New find: a shield amulet from the Viking period

05. August 2015 | Vikingemuseum Ladby

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When a Viking died with honour - on the field of battle - a valkyrie, one of Odin’s female warriors, stood ready to bring him to Valhalla, where he became one of the “Einherjerne”, those warriors that would help the Gods when the final battle, Ragnarok, happened. The same valyries also served as hostesses for the fallen warriors, by filling their drinking horns with mead every evening when they came home from battle training on the Plains of Ida.

During recent years, several images of valykries have turned up (on jewellery), thanks to the detector guys who work with the museum. Some of the valkyries are shown wearing long costumes, with their hair in pony tails where the hair is knotted, and holding a drinking horn in their hand. Other images show them armed and on horseback.

Valkryies are described as formidable warriors and a kind of goddesses of fate, who can decide the outcome of a battle - who wins and who loses. In Njal’s Saga, there is a description of how 12 valkyries weave a tapestry, where the warp and weft consist of human intestines, kept taut by decapitated human heads, functioning as weaving weights. A sword is the weaving batten and the shuttle is an arrow. While they weave, the valkyries sing the spear song, and when the tapesty is completed, they rip it to pieces and ride away. A macabre image of the horror of war.

The sagas describe valkyries as beautiful, powerful women who ride bareback and are armed with spears or swords and a shield. Valkyries are sometimes called “shield-maidens”.

The find-of-the-month in June was just such a shield; it could well have belonged to a valkyrie or symbolised the powers valkyries had. The bearer of the shield could have wished for the same powers. The shield is actually a fine little brooch or pin for holding garmets together, as we might call it today. It is made of silver and is only 3 cm in diameter. The shield is decorated with with incised lines in a pattern that is known from other images of shields; the little silver figure known as the Hårby valkyrie has a similar shield.

Miniature weapons like swords, spears and shields, worn as jewellery, were common in the Viking period; several shield amulets were found around the chieftain’s farm in Tissø, west Sjælland.

We don’t know who wore the little silver amulet shaped like a shield in the Viking period, but it was perhaps a woman, and she must have been very sad about her loss. Now, 1200 years later, we can again admire the handsome find from Regstrup Møllegård Farm, north of Nyborg.

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