Viking Shields on the Sides of Ships: Historical or Not?

Posted by Ms Elly on

Viking Shields on the Sides of Ships: Historical or Not?

Besides axe and ship, the Viking shields are among the things that made the Vikings stand out. When in battlefields, great skills with any weapon were not enough. They needed shelter against the hails of arrows for example. That is to say, the Viking shields occupied an extremely important part in combat. But the question is whether the Viking shields were actually arranged on the sides of the ships like many depictions?  

It remains a mystery

Unfortunately, no professional conclusion has been made about the question. Somehow, this matter resembled the Viking helmets: whether the Vikings wore horned helmets. But the question about the horned helmets has been answered clearly. Meanwhile, we didn't have enough evidence about the historical arrangement of the Viking shields on the ship. 

Viking ship replica sailing across the Atlantic Ocean

The Viking ship replica named "Viking". It was the first Viking ship ever built in the modern age. "Viking" crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the end of the 19th century. The shipbuilders arranged the shields along the hulls of the ship. 

A group of scholars believed that the Vikings had the shields on their sides. Many times the Vikings travelled to raid, when they were on the boat, they had to have something as the means of protection. The Viking shields placed on the sides of the ships protected them from the distant hail of arrows. 

Moreover, this arrangements of the shields meant the warriors could have more room in their boat. As they placed the shields on the sides of the boat, they could both have more room and more protection against the enemies. 

However, many scholars refused to believe the historical existence of the Viking shields' arrangement. They argued that the Vikings were just the shallow-draft troop. What they wanted with their boat was to transport them as soon ass possible. They didn't expect the ship-to-ship combat so their ship needed no armour. 

Regarding the old depictions of the Viking shields, they believe that the Vikings had their ability to exaggerate things. This usually happened in the aesthetic community. To be specific, the Viking depictions of the Vikings shields on the sides of the ships were just the exaggeration to show off the power of the Vikings to strike the enemies with fear.

Viking dragon ship sail

Viking ship with the arrangement of the Viking shields along the side of the ship. However, this remains a mystery whether this kind of arrangement was historical or not.

Because of the following reasons, it remains a dispute whether the Vikings did arrange their shields like that. 

Construction of the Viking Shields

The Viking shield was round and made of wood. In some later depictions, we can catch sight of the kite shields. But commonly, the archaeological artifacts we got were the round shields. 

Viking artifact Gokstad shields excavated as the archaeological evidence

The Viking shields from the excavation of Gokstad burial site 

The Viking shield had the bowl "boss" at the center. The boss would provide protection for the hands of the warriors. Because the warrior could easily use the shield by grabbing the single grip behind the boss. Compared with the strapped shields of the Ancient Greek, the shield with the grip in the center would face the difficulty of instability. But it offered the advantages of manoeuvrability and flexible war tactics. 

The most famous tactics with the Viking shields was the shield wall. The Vikings would stand shoulder to shoulder and built up the shield wall. 

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