Hurstwic: Viking Shields

 

A few shields have survived from the Viking age, notably the shields from the Gokstad ship, which date from the 10th century. The ship was equipped with 32 shields, several of which survive intact. They were made from a single layer of planks butted together, with no iron bands, and the fronts were painted black and yellow.

Typical Viking shields were 80-90cm (32-36 inches) in diameter. Some were larger, such as the Gokstad shields, which were 94cm (37in) across. Based on surviving remnants, some shields appear to have been as small as 70cm (28in) in diameter. Presumably when a man made a shield for himself, he sized it to fit his body size and fighting style. A shield needs to be big enough to provide the desired protection but no bigger. A shield too small exposes additional lines of attack that an opponent might exploit, while a shield too large slows the defensive responses and exhausts the fighter unnecessarily.

All the surviving examples are made from solid butted planks, although literary evidence, such as the 10th century Frankish poem Waltharius, and the Gulaþing laws, suggests that shields were made of laminated wood. No archaeological evidence supports this style of construction during the Viking era in Norse lands.

Hurstwic: Viking Shields

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