The Truth Behind Vikings Shields

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A shield is one of the most symbolic elements from the Viking Age and one that the Minnesota Vikings have incorporated into U.S. Bank Stadium.  You can find artistic shield displays around the stadium along with the Skjaldborg shield wall directly outside of the Vikings locker room.  While these shields are used today to represent strength, honor, and the connection to antiquity; what is the real story behind their use and symbolism? Today we explore the Truth Behind Vikings shields.

 A strong defense is the basis of a successful offense. This is a concept used in sports and holds true for the military strategy of shields as well. A Viking’s primary defensive weapon was the shield. Because it was round, it was called rönd. Shields were about a yard across. Only the buckle and the rim was made of iron. The rest was made of light wood such as pine, spruce, maple or yew. Rawhide covered the surface and the shield had bright colors: yellow and black or red and black. The color could also send a message. Red shields signaled war. A white shield meant peace. It must have been terrifying to see a Viking ship with a row of red shields on each side landing on your coast.

 A mobile defense was superior to a stationary approach. The same was true in Viking combat. They wielded their shields not only to stop blows, but also to deflect the enemy’s sword. That is why shields were so light and rather small. They were adapted to a nimble art of fencing. From Icelandic sagas, we know how Vikings used shields in combat. The idea was to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, just as Mohammed Ali. Hopping and jumping, the warrior danced around and swung the shield with a rhythmic movement.

Defense can also be offense. The rim of the shield could be used as an edge to strike the enemy in the face. Shields were employed not only on the battlefield but also in single combat. Conflicts could be settled by duels and this was even a legitimate method of resolving legal cases. The saying “Might makes right” was very true in the Viking Age and the shield helped make that a reality.

Henrik Williams is the renowned authority of Old Norse languages, returning to the American Swedish Institute as an in-demand speaker on topics encompassing the Vikings, runes, Old Swedish and Old Icelandic. Awarded a 2015 Rudbeck medal for groundbreaking research, Williams is a scholar and Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Sweden’s Uppsala University. As a philologist, he studies languages in written historical sources, essentially combining literary criticism, history, and linguistics.  A 40-year Minnesota Vikings football fan since his years as an exchange student, Williams is currently debunking Nordic myths and advising the team on the authenticity and meaning of its symbols.

These programs are made possible through the collaborative efforts of the American Swedish Institute, Uppsala University, American Friends of Uppsala University, Uppsala University Alumni Association – Minnesota Chapter, American Association for Runic Studies and The Minnesota Vikings.  To learn more or reserve a spot please visit the link below.

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