One of the battle formations that Norse warriors formed to break through the enemy’s lines was called the “svinfylking” (boar formation).
The svinfylking was a battle formation where a group of heavily armed warriors (usually 20 to 30) would interlock their shields to form a wedge that had the center pointing towards the enemy’s formation. The triangular wedge tapered back on each side from the center point to make a tight spearhead.
The Viking warriors would get in a “boar formation” wedge and then charge forward in this tight interlocked formation, spearheading into the enemy’s line and breaking through by sheer force alone. Much like a boar’s charge.
The sheer force of this charge was tenacious enough that the wedge would punch a hole right through the opposing force’s shield wall or line formation. Spearheading through the enemy’s formation in this “boar formation” would spread panic in the enemy and break their lines, turning the battle in favor for the Norseman. Several boar wedge formations could also be grouped side by side forming a zigzag line pattern against the enemy’s line and break through their ranks.
Use of the “svinfylking” (boar formation) was unique to the Norse and early Germanic people at the time, as the Romans did not document this as a tactic used by the Saxons or any other culture they had come against.
The successful use of a formation of this type most probably required training and considerable practice. It was probably taught and practiced enroute to the battlefield by experienced warriors with irregular troops, as most called up Norse armies were levied (conscripted) and were usually farmers by trade. Although it is also likely to have been learned earlier, as most Norse men were taught and practiced the use of weapons and tactics from boyhood.
Often the Boar formation not only consisted of warriors interlocked to form the wedge, but would have archers inside the formation behind the warriors on the front line protecting them. They would fire arrows and throw spears at the enemy as the formation bashed its way through.
The Svinfylking formation also would usually thwart cavalry charges on it because the horses and riders would be pushed aside from the wedge’s center point and then attacked by the outer wedge’s warriors with spears causing complete chaos among the cavalry’s horses.
The Svinfylking formation’s basic weakness was being flanked by the enemy, because the formation were based on its frontal point by sheer forward force. Additionally, if the boar formation didn’t immediately break the enemy line from its forward wedged charge, then the men in the formation wouldn’t hold very long and would be forced to break off and reform.
Read Article: <The Norse Shield – Why were Viking Shields the Best>
- Kane, Njord. “Chapter 11 – Norse Warfare.” The Vikings : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2015. Print. 978-1943066018
by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing
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