Viking vs Knight vs. Samurai

History and Historical European Martial Arts in the Codex Martialis

Viking vs Knight vs. Samurai

Postby Galloglaich » Sat Feb 11, 2017 5:17 am


Guy does a pretty good job of covering the basics. But he missed a couple of things. He's totally correct about population pressure within Scandinavia contributing to the Viking raids.

But Ulberht swords were made of Crucible (specifically wootz) steel from India, not bloomery steel. They were bought by German traders in billets that looked something like this


Not that there is anything wrong with that, top sword makers all over the world imported Wootz steel to make swords (including in Japan, as well as in Damascus and Toledo hence 'Damascus' steel and 'Toledo' steel, but it's all actually wootz or Ukku from South Asia).

Ulberht swords were also made in Solingen, in what is now Germany, and they were not Norse made weapons although the Norse had some of them (bought them). Sollingen is incidentally still a major center of blade production, these days mostly for chef knives, and they still rely on the old medieval guild system for training in that area.

Swedes in particular however also did make good iron, good steel, and good weapons and that started way back even before the Viking era. If you look at the material culture from the Iron Age Vendel period the quality of the equipment is already very impressive by global standards of the day.


By the High to Late medieval period the Swedes were producing top quality guns and cannon, and what makes them particularly interesting is that unlike almost everyone else who produced weapons in cities with big water powered mills, the Swedes did it in small farmsteads distributed throughout the countryside.

As for the 'meta' issue, it's problematic across the board. When it comes to kit, you have to narrow down the time period or it's just meaningless. Early Norse raiders or Vikings in the late 8th Century had fairly poor equipment, little armor, few swords, mostly spears and shields (they did use textile armor as well, contrary to what this guy said). However by the end of the Viking period, thanks in part to the wealth from 2 centuries of raiding, capturing vast areas of land (including most of Ireland, England, Scotland, northern France, Russia, northern Poland and the Baltic countries) plus all the enormous bribes (Danegeld) they were given to go away by various people, and all the considerable amount of money they made trading... by the time you are coming up to the Battle of Hastings, or even two or three generations before that, you have Viking armies which based on both literary and archeological evidence, were very well equipped with mail armor, iron helmets, multiple weapons and quite a few swords as well as bows etc.

Similarly for knights, if you are talking about an 11th Century Norman knight (incidentally, Normans taking Hastings only 3 or maybe 4 generations after Gange Rolf who he mentioned, was given Rouen and ultimately the Duchy of Normandy by an inept French king) their kit is very similar to Norse kit of a century earlier... except for one important thing: horses. Knights were heavy cavalry and their primary weapon was the lance, not the sword or anything else. We know from the Battle of Hastings that heavy cavalry in that era did have an advantage against infantry in the open field, though not necessarily a hugely decisive advantage if the infantry was very good.

Vikings generally fought as infantry, or more precisely, as something like marines: shock infantry mounted on boats and ships that would typically go deep down into river systems to suddenly appear in force and raid enemy positions where they were weaker. This is how they were able to contend with Carolingian cavalry. By the time the Norman type emerges, it's hard to say because Norse society itself was changing, having become Christianized and starting to convert (albeit slowly) from an open tribal system to the Feudal system with a smaller number of military specialists (this took a really long time in Scandinavia though, particularly in Norway and Sweden).

We know that Norman heavy cavalry was able to smash Turkish and Arab horse archers in the 11th Century, at least initially, and they even posed a serious problem for the Byzantines, in spite of relatively poor strategic and operational organization at that time. Those people's kit wasn't that different from that of Japanese warriors from the same era.

Then again, by the 13th Century the Japanese defeated a Mongol invasion whereas the Mongols initially wiped out Latinized European knights in 1241 at Leignitz in Silesia and Savo river in Hungary.

However, if you are talking about a late Medieval knight, 14th or 15th Century, the equipment is so much better than what a Viking would have that I think the kit would confer a general advantage. Much better armor, better swords, very good armor piercing weapons... plus guns. Latinized forces including knights had heavy crossbows guns and cannon by the 14th Century.

"Armor Timeline"

If you look at the guy on the far left, that is basically your 11th Century Norman knight, not very different kit from a Viking. The guy in the 1400 or 1450 panel though, almost impossible to kill with any weapon a Viking had unless he could wrestle the dude down. Also pretty hard for a Samurai to deal with as well. We very, very rarely ever see anything like real Late medieval armor. To get an idea, watch this guy running at you with sword in hand with authentic replica of 15th Century gothic harness


If you are a Viking, or a Samurai, I really don't know how you deal with that. Even worse if he's on an armored horse.


With Samuari, it also really depends a lot on the precise era. Early Samurai were optimized to fight as horse-archers. Their lamellar armor protected well against arrows but was fairly heavy and restrictive of movement - to the point that would be hard to fight on foot. Armor got better in later eras, in fact by the 16th Century they had some bullet proof armor. But here's the thing. They bought it from the Portuguese.

And this brings up the point I find most exasperating about those endless debates of this type. People (nerds) would rather argue theoreticals than look at history. For Vikings vs. Knights, we have the whole Carolingian era leading into the High Medieval period. Vikings didn't disappear overnight and knights didn't appear in one day. They tangled with each other frequently and not just in the Battle of Hastings.

Vikings never fought Samurai that I know of (though they certainly did fight a lot of Steppe nomads in Russia and Central Asia) but Latin Europeans clashed with Japanese Samurai in dozens of documented incidents in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The Spanish, at a time when they had strong royal-familial links to Germany and Austria among other places, took over the Philippines, as the Dutch were taking over Indonesia, and the Portuguese were founding cities in India, China and... Japan! Nagasaki was founded as a trading colony by the Portuguese. Portuguese Jesuits ultimately instigated a massive civil war in Japan between Catholic vs Shinto (or Buddhist or whatever they were before) Samurai. The non-Christians won and that is when Japan was closed to foreigners for the next several centuries.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of Japanese ronin were fleeing Japan after their Daimyo was defeated, and thousands of those were recruited by Chinese "Wako" pirates (who then went on to frequently fight pitched land and naval battles with the Spanish in the Philippines) and by Dutch who used them as muscle to take over Indonesia and Malaysia for the East India Company.

There are dozens of documented battles, duels, raids and naval actions. and guess what, the Europeans usually won like they did against almost everyone else back then. Most of these are not well known in the Anglophone world especially outside of Academia but here is one example:

History is a lot more interesting to me than all this comic book stuff but I think for most people, it's just too complicated and confusing so they'd rather debate 'Thor vs Batman' than even have a clue about anything that happened with their own ancestors in the real world.
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