Why Is This the Only Existing Viking Age Helmet?
In 1943, extraordinarily rich finds from the Viking Age were made in Haugsbygd in Ringerike, Eastern Norway. The finds included – among many other objects – the only helmet dating back to the Viking era found in Scandinavia.
Helmets are described in the Norse Sagas, and almost exclusively in association with chiefs and kings. Illustrations from the Viking Age are almost non-existing, but in some cases where the Vikings are depicted with ships, it looks as if they are wearing a helmet. Or are they really helmets? It is suggested that the Vikings actually wore pointy hoods as protection from the weather.
In popular culture, Vikings are depicted wearing helmets, often with horns protruding from either side. But how much of this is based on fact? ( Menlo Innovations / flickr )
March 30 1943, during World War II in Nazi-occupied Norway: On the farm Gjermundbu in Haugsbygd in Ringerike , a rich discovery is made: A burial mound proves to contain the burnt remains of two males and 76 different objects. They are placed in a wheelbarrow and hidden from the Germans.
Among the objects which date back to the 900s, there was a Viking helmet. 71 years after the finds, the Gjermundbu helmet is still very special.
There were also found an almost intact chain mail, three swords, one of which is ornamented with silver inlay and probably made in Gotland, three axes, three spearheads, four bulges from shields, riding equipment, game pieces and game die. It is believed that one of the buried men was a petty king from the Ringerike area.
Since the findings, one object is still regarded as unique; the helmet – the first and only documented helmet dating back to the Viking era. Archaeologists are fairly certain that it belonged to the dead petty king.
- You Speak Like a Viking! 10 Everyday Words in English with Old Norse Origins
- From Olafir Thick-Legged to Ragnar Fur-Pants, Viking nicknames were colorful, descriptive and fascinating
- Exposing the Roots of the Viking Horned Helmet Myth
Only One Helmet
Medieval picture showing Icelandic Vikings wearing hats. (Artist: Unknown)
But why has only one helmet been found from the Viking Age in Scandinavia?
Norwegian archaeologists have put forward the theory that helmets were only reserved for the upper social strata of society, including the King’s hird, meaning those who were guarding the King and trained in the use of weapons – in addition to those who crossed the sea and “went out on Viking”.
This theory does not correspond with the fact that only one helmet has been found in Norwegian and Scandinavian Viking burial mounds.
Could the answer be that the Vikings to a very small extent used iron helmets because they simply were too heavy? In addition to weapons, food and other supplies, it was important to keep the weight to a minimum. And not least – there should be room for trade goods that were going to be transported back to Scandinavia.
The Vikings were known to be extremely mobile and deadly warriors, both at sea and land. Would iron helmets stand in the way of their war strategy – and did they use a lot lighter and more flexible leather helmets?
For now, the answer to this question remains uncertain.
Top image: This iron helmet is the only one that is found in Scandinavia dating back to the Viking Age. Why are not more found? (Photo: Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)