Ellen Lloyd - AncientPages.com - Over the years, archaeologists have discovered many precious Viking Age artifacts, such as remarkable Viking jewelry, weapons, ritual objects, pieces of clothes, and even ships.
Isn’t it a bit strange that scientists have only found one Viking Age helmet in Scandinavia? How can the lack of Viking Age helmets be explained?
Gjermundbu helmet - Credit: NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet
The helmet was accidentally discovered on the farm Gjermundbu in Haugsbygd in Ringerike in 1943. When scientists examined the area, they discovered a burial chamber of historic value dating from the Viking era. Remains of two males were found along with other Viking artifacts such as two swords, two axes, two spearheads, board games, and an almost intact chain mail.
The Vikings who had been put to rest there were fully equipped to continue their afterlife in Valhalla, where Viking warriors dwell after death.
The Gjermundbu helmet was examined and dated to around the later 9th century. Having a fixed visor of the characteristic ‘spectacle’ form it was an expensive helmet only a few could afford. Most likely it belonged to a powerful Viking chief. On the back of the helmet were metal plates that protected the warrior's neck. During the Viking Age, many warriors could only dream about wearing such an outstanding iron helmet.
The fact that scientists have not discovered more Viking Age helmets cannot be easily explained, but there are some theories that could shed light on the subject.
One possibility is that modern image of the Vikings is simply wrong. We often picture a Viking as a warrior who jumps off his ships waving a sword and wearing a large helmet. What if Vikings did not wear iron helmets because they were too heavy? Vikings were very mobile and heavy helmets could do more harm than good when a warrior engaged in battle. He had to be able to move very fast and heavy military equipment was a disadvantage.
Viking Age artifacts discovered at Gjermundbu, Norway. Credit: Cultural History Museum, UiO / Vegard Vike / Ove Holst / Ellen C. Holte
Historians have suggested it’s possible that Vikings wore pointy hoods as protection from the weather or leather helmets.
Scientists from Norway think only members of a Hird wore iron helmets. As previously discussed on Ancient Pages, members of a Hird were professional Viking warriors and bodyguards who protected their leader day and night.
Vikings who worked in a Hird were greatly rewarded for their services and it’s possible they had access to the best military equipment.
However, it was common that a mighty Viking chief could have up to 60 warriors in his Hird. If all these Vikings wore iron helmets, then why have we only found one Viking Age helmet so far?
It seems much more plausible that iron helmets were rare during the Viking Age. The question is - how uncommon were Viking Age iron helmets?
Written by Ellen Lloyd – AncientPages.com
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Expand for references
Grieg, S. - Norske Oldfunn VIII, Gjermundbufunnet. Oslo
Orrling, C. - Vikingatidens ABC. Historia i fickformat. Uppslagsord Gjermundbu. Stockholm
Vike, V. - Brynjevev : metallografisk analyse av brynjematerial ved Oldsaksamlingen i Oslo.