Why Were Vikings So Much Better At Fighting?

They are credited with inventing the Western
version of the hair comb, and they were the first Westerners to use skis. They were the Vikings, and these accomplishments
are not what these Norse people are best known for. The Vikings captured the attention of the
world when they decided to terrorize parts of Europe and Russia with a series of raids
that occurred between the 8th and 11th centuries. This period of time came to be known as the
Viking Age. During these raids, they would loot communities,
destroy property, kill people, and take others as slaves. In 860, one monk wrote, “Everywhere the
Christians are the victims of massacres, burnings, plundering. The Vikings conquer all in their path and
nothing resists them . . . ” Their reputation in combat remains untarnished today even though
Viking experts such as Else Roesdahl caution “they did not win all of their battles – far
from it – even though many people seem to think so.” Why did the Vikings have the edge over those
they plundered? 1. The Vikings were well-trained. Males received weapons training at an early
age. In their youth, they engaged in “hunting,
sports and raiding” according to a BBC article. They learned how to fight not just for the
raids but also for self-defense. One sources describes how “it was a requirement
that all male Vikings had completed weapons training so they could defend their villages
during attacks.” In addition, Vikings had their own form of
martial arts called Glima. According to an ancient history website, this
style of martial arts “includes throws, blows, kicks, chokes, locks, pain techniques,
and weapon techniques.” There are two types of glima: combat glima
and sport glima. In the past, Viking warriors learned combat
glima, while men, women, and children learned sport glima. People still practice both forms of Glima
today. 2. The Vikings were well-armed. From a young age, Viking warriors were taught
to always have their weapons within reach and ready to use. One Norse gnomic poem called the Hávamál
offered this advice about being prepared to fight at all times: Let a man never stir on his road a step
without his weapons of war; for unsure is the knowing when need shall
arise of a spear on the way without. The BBC notes that “laws of the late Viking
period show that all free men were expected to own weapons.” However, this could be a problem for some
Vikings because weapons were expensive. History on the Net points out that “only
the richest Vikings would own the complete set of available weaponry: sword, sax (a short
sword), axe, spear, bow and arrows, shield, helmet and chainmail.” Vikings who were poor often had to settle
for carrying “an axe or a spear and a shield.” Instead of fancy metal helmets and chainmail,
experts speculate that they wore something that many of us don’t think of as protective
battle gear. The BBC reports that “reindeer hide is said
to have been used as armour,” and “caps of hide may have been commonly worn.” One way a poor Viking could get better weapons
was to work under a wealthier Viking because “magnates were expected to provide them
for their men.” Besides self-defense, weapons were important
as “symbols of their owners’ status and wealth” according to the BBC. Weapons with fancy decorations indicated high
social rank and great wealth. “Inlays, twisted wire and other adornments
in silver, copper and bronze” were just some of the ways the Vikings displayed their
wealth and power on their weapons. Only a privileged few owned an “Ulfberht”
sword, which had the reputation of being one of the finest weapons made during their time. According to an Epoch Times article, they
were “made with metal so strong and pure it’s baffling how any sword maker of that
time could have accomplished it.” Experts today are still trying to figure out
how these swords were crafted. One of them is modern blacksmith Richard Furrer,
who “forged a sword of Ulfberht quality” with technology of the Middle Ages. His work was featured in a NOVA documentary
called “Secrets of the Viking Sword.” Despite his great skill, Furrer called it
the “most complicated thing he’d ever made.” He also added that the ability “to make
a weapon that could bend without breaking, stay so sharp, and weigh so little would be
regarded as supernatural.” 3. The Vikings did not fear death. The Vikings were not afraid of death as long
as they lived and died with honor. Honor was one of the Nine Noble Virtues, which
were the foundation of a code of ethics that played an important part in Norse Paganism. According to one source, honor involved “one’s
reputation and moral compass,” and it “reminds us that our deeds, words, and reputation will
outlive our bodies.” Participating in raids was a win-win situation
for the Vikings. Dying in combat would add to their honor as
long as they fought with courage to the end. “It was honourable to die valiantly on the
battlefield – and honour was more important than anything,” says Roesdahl. The Vikings also believed an honorable death
in battle would earn them a one-way trip to a glorious afterlife with either the god Odin
in Valhalla or the goddess Freyja in Fólkvangr. If they lived, they could not only gain honor
for themselves but also enjoy their share of the loot from the raids. 4. The Vikings were masters at surprise attacks. One of the main reasons for the Vikings’
success in warfare was their ability to come upon their targets quickly and unexpectedly,
attack and plunder them, and then leave as quickly as they arrived before their victims
could get help or strike back. Viking longships made these surprise attacks
possible. According to the BBC, these ships ranged in
length “between about 17.5m (57.4 feet) and 36m (118.1 feet).” Equipped with sails and oars, they ran on
both wind power and manpower. Longships could reach an “average speed
of 10 to 11 knots (11.5 to 12.7 mph)” and commonly carried “crews of 25 to 60 men.” One source notes that the “Vikings praised
their boats for their lightness and flexibility.” Longships could be used for sea voyages, but
they could also handle inland waters. The BBC describes how the “shallow draught
of these ships meant that they were able to reach far inland by river and stream, striking
and moving on before local forces could muster.” The Vikings also engaged in some psychological
warfare to add to the terror caused by their surprise attacks. The BBC states that the Vikings placed “fearsome
figureheads . . . at stem and stern as a sign of warlike intent, underlined by rows of shields
mounted along the sides for defence or show.” They also placed fearsome looking troops called
berserkers at the front of their troop formations according to History Extra. One source describes the berserkers as “members
of an unruly warrior gang that worshipped Odin, the supreme Norse deity, and were commissioned
to royal and noble courts as bodyguards and ‘shock troops’, who would strike fear
into all who encountered them.” Berserkers were generally thought to wear
bear and wolf pelts instead of armor, but the National Museum of Denmark claims that
they fought completely naked. Their behavior was as shocking as their appearance,
especially when they were in a trance state known as berserkergang. This state led to a “great rage, under which
they howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down everything
they met without discriminating between friend or foe” according to one source. 5. The Vikings often planned their attacks carefully. The Vikings were not afraid to use physical
force during raids, but they preferred to “work smarter and not harder” as the saying
goes. They looked for easy targets. The National Museum of Denmark states that
they liked to attack monasteries because they “often contained large amounts of ecclesiastical
silver and were not as well defended as the trading towns.” One military history website notes that the
Vikings also “attacked selected targets in coastal areas and near large rivers due
to superior strategic mobility.” In other words, they raided coastal and river
communities because they could easily arrive and escape from these locations on their longships. Location was not the only strategic concern
for the Vikings. According to sciencenordic.com, they also
relied on a “vast network” of spies who provided them with information about the activities
of their intended targets such as treasuries. Roesdahl describes how the Vikings “surveilled
the areas within their reach” and “then waited for the right moment to strike.” They also took advantage of areas with “political
unrest.” Sciencenordic.com states that areas with “internal
struggles” were easy pickings because warring factions were more focused on fighting each
other than trying “to protect towns or monasteries against raiding Vikings.” This careful planning allowed the Vikings
to transition from conducting what History on the Net calls “small, disorganized raids”
to amassing “thousands of men into a Great Army” that allowed them to conquer and “colonize”
several countries, including “England, Ireland, northern France and parts of Russia around
Novgorod and Kiev,” toward the end of the Viking Age. Who do you think are the best warriors of
all time? Also, be sure to check out our other video
called What Was Life of a Viking Warrior Like? Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!

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