The children from 3rd to 6th experienced a wonderful workshop, facilitated by Dave Swift of Claiomh on Tuesday last, Oct 18th, all about Vikings and in particular their clothing and weaponry.
Dave delivered a huge amount of information in a very short space of time so the following is a summary of his main points!
The majority of Vikings in Ireland came from Norway. Dublin, Wexford and Waterford were controlled by Norwegian Vikings. The exception was Limerick, which was established by Danish Vikings. There is very little evidence of Swedish Vikings in Ireland apart from a cave in Kerry.
Viking men generally wore linen tunics, usually blue or green.
Beware the Viking wearing a blue or black cloak, he is intent on murder!
Money, money, money! A hoard of “hack silver” was discovered in Cushalourt, near Westport, Co Mayo. Vikings wore silver bracelets which they hacked into pieces that were used as currency. We can only speculate as to the provenance of this hoard.
Coins were introduced in 995AD. They were engraved with a cross. Why? Because they were devout Christians? Absolutely not! (well, not yet anyway!). The cross made it easier to split the coin in order to give change. (Perhaps this is why we use the word “briseadh” in Irish!)
Biggest trade was in Slaves. Dublin was a major slave trading town. A very large number of Irish slaves went to Iceland.
Married Viking women wore a cloth on her head.
They often wore blue coloured glass beads as jewellery. Amber was highly valued.
It has been calculated that a single monetary unit equated to 26.1g.
Boats – The Skuldelev 2 is one of the largest Viking boats discovered. It was discovered in Denmark but was built in Ireland from Wicklow timber. Viking boats were long and narrow, allowing them to travel up many rivers. They were also lightweight, allowing them to be carried by their crew.
Boats were propelled two ways – sails and oars. Usually 16 oars either side, requiring 32 men. Crew was often double this so crews could rotate.
Boats didn’t have a front or back – rudder could be transferred.
In battles, opposing armies would agree to lash boats together so they could fight on water!
Pictured is a replica of a Viking helmet found in Norway in 1942. The discovery was kept secret at the time as the country was occupied by the Germans.
It was Iron, polished with beeswax (thus the black colour), the inside was linen stuffed with wool.
A replica of The Isle of Lewis chess set was used in Harry Potter!
Skaldbjorg – The famous Viking Shield Wall!
The Viking shield was round and usually painted red, and sometimes black, yellow or white (unlike the picture above….pedantic historians, look away now!)
Generally made from softwood, which was lightweight. They were not particularly durable. A fighter was usually issued with three as they were not expected to last long.
The bos (like a soup bowl in the middle) was where the fighter’s hand went.
The handle was copper or wooden.
Shields could be lashed to the side of the boat to help keep crew dry!
The Irish were still using this shield in the 12th century, to the surprise of the invading Normans.
There was also a small version of the round shield.
There is no evidence in archaeology of Vikings using body armour, although they did wear leather coats, usually under chainmail (byrnie). This was very expensive, and a suit was really heavy – 8kilos!
The sword is the quintessential Viking accessory! They usually had a short cross guard, and could be single-handed. The crescent cross guard was not introduced until after 1000AD.
Langsac in the Viking name for a long sword and Scramasac was the shorter sword.
“The Irish were very welcoming with the axe!”
So said the Normans anyway! The axe was also a very popular weapon (and particularly brutal!). Three fine examples were discovered in Lough Corrib in 2013.
Skeggocs were a large, somewhat top-heavy axe, originally used for chopping wood. They were a bit cumbersome in the battlefield and were replaced with a smaller version. The axe was multifunctional and the back of the head could be used as a hammer.
The legendry Brian Boru was killed with a two-handed axe while saying his prayers.
Dave told us about the infamous Battle of Stamford Bridge (nothing to do with Jose Mourinho) in which “The Nameless Norwegian” (I’m sure he wasn’t actually nameless, but his name is unknown!) killed 40 Englishmen with a two-handed axe before eventually succumming to a sword wound inflicted from beneath the wooded bridge. Ouch!
Bows were popular but not quite so iconic. Vikings didn’t like to buried with a bow, they preferred their axe or sword.
Unlike Native Americans, who used animal guts to string their bow, Vikings used braided linen which was reinforced with silk (evidence of trade with the Far East).
Early Viking bows harnessed up to 80lbs of power. FYI that could send an arrow straight through one man, and possibly a second; nasty!
The most popular timber was yew and the best of this was sourced from the slow growing yew trees of the alps.
As much as 70% of all arrows found in Ireland were “pin” arrows. They were particularly narrow and could pierce chainmail.
1014AD – The Battle of Clontarf
Perhaps the biggest Viking battle the world has ever witnessed had between 12,000 and 15,000 warriors. (The famed Battle of Hastings, 1066, had a mere 10,000…just a little skirmish by comparison, but the Bayeux Tapestry has done wonders for its reputation!) It was here that Brian Boru was killed.
The black raven was a favourite motif of the Vikings and was used on flags.
Hnefatafl (translation: KingsTable) was a Viking boardgame.
Vikings mixed a herb called yarrow with pig fat to create a substance useful for stopping bleeding.
We are very grateful to Dave Swift for his most informative talk and for allowing us to handle samples of Viking weapons and clothing. David’s website is here: Claíomh
Finally, Brendan from the museum staff briefly spoke to us about the current Vikings In Mayo exhibition, called “The Hoard and the Sword”.
This exhibition contains a genuine Viking sword recovered from the River Moy and the silver hoard discovered in Cushalourt, near Westport.
The exhibition is currently on display in the National Museum of Ireland, Turlough and is well worth a look.