Viking Age Arms and Armour - Foreign Origins of Vikings Arms and Armor

Foreign Origins of Vikings Arms and Armor

Foreign made weapons and armor played a special role in Norse society. They were either attained through trade (an extension of gift giving in Norse society) or plunder. Therefore, their possession and display by any individual would signify their station in the social hierarchy and any political allegiances they had. One example of weapons being exchanged between the Franks and the Vikings occurred in 795 when Charlemagne exchanged weapons with the Norse king King Offa.

Scandinavian affinity towards foreign arms and armor during the Viking Age was also a practical decision. Norse weapon designs were obsolete and iron found within Scandinavia was of poor quality. Frankish swords like the ULFBERHT had a higher carbon content making them more durable and their design was much more maneuverable compared to Scandinavian produced swords. However, smaller weapons like daggers, knives, and arrowheads could be manufactured in Scandinavia, yet the best swords and spearheads were undoubtedly imported.

Many of the most important Viking weapons were highly ornate—decorated lavishly with gold and silver. Weapons adorned as such served large religious and social functions. These precious metals were not produced in Scandinavia and they too would have been imported. Once in Scandinavia, the precious metals would have been inlayed in the pommels and blades of weapons creating geometric patterns, depictions of animals, and later Christian symbols.

The Vikings also used foreign armor. According to Heimskringla one hundred Vikings were adorned “in coats of ring-mail, and in foreign helmets” at the Battle of Nesjar.

During the mid-9th century, there was an influx of these high quality weapons into Scandinavia, and Frankish arms became the standard for all Vikings. As Ahmad ibn Fadlan observed in his writing Journey to Russia, every Viking carried a “sword of the Frankish type." The Franks attempted to quell the use of weapons and armor produced in Francia being used by the Vikings. The Franks feared that they would eventually be facing equally armed opponents. Chapter 10 of the Capitulare Bononiense, made it illegal for any leader of a church to sell weapons or armor to non-Frankish individuals. Laws like this were enacted throughout Francia. Ultimately in 864 Charles the Bald made the practice punishable by death.

Some scholars have proposed that theses laws were so effective at stemming the flow of Frankish weapons, that it initiated the practice of raiding for which the Vikings are now famous.

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