Shields in Viking Ship Burial May Have Been Used in Combat

A new study suggests that the 64 wooden shields discovered in southern Norway’s Gokstad ship burial in 1880 were part of the ship’s equipment and may have been used in combat. It had been previously thought that the shields were solely ceremonial. Rolf Warming of the University of Stockholm said that the round shields, which had been tied along the top edge of the ship’s hull when it was repurposed for the burial of a Viking king in A.D. 900, were likely to have been covered with a thin layer of rawhide, based upon the organic material and stitching holes observed on the surface. The shields may have also been painted either yellow or black, he added, to create the look of yellow and black crescents when the shields were overlapped. Made from tapered wooden boards set around a center iron shield boss on one side and a wooden handle on the other, the shields would have been light and easy to maneuver in combat, he explained. Future research will focus on irregular notches and marks on the shield bosses and analysis of the organic material. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Arms & Armour. To read about other ship burials uncovered in Norway and Sweden, go to “Sailing the Viking Seas.”

It is possible that shields found in Viking ship burials were used in combat, but it is difficult to say for certain without additional evidence. Shields were a crucial part of Viking warfare, and it is likely that many shields were used extensively in battle and may have become damaged or destroyed as a result.

However, the shields found in ship burials may have been placed there as a symbol of the deceased’s status as a warrior or to provide protection in the afterlife. Ship burials were elaborate and expensive, and the inclusion of weapons, armor, and other items of value may have been intended to demonstrate the wealth and power of the deceased.

There is also some evidence to suggest that shields were occasionally decorated with intricate designs and symbols, which may have had ritual or symbolic significance rather than functional purpose in combat. Ultimately, the exact purpose of the shields found in Viking ship burials may never be fully understood, but they offer valuable insights into the beliefs, values, and customs of Viking society.




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