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11.01.2020

Cloth and leather

Quilted cloth (a gambeson) is conjectured as possible options for lower-status Viking warriors, though no reference to such are known from the sagas. Such materials survive poorly in graves, and no archaeological finds have been made. Some runestones depict what appears to be armour which is likely not chain mail. The armour in question may have been the lamellar armour mentioned above, or may not have been armour at all. Several layers of stout linen or hemp canvas would provide a good level of protection, at reasonable expense, as would winter clothing made from thick woollen cloth. Practical experience with maille also suggests an undergarment of some sort would have been worn between the maille and the regular tunic, to protect the latter from dirt and excessive wear, but the descriptions of the effect of axes in the Sagas indicate such garments were lightly padded if at all.

Leather was far pricier during the period than today and thus less affordable for the casual warrior. In the Legendary Saga of St. Olaf, the kingsbane Thorir Hund is said to have worn a tunic made from reindeer fur, enchanted by "Finns" (Sámi), defending him from sword blows. The tunic is described as "magically" enhanced which may indicate that it may not represent a typical example of such a garment. Leather clothing does, however, occasionally turn up in archaeological finds, and would have offered some degree of protection in combat.

All in all, the case for non-metal forms of armour remains inconclusive. It is likely that the average Viking fought whilst wearing ordinary clothing, with the shield as the only form of protection.

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