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Dave Womble




Location: Laconia, NH USA
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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 6:47 am    Post subject: Other forms of Norse body armour during the Viking Age         Reply with quote

The general consensus seems to be that only mail was used by the Norse during the viking age, with scale and lamellar possible by those Norse serving or operating within Byzantium and points east.

What evidence do we have of quilted textile, hardened leather or animal hide (meaning rough hides fashioned into protective garments, like bear, elk or walrus hides, not finished leather) body defenses. Why did earlier Anglian, Vendel and Valsgarde type splinted limb defenses fall out of use by the viking age?

What about organics, such as wood, bone, horn etc? We know they used horn for helm plates (though I dont recall if any viking age examples showed evidence of horn, are extant examples pre viking age?) and bone was fashioned into pins and combs, what about small plates of horn or bone secured to a foundation garment of some kind?

I'm speaking specifically within the context of the Viking Age, in Scandinavia. I realize the archeological record is sparse as far as organic findings, but those of you well versed in the Sagas (keeping in mind their content is highly suspect) and period artwork, are there any aven vague possibilities of items outside mainstream thought and understanding?

"Violence might not be the answer, but it sure cuts down on the number of questions."
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Steve Grisetti




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 6:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't answer the question, but let me offer you a welcome, Dave!
"...dismount thy tuck, be yare in thy preparation, for thy assailant is quick, skilful, and deadly."
- Sir Toby Belch
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Dave Womble




Location: Laconia, NH USA
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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 6:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Steve,

I appreciate the welcome. Hank Reinhardt recomended I come over here and join up. I've previously been very active on the Arador Armour Library, as well as a moderator, but we suffered a devastating hacker attack last September and we lost thousands of posts...some extremely valuable.

We're now trying to figure out where we want to go with the site, since the Armour Archive (another site I frequent, and where I initially started talking to Hank) caters to the more SCA minded enthusiasts, and the Armour Research Society caters to the more high end enthusiasts, and now myArmoury has filled in the middle ground.

I'm hoping to be as active here as I have been on the other mentioned sites. My interests are almost exclusively Norse and their immediate contemporaries, but I have a general interest in all periods and cultures from Biblical times on up to the High Middle Ages, regardless of what corner of the globe theyre from.

Thanks again for the welcome!

Dave

"Violence might not be the answer, but it sure cuts down on the number of questions."
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 7:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The answer is pretty mutch "we don't know."

It seems that the vikings did not regard armour as something you needed in the afterlife; In all of scandinavia, there hasn't been found a single helmet, or mail shirt. Shields, on the other hand, where included.

The sagas where written significantly later, in the 13th cent.
they largely speak of mail, with the occational gambeson. There are three references to hide gambesons; One is the reindeer hide coats worn by Tore hund and his croonies at the battle of Stiklestad (these are magical, and as such not a very good reference to actual use), one in a translation of the life of Charlemagne, and one in Landnámabok, where one of the characters has the nickname "leathereneck" because he wore a leather gambeson.

A few lammelar scales have been found at Birka, in sweden. These are mentioned in sagas, but are more common in the ones about the 12th cent (wich where written shortly afterwards...) than in the viking sagas. The norse word for lammelar is "spangabrynja". Spang means small metal plate; the same word as in Spanghelm, brynje means mail.

"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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Dave Womble




Location: Laconia, NH USA
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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 8:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gjermundbu is located in Norway is it not? a helm and the only extant mail shirt dated to the viking age were found there.
I thought fragments of mail shirts had been found in many warrior graves. I'd like to know where you got the idea armour wasn't something regarded highly in the afterlife? While I can't cite specific instances why I feel it *was* highly regarded, but it just doesnt fit witht he rest of their behavior in my opinion. You don't name something and imbue it with near magical traits if you dont regard it highly. All manner of war gear was highly regarded in both life and in the afterlife....

I'm aware of when the Sagas were recorded much later, I dont treat their contents as Gospel, as many words have been translated into the then contemporary terms and tech.

The Birka plates were found in the remains of a scructure known to be a foreign garrison, probably Khazar or something similar, I dont remember off the top of my head. Aside from that, no other known evidence for scale or lamellar. in Scandinavia.

Spangabrynja is a word I've been researching a lot...I've scanned thru 95 pages of arms and armour references in the Icelandic Sagas, and came upon it only once...but I have found many more references that could *possibily* be mentioning armour other than mail.

I wondered about hardened leather, because there are a few instances of it being used on viking and anglo-saxon shields of the pre viking age/ viking age, but no instances of its use on something larger.

Dave

"Violence might not be the answer, but it sure cuts down on the number of questions."
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Martin Wallgren




Location: Bjästa, Sweden
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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 8:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Isn´t there some maile on the Vendelhelmets from Uppland, Sweden? I know they are a tad bit early to be called Vikingage but they belong to the same culture anyway. What period do we define as Vikingage anyway. In school when I was a kid here in Sweden we are told June 793 to 1066 battle of Hastings is the vikingperiod, but the culture that we call Viking must have started earlier and ended later, doesn´t it?

Martin

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Martin Wallgren




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 8:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As more on the topic. I belive gamboised stuff must have been in use. A reference of later periods (14c) say that horne is a good material to put in Jacks for defence, don´t remember the source right now though so don´t take it do serious yet.

Maile must have had some sort of subarmalis anyway if just a reinforced battletunic. Splinters? like the neckguard of some of the Vendelhelmets, the technology was there! Influences from the Russian empire and the Bysantine as already stated. Lots of people from tha baltic regions served in the Bysatian armys and bodyguards (Väringar, Variager). They should have been influenced by eastern european and muslim technology, IMO.

This is just speculations from my part but anyway!

Martin

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 8:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

ahm.. yes... Forgot about that one...

Since the vikings put just about every other piece of wargear in graves, the absence of mail or helmets becomes quite noticeable.
Based on this, the posibilities are 1)they didn't have 'em or 2) They didn't put them in graves.
Personally, I find theory 2 the most plausible.

After all, you don't need armour if you are allready dead Wink
if you where going to valhall, you would be resurected after every battle anyway.
Better leave your protective gear for your sons, so that the lineage might go on to further glory.

It could also be that there where few or no mail makers in scandinavia, and mail thus was a lot harder to replace than swords, who could after all be made locally.

Gambesons require less skil to make, but are still pretty expensive stuff; It takes a lot of coth to make one.

On the other hand, well to do farmers or Lendmen could probably aford both mail and gambeson with little difficulty.

"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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Josh Brown




Location: Renton, WA
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PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2006 1:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Viking hairiness.

Those big beards could just soak up arrows like a stack of haybales on an archery range... Wink
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Eric Brackett





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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 6:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I do realize that this is an old string but I would like to add to it. The evidence or lack there of , of armor in graves amongst the norse does not denote the lack of its use. There are many tales of what is referred to in some circles as relative grave robbing. A grandson or even great grandson could easily take weapons or even armor ie helms mainly from his grandfathers grave there is some evidence for this. There is however more evidence that maile from much earlier periods have been incorporated into later pieces. Many pieces in the Tower collection that whole date from the late middle ages or even later have pieces of them that date from the early middle ages possible even to the dark ages. This is most logical when you consider the sheer cost of a coat of mail and the fact that it could take in excess of one month to produce just one hauberk or byrnie.

Secondly on the issue that there has never been mail found in Scandinavia this is just non sense there have been several pieces including the Gjermundbu mail shirt in Norway, There have been other pieces found but date from the earlier Vendal period. However this brings up a point of if the Vendal period was using Maile, and all through out europe during the dark ages people were using maile why is it so hard to believe that the norse, some of the finest crafts men of their age were not using it. Also the sutton hoo which slightly predates the viking age shows evidence of mail, while being an english burial keep in mind that during this time the Anglo saxon people we still very much a Germano Scandinavian people.

Thirdly we have mention of Mail in the viking age from the Eddas both Poetic and Prose, Plus we find men wearing maile on casks from the Carolingian age ie the beginning of the viking age.

Im just saying that just because we don't have physical evidence doesn't mean it didn't exist. Metals, leather and cloth will expire over time leaving little if no trace at all, the only reason we have examples that we do from the viking age of anything is due in part to the blue clay that many of these graves are placed in. By the way I realize this is just rambling but keep in mind Im in the middle of writing a term paper and have been up all night, so be gentle in your rebuttals
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 10:49 am    Post subject: Re: Other forms of Norse body armour during the Viking Age         Reply with quote

Dave Womble wrote:
What evidence do we have of quilted textile, hardened leather or animal hide (meaning rough hides fashioned into protective garments, like bear, elk or walrus hides, not finished leather) body defenses. Why did earlier Anglian, Vendel and Valsgarde type splinted limb defenses fall out of use by the viking age?



Armor made of Reindeer hide is mentioned several times in the sagas, I think the source was 'tribute' from Finland but I'm not certain on that. I do specifically remember the claim that it was as good as mail.


J

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 10:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
Based on this, the posibilities are 1)they didn't have 'em or 2) They didn't put them in graves.
Personally, I find theory 2 the most plausible.


I read somewhere that the some of the early Gallowglass had mail hauberks which had been inherited, passed down from generations in some cases, from their Viking forebears. I would think in the Viking age particularly, mail was simply too valuable to pass from generation to generation. We know swords were kind of semi-disposable if used in combat, and yet the Norse Sagas speak many times of swords being passed down several generations, and even stolen from barrows where they had been buried. I remember one Saga, i can't remember which one, in which a guy borrowed a very old heirloom sword from his uncle or somebody for a duel, and he got a notch in it which enraged the man....

A sword has a finite life if used in combat (which is why IMO so many were donated to Churches in the Middle Ages), but a mail shirt could theoretically last a real long time, broken links can be replaced etc. As long as it isn't allowed to get rusty which must have been quite a challenge to guys who spent so much time at sea...

Have to go back and look through my Saga books. There are some excerpts of combat from the Sagas on the ARMA site which was very useful for zeroing in on this kind of stuff, or at least was a long time ago I don't know if it's still in the public area.


J

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Last edited by Jean Henri Chandler on Fri 27 Jul, 2007 11:11 am; edited 2 times in total
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 11:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Brackett wrote:
I do realize that this is an old string but I would like to add to it. The evidence or lack there of , of armor in graves amongst the norse does not denote the lack of its use. There are many tales of what is referred to in some circles as relative grave robbing. A grandson or even great grandson could easily take weapons or even armor ie helms mainly from his grandfathers grave there is some evidence for this. There is however more evidence that maile from much earlier periods have been incorporated into later pieces. Many pieces in the Tower collection that whole date from the late middle ages or even later have pieces of them that date from the early middle ages possible even to the dark ages. This is most logical when you consider the sheer cost of a coat of mail and the fact that it could take in excess of one month to produce just one hauberk or byrnie.

Secondly on the issue that there has never been mail found in Scandinavia this is just non sense there have been several pieces including the Gjermundbu mail shirt in Norway, There have been other pieces found but date from the earlier Vendal period. However this brings up a point of if the Vendal period was using Maile, and all through out europe during the dark ages people were using maile why is it so hard to believe that the norse, some of the finest crafts men of their age were not using it. Also the sutton hoo which slightly predates the viking age shows evidence of mail, while being an english burial keep in mind that during this time the Anglo saxon people we still very much a Germano Scandinavian people.

Thirdly we have mention of Mail in the viking age from the Eddas both Poetic and Prose, Plus we find men wearing maile on casks from the Carolingian age ie the beginning of the viking age.

Im just saying that just because we don't have physical evidence doesn't mean it didn't exist. Metals, leather and cloth will expire over time leaving little if no trace at all, the only reason we have examples that we do from the viking age of anything is due in part to the blue clay that many of these graves are placed in. By the way I realize this is just rambling but keep in mind Im in the middle of writing a term paper and have been up all night, so be gentle in your rebuttals


Hey Eric, sorry I replied before reading your post here, you beat me to it.

J

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Essays on Hroarr

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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 11:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are several maille finds from Scandinavia, although they use to be small fragments. Here are some iron-age to viking-age (early medieval) maille from the Historical Museum's collection in Stockholm:

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/bild.asp?uid=47815

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/bild.asp?uid=225451

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/bild.asp?uid=225448

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/bild.asp?uid=221741 (from Birka)

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/fid.asp?fid=273998 (From Vendel)

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/fid.asp?fid=39813 (Iron age maille from Eskilstuna)

Of course some maille found in medieval layers might originally date from the viking age. Provided that the maille was carefully treated and didn't rust, it could have lasted for many generations.

Regarding reindeer hide as armour I doubt its authenticity. Reindeer hide is comparatively thin and soft and simply not suitable for tough leather armour. For the norse in central and southern Scandinavia it would also have been harder to obtain than hides from cattle or moose, which is also thicker and tougher = better for leather armour (Buff coats of moose hide were used in the Swedish army during the 17th and 18th centuries)
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 1:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The text definitely does not refer to armour. It refers to reindeer hide CLOTHING that was enchanted to protect against weapons.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 1:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The reference I'm thinking was an inventory of some loot, it was a list of triubute, '9 reindeer armors from the finns' , something like that. I'll see if I can find it.
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Dave Womble




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 1:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've read the passage (in Heimskringla I think?) regarding the "reindeer" armour.....I dont count it as a solid reference, as Dan mentioned, it's protective value supposedly came from the enchantments of Lapp "sorcerers". Now, wether that means the "armour" was purely fiction to make a good story, or if there was some sort of hide garment that for whatever reason was as good as mail, I cant say. I'm more inclined to take it as artistic liscence on the part of the author.

I just find it odd that mail seems to be the only type of body armour utilized in Scandinavia in the 9th-11th centuries....especially given the fact that mail *was* so expensive and rare...you'd think necessity would be the mother of invention and some other defenses would have been utilized made from local materials ie leather/hide, horn, wood, etc. Failing that, scale and lamellar were in use by contemporary and familiar peoples...did the Norse truly have such disdain for anything other than their shields and mail that they would forego using anything else?

"Violence might not be the answer, but it sure cuts down on the number of questions."
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 1:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dave Womble wrote:
I just find it odd that mail seems to be the only type of body armour utilized in Scandinavia in the 9th-11th centuries....especially given the fact that mail *was* so expensive and rare...you'd think necessity would be the mother of invention and some other defenses would have been utilized made from local materials ie leather/hide, horn, wood, etc. Failing that, scale and lamellar were in use by contemporary and familiar peoples...did the Norse truly have such disdain for anything other than their shields and mail that they would forego using anything else?


Well, I suspect lamellar was used. Certainly they had plenty of exposure to it in Russia and Byzantium. Lamellae from old armor could be re-used in a number of ways. But as for leather, horn, hide etc. I'd suspect that part of the reason you might not have had much mention of it is that it wasn't effective protection. We know their metalurgy was pretty good, we know they had swords, axes, iron tipped spears and even longbows. The kind of heavy infantry fighting they did would require heavy armor. I'm not sure something made of leather or even scale armor, based on modern tests I've read about, would really be worth lugging around. Carrying armor is something we know was an issue in at least one famous Viking battle.

I think it's safe to assume padded textile garments were worn under (or even over) mail at least some of the time (probably usualy) , and that was probably the poor mans armor.

I also wonder about the effects of leather kept on an open ocean going vessel. Mail you could keep safe by oiling it, (though that would not be easy) I'm not sure how you could protect leather to long term exposure to the brine (though I admit i don't know much about that)


J

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Essays on Hroarr

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Dave Womble




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 2:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I too suspect lamellar was used...Dan Howard and I have run circles around the topic for a few years now on other forums. I think part of my problem in understanding why certain armours wouldnt have been worth using is that I've never been a fighting man...my modern mind just tells me anythings better than nothing when someones trying to eviscerate me with a sword axe or spear....such wasnt always the case "back in the day". I suspect often times no armour very likely was better than having the added weight and reduced mobility.

As for leather not holding up to salt water, people forget Norse activity wasn't restricted to oceanic sojourns...much of their movement was riverine and overland. Seafarers for sure, but they also played on land too.

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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Jul, 2007 2:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, since maille was the "normal" armour used through western Europe at the time it's hardly surprising that the vikings mainly used maille. Maille armour was probably sufficient for body protection, especially since the shield took most of the beating in combat. Finds of lamellar are rare, and occurs mainly on Gotland, Adelsö and Birka (due to close contacts with the east). Example from the garrison at Birka:

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/fid.asp?fid=371946

Leather is actually perfect for protection against wet and cold, if treated with whale oil or other kinds of fat. We know that the vikings used such leather for "rain-clothes". Check out the document below for some images of reconstructed norse leather clothing for rainy, wet enviroments (swedish text)

http://www.elvegrimarne.org/Artiklar/vikingatida_regnklader.pdf
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