Enter "THOR" at Checkout to get 10% Off and US FREE Shipping


Viking Shields

In the Viking Age, fighting warriors used large, round, wooden shields held in the center using a wood handle attached to an iron boss at the front. We know about these shields from Viking age literature, artwork and archaeological finds. The shields were often brightly painted with designs that could be both decorative and symbolic.

The shields were about a yard across and built to withstand multiple blows from a Viking Axe, sword or arrows.

How Large Were Norse Shields?

A Viking war shield was 32-36 inches (80-90cm) across. Some were a little bigger in diameter; the Gokstadt shields for example were 37-38 inches.

There were also small examples - even down to 28 inches in diameter.

So why the differing sizes? We can only assume that the shield was made to fit the man (or woman - see our article on Viking Women) and the way he liked to fight - or even his weapon of choice. So perhaps a larger man would wield a larger shield. We don't know for sure, but what is certain is that a larger shield provides more physical protection but is slower and more cumbersome to use. And the heavier the shield the quicker the owner may tire in combat and when running or marching.

What was the Viking Shield Name?

Because of its shape the round Viking shields were called rönd, which means round.

How was a Viking Shield Made?

The Norwegian Gulaþing and Frostaþing laws detail the construction of the shield. It tells that it is made of wood with three iron bands and a handle fastened to the back with nails made from iron. In later years this was changed to state that the shield is to be constructed from a double layer of wood (tvibyrðr), and the front is to be painted red and white.

The original examples that still exist today were made from solid planks, although written sources of the time state that shields were made from laminated wood. This is where written and archaeological evidence differ.

Surviving Norse round wooden shields are made from pine, spruce, or fir. However written sources state that linden wood was used. This makes sense as linden is lighter and does not split as easily when struck.

Shield Boss

In the middle of the Viking shield was a round iron Boss. This protected the hand and also was the place the handle was attached. It was secured to the wooden shield with multiple broad headed iron nails.

The Handle

A handle ran right across the shield almost from edge to edge. Most shields had a plain wooden hand grip, though many added iron for strength. Archeological finds have been made that imply hand grips could be decorated with bronze or silver.

The Rim

There is debate over whether wooden Viking Shields had an iron rim. Literature provides evidence that this did exist, but again the archeological evidence is not there.

Viking Shields Designs

The front of Viking shields were sometimes covered with leather. The leather made the shield more weatherproof and resistant to the impact of swords and axes.

Alternatively, shields may have been faced with linen, held in place with glue. The linen would help to hold a shield together as it was bettered in battle.

In addition many shield appear to have been left uncovered and painted instead.

How was a Viking Shield Used?

Round Viking Shields had two primary uses:

  1. It protects from direct blows
  2. It can be used to push an opponent

One of the more interesting Viking shields facts is that the shield does not absorb a blow - instead it both spreads the shock from a cutting or smashing weapon such as a sword or axe, and it also can deflect the blow to one side when held at an angle to the direction of the eblow.

In a normal rontal position a shield protects from the neck lower thigh. In combat the warrior could move the shiled up to protect the head.

However, the head and legs would often be left exposed, and in a battle with a lot going on and many opponents swinging the shield may be vulnerable as it cannot be everywhere at once. In particular the head and legs would be often exposed. Archealogical remains show a high proportion of Viking skeletons with injuries (often fatal) to head and legs.

Some Norse sagas suggest that a shield could be used with both hands - the warrior dropping his weapon to achieve this. However it seems unlikely this would really happen as putting down your sword or axe would seem dangerous.

Perhaps more likely the sagas tell of men dropping their shield when they needed to use two hands.

Many people think of a shield as a wall to hide behind. While shields can be used passively in that manner, a more aggressive posture and use are advantageous.

In 1:1 single combat, the shield would have been held more to the side. This is because it would be easier and less tiring to turn your side holding the shield into a blow rather than constantly hold the shield out in front. This way to would also be easier to swing your own weapon.

How did a Viking Carry his Shield?

A leather strap would be used to carry the shield over the shoulder. This would be how they marched and also could allow the warrior to throw the shield over his back if he needed to use two hands (for example to wield an axe).

Round Viking Shield for Sale

There are many choices of Viking Shield for Sale. We offer a selection of round shields here on our site, and as well as this selection we may be able to offer a custom Viking shield.

Unfortunately real Viking shield are only to be found in museums.

How to Make a Viking Shield

The basic method of construction is to make a wooden frame, which is then covered.

Traditionally the wood would be split linden (basswood or American basswood), although modern re-enactors often use plywood as it is strong and does not split as easily. The main difference you will notice with a modern Viking Shield is the weight, as plywood is much heavier than linden.

The frame of the shield is made from two or three pieces of wood glued together. The wood is then cut to shape and planed smooth.

Once the frame is complete, it is covered with a layer of rawhide (traditionally) or canvas (modern). The rawhide or canvas is glued to the frame and then lacquered or painted for protection.

A design is then added to the shield, which can be painted on or carved into the wood (or both).

Finally, a grip is added to the back of the shield. This can be a simple leather strap, or a more complex system of handles and straps.

Adding a boss (a metal disc in the center of the shield) is also common,. The boss adds weight to the center of the shield and makes it easier to control.

All of this is a lot of work and we suggest buying one of the reasonably priced Viking shields for sale, or buying a Viking shield kit from a reputable vendor.


literary evidence

  1. The 10th century Frankish poem Waltharius
  2. TheGulaþing laws

Viking Shield Museum

  1. British Museum in London
  2. National Museum of Denmark.

Viking Shields History

  1. National Museum of Denmark website

To go with your Viking Shield may we suggest checking out our collections of

Vliking Armor

Viking Weapons

Viking Clothing

Viking Jewelry