Viking Raids | What It Was Like to Be On the Front Lines (1)
Vikings did whatever the hell they wanted.
They were stealth and ruthless, seafaring norsemen and women
who disregarded conventional battlefield tactics, methods,
and customs of the time.
These attributes weren't seen as cowardly acts of warfare.
They were regarded as smart tactics
in a successful pillaging.
Today, we're exploring what it was really
like on a Viking raid.
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Let's understand why these norsemen turned
to raiding and pillaging.
It wasn't because they loved violence
and it was something to pass the time.
Viking raids were a matter of survival.
It wasn't always like that though.
Early in the Viking Age between the 8th and 9th century,
Vikings fought for honor.
They were made up of small tribes that didn't adhere
to law, authority, or religion.
And violence was used as a way to settle disputes
with other tribes.
Eventually, defending the tribe's honor
and appealing to their gods of war became secondary.
Vikings soon began to go on raids to acquire
wealth and material goods.
They often targeted Christian monasteries in Britain.
Because these monasteries were easy prey for the Vikings.
The defenseless monks who inhabited them
were sitting Friar ducks.
A tribe of Vikings as small as 30 warriors
could take down a monastery without breaking a sweat.
As a matter of fact, the beginning of the Viking Age
is normally regarded as June 8, 793
AD when the first documented Viking attack took place
at a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne
in Northern England.
Alcuin, a scholar in Charlemagne's court at the time
wrote of that particular raid.
Never before has such terror appeared in Britain
as we now have suffered from a pagan place.
These heathens poured out the blood of the Saints
around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of Saints
in the temple of God like dung in the streets.
But to the Vikings, a monastery was too good to pass up.
They were filled to the rafters with treasures like gold,
silver, jewels, and books.
Monasteries were also a valuable source for food, drink, cattle,
clothes, and tools.
A Viking pillaging at Christian monastery
was like raiding a Bed Bath and Beyond,
except without all the patchouli fragrance.
The fact that Viking raids were aimed
at churches and monasteries was regarded
as particularly horrifying at the time.
No one was safe from the Vikings.
Not even men of God.
When Vikings weren't raiding monasteries,
they were battling the armies of various countries and sometimes
These fights weren't as simple as punking some monks though.
These battles required strategy.
Vikings relied on the element of surprise.
Vikings were well-known for ambushing their targets
by hiding in the woods and lying in wait for their opponent
as they walked along established roads.
Of course, every now and then, Vikings
would adhere to traditional rules of warfare.
For example, if a tribe of Vikings
was confronted on land by an opponent of equal size
and strength, they'd begin their battle
by forming a shield wall.
It worked like this.
Before one spear was thrown, warriors from each tribe
would face off with each other in a wedge like formation.
This was a shield wall.
Depending on the size of the army,
a shield could be made up of five to six rows
of warriors holding round, handheld, wooden shields.
The bulk of the wedge formation was usually
made up of heavily armed men with berserkers
at the very front of the wedge.
More on that in a minute.
Archers and the other veterans of the tribe
would then line up behind the wedge.
And body guards called hirds would surround their leaders
and chiefs at the back.
The ground battle would finally begin
when a warrior threw a spear over their enemy's lines.
Waves of spears followed with armor piercing arrows
fired off by archers close behind.
Often, the opening [INAUDIBLE] determined the fight.
Eventually, one of the tribes would stagger and wheel away
from the spears and arrows that rained down upon them.
Of course, if both tribes remain standing
after the initial downpour of spears,
the warriors of each side pushed forward
to wage close quarter, hand-to-hand combat
with their enemies.
They deserve some special acknowledgment.
We all know that vikings were insane warriors.
But they were nothing compared to berserkers.
A special group of elite vikings who were so bad
ass they didn't even wear armor or helmets.
They fought in loin cloths.
And the only weapon they used was a light shield.
Berserkers were skilled warriors for sure.
But the thing that made them so dangerous
was that they had no fear.
Before battle, they would work themselves up
into a crazed trance like state called berserkgang,
and then fight with blind fury.
While in this frenzied state during raids,
berserkers lost all human capacity
for reason or awareness and were known to scream and howl
like wolves or mad dogs.
You now know where Wolverine's berserker mode
was inspired from.
If you believed the lure of these berserkers
were said to have spiritual, magical powers
from the god of war, Odin.
It's also hypothesized that berserkers
would prep for battle by drinking gallons of alcohol
and consuming magic mushrooms.
Although, most people on this concoction
would just start playing guitar by a campfire.
Some botanists have claimed that berserker behavior could've
been caused by eating a plant called
bog myrtle, one of the main spices in Scandinavian beer.
In land raids, tribes would position their berserkers
at the front of the wedge.
The boar snout would then rush their enemies battle lines
and take their formation apart in hand to hand combat.
At this point, the raid would turn
into a straight up donnybrook.
And the tribe that won usually had the strongest assembly
Vikings love their weapons as much
as a dog loves going for a ride.
A typical raid saw Vikings use axes, swords, bows and arrows,
But their go to weapon of choice was the spear.
Inexpensive and easy to make.
Spears also had reach, which was pretty helpful
when a raid devolved into hand-to-hand combat.
With a tip made of iron measuring anywhere
from 8 to 24 inches and the wooden shaft usually made
of straight grain ash, a Viking spear
was used mostly for throwing.
But an adept warrior could use theirs
for carving, chiseling, and chopping, as well.
It's like the Viking version of a Swiss army knife.
There's little evidence that tells us
the length of the shaft from the Viking Age.
But chapter 6 of [INAUDIBLE] saga tells of a spear
so long a man's outstretched arm could barely touch the rivet.
Of course, most historians estimate
that the combined length of a wooden shaft an iron
head of a Viking era spear was between seven and 10 feet long.
Swords were pretty rare in the Viking Age.
They were expensive, difficult to make,
and very few Vikings owned a good one.
That meant that swords were the mark of an elite warrior
and treated as heirlooms passed down from bearded father
to son for generations.
You could determine the quality of a sword
by the elaborately decorated hilts
or by the bladesmith's name that was imprinted
near the base of the blade.
Just like a brand name imprinted on anything you buy today.
Different styles with varying looks
were even given nicknames by Vikings,
like Plague Biter and Gold Hilt. Not sure if Part Eater or Oath
Keeper ever made it to real life.
Most Vikings preferred double edged swords ranging in length
from 24 to 36 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in width.
For older Vikings, a 40 inch sword wasn't uncommon.
They were relatively light.
They weighed anywhere between two to four pounds,
depending on length.
Of course, Hollywood likes to portray Vikings slashing
their victims while holding their swords with a two
But that's not how it went down.
If you look at the grip of a sword from the Viking Age,
you'll see that it was made for one hand.
There was no need for an extended grip on a Viking sword
because it would throw off the weight of the weapon.
Plus, their other hand was busy holding a shield anyway.
While these swords were usually passed from father to son
as heirlooms, there is evidence that some Vikings
were buried with him.
In these cases, the Viking sword was ritualistically killed,
which means the blade was bent so that it was unusable.
This served two purposes.
It acted as a way to retire the sword with its owner,
and it deterred grave robbers from stealing the weapon.
When it came to a Viking raid, a warrior
had two means of defense.
His cunning and his shield.
Even though they were made of wood-- usually fir, alder,
spruce or poplar--
like Micky Ward, a Viking shield could take quite a beating
A few shields have survived from the Viking Age.
And they vary in size from 32 to 36 inches in diameter.
It was also noted that a shield was often
custom made for a warrior.
It was sized to fit the dimensions of his body
and his fighting style.
A shield needed to be big enough to provide protection,
but not too big that it threw off the balance of the warrior.
Too small would expose additional lines of attack
that an opponent could exploit.
Too large would slow the defensive response
and exhaust the warrior unnecessarily.
There's been great debate about the role of shield maidens
in Viking culture.
Namely, whether these powerful women even
existed in the first place.
Scandinavian folklore mythology have always
been there with tales of bravery and cunning battle prowess.
But archaeologists from Uppsala University and Stockholm
University have found new DNA evidence
that shows female warriors have roots
in actual historical events.
Technology recently caught up with the excavation
of one of the most well-known graves
from the Viking Age, a mid 10th century grave
in a Swedish Viking town named Burka.
The tomb was excavated in the 1880s revealing
the remains of a female warrior surrounded by an ax, a bow
and arrow, a sword, armor piercing arrows, and two
But like we said, the folklore of mythology
have always been there.
According to the Greenland saga, when Leif Erickson's
pregnant half sister--
[INAUDIBLE] Eric's daughter-- was in Vineland.
It was written that she grabbed a sword and, bare breasted,
scared away the attacking stray lings.
In another instance, Viking leader, Lagertha,
commanded a band of 120 ships of warriors.
When her ex-husband, Ragnar Lothbrok,
faced near certain defeat in a fight,
Lagertha sailed to his rescue, launching a surprise attack
on the enemy from behind reportedly causing
Ragnar's opponents to panic.
Shield maidens also reportedly fought
while disguised in men's clothes.
Thus, they were sometimes indistinguishable
from male warriors.
Shield maidens existed.
And they were as bad ass as their male counterparts.
A hird was made up of elite bodyguards
with the sole purpose of protecting
the Viking chief at the back of the wedge during battles.
A wealthy and skilled chief might
have as many as 60 hirdmen protecting them
on the battlefield.
These hirdmen were smart, always armed warriors.
And they guaranteed their leaders safety.
In the Vikings pecking order, you
could think of them as the Navy seals.
Of course, a hirdmen's job wasn't only reserved
for battles and raids.
Due to the fact that an influential Viking chief
had enemies looking everywhere, a hirdmen
was on the clock 24/7.
And while a hirdmen put his life on the line every day,