The spear was the favored weapon of the Norse all-father and god of war, Odin.
Odin had a spear that was made from the World tree Yggdrasil named Gungnir. The Prose Edda says that Odin will carry his spear Gungnir and lead the bravest that had fallen on the battlefield and had been taken to the Halls of Valhalla. These fallen warriors from Valhalla are called the Einherjar and Odin will lead them to the battlefield during the Ragnarok event.
The spear held great symbolic importance to the Norse warrior and was the most common weapon during the early Viking Age. Spears were also cheap and easy to produce because they could be made with inferior steel. Notwithstanding, they were a very effective weapon that required minimal skill or training to use.
Most Viking spearheads were long and thin and ranged from 30 to 50 centimeters (12 to 20 inches) long. The Norse used a length of a bladed spearhead that is generally reserved in modern times for boar hunting.
Although many spears would be thrown into enemy lines, they were just as useful when employed as thrusting or slashing weapons. The length of the spear shafts averaged from 2 to 2.5 meters (6 ½ to 8 feet) long and were usually made of strong durable ash. A typical Norse spear was a long bladed spearhead mounted on a sturdy shaft.
Spearheads with wings are called krókspjót (hooked spears) in the sagas. Some larger spearheads that could be used for cutting were called höggspjót (hewing spear).
The Norse used a variety of spear types for varied kinds of combat fighting methods.
It is likely that such spears were used in two hands.
Although it has been suggested that these could be used in conjunction with a shield, it is perhaps more likely that they were used without a shield once the combat closed beyond the area in which missiles could be useful.
Lighter weight, shorter spears with narrower spearheads were used as javelins in the opening rounds of a battle. Some of these throwing spears were barbed as well. The smaller throwing spears have been found in large numbers by archeologists as the Vikings would hurl a salvo of missiles at their enemy as the lines closed.
The Viking Sagas tell of many heroes removing the pin that held the spearhead in place before throwing it, so the enemy couldn’t reuse the weapon. These smaller spears could have also be used as a single-handed weapon with a shield. While the longer spears with the broader spearhead were probably used with two hands.
- This article is an excerpt from the book:
Kane, Njord. “Norse Armor and Weaponry: The Spear.” The Vikings : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2015. ISBN 978-1943066018 .
Used by permission from the author and publisher exclusively for use on spangenhelm.com only.
- Kane, Njord. “Norse Armor and Weaponry: The Spear.” The Vikings : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2015. ISBN 978-1943066018
- Brondsted, Johannes. Viking Spearheads. The Vikings. Pelican Books, 1960. ISBN:9780140204599.
by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing
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