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What Did Vikings Wear in Battle?

What Did Vikings Wear in Battle?

The Vikings have been notoriously associated with long voyages and unrelenting invasions that changed the course of history from 800 AD. Since they were always involved in raids and skirmishes, it’s common knowledge that their attire was designed to withstand external elements. 

In addition to being excellent warriors, they were skilled weavers and made protective clothing for battles and freezing temperatures in their homeland. In this article, we will explore different Viking attire and intricate details you’ll be surprised to know! 

Archaeological Evidence of Viking Clothing

According to archaeologists, most Vikings were middle age farmers who wore simple and practical clothing. [1]

Ulla Mannering, an archaeologist who researches North European textiles, explains that even those who engaged in ruthless battles and exciting trades abroad would seem plain to the modern man today. 

While Viking customs on various TV shows and movies seem extravagant, Viking warriors wore clothing far more coarse and fragmented than today’s refined weavings. Researchers possess a general sense of Viking style through the samples found in graves and bags. 

We will elaborate on the clothing style in the next few lines. 

King Olaf II (left) is killed at Stiklestad.
King Olaf II (left) is killed at Stiklestad
Peter Nicolai Arbo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What Kind of Clothing Did They Wear? 

Vikings wore what they could afford. For most of the Viking age, Viking raiders coveted the stolen armor and weapons from their enemies. There was a social hierarchy among the Norsemen who used clothing as a symbol of their status and wealth

Since the Viking age lasted over three centuries, their style and clothing eventually changed with the times. 

Through Heimskringla, we get a clear idea of King Olaf Haraldsson’s warriors who were armed in “coats of ring-mail and in foreign helmets.” This shows that foreign equipment had a reputation for better quality than Norse battle-wear. 

What Did Men Wear? 

The Scandinavians applied fine craftsmanship while weaving their coats and cloaks. Despite the stereotype that the Vikings only wore rugged, grotesque pieces, they indulged in extravagant, finely made furs. 

Of course, these imported furs were only accessed by the higher classes. Mannering explains that these garments were passed down from higher classes to lower class counterparts. 

Since Viking men were exposed to harsh weather and incessant battles, it was important for them to keep warm during strenuous moments. 

Base garments were thick and coarse in colder months. Men wore tunics embossed with symbols or patterns. Along with this, an outer garment – usually an overcoat and trousers – was added to keep them warm. Viking shoes were characterized by leather furnishings and were made from a process known as the “turn shoe” technique. 

Replicas of Viking age clothes on exhibit in Hoga, Tjörn in Sweden.
Replicas of Viking age clothes on exhibit in Hoga, Tjörn in Sweden
Ingwik, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What Did Women Wear? 

The women wore thick strap-style dresses coupled with sturdy cloaks like men. These garments were made largely from wool or linen and protected against unbearable temperatures. 

The Viking era existed during a time when low temperatures were common. For women, too, it was extremely important to keep warm. Just like men, they wore a base layer of linen underdress and a woolen strapped dress over it. 

Women wore sturdy cloaks over this apparel which was usually made from fur or wool. Silk was available, but it had to be imported, so it was generally accessible to the elite members of the Viking society. 

What Did the Viking Warriors Wear? 

We already know that the Vikings had a barbarous reputation, owing to the attacks on the Christian monasteries and their exaggerated description by numerous travelers. When it comes to battle wear, they adapted to the conditions of warfare in the region. 

So when the Vikings raided a particular area, they were also notorious for stealing and looting ornaments, armor, weapons, and jewelry of the region. 

Listed below are some Viking warrior garments worn during raids and battles. 

Viking Lamellar Armor 

The clothes worn during extensive battles were much more robust than normal garments. Lamellar armor was a colloquial term for metallic armor that was similar to chainmail in the general sense. 

More than 30 lamellar were found in 1877 which proves that the Vikings wore them during battles. 

Lamellar armor.
Lamellar armor
Dzej, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This clothing was usually made by linking many iron or steel plates using leather. Lamellar armor was effective in offering some security to the warriors, but it was not as powerful as chainmail. Hence, the reason why many Danish kings imported chainmail from bordering lands. 

Chain Mail 

Along with Lamellar armor, chain mail was widely used by Viking warriors too. They wore chainmail shirts made of iron rings linked to each other. The image should not be confused with the bulky steel suits worn by knights.

Chain mail was extensively used by the Vikings as a way to protect themselves from hits. Its evidence has been found in Scandinavia, where Vikings made it using a 4-1 pattern. 

Leather Armor 

Leather armor was one of the most accessible armor during the Viking age. 

It was usually made up of leather patches and padded with thick wool clothing for extra protection. It was more common among warriors of low rank or status. The Viking Lamella armor was usually worn by elites or high-ranking warriors. 

Helmets 

The Viking armor was incomplete without distinctive and robust helmets. 

Viking helmets were specifically known as Nasal helms. They wore helmets to protect their heads and shield themselves from the enemy. Some metal helmets covered the head and entire face, while others were used to hide the face partially. 

Viking Arms and Armor. Helmets lined up.
Viking Arms and Armor
Helgi Halldórsson from Reykjavík, Iceland, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Iron helmets were used by Viking warriors consisting of a conical iron cap, a nosepiece, and eye guards. Since iron was expensive to procure, many preferred leather helmets as they were cheaper and easily accessible. 

The alleged horned helmets showcased by popular culture are highly speculated by historians since the only Viking helmet found was without a horn. [2] Moreover, horned helmets would be impractical on a real battlefield. 

Leather Belt 

According to written sources, the Vikings loved accessorizing their battle armor. [3] Many warriors wore leather belts fastened to their trousers to carry their weapons around seamlessly. 

The leather belt was primarily worn over the long tunics and it was used to carry weapons like axes, knives, and swords. 

Cloaks 

Lastly, heavy cloaks were used by Viking warriors when they had to traverse through freezing temperatures or unchartered territories. These cloaks often served as an additional layer to the battle armor worn underneath. 

Viking Weapons 

Viking weapons were an important part of the daily life of Scandinavians. Archaeologists have found evidence from lakes, graves, and battlefields to justify the prominent weapons used by them. 

While there were other weapons, the spear, shields, and axes were integral to a Viking warrior’s defense system. 

Viking Shields

The Vikings were known for their large and round shields. These shields were made from wooden boards measured up to a meter and riveted together. A hole in the center allowed the warrior to grip the shield properly. Other materials like fir, alder, and poplar wood were also used to make them.

Viking shield.
Viking shield
Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, the shields were covered in leather, and painted with images of mythical heroes. A characteristic feature of Viking battle armor, these shields were used to offer considerable protection from incoming blows. 

Viking Spears 

Viking Spears were another common weapon used by Vikings. These spears had their unique design – metal heads with a sharp blade mounted on wooden shafts.

The shaft was usually 2 to 3 meters long, and they were made from ash trees. Each spear was designed for a specific purpose, whether throwing, chopping, or cutting. 

Axes 

As the most common hand weapon, axes were mostly used by the common Viking. These axe heads were usually made from wrought iron with a steel edge and were fairly cheaper than spearheads. 

Two Viking axes found in Western Norway.
Two Viking axes found in Western Norway.
Chaosdruid, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

They were thrown or swung at the enemy to decapitate them instantly. The Dane Axe, which was a large axe with two hands, was used by warrior elites in prominent battles. 

Conclusion 

Hence, the Vikings were a group of people that differentiated themselves from others through their ways, clothing, and culture. Legendary as they were, Viking warriors and women were skilled and tenacious in every aspect of their lives. 

With an impressive history and remarkable culture, they managed to prevail over many regions through their sheer will and determination for many decades.