Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tactical Vikings

Vikings are hot right now.  No matter if they are Space Vikings or historic Vikings there’s an interest.  So what is the tactical scoop?

Vikings were a warrior culture who believed only two possible outcomes existed for any endeavor: Success, with it’s fame and prestige, or death.  They were widely feared through out coastal Europe.

TV version of Vikings
Television's version of vikings
A large part of this fear was from the total disregard of the unwritten rules of conventional warfare.  One of their favorite tactics was to wait in ambush and use a wedge shaped attack, which allowed their strongest fighters to break through enemy lines and expose the internal enemy ranks to hand-to-hand combat.  This, coupled with their complete disregard of restricting combat on holy days or on sacred land, as well as their unwillingness to schedule the battles in advance gave them the reputation of being the spawn of the devil.  Clearly, an agricultural feudal society unwilling to adapt to non-convention warfare would be the most likely loser in any conflict.  That might be the best tactical lesson to learn.

Each Viking was expected to field their own weapons.  Typical load-out would include a wooden shield, a spear or javelin, battle-axe and/or sword.  Even peasant farmers carried the ubiquitous knife, as would the warriors.  Archeologists report very little armor is found in graves except for the wealthy. Some evidence is reported for chain mail, but transportation by sea does not lend itself to warriors in heavy mail and plate armor.  Most fighters wore quilted cloth and some leather.

TV version of viking women
I doubt vikings transported horses on long boats or had blond babe warrior princesses.  

It appears only Hagar the Horrible wore horns on his helmet.  Most didn’t wear a helmet.

Few of us are concerned about battle on sacred land or having to negotiate when and where we’ll be mugged, so is there a tactical aspect to this?

Let’s visit the Havamal.  It’s gnomic Viking poetry, which takes ideas valued by their society and puts them to verse to make it easier to remember.  If you think you’re going to learn the Viking secret sword technique that you can use with your ASP baton, stop reading.  That’s not here and frankly, I suspect the secret to Viking combat has been known for centuries before the Vikings: hit something the opponent needs, hit him harder and more often, do not stop until he is incapacitated.

I’m working from an English translation of the Havamal, so I don’t have any qualms about condensing or elaborating the message.


1        With every doorway where one enters, you should spy and pry first because you don’t know if an enemy is inside or where they are. 
5        At home you can be in condition white, but when you travel or go places, stay sober and in condition yellow.
6        Enter a building cautiously and silently.  Keep watch over your exits.
7        Be aware of the stranger who is silent, watchful and listens to everything.
11    There is no worse provision/companion (to carry/take with you) than too much drink.
27    When you don’t know what is going on, keep your mouth shut.
38    Never start on your trip/walk without your weapons, as you never know when a spear will be needed.

Turns out it’s the same advice any trainer will tell you:

Know where the exits are and try to know something about the room/building you are about to enter.  

Keep an eye on people you don’t know; pay attention anyone who seems to be tracking everything.  

Don’t draw attention to yourself.

When you’re safe, at home surrounded by people who love you, it’s okay to be in condition white, but any other time, start off in condition yellow.

Getting intoxicated is never a tactical advantage.

When you’re unsure of what’s unfolding around you, stay quite and watchful. 

If you carry, always carry.  Always have a tool.

Good advice from the 10th century.

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