The Langeid Viking Battle Axe and a Warrior Who Singlehandedly Held Off the Entire English Army
Contrary to what many believe, battle axes from the last part of the Viking age, i.e. the 11th century, had evolved to become light, streamlined, and well-balanced. At the same time, they were powerful lethal weapons, something the recently reconstructed broad axe from Langeid in Southern Norway confirms.
The Viking warrior was well-equipped and trained to use a variety of weapons, but it was undoubtedly the battle axes that created most “shock and awe” among the enemy. Now, the unique weapon found at Langeid in 2011 is recreated, and it confirms that a thousand-year-old rumor is true: Facing a well-trained Norseman with a broad axe was like looking death straight in the eyes.
Viking warrior. (Mark Hooper/CC BY NC SA 2.0)
The Remarkable Grave 8
During archaeological excavations in 2011, several dozen flat graves dating back to the last part of the Viking Age were discovered at Langeid in the Setesdal valley, Southern Norway. The archaeologists found a wooden coffin, but it turned out to be almost empty. However, on the outside they discovered an ornate sword and a battle axe.
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The blade was relatively intact, including the toe and heel of the cutting edge. Remarkably, a 15-centimeter (5.91-inch) long wooden stump of the haft was preserved. A band of brass, a metal alloy made of copper and zinc, encircling the stump had preserved the handle due to the antimicrobial properties. X-ray fluorescence analysis confirmed that the band was made of brass, something that made the axe “shine like gold” in the sunlight.
Second Quarter of the 11th Century
The Langeid axe head has a cutting edge of about 25 centimeters (9.84 inches), an original weight of about 800 grams (28.22 ounces) and is clearly two-handed. The haft measured about 110 centimeters (43.31 inches), based upon a few archaeological findings and contemporary illustrations.
According to the archaeologists, the original haft measured about 110 centimeters. (Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)
The Museum of Cultural History at the University in Oslo only holds six axes of this type – broad axes with brass haft banding.
The Norwegian archaeologist Jan Petersen categorized broad axes as type M in his typology of weapons, appearing from the second half of the 10th century until the Middle Ages.
The Langeid axe has been dated back to the second quarter of the 11th century, which coincides in time with the Battle of Stamford Bridge and perhaps history’s most famous axe warrior.
‘The Battle of Stamford Bridge’ (1870) by Peter Nicolas Arbo. (Public Domain)
The Ultimate Viking Warrior
On 25 September 1066, the battle symbolizing the end of the Viking Age took place at the village of Stamford Bridge, East Riding of Yorkshire, in England. The battle was fought between an English army led by King Harold Godwinson and an invading Norwegian force led by King Harald Sigurdsson “Hardrada” (Old Norse: harðráði, “hard ruler”) and Earl Tostig Godwinson, the English king’s brother.
Historians believe the Norwegian army was divided in two, with some troops on the west side of the River Derwent, and the majority of the army on the east side. The English army caught the Norwegians by surprise and the Norsemen on the west side were either killed or forced to flee across the bridge.
An Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells that a giant Norse axe warrior blocked the narrow crossing and single-handedly held up the entire English army.
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Viking warrior with an axe. (Lamin Illustration & Design)
The story is that the Viking cut down as many as 40 English soldiers and was only defeated when an enemy soldier floated under the bridge in a half-barrel and pushed his spear through the planks, mortally wounding the Norseman.
It is not unlikely that the warrior was armed with an axe almost identical with the one found at Langeid in Southern Norway.
The blacksmiths: Vegard Vike and Anders Helseth Nilsson. (Bjarte Aarseth, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)
Recently, the impressive Viking axe was reconstructed. You will find detailed information about the project with many photos and videos here.
Top Image: The Langeid Viking Battle Axe: The original and the copy. Source: Vegard Vike, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo