Equipment:


"Being prepared for war is the best way to maintain peace."
(George Washington)


The popular image of the Germans is that they were clubwielding barbarians wearing animal hides and shouting "UGH!".
However, no image is more false than this one; the Germans were civilized people who used a variety of weapons and equipment, some of their weapons even were of a better quality than those of the Romans.
During the late Stone Age (Neolithicum) the people of northern Europe already used very well manufactured daggers, flint arrowtips, and beautifully sharpened axes of hard stone while the rest of Europe was still using crude and primitive tools.
Around 1500BC the northern Europeans started using bronze and around 500BC they began to use iron, although archeological findings have indicated that iron was already used by the northern Europeans in the Bronze Age it was first used on a large scale around 500BC, it was introduced to northern Europe by the Jastorf culture, which is considered to be the first Germanic cultural group, the Jarstorf culture did not only spread its knowledge of iron but also its culture and language, which resulted in the new Germanic identity and unified most of the northern European cultures.
The quality and variety of Germanic weapons increased over the years and the tribes also traded with eachother which allowed a quick distribution of the iron, soon almost every tribe had iron weapons which proved to be a disaster for the neighbouring Celts, with their new iron weapons the Germanic armies soon became superiour to those of the Celts who began to lose more and more land to the invading tribes, soon all lands north of the Danube and west of the Rhine (including northern Gaul) were in Germanic hands, the Germanic expansion in the west was eventually halted by the Romans who invaded Gaul and defeated the army of Ariovistus, though in the east the Germans expanded their territory beyond the river Vistula and some tribes even reached the Black Sea.

The Germans believed that they had the right to carry weapons to protect their families and freedom and every person who was responsible and skilled enough to handle a weapon was allowed to carry one; at the ■ing the young man was then called forward and he received a shield and a spear from his chief, father, or a family member.
Every village had its own smithy that created weapons, tools, and other practical objects, many of this objects were sold within the village but the extra production was used for trade with neighbouring tribes and sometimes even far away communities.

Gothic warriors
Gothic warriors from the 6th century AD.

Vendel horseman
Northern Germanic horseman from the Scandinavian Vendel culture (5th to 8th century AD).

The equipment:
The basic equipment for Germanic warriors was a shield with a spear or an axe, most of them did not use chainmail or helmets because they had to buy or make their own equipment, the rich tribesmen could often be recognized by their helmets and armor while a poor man could only afford an axe; the more rich a warrior was, the better the equipment he posessed.
The only exception were warriors who joined the retinue of a king or other powerful persons because they often received better equipment from their leader.

  • Axe: Together with the spear the axe was the most common Germanic weapon, they were cheap and easy to create which explains its popularity among poor farmers, it also was a close combat weapon which was a tactic that most Germanic warriors preferred.
    Unlike popular belief the Vikings did not use double-sided axes, those are later inventions just like the horned and winged helmets, the most famous axe was the Francisca, a Franconian waraxe from the 5th century AD that was balanced in such a way that it could be thrown at an enemy, being hit by such a weapon often meant instant death.
    The Proto-Germanic words for "axe" were akwesjo, bardon, skremo, and ■ehsalo, from the first word the modern English word "axe" has been derived.

  • Warhammer: The warhammer may seem an uncommon weapon to us modern people but it was a truely fearsome weapon, it had a long handle that could be used to swing it around and some even had a long spike on the other end that could be used to penetrate armour and bone, the hammer was the symbol of the god Thunar.

  • Missile weapons: The Germans mainly used weapons for hand-to-hand combat and they considered battles from a distance to be cowardly, most of the times they only used missile weapons when there was a tactical need for them.
    The Vikings used some good quality bows that they could use to fire arrows from their ships and during the battle of the Teutoburg forest slings were used, archeologists have found several stone sling bullets at the site.

  • Spear: The spear was the symbol of the god Wodan and the most common weapon in Germanic armies, it was cheap to produce because it didn't need much iron and most types could be used for both stabbing or throwing.
    Spears Most Germanic horsemen carried a shield and a spear though the footmen sometimes carried multiple spears; at the start of a battle these were thrown at the enemy and the last one was saved for close combat, according to Tacitus the Germans were able to throw this spears to immense distances, some types of throwing spears were even equipped with a leather loop for the fingers so that they could be hurled even further.
    Tacitus also mentioned that the Germans used a short narrow bladed spear called "Framea" in Latinized Germanic, the original word ("Framm") is probably derived from Proto-Germanic "Framjo", the Framm was sharp, easy to handle, and could be used for both throwing and close quarters battle.
    A similar type of spear was the "Frankon" (also known as "Franka"); a throwing spear after which the tribe of the Franconians named themselves.
    Another type of spear was the "Angon", which could be thrown at the enemy, the Angon had a barbed tip that caused massive wounds when it was removed from a body, the safest way to get the thing out again was pushing it through the body so that it came out on the other side after which the spear could be broken and removed.
    During the early Middle Ages spearheads were sometimes supplemented with little "wings" on each side, these wings originally served to keep large and dangerous prey pinned down but they also had their use on the battlefield to prevent horses from charging all the way down the shaft and to prevent the spear from getting stuck in a human body, another handy trick was to use the wings to hook an opponent's shield and to pull it out of the way, leaving an open gap to attack through.
    The halberd was invented in Scandinavia where it was called "Atgeir", this "spear" was equipped with an axe-like blade that also allowed slashing moves.

  • Dagger: the dagger was a standard piece of the equipment and most warriors carried one, they could be used as a secundary weapon when the primary weapon was broken or lost in battle but they were mainly used for a variety of tasks, including non-combat purposes.

  • Sword: Swords were rare because they were very expensive, most warriors used spears and only the rich and the nobles could afford a sword, though in later times the sword became more commonly used, most Germanic swords were big and long which allowed the tall Germans an advance in battle, in contrast to the Roman swords that were short and light; the Roman Gladius was mainly used for stabbing an opponent while Germanic swords could be used for both stabbing and slashing.
    Saxon ringsword found at Sutton Hoo In contradiction to popular belief the sword was not used as a primary weapon, in most cases a warrior used a spear for that and switched to his sword for fighting close quarters or when he lost his spear.
    It is believed that the earliest swords in northern Europe (used during the Bronze Age) were imports or copies from Celtic swords, though a more credible reason for the similarities between many of the ancient European sword designs is that they were based on a standard design that was used throughout Europe in earlier times and influenced the sword designs of later cultures.
    Unlike the standardized Roman swords many Germanic swords were specially crafted for the person who would use it; for instance a muscular warrior could handle a longer and heavier sword than a lighty built warrior, they were also often decorated to the personal taste of the warrior who was going to use it.
    The Scandinavians sometimes held a sword in a tray of poison during its forging because they believed it would strengthen the blade, Norwegian archeologists have also found crushed bones near ancient metalworking sites that were grinded into powder and used to create an alloy of calcium and iron, this alloy was much stronger than normal iron and is nowadays known as steel, it has officially been invented by Sir Henry Bessemer in 1856 but it seems we have to rewrite our history books in favour of our Germanic ancestors, who weren't quite as "barbaric" as we always believe them to be.

    One of the best Germanic sword types was created by the Saxons, who brought this sword design from their ancestral lands in northwestern Germany to their new settlements in England.
    Saxon swords consisted of 4 layers of iron that made the sword strong and flexible at the same time, the cutting edges were made of non-phosphoric iron and medium carbon steel for a hard cutting edge and the metals for the blade itself were heated, twisted (for extra strength), and welded together, this created a specific pattern in the blade that was made more visible by pouring acid over the blade, this blades of combined layers of steel were invented by the Saxons six centuries before the Japanese Samurai swords, which were (until now) believed to be the first swords of this revolutionary design, it took 80 hours to create a Saxon sword and on the battlefield it could slice a man in two with a single blow, there are even sources that tell about a man who was cut in two from his shoulder to his hip, though the Saxons and Anglo-Saxons (and other Germanic tribes too of course) mostly made smaller wounds because otherwise the blade could get stuck in the body of the enemy which temporarily exposed the warrior to attacks from other enemies, most Germanic warriors aimed for the forehead of the enemy to slice from the top of the skull to the nose which destroyed the brain, effectively neutralizing the enemy, other popular parts to aim for were the neck and abdomen.

    From the Migration period we also know the so called "ring swords", which were swords that had a ring attached to one side of the pommel (sometimes the pommel itself was a ring).
    The exact reason for this is unknown but because the ring symbolized power and wealth in the Germanic culture the ring swords may have been used by kings or other nobles.
    This theory is supported by the fact that most ring swords were found in rich graves of high-ranking individuals (like the Anglo-Saxon king Redwald) and are beautifully decorated with valuable materials like gold and silver, which most of the common people could not afford.

    Many swords were inscribed with runes, this could be the name of the owner but also the name of a wargod like Wodan or Tiwaz, inscribing the name of a god in the sword was done to hallow it and bring that god's blessing over the sword, single runes were also used like for instance the (Tiwaz rune), which represented victory.
    Swords that were hallowed by runes and had been initiated in battle by a warrior champion were believed to contain some sort of "victory power"; this swords were more important than the normal ones and the more an army posessed, the bigger its chance was to be victorious, in times of need the holy swords that had been buried with their dead owners were sometimes even dug up to be used in the upcoming battle, examples of special swords can also be found in the saga's like for instance the sword of Siegfried/Sigurd that is called Balmung (Old High German) or Gram (Old Norse).

    The wooden oath-sword that was found near Arum, Frisia, the Netherlands

    Oaths were also sworn on a sword, when there was no sword a substitute was used; near the city of Arum in the Dutch province of Frisia a small symbolical wooden sword has been found that beared the inscription "EDĂ:BODA" (Oath-messenger or Oath-bringer), this sword is believed to have been used for swearing oaths in lawsuits.

    Early European swords

    Some of the early European swords that have been found, although it is often associated with the Celts this design was used throughout Europe and may have been derived from a common ancient sword style.

    Flintstone dagger (Denmark 3000BC) Northern European dagger Early European sword
    An ancient northern European flint dagger from 3000BC that was found in Denmark. This is a drawing I made to give you an impression of what an early Germanic dagger may have looked like, it is based on various daggers that were found in northern Europe. Another drawing of me that shows a reconstruction of the early European sword design that was used during the Bronze Age.
    Bronze Age swords found in southern Germany Sacrificial knife from the Bronze Age Germanic sword 1st century BC
    Bronze Age swords found in southern Germany, the origin of this swords are believed to be either Celtic or Urnfield culture though the early Germans may have used similar designs. A late Pre-Germanic knife from 700BC that was probably used for sacrificial purposes and other rituals, found in a peat bog near Schoonebeek, the Netherlands. Germanic iron longsword from the 1st century BC that was found near the Dutch city of Lith.
    It was probably a Batavian sword that was fabricated locally.
    Germanic ring sword 4th century AD Saxon sword found at Sutton Hoo Vendel sword hilt
    Germanic ring sword from the 4th centuryAD. Saxon sword that probably belonged to king Redwald (found at Sutton Hoo, England). A beautifully decorated sword hilt from the Vendel period (6th centuryAD) in Scandinavia.
    Franconian swords Standard Norse sword Norse sword found in the Netherlands
    Franconian swords from the Merovingian dynasty (400AD). A standard Norse sword, this type was commonly used in the early Middle Ages, especially by the Vikings. Norse sword found in the river Waal in the Netherlands, runic inscriptions on the blade tell us that the owner was "Adalfriid"

    Shields:
    Most shields were round, though there are also examples of pointed ones, the reason why most shields were round is because round shields cause swords to slide off the edge of the shield while it would damage most other designs, another reason was that round shields can overlap eachother which was very useful in the "Wall of shields" (Phalanx) tactic. (see: tactics)
    Most shields were made of wood with a small round iron plate in the middle to which a grip was attached on the inner side, this iron grip protected the hand in case the shield was penetrated by an enemy weapon, the size of the shield often varied but they were big enough to protect the wearer against most attacks and light enough to march and run with it.
    Leather straps were often attached to the inner part of the shield to fix it to the arm and sometimes a leather band was added to allow the warrior to carry the shield on his back when he did not need it.
    Shields were often decorated, the Germans did not use heraldic symbols like warriors in the later Middle Ages, but they did paint their shields in colours and painted crosses, symbols, animals, stripes, etc. on them.
    A warrior who threw away his shield in battle (for a fast retreat) dishonoured himself and was excluded from participating in blˇts (sacrifices to the gods) and ■ings (folk assemblies) for the rest of his life, many of this warriors comitted suicide to end the disgrace they had brought over themselves and their family.

    Armour:
    Chainmail Most warriors did not use any armour because that was too expensive and since most people in those days were simple peasants they could not afford any expensive equipment, some warriors used leather armour that allowed some basic protection and the more professional warriors sometimes carried chainmail or breastplates.
    The absence of heavy equipment like armour made Germanic armies very quick and agile, they could move, strike, and disappear before anybody knew what had happened, this ability allowed the Germans some remarkable victories like the one in the Teutoburger forest.
    Kings, warlords, nobles, professional warriors, and the more rich people sometimes wore chainmail, especially in later periods; chainmail is like a shirt made of metal rings, those small rings were all welded individually which made chainmail extremely expensive due to all the work and maintenance it needed.
    Chainmail was also very hot and heavy thus a bit unconfortable to wear, warriors sometimes threw of their chainmail during a battle to be quicker and have more freedom of movement.

    Helmets:
    Let me start by saying that Germanic warriors did not had horns or wings on their helmets, Teutons, Saxons, Vikings, and other Germanic warriors are often depicted with big bull horns or eagle wings on their helmets by our modern artists but this is a later invention from the Romantic era.
    Actually, most warriors did not wear any helmet at all; helmets were mainly used by "rich" persons and professional warriors, Tacitus mentions that only a few individual warriors wore iron or leather helmets, in later periods helmets became more widely used but the early Germans mostly fought bare-headed.
    Most helmets used by Germanic warriors were captured enemy helmets, a good example is the Roman helmet with a text in Germanic language inscribed in it that was found near the Austrian city of Negau, it was probably lost there by a warrior from the tribe of the Cimbrians who had taken it from a dead Roman.
    The Germans also made their own helmets of which a few examples have been found; most of them had cheek protection like Roman and Celtic helmets and were sometimes decorated with animals, some Germanic helmets had a small boar on the top that represented power, strenght, and fertility.
    Another characteristic of Germanic helmets is the face protection, sometimes this was limited to an iron protection for the eyes and sometimes entire masks were added to the helmet like the one found in Sutton Hoo in England.
    Anglo-Saxon helmet with boar figure Franconian helmet Anglo-Saxon helmet from Sutton Hoo Norse helmet
    Anglo-Saxon helmet with a small boar figure on top. Franconian helmet with Roman influences from 525AD (Krefeld-Gellup, Germany). The famous Sutton Hoo helmet, the nose, eyebrows, and a part of the ridge form a bird figure. A good example of a Norse helmet.
    Vendel helmet Vendel helmet Frisian helmet Spangenhelmet
    Scandinavian Vendel helmet from Uppland, Sweden. Another Scandinavian Vendel helmet from Uppland, Sweden. Frisian iron helmet from the 9th century AD found in Groningen, the Netherlands. The Spangenhelmet, this type was commonly used in northern Europe during the early Middle Ages.
    Vendel helmet
    Modern reconstruction of a Vendel helm