The term "halberd" has been used to translate several Old Norse words relating to polearms[1] in the context of Viking Age arms and armour, and in scientific literature about the Viking Age.[2] In referring to the Viking Age weapon, the term "halberd" is not to be taken as referring to the classical Swiss halberd of the 15th century, but rather in its literal sense of "axe-on-a-pole", describing a weapon of the more general glaive type.

Instances in literature

In English translations of sagas, "halberd," "bill," or other terms have been used to translate several different Old Norse words. It is thus difficult to know what kind of weapon is being described in these translations, or the original texts. Many of these terms are shown below.


Main article: Atgeir

The atgeir [1] was a type of bill or halberd, from Old Norse geirr,[1] "spear". The atgeirr is thought to have been a foreign weapon and is rarely mentioned in the sagas, but is famous as the favorite weapon of Gunnar of Hlíðarendi. In Njál's saga this weapon is shown as used mostly for thrusting, but also for hewing.


The höggspjót,[1] literally "hewing spear", takes its name from Old Norse högg, "stroke, blow, slaughter, beheading"[1] and spjót, "spear".[1]


The kesja[1] was another halberd-type weapon. The name is thought to come from Celtic-Latin gæsum.[1] The Cleasby and Vigfússon dictionary notes that "kesja, atgeir and höggspjót appear to be the same thing".[1] It's interesting to note that Egils saga shows the kesja being thrown like a javelin or spear, and describes it in detail, calling it also a "mail-piercer" (brynþvarar):

The kesja would thus have a blade around 90 cm in length with a diamond cross-section at the end, and an additional spike attached to the socket, whose placement and purpose is not explained. The length of the weapons' shaft is unclear, but was either shoulder-height, or long enough that a man reaching up could still touch the socket.


The krókspjót was a barbed spear, literally "hooked spear", from Old Norse krókr, "hook, anything crooked",[1] and spjót,[1] "spear" (cf. höggspjót, above). The krókspjót resembled a regular spear, except that it had two lugs or "wings" attached at the bottom of the spearhead, somewhat like a boar-spear. Additional hook-spear types have been found from the period, used for hunting fish, seal and whale. [13]


Main article: Skeggøx

The skeggøx, literally "bearded axe", was called so because while the blade was narrow at the haft, it widened downwards towards its edge, so that the "face" of the axe seemed to have a drooping "beard". The name is from Old Norse skegg, "beard"[1] and øx, "axe".[1]

Archeological evidence

The term "Viking halberd" was used to describe a find in North America in the 1995 book Early Vikings of the New World, but it was later demonstrated to be a tobacco cutter.[18]

There has currently been, in fact, no clearly identified Viking halberd or bill found. Spears are the only type of polearms found in Viking graves. It is possible that halberds and bills were not part of Viking funerary customs, as opposed to other weapons that have been found in graves. Bills have been found in Frankish graves from the Merovingian period, which predates the Viking Age; but their use by the Scandinavians is not attested and, if existent, seemed to have been rare.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Richard Cleasby; Guðmundr Vigfússon (1874). An Icelandic-English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  2. ^ Saga book of the Viking Society for Northern Research, Volume 23. Viking Society. 1990.
  3. ^ a b c Jónsson, Finnur, ed. (1908). Brennu-Njálssaga. Halle A.S.: Max Niemeyer. pp. 68, 139, 142.
  4. ^ a b c Dasent, George Webbe (1900). The Story of Burnt Njal. London: Grant Richards. pp. 51, 112, 114. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  5. ^ Gering, Hugo, ed. (1897). Eyrbyggja Saga. Halle, Germany: Max Niemeyer. pp. 89–90. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  6. ^ Morris, William; Magnusson, Eirikr, eds. (1892). The Saga of the Ere-Dwellers. London: Bernard Quaritch.
  7. ^ a b Keyser, Rudolph; Munch, Peter A.; Unger, Carl R., eds. (1848). Speculum Regale, Konungs Skuggsjá, Konge-Speilet. Oslo: Carl C. Werner & Co. p. 86. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d Jónsson, Grímur, ed. (1809). Egils saga. Copenhagen: Joh. Rud. Thiele. pp. 374, 378–79. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d Pálsson, Hermann; Paul Edwards (1976). Egil's Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 145–46. ISBN 9780140443219.
  10. ^ Rafn, Carl Christian, ed. (1832). Færeyinga saga. Copenhagen: Jens Hostrup Schultz. pp. 206–07.
  11. ^ Þorgilsson, Ari inn froði (1830). Guðmundsson, Þorgeir; Helgason, Þorsteinn (eds.). Íslendinga sögur. Copenhagen: S.L. Möller. p. 379. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  12. ^ Unger, Carl. R., ed. (1860). Karlamagnus Saga ok Kappa Hans: Fortællinger om Keiser Karl Magnus og hans Jævningr. Oslo: H.J. Jensen. p. 123. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  13. ^ "Viking era fish spear and fish hook - 10th Century". Mike Ameling.
  14. ^ Boer, Richard Constant, ed. (1900). Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar. Halle A.S.: M. Niemeyer.
  15. ^ Eiríkr Magnússon; William Morris (1869). Grettis Saga. The Story of Grettir the Strong, translated from the Icelandic. London: F.S. Ellis. pp. 56–57. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  16. ^ Keyser, Rudolph; Munch, Peter A., eds. (1846). Norges Gamle Love Indtil 1387. Oslo: Chr. Gröndahl. p. 80. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  17. ^ Larson, Laurence M. (1935). The Earliest Norwegian Laws, Being the Gulathing Law and the Frostathing Law. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 160.
  18. ^ Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip; Ferguson, Thomas John (2008). Collaboration in archaeological practice: engaging descendant communities. Plymouth, UK: AltaMira Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7591-1054-0.
  19. ^ Harrison, Mark; Embleton, Gerry (1993–2005). Viking Hersir 793–1066 AD. Warrior series. Osprey. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-85532-318-6.