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Viking Age Arms and Armor
Other Defenses

The sagas mention other personal defenses. In chapter 45 of Eyrbyggja saga, Freysteinn was protected from a sword cut to his neck by a piece of horn sewn into his felt hat. In chapter 41 of VatnsdŠla saga, Ingˇlfur put flat stones on his chest and back, which protected him when he attacked a band of thieves.

stone armor
stone armor in the Viking age

In chapter 2 of Vopnfir­inga saga, Brodd-Helgi similarly protected himself with flat stones under his clothing. When Svartr thrust at Brodd-Helgi with his halberd (h÷ggspjˇt), it glanced off the stone so violently that Svartr pitched forward, allowing Brodd-Helgi to cut off his leg. The event took place on Smj÷rvatnshei­i below Smj÷rfj÷ll in Iceland, shown to the right as it appears today.

Smjorfjoll

Occasionally, objects worn on the body provided protection from an attack, even though they were never intended to serve as armor. In chapter 58 of Eyrbyggja saga, Ëspakr and ١rir were fighting. ١rir lunged at Ëspakr with his knife, but Ëspakr avoided the attack. ١rir overcommitted and fell forward on his knees, with his head down. Ëspakr drove his axe into ١rir's back. However, ١rir had a knife hanging from a strap around his neck. The knife had slipped around to his back, and it took the force of the blow. ١rir received only a slight wound on either side of the knife.

In chapter 44 of Eyrbyggja saga, Snorri go­i and his men fought against Stein■ˇrr and his men at Geirv÷r in ┴lftafj÷r­ur (shown to the right as it appears today). Snorri requested a truce from Stein■ˇr's people, and Stein■ˇrr replied by asking Snorri to extend a hand, presumably to seal the truce. However, Stein■ˇrr treacherously cut at Snorri's outstretched arm with his sword. The sword landed on Snorri's temple ring (which was probably worn on the upper arm). Snorri was unhurt, but the ring was nearly broken in two.

Geirvor
Reykjarfjordur

In chapter 11 of Grettis saga, Ůorgeir walked to the boat shed at Reykjarfj÷r­ur (left, as the farm appears today) before dawn to prepare for a day of fishing. Ůorfinnr came up behind him and drove his axe into Ůorgeir's back so that it sank in between his shoulder blades. Ůorfinnr released the axe and ran away.

What Ůorfinnr didn't see was that Ůorgeir had a leather flask full of drink on his back, which took the full force of the axe blow. The flask was ruined, but Ůorgeir was unharmed. Ůorgeir's flask might have resembled the reproduction leather flask shown to the right.

The stories describe ways in which fights were stopped by third parties. The most common method was to throw clothing or blankets onto the combatants' weapons, rendering them ineffectual. This was done by men to capture an opponent without harming him (Egils saga chapter 46) or by women to stop a fight (Vopnfir­inga saga chapter 18).

One clever trick is described in chapter 15 of Gull-١ris saga. ١rir and Steinˇlfur were fighting, and men joined the battle on both sides. But some of Steinˇlf's men saw a large group of men riding towards the battle from a farm that would be supporting ١rir. Steinˇlf's men, fearing overwhelming numbers were about to join the battle, turned and headed for their ships. Only later was it revealed that the large group of approaching "men" were cattle being driven towards the battle site with clothing draped over their horns.


Video demonstration
throwing a cloak on a sword
QuickTime
or
Windows Media

In another case, it was done by an unarmed man while under attack. In chapter 39 of Finnboga saga ramma, ŮorgrÝmur grabbed a hidden sword and attacked Finnbogi, who was unarmed. Finnbogi threw his cloak over the sword to reduce its effectiveness, and then grappled with ŮorgrÝmur, bringing him down and killing him.

One might think it would be easy for a swordsman to continue fighting with a cloak on his sword, or at least to throw it off. The cloak, weighing nearly as much (if not more than) the sword significantly unbalances it, making control of the sword difficult. Additionally, if the cloak is thrown with a twist (like throwing out a fishing net) it entangles itself around the swordsman's arm and weapon (and head), making removal difficult and possibly resulting in a disarm. A speculative reconstruction of a disarm with a cloak is shown in this combat demo video, part of a longer fight.

The video linked on the left shows how a cloak can be thrown from the side to entangle a swordsman. The photo on the right shows a round of sparring in which a cloak is used to defend against two swords in a Hurstwic Viking combat training session.


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