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  1. #1
    DdlR's Avatar
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    Viking shields in individual combat

    No "Viking combat treatises" have survived, assuming that they ever existed in the first place; what are would-be modern VMA practitioners to do?

    Well, normally they start by reading the sagas, which are historically unreliable but do offer numerous clues about day-to-day life in the ancient North. Then they study surviving examples of Viking armament - swords, shields, spears, etc. - make facsimiles of these items and then start experimenting.

    For a long time it was assumed that Vikings used their characteristic round shields like this:

    YouTube - The Viking Sagas (1995) -- End Fight

    i.e., the other guy hacks at you, you hold your shield up and take his cuts directly onto the flat surface. Hack, bash, cut, block.

    More recent research by members of the HEMA community has attempted to retro-fit historically later shield techniques to the Viking shield, cross-referencing with archaeological evidence (damage to the skeletons of warriors, damage to shields and weapons, etc.). One of the most significant hypotheses is that Vikings might have fought with the shield flat-forward when in certain types of battle formation, but edge-forward in one-on-one combat.

    The shield edge-forward guard tactic changes the game: note the advantage of edge-forward vs. flat-forward guard positions.

    YouTube - hammaborg viking shield and sword I

    Here are some speculative edge-forward techniques retro-fitted from Hans Talhoffer's medieval combat treatises:

    YouTube - hammaborg talhoffer variations for viking shield and sword

    And here is the same style used in controlled sparring:

    YouTube - Large shield freefights

    Interesting peek-a-boo style, exploiting the unique leverage and concealment characteristics of the large round shield. The fights are trickier and much shorter than those of the hack-bash style.

  2. #2

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    Cool info! :)

  3. #3

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    I like this a lot, and I love the thought of my ancestors doing more than just hack'n slash makes me smile.

  4. #4
    Styygens's Avatar
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    THIS

    ... is really cool!

    More please.

  5. #5
    DdlR's Avatar
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    Well, there's this clip of various Viking weapon technique demos from a club in Austria:

    YouTube - Team Austria - Viking age weapons techniques

    They're not quite as "professional" as the team from the Hammaborg group in Germany (shown in the clips above) but they're obviously following similar lines of experimentation and reaching similar conclusions.

  6. #6
    Styygens's Avatar
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    The dexterity with which they use the shields is remarkable.

    Let me back up a bit... My understanding is that the Vikings used a shieldwall formation in battle. Clearly this would be a flat-front use of the shield. Is this true, or is the shieldwall in dispute?

    These interpretations are showing one-on-one combat from duels, or perhaps once battle formations are broken and the melee occurs. Am I understanding this correctly?

    Is there any thought on using an axe in combination with a more nimble shield?

    BTW, The Viking Sagas clip was hilarious.

  7. #7
    DdlR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Styygens View Post
    The dexterity with which they use the shields is remarkable.

    Let me back up a bit... My understanding is that the Vikings used a shieldwall formation in battle. Clearly this would be a flat-front use of the shield. Is this true, or is the shieldwall in dispute?

    These interpretations are showing one-on-one combat from duels, or perhaps once battle formations are broken and the melee occurs. Am I understanding this correctly?
    Yes, I believe so. The shield wall, in various formations, presented as much of an impenetrable (flat) surface as possible re. defense against arrows, massed spear attacks, etc. The recent practical research suggests that individual fighters would probably change to the shield-edge forward stance when engaging in one-on-one or small-group melee combat.

    Is there any thought on using an axe in combination with a more nimble shield?
    I'm not sure to what extent these guys are emphasizing the "nimble shield", but this is a good article: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/arti...viking_axe.htm

  8. #8
    Styygens's Avatar
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    It is hard to infer movement from those stills, but it does appear that they are using the edge forward style of holding the shield. The shield does seem to be active. However, he also takes some techniques on the flat. It might be a more conservative interpretation.

    Very interesting...

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    So would these shield walls be similar to the shield walls of greek hoplites? Also I have a feeling that in Viking societies owner ship of a sword would probably be confined to the upper classes and that the majority of vikings would be armed with either axes or spears.

  10. #10
    DdlR's Avatar
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    We don't have any detailed, reliable accounts of how the Viking shield wall worked. OTOH the sort of experimental archaeology these folks are doing is probably the best way to figure it out.

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