the later 11th century and early 12th century. As for mail, it seems like long hauberks were used, although some individuals undoubtedly wore shorter hauberks as seen in Western Europe, presumably without mail leggings.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sat 22 Dec, 2018 7:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I want to make a slightly risky argument here. We know that Somerled rebelled against Malcolm IV. He is also alleged to have sacked Glasgow and its cathedral. It is therefore likely that Somerled was exposed to the contemporary military equipment of the Scots, which was more or less the same as elsewhere in Europe, due to David I's Anglo-Norman connection. It seems unlikely therefore that Somerled would have been using older forms of shields and armour, given the milieu in which he was operating. His conquest of the Western Isles was subsequent to the rebellion, and I doubt he would adopt any older styles of armour and equipment still seen in use in the Isles, if there were any. It seems reasonable to depict him as much the same as any other warrior from mid 12th century lowlands Scotland. The seal of David I, while perhaps a little bit old, is probably the most contemporary image of a mounted knight from Scotland at the time, and could be a reasonable resource to use.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sun 23 Dec, 2018 9:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
I want to make a slightly risky argument here. We know that Somerled rebelled against Malcolm IV. He is also alleged to have sacked Glasgow and its cathedral. It is therefore likely that Somerled was exposed to the contemporary military equipment of the Scots, which was more or less the same as elsewhere in Europe, due to David I's Anglo-Norman connection. It seems unlikely therefore that Somerled would have been using older forms of shields and armour, given the milieu in which he was operating. His conquest of the Western Isles was subsequent to the rebellion, and I doubt he would adopt any older styles of armour and equipment still seen in use in the Isles, if there were any. It seems reasonable to depict him as much the same as any other warrior from mid 12th century lowlands Scotland. The seal of David I, while perhaps a little bit old, is probably the most contemporary image of a mounted knight from Scotland at the time, and could be a reasonable resource to use.


It's all speculation, but one could imagine that as a diplomat and elite, Somerled would not want to appear as backward in front contemporary leaders, in support of your argument. On the other hand, as a leader, he might want to appear as 'one of us' amongst his own people, who certainly had their own distinctive and arguably backward style in later centuries. So, being a 'Kinglet' with resources, one could imagine him affecting different styles in different contexts. In either case, the intersections between contemporary Norman and Norse styles seem fairly safe.

This conversation has inspired me to dig out my books on Medieval Western Scotland and Gallowglass culture. It's of personal interest since my father's ancestors immigrated from Argyll and thereabouts, although they likely settled there well after the wars of independence. Such a beautiful area. I'm heading further North to Skye in the spring and plan to visit Mr. Miller.
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