The Vikings were responsible for crafting some weapons that smiths still look back on with admiration today — but did that ingenuity extend to also building something capable of stopping those weapons? Yes, but it might not look exactly as you imagined.
Some Vikings did wear armour. There are accounts about chain mail (just called mail) being a high status gift for service. Ther are also examples of Lamellar, both from sagas and eastern finds. I forget which saga has the issue of tejecting scale armour because it is ancient and ineffective. I remember reading it. But when you sail, anything that hinders swimming might be a bad idea. The main items for a Viking would be a helmet, a shield, a knife, and then a spear or an axe. Using a round shield provides a big protective advantage that makes armour less important when fighting in a shield wall. Padded gambesons would probably be found most often, as a nice bit of padded armour is easy to put on once you get to dry land, and it does help rduce the impact of a wound. Helmets, though, would be very important. It’s one thing the Vikings TV show doesn’t show very well.
Ah, but what would those helmets look like?
The lack of helmets would be true in the early period of raiding monastaries and villages, absolutely. Helmets would probably be more like hardened leather caps at that time, and evidence for them rots away pretty quick. I think as more and more fights take place between our raiders and local forces in England and France that the selection of helmets and armour would improve. As Jarls and even Kings decided to sponsor larger raiding fleets and look to settle new lands, we’d see an increase in equipment. Towards the end of the dubbed Viking era, most warriors would probably have a helmet, passed along from a relative or taken from someone else fallen in battle on either side. It’s complex stuff and changes so much in such a short period of time, which is why it is so fascinating!
Image: “The only remaining Viking helmet”, according to Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History