We found out from a real life Jarl
Vikings are cool. They are rough and tough, the epitome of badass-itude and fearlessness, banging their shields and screaming at their enemies. And that’s not even to mention those fabulously big, bushy beards many of them rock. Despite being historically not very nice, our axe-swinging faves reappear not just on ads for trips to Iceland but in real life when it’s time for the annual Viking Festival in Hafnarfjörður each June. For the downlow on how Vikings fought, we turned to Jökull Tandri Ámundason, one of the Jarls of the Viking Club Rimmugýgur.
“Well, they mostly used weaponry,” Jökull Tandri leads in with a chuckle. “We are a Viking reenactment group and base our combat style around what is known as Western style reenactment fighting” he continues. “There are a couple of variations of Viking combat around the world, most notably Western style, Eastern style, Húskarl and SCA armoured combat.”
The general rule of thumb is that in Western style fighting, the head is out and you don’t get any points for striking below the knee or below the elbow.
The general rule of thumb is that in Western style fighting, the head is out and you don’t get any points for striking below the knee or below the elbow, whereas Eastern style targets the entire body and is known for more intense strikes – and, consequently, more armour.
“They’re based in different combat schools,” Jökull Tandri says. “Western style fighting is perhaps more performative – for show fights, festivals or movie fighting where we do the big swings and the grunts and the screams along with it.”
Viking reenactments like those done by Viking Club Rimmugýgur are based on historical accounts of fights and battles, such as records of Örlygsstaðabardagi (the Battle at Örlygsstaðir), which took place up North in 1238 and is considered one of the biggest and bloodiest battle in Iceland’s history.
“We have a set of rules that we work with, but Viking combat was a short and brutal affair in general,” Jökull Tandri points out, elaborating on the different weapons Vikings could use to hack, slash and bang into each other.
Image and accessibility of resources – important factors, even on the Viking job market.
“There are swords, axes, spears, Dane Axes, as well as shields and sets of armour,” the Jarl rhymes off what would have been available to Viking fighters. “Generally, you would find a person with a shield and an axe. That was a very common weapon because it was easy to find wood and then a little bit of metal to make a weapon, whereas a sword would be more of a status symbol. The axe was generally accessible by anyone because it was also used as a tool for the home and the difference in the ratio of metal to whatever other material you had sort of dictated how well you were perceived as a fighter.” Image and accessibility of resources – important factors, even on the Viking job market.
“There’s of course some cases where Jarls or Húskarls rallied up the peasantry to make a lot of weapons, so in quick time you would have spears and or axes distributed and being thrown at the enemy until one of you crumbles,” Jökull Tandri explains.
Then there are records of so-called hólmganga, a duel to the death between two people, each carrying one weapon and having a shield assistant. The shield itself is also significant, Jökull Tandri points out. “It is mostly used for defence but can also be used aggressively, opening your opponent’s shield, pushing your opponent’s weapon out of the way and then you would go in for another strike, following up or countering that.” Until the last Viking has fallen or it’s time for a snack break.
Learn more about all things Viking at the Viking Festival in Hafnarfjörður, running June 14 to 18. Learn more about Viking reenactment at facebook.com/rimmugygur
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