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Hammer time

Archaeologist's drawing of a Mjolni amulet

We know Mjolnir must have been important to the Norse because of the number of amulets archaeologists have found, like this Swedish one from the 10th century

Just as famous as Thor is his magic hammer Mjolnir, which means ‘lightning’ or ‘lightning maker’ in Old Norse. It was one of the most popular symbols used by the Norse Pagans. Hammers were used to bless births, funerals and even weddings. Disappointingly, the Vikings themselves didn’t use hammers in battle, but they did have a whole host of other nasty weapons. Here are some of the most common:

Axes: giving people the chop

Axe head from the 10th -11th Century

This axe from the Royal Armouries collection is from the 10th-11th century. Would you be scared if you saw this swinging towards you in battle?

A lot of Vikings carried axes into battle. There were loads of different axes, some cheap, some fancy, and some so big they had to be used in two hands! Just like Mjolnir had many different powers, axes were more than just weapons. Axes could be used to chop up meat or fish and cut wood for fires or building ships. This made them pretty handy when you’re making long journeys across the seas. Axes made for war were generally stronger and bigger than those made for regular use, perfect for smashing enemy shields to pieces and chopping up the warriors that were holding them.

Spears: getting the point across

Lozenge shaped spear head

This spear head is from the 8th-10th century. It still looks as terrifying as it would have done freshly forged!

The most common Viking weapon was the spear. Like axes, spears were part of the Viking toolkit, mainly for hunting wild animals. Some Viking spears were as long as 10 ft (3 m), great for keeping enemies away, while others were shorter for throwing at people. Either way, it’s very hard to fight someone when you can’t reach them! On the battlefield, the thin metal point of a spear could slip through the gaps in the enemy’s armour and get at the flesh underneath. They were also useful against horse riders, if you point a sharp spear at a horse it won’t want to charge you. Funny that.

Fun Fact: You might remember from the story that Odin was given a magic spear by Loki as a gift. Gungnir, as the spear was called, could also make any promise or deal unbreakable, so if you ever meet Odin be careful what you agree to.

Sword from 8th-9th century

This sword is from the 8th – 9th century. It would have shown how rich and powerful its owner would be. Unfortunately, we do not know if it was ever given a name. Can you think of one?

Swords: the weapons of kings

The fanciest and richest of Vikings would have used swords. Swords were very expensive in Viking times because they used a lot of valuable metal to make, and were so important they were passed down from parents to children and some Vikings even gave their sword a name! Like really expensive handbags, if you saw a Viking with a sword you knew they had a lot of money!  Vikings probably fought with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. They could use both as weapons: slashing and cutting with the sword while bashing and bruising people with the shield.

Fun Fact: While Mjolnir firmly belongs in the land of myth, there were real weapons that were similar to it. These ‘war hammers’ were invented in the 1300s, 300 years after the Vikings disappeared, and were used across Europe, the Middle East and India to crack open heavily armoured knights and soldiers.

Two men in 16th century tonlet armour fighting with Poleaxes

Look at the weapons these two knights are carrying. They are called pollaxes and have a hammer at the top. They look very different to Mjolnir and the other Viking weapons!

So why did his worshippers give Thor a hammer?

The short answer is, we don’t know. Maybe it had something to do with the noise and sparks a blacksmith’s hammer makes. What other divine tool would produce thunder and lightning? In any case, Mjolnir was no ordinary hammer. It had magical properties, not least that it destroyed everything it hit and returned to the hand of whoever threw it. With such power and range, who needs a sword?

Download the Thor Heroes & Legends Fun Pack (pdf, 2MB) to have even more fun exploring Thor and Vikings! Also see our page with videos on how to sign ‘hammer’ in British Sign Language and Makaton! See our story telling of how Thor got his hammer and an article all about the story of Thor!

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