A 3D rendering of a Viking shield along with a battle ax and spear hanging on a rough wooden plank surface, perhaps the interior wall of a longhouse. The shield is decorated with a black raven (Corvus corax) painted on red leather.

There are many misconceptions about the Vikings. For example, no horned Viking helmet has ever been found. Such a helmet would have endangered the wearer in combat. And dragon-headed ships were rare. Only one has ever been found. The dragon head did not survive, but the ship is decorated in such a way to suggest there was probably a detachable head.

The stereotypes and cliches began with German Romanticism in the 18th and 19th centuries. The actual Vikings, or Norse, were much more interesting. Even the word “viking” did not denote a people, but a profession. The Norse would “go a Viking”; to sail in search of lands to settle, trade opportunities; and, if commercial conditions were not good, to steal anything that was not nailed down.

Here I’ve rendered a Viking axe and spear, along with a shield, hanging on an interior wall of a longhouse. Click on the image for a full-sized view.

Methods and materials used in the construction of Viking shields varied with place and time. This reconstruction is based on known examples. Norse shields, in contrast to those made by other groups were often made from relatively soft woods such as poplar and birch. Intentional or otherwise, this helped the shield absorb blow without failing. And, instead of a solid piece of wood, horizontal planks were joined – as is indicated by the bolt heads seen on the front of the shield – to prevent spitting along the grain. Metal for shield rims was difficult and expensive for early viking Age inhabitants of Scandinavia to obtain as they had to rely upon bog iron. As a result, to further reduce the possibility of damage the face of the shield was often covered by leather and a leather rim strip was added. Both absorbed blows, protecting the underlying wood. The bowl-shaped metal boss in the center protected the warrior’s hand.

As usual, you can find a number of variations of this image, appearing on various backgrounds, at one of my Zazzle stores.