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Gjermundbu

Extant Finds
  • Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 10:17 PM UTC
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THE GJERMUNDBU FIND - THE CHIEFTAN WARRIOR

Of all viking age graves exhumed on scandinavian soil, not many can compare with with the Gjermundbu find. The accidental find was made in 1943 on a farm called Gjermundbu (hence the name derr) in Haug a district within Ringerike in central Norway.

The mound or cyst style burial consisted of many artifacts, most of those being weaponry or horse harnesses.

The most notableof these are a helmet, maille shirt, sword, two skegox, two spearheads and eight arrowheads, a scabbard chape, four shield bosses and several seaxes. Stirrups and spurs were also found along with a iron rattle and many other iron artefacts.

It is a shame that no clothing fragments were found due to the fact that the person was cremated.

There is no doubt as to the importance of this find. Most viking age graves yield little more that a axe or seax, let alone a helmet or for that matter a maille shirt. The Gjermundbu helm is the only viking style helmet found on Scandinavian soil. Fragments of similiar eye pieces have also been found in Russia. The warrior chieftan buried at Gjermundbu must have been a person of great influence, perhaps even Norwegian royalty, however this is something we will never know. However the sheer richness of the grave points to a man of great wealth. We know from other graves that to own a sword during the viking age is one thing but to also own helm and maille defences is another.

The helmet is of great interest in itself. A four piece helm held together by two iron bands rivetted to the skull of the helm with a wide iron band encircling the base of the helm. There is also evidence of an aventail being attached to the helm but only fragments survive. The goggle or spectacle eye pieces portray a helmet from a earlier age yet the manufacturing techniques are far simpler than that of the earlier vendal age helmets.

Many people argue that the helm has come from the vendal age yet the find has been dated to around 970 CE. The helmet may simply have been a modern representation of an earlier helmet.

The maille shirt found at gjermundbu was also found in fragments but has been painstainkingly cleaned and arranged to show its approximate size and style. The shirt was short sleeved and sits either just past the belt line or the crotch. Many reenactors wearing this style of shirt opt to lengthen the skirt for obvious reasons, which understandable. Again, to find maille in a viking grave is very rare and thus an exciting event.

The sword is a beautiful specimen. Having a two edged blade with a large central fuller, the length is not known as part of the blade is missing, although we can safely assume that it would fall in within the 30" to 34" range, these mesurements being the most common of intact viking age blades.

The iron inlaid fittings with trilobate pommel are well preserved. The jelling style silver inlay encompases the crossguard and the lower guard of the pommel. The trilobe pommel is left unadorned.

An openwork chape was also found with the sword remnants. The chape has been made in the style of jelling.

Shields - All organic materials perished in the fire of the cremation, so we can not accurately say how the four shields of this warrior were constructed or painted.

Fortunately, other shields from this period have survived and many picture references also.

The Gokstad shields which are almost a metre in diameter are the best preserved shields of the time. Given that they are very large there is a good chance these shields were specially made for the ship burial as a shield near a metre in diameter would be very hard to wield in battle.

The construction of these shields is of thin wooden planking butted together. This is then held in place by either 3 wooden or metal bands rivetted to the planks. The middle band would act as the handle and the the boss would be fixed to centre of the shield protecting the warriors hand.

Evidence of thick leather bound to the rim also remains, as does the faces of the shield being painted either yellow or black.

Other Frankish sources show shields of similiar make. It would make sense that the shield faces were covered with a thin hide and bound under the rim leather.

The Oseberg tapestry and Gotland picture stones also provide pictorial evidence of viking shields, especially patterns used to paint the shield face. Although the Oseberg tapestry shows warriors carrying rounded rectangular shields, no archaelogical evidence supports this so there is a good chance the artist took certain liberties in his work so as to not completely cover the figures with large, round shields or take up to much room. The shields of the Oseberg tapestry show shield faces painted with a cross similiar to a maltese cross. The cross itself is a cream colour with the background being an earthy red.

The Gotland picture stone show warriors carrying either large or small shields. Many of these shields show a swirl pattern on the face of the shield. It is safe to assume these were patterns painted onto the shield or the way that the leather was stitched together over the shield face.

Axes, Spears and Seaxes - Spears are the most widely found weapons of the viking age. Being cheaper to make than a sword it is safe to say most viking warbands or armies consisted mainly of spearmen follwed closely by axemen. Both weapons were cost effective using much less precious iron and steel than a sword.

The Skeggox was a medium sized viking axe. It was an effective weapon but also an everyday tool used widely through the viking world.

Unfortunetley I have no pictures of the seaxes found at Gjermundbu, so we are forced to use other examples found throughout the viking age.

Clothing - Clothing across the viking-settled areas varied little, apart from the rich trading towns of Birka and the island of Gotland wich were in direct contact with Eastern trade routes.

The basic male costume consisted of tunic, pants, wickelbander, simple turnshoe and a cloak. As there is a abundance of literature on the net and in books about Viking mens clothing, I will leave this topic to others who specialise in this field.

There is no evidence that vikings wore gambesons. There have simply been no finds. Scanty pictorial and written references do exist though. But we simply do not know how this form of armour was constructed. Gambesons from later periods do survive, and they were padded with all sorts of materials: wool, felt and dried grass to mention some. Often quilted, this type of soft armour gives excellent protection against blunt trauma. Maille armour gives excellent resistance against cutting but due to its flexible nature it gives little or no protection against large crushing blows which would easily cause bone fracture or breakage even internal bleeding. It would make sense to combine these two types of armour for more complete protection. (The maille allowing the wearer to weather cutting blows and the padded gambeson cushioning and spreading the impact of a large crushing blow.)

With this in mind though, there is no such thing as a perfect armour, no armour will be able to withstand a large blow from weapons such as an axe.

To feel satisfied that I kept the war gear of the gjermundbu find as close as to original as I could, I used the sugested cut of the still partly surviving Hedeby tunic as the basis of my

Gambeson pattern - Using linen for the outer and inner linning (dark blue) I used four plain woolen blankets sandwiched between the inner and outer layers of thin linen and then I quilted it. This made up the padded filling. I found this gave adequete protection when wearing maille over the top in normal re-enactment style combat.

To keep the tunic/gambeson looking like a tunic I did not quilt the outer linen layer, leaving it free. Alternatively, you could make a separate tunic to slip over a gambeson.


THE SECOND BURIAL - Norwegian weapons of the time

The second burial of a man was was excavated in 1943 from the same mound. Mainly weaponry was found in this grave, including a skeggox, a spear and two swords. The second sword was a longseax, although only remnants of this sword survive. The longseax is a sword which seemed popular with Norwegian warriors as all finds of this type of weapon are found in either Norway or Norwegian settlements throughout the British Isles. Only a couple of this type of sword have been found out of Norway.

These swords were amongst the largest and heaviest swords of the viking age, some specimens reaching 90cm in blade length with large counter-weight pommels. The heaviest of these swords weighs 1.896 kilograms! There is no evidence that these swords were fullered, the single edged blades being usually pattern welded.

The typology of most longseax is similiar and usually only differ slightly as with Norwegian-made swords. Oakshots type two is most prevalent, along with Petersons type B,C.


REFERENCES

Bjornstad, T et al 2003, The Unique Gjermundbu Find, http://www.medsca.org/gjerm_intro.html, accessed 3 July 2003.

Graham-Campbell, J 1980, The Vikings, Book Club Associates, London.

Harrison, M & Embleton, G 1993, Warrior Series, 3 Viking Hersir 793-1066AD, Osprey, London.

Heath, I & McBride, A 1985, Elite Series, The Vikings, Osprey, London.

Oakeshott, R 1996, The Archaeology of Weapons, Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry (2nd Edn), Dover Publications Inc, New York.

Priest-Dorman, C 1993, An Archaeological Guide to Viking Men's Clothing, http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/mensgarb.html, accessed 21 February 2000.

Sawyer, P (Ed) 1997, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Wieczorek, A & Hinz, H 2000, Katalog, zur Ausstellung Europas Mitte um 1000, Theiss, Hamburg.


Please feel free to comment or debate my work!
Though keep it nice! No one will ever agree totally upon all subjects and thats fine. But argue your point in a friendly matter.

Cheers.....Nick

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