Warriors and Weapons
Everyone in Norse society knew how to fight with swords and axes, including women and children. All free Norsemen were required to own weapons and were free to carry weapons with them whenever they chose. Many popular Norse games were based on fighting. In times of war, the men left their farms, and joined together to defeat a common foe, while the women and children stayed at home and defended the farms.
When a major battle was planned, the Vikings would gather 2,000 men or more. Some battles had over 7,000 men. They might start a battle with bows and arrows. But the Vikings liked to fight close and personal. They were one of the few ancient cultures who preferred to fight with an axe than fight from a distance.
Warriors carried a round, wooden shield for protection. Their helmets were made of leather, and sometime iron. Helmets looked like upside-down (metal or leather) bowls with a nose guard. Their helmets did NOT have horns. That's just a myth. What is not a myth is that warriors were responsible for their own weapons. Most carried swords and axes. The quality of their weapons showed their social status. The better the weapons, the more important or wealthy the Norseman. A wealthy Norseman might have a helmet, a shield, a shirt made of metal, an axe, and a sword. A poor farmer might only have a shield and an axe.
The Vikings believed in magic charms. They also believed their alphabet letters, called runes, had magical powers. Viking warriors named their swords and carved a letter on them to give their swords extra strength. They also carved runes or letters or designs on their shields to give them extra strength as well.
In war, all Viking warriors fought fiercely. They were all violent. But, there was a special class of warriors that was especially violent. They were called berserkers. Berserkers belonged to a cult that worshipped Odin. Before a battle, the berserkers screamed and roared and whipped themselves up to a frenzy. When they entered battle, they went "berserk". They killed everything that was the enemy - men, women, horses, children. The word berserk comes from Old Norse, the Viking language - they went "berzerkers" when they entered battle. Some berserkers wore skins of bears or wolves, to make themselves look more terrifying, and added to the fear others felt at the sight of them.
Both sides in battle were violent, but the Vikings almost always won. What carried the day for the Vikings was their belief that only by dying in battle could a Viking warrior enter Valharra - a very special afterlife place, where a hero's welcome waited for them. Viking warriors preferred to live, but they were not afraid of dying.