The fury of the Norsemen
Popular mythology paints a dark and violent picture of the vikings. Modern historians, and many of our members, like to stress that viking culture was alive with art and poetry, and that the vikings were no more warlike than their neighbours in dark age Europe. The difference in opinion arises from a confusion about what we mean by "viking".
While the term "viking" has come to be used as a general term for the Scandinavian cultures of the end of the eighth to the mid eleventh centuries, it was originally a term for pirates and warriors, and, with the benefit of excellent diet, well crafted weapons and armour, and superior ship building technology, the vikings were indeed a force to be reckoned with.
Combat within the society
No study of the vikings would be complete without looking at the military aspects of viking culture, and when our parent organisation The Vikings (then known as the Norse Film and Pageant Society) was formed in 1971, it was concerned almost exclusively with re-enacting battles.
We have come a very long way in terms of authenticity in the years since then, and we feel that we now present a much more balanced and rounded picture of the viking era, but for a great number of our members, the battle is still the most important of our activities. (Many of our craftsmen originally joined in order to take part in the combat and still enjoy taking part in the battles, and several of the society's most dedicated combat beasts joined from a serious academic interest in the period, with no intention of ever picking up a sword.)
Rules of engagement
Our battle re-enactments are designed to give a dramatic interpretation of dark age warfare and have always proved a popular attraction for the visiting public. We use authentic battle formations and troop movements as far as can be reconstructed, but for obvious reasons we have to modify things a little in the name of safety.
All our warriors train regularly, and must pass safety tests before being allowed on the field. Weapons are blunt and must meet stringent society safety and authenticity standards, bows are of limited draw weight, helmets (or helmets disguised as hats) must be worn (we know that the majority of combatants of the period would not have had a helmet, but safety must override authenticity), and we insist that all participants wear armoured gloves and arm guards, which are not authentic but are a very important modern safety measure.
All that attention to safety allows us to operate with considerable freedom on the battlefield. Although we cheat a little to force the "right" result when re-enacting an actual historical event, much of the combat on the field is competitive within the rules of the society. After the "main event" we often have a re-fight where the outcome relies entirely on the skills of the unit commanders and the individual warriors. We also have a number of competitive training games, the most popular of which is the "circle of treachery" where no-one has a friend and the winner is determined not just by combat prowess, but also by his or her ability to avoid being stabbed in the back.
Combat is open to both men and women aged 18 or older.