Viking Tactics & Warfare

A lone warrior shall soon feast with the gods, no matter how impressive his skill. The Vikings and Saxons took pride in their ability to fight as a unit and Viking warfare is built around the Shieldwall – how to keep it strong and how to break the enemy’s formation.


The Shield Wall

Daneaxe wielding Huscarls of Harold's bodyguard display their prowess in front of the Saxon Shieldwall shortly before the battle starts
For most of our period, the use of cavalry as a decisive combat arm had fallen into disuse and it was the shield-wall which is at the heart of Dark Age warfare. To fight as part of a shield-wall took a great deal of nerve and discipline – no doubt bolstered by not wishing to let down the kinsmen on either side of you. Great honour could be gained by those who fought bravely and stood firm in the face of an enemy’s assault.

Svinfyklying- The Boar Snout

boarsnout in action copyright
A well organised shield wall was not an easy formation to break, especially when attacked head on. One strategy to break the enemy line was to form a wedge of your strongest and bravest warriors and punch through, before fanning out and assailing your opponent on the flanks.  Here is a Spears of Andred Boars-Snout from Corfe Castle 2017

Dense formations of infantry are always vulnerable to missile attack .

The Shield Berg

When facing an overwhelming onslaught of missiles, such as javelins or arrows the shieldwall may change formation to the shield berg in order to provide better protection. Although very immobile it provides a very effective defence. The shield berg is adopted by forming two ranks (or more) of warriors; the back rank then moves forward and engages to form the upper block of shields. Here are some of our warriors at Michelham Priory adopting shield berg against an incoming javelin attack


Sometimes different groups have to work together for a common cause. Here are the Spears of Andred lining up in Shield-wall with Temesvik to hold Landport Bottom from some sheep

The Hunting Party

Sometimes a small group of up to 5 warriors, used to working together, will form a war-band known as a hunting party. Their job is to isolate and kill a strategic target, move quickly across the battle field and/or hit a weak point in the enemy defences, such as the enemy flank. A good mix of weapons can be employed to devastating effect.

The Berserker

When all else fails  send in a mad berserker- to break through the line and follow it with a shield-wall charge.