Nine Interesting Facts About Battle and Weapons Learned at Norwescon


Because I wanted to learn about period weapons and fighting, I went to panels at Norwescon (a science fiction and fantasy conference) on topics such as “Medieval Armor” and “Getting Historical Facts Right” and “Hands on Norse Fighting.” The program said the latter was hands-on but it also said it was non-contact. It sounded like a great opportunity to play fight with weapons without getting hurt and help me write battle scenes like I am doing for Shadows and Starlight, the sequel to Silent Moon. What I learned was the event was hardly “non-contact.”

The elderly man who was our Norse drill sergeant (we weren’t allowed to say the word “Viking”) weaned out the children and told them this wasn’t play. He praised the 6 foot tall athletic-looking, 21 year old girl next to me, calling her a “shield maiden.” He glared at me and asked me if I was tough enough for this. Okay, so I am 5 foot tall and was wearing a skirt to the conference and in general look like a girly-girl because I am a girly girl. So I felt kind of annoyed and insulted and embarrassed. Aside from my hour of being demoralized in Norse boot camp, here are somethings I learned from that panel and the others:


Everyone locks shields at staggered layers in a shield wall. It needs to start low and angle upward to block as many arrows (or in our case) tennis balls from impact.
The shield can’t be touching your head or else it will get hit upon impact.
Wooden shields are really heavy. Metal shields are probably worse.
Tomahawk axes or very similar versions of them were used by the Romans, Franks, American Revolutionary War soldiers as well as modern soldiers.
An axe is like a hammer with a sharp edge. It can sometimes poke through metal armor when a sword can’t.
In order to reduce sword wear and tear and keep the edges from getting pitted, warriors’ swords didn’t hit straight on but rolled. This reduced damage and likelihood it would break but also didn’t dishonor Norse warriors by bringing home father’s sword with damage.
Steel was prized but expensive. Many swords and axes had an iron core and only had a steel tip or exterior.
To check to see if a weapon like a knife or axe is sharp, one should not run it across a palm of finger. (Duh.) One should rub their nail across it.
The piece of equipment that is common in every soldier’s pack from the Roman era to today is a spoon.


That makes a pretty good segueway to the next topic: food. To learn about Fun Historical Food Facts check out the next blog post.