Weapons of the Viking Warrior

Published: March 3rd, 2019     
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Book Cover
Author: Gareth Williams; Illustrator: Johnny Shumate
Reviewed by: 
Frank Landrus, IPMS# 35035
Company: Osprey Publishing
ISBN #: 978-1-4728-1835-5
Other Publication Information: Softbound, 7.25” x 9.75”, 80 pages
Price: $22.00
Product / Stock #: WPN 66

Gareth Williams has been a curator at the British Museum since 1996, with responsibility for British and European coinage, about AD 500 to about 1180. Within this area, he specializes in Anglo-Saxon and Viking coinage. Much of his work focuses on the use of coinage as evidence within broader historical and archaeological studies. Gareth has authored at least fifteen books and led several projects at the British Museum, with a "Viking Voyages" exhibition that recently finished a run from March 2015 through February 2017. He has been actively involved in historical re-enactments. Check him out at the British Museum.

Johnny Shumate works as a freelance illustrator living in Nashville, Tennessee. He began his career in 1987 after graduating from Austin Peay State University. Most of his work is rendered in Adobe Photoshop using a Cintiq monitor. His greatest influences are Angus McBride, Don Troiani, and Edouard Detaille. His illustrations have been featured in at least 65 books. His interests include karate, running, Bible reading, history, and making English longbows. Check out his website at deviantart , Facebook , johnnyshumate.com, and Freelanced.

Osprey's 66th book in the Weapon series is a square back soft cover including 80 gloss paper pages. The front cover features a color photograph of a late 10th-century Norwegian sword. The blade and has been combined with hilt fittings from another sword. The bottom of the front cover features a clip of the Johnny Shumate's 2-page illustration; "Sea battle, c.900". I counted two black and white pictures, 62 color photographs, and 18 drawings. Johnny Shumate contributes four battle-scene color paintings, including two 2-page spreads.

If the Viking legacy was ever in any doubt, shows like Game of Thrones, The Last Kingdom, and The History channel's Vikings, have increased the interest in the Viking legacy. Gareth Williams provides a good review of the Viking warriors, while cautioning that the Vikings were much, much more than just warriors. It's just that the warriors and their weapons are much more interesting. The Vikings' heyday was between the 790s until the Norman conquest of England in 1086. The term 'Viking' may have been specific to a Norwegian district 'Viken', but for all practical purposes, the 'Vikings' refer to the Scandinavian peoples of what is now Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. That is not to say the Vikings did not leave their mark in other countries, they did. Iceland and Greenland are a couple of examples of Viking colonization, along with brief settlements in North America.

Alas, despite Robert E. Howard and Frank Frazetta's efforts, Gareth Williams informs the reader that the Vikings probably didn't wear horned helmets are wield huge double-headed axes. Gareth does address the weapons that were utilized by the Vikings, including the ax, spear, knife, sword, bow, and shield (yes, a shield is not just for defense). These weapons are well represented by the remains currently primarily in museums. Much of the knowledge that Gareth presents is based on limited historical texts and archeology (burial sites) with the note that much of that data represents the elite among Viking society.

The next section describes the Vikings use of their weapons in warfare and combat. Viking strategy is addressed that encompasses sections on training, the home-base social pressures, and tactical formations. Gareth does spend some time on explaining the typical battle formations, describing their benefits and weaknesses. The last main section is on the impact of the Vikings, both contemporarily and through a modern viewpoint. The Vikings did have a major impact on at least four continents, bringing them in contact with a wide variety of cultures. These encounters, of course, diversified the Vikings' society as well as their weapon development, making it difficult to separate out the influences of change. An interesting aspect is the popularity of historical re-enactment groups and several reality television shows (i.e., Forged in Fire, Knight Fight, etc.). While this provides a historical aspect by putting the viewer on the sidelines to see how it was done, re-enactment groups have modified their weapons and tactics so that their opponents don't really get killed. That is not how the historical combats really happened...

The contents include:

  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgments
  • Editor's Note
  • Introduction
  • How Do We Know? [Page 7]
  • Development: An Array of Weaponry
    • The Weapon Set of the Viking Warrior
    • The Spear
    • The Axe
    • The Knife
    • The Sword
    • The Classification of Hilt Types
    • Pattern-Welding
    • Making Pattern-Welded Swords (1 page Color Illustration) [Page 21]
    • Bows and Arrows
    • Armour
  • Use: Viking Weapons in Combat
    • Warrior Society
    • Born To Fight
    • Female Warriors [Page 33]
    • Training
    • Warfare and Combat in the Viking Age
    • Specialist vs Multi-Purpose Weapons
    • Fighting in Close Formation
    • Vikings in battle, mid-10th Century (2 page Color Illustration)
    • Sea battle, c.900 (2 page Color Illustration)
    • Fighting in Loose Formation [Page 52]
    • Missile Weapons
    • Siege Warfare
    • Attack on a Fortification, c.1000 (1 page Color Illustration)
    • The Siege of Paris, 885-56
  • Impact: Influence and Legacy
    • The Vikings and Their Contemporaries [Page 63]
    • Physical Impact
    • The Place of Viking Weapons in History
    • Viking Weapons in Popular Culture
    • Viking Combat Today
    • Conclusion
    • Bibliography
    • Index

I grew up visiting relatives in Minnesota regularly and saw the Kensington runestone many times. Of course, today, there are arguments on its authenticity, but as a child, it managed to stir my imagination. I really appreciate the level headed effort that Gareth delivers in this tome. It's easy to get carried away in the legends and myths, and while Gareth discusses that, he also grounds that vision with reality based on the current evidence. Gareth Williams provides a very readable text with plenty of photographs. The color illustrations from Johnny Shumate really help set the mood by putting you in the battle. I was able to read the book easily over two evenings. If you own one the previous releases in the Weapon series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.

My thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!

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