Viking helmets

Helmet from a 7th century grave
7th Century Viking Helmet

Viking Helmets Introduction

A helmet (helm) was a prized possession for an ancient Norse warrior. Wearing one in battle could mean the difference between life and death. When most people visualize an ancient Viking warrior the image almost always includes a metal helmet with horns protruding from the top. However this picture is not accurate there is no evidence of Vikings ever wearing horned helmets. This popular misconception quite possibly was started by Christians who lived during the Viking Age. It is possible that while trying to rid Europe of the Vikings pagan ways they wanted to portray them as savages and make them appear devil like; portraying them in horned helmets was an excellent way of accomplishing this.

Click here for a great selection of books about Viking weapons.

Not only did Vikings not wear helmets with horns most of the Norse warriors did not wear helmets at all. Good helmets were made out of iron and most Norse warriors could not afford to have one made. The majority did not wear a helmet at all; some wore helmets made of leather held together with iron strips, and very few wore helmets made completely out of iron.

Our knowledge of the helmets Vikings wore is very limited. This is due to the limited number of Viking helms discovered. Historians depend largely on the Norse Sagas for information.

Discoveries of Norse Helmets

As mentioned above there have been very few discoveries of Viking helmets. In fact there have been only three, and only one of these is a complete helmet. The probable reasons for the limited finds are listed below. The "Gjermundbu Helmet" is the only complete Viking helmet ever discovered. It was found on a farm named Gjermundbu in central Norway and was part of a burial mound that contained many other artifacts including swords and tools. The ancient helm dates to approximately 970 AD. It was constructed by creating a framework which consisted of a horizontal metal strip with two vertical strips attached to it. One vertical strip went from ear to ear and the other from the forehead to the back of the head. Four iron plates were attached to the framework with rivets forming the skull protection piece. It's most interesting feature is the spectacle guard, which looks like a mask; it protected the warriors eyes and nose. The sight of a Viking wearing this type of helmet, with his face hidden, must have been a scary sight. It also has a spike on top. This spike could make a head butt deadly. This incredible find is now displayed in the Museum of National Antiquities in Oslo. The other two discoveries of Viking helmets were at Tjele Municipality in Denmark and in Lokrume Parish on Gotland Island in Sweden. Only rusted remains of helmets were unearthed at these sites.

What We Know About Viking Helmets from the Norse Sagas

The Norse Sagas make it clear that helmets could not always be counted on for protection. For example in Egils Saga Keld-ulfr swings his weapon at Hallvaror, it passes through his helmet and skull, sinking up to the shaft. In Gunnars Saga Keldugnupsffls Gunnar strikes Orn's helmet with his sword, splitting both his helmet and his skull. The Sagas also explain, how in some cases, a warriors helmet could be used against him. For example in Chapter 40 of Grettis Saga Grettir grabs Snakoll's helm and pulls him off his horse with his left hand and cuts off his head with the weapon in his right hand.