Weaponry and Warfare
During the Early Iron Age a significant number of wars tok place in Europe. Many tribes set out to conqueror new land, to find work as mercenaries in foreign armies or simply to ravage and plunder.
The people had to be able to defend them-
selves. Big picture© Lejre Experimental Centre
Many of the bog bodies can be dated back to this specific time period - including the Tollund Man.
Even Denmark had her share of unrest. Conflicts often arose between leaders, and in order to defend themselves and the village, they constructed defences and closed the fiords by blocking them with poles, thus preventing the enemy from moving upstream with their boats.
The leaders gathered an army of soldiers who would help fight the neighbouring villages and other attackers for payment.
A group of horsemen usually made up the front end of the army who would lead the fighting if they came across enemies. The army itself might hold as many as a 1,000 soldiers. The soldiers were equipped for hand-to-hand fighting with swords, shields and lances - while bows, arrows and spears were used when the enemy was at a greater distance.
A group of horsemen usually made
up the front end of the army. Big picture © Lejre Experimental Centre
Included in the weaponry of the army were also axes, hammers, files and drills which were used for repairing the weapons. Aside from that the soliders also carried personal belongings such as dice, tokens for gambling, razors, combs and pouches which they carried on their belt. The pouches would often contain crozzle and toothpicks - the toothbrush of prehistoric times!
We have found convincing evidence that during the early Iron age the Danes had gathered a fleet of a significant size which could be used in connection with attacks where a strong impact was needed.
The longbows had an impressive
range. Big picture © Lejre Experimental Centre
After each battle the spoils of war taken from the defeated enemy were destroyed and sacrificed to the gods of the bog. Due to these sacrifices we have been able to discover much of the weaponry and equipment used by the armies.
Since the weapons were placed in this particular kind of bog - sometimes a lake, the conclusion must be that the people imagined that the gods lived in the bog. Before going to war the warriors probably promised the war god that whatever they captured they would sacrifice to him.
The Battle by Als
The most famous battle from the early Iron age took place close to Als in North Schleswig. The battle reveals in details what weapons were used for fighting. The bloody battle took place in the fourth century before the birth of Christ at a time when there was also warlike unrest further south.
The weapons and other equipment which the enemy had brought along and which were abandonned and captured after the defeat inflicted by the local warriors, were discovered in a small bog close to Hjortspring on Als, approximately two kilometres from the coast. This is where the enemy army went ashore sometime during the fourth century B.C. However, we don't know if the battle took place somewhere completely different or if the attackers might have been from Als.
The Hjortspring Boat was a swift moving war
canoe. The picture shows a reconstruction of
the boat. Big picture © The Hjortspring Boat Guild
Whatever they captured they brought with them and sacrificed it in the sacred bog. The fate of the enemy and any prisoners of war is unkown but it is very unlikely that it was pleasant.
One of the boats was preserved and is now known as the Hjortspring Boat. The boat, which was sacrificed to the bog, was a swift moving war canoe. The many finds of weapons indicate that there must have been three to four canoes, each holding more than 20 warriors.
The Hjortspring Boat was discovered in 1921. The result of the excavation was overwhelming - numerous shields, spears, swords and other equipment from the defeated army as well as the sacrificed boat.
Today the boat is on display at the National Museum and a fully functioning copy has been made.
Every warrior carried a huge wooden shield and also a heavy sword or lance along with a light spear. Half of the warriors also carried a spear with a head made of bone. Many of them also carried roughly cut stones made of flint which they would throw at the enemy with terrifying strength.
Copies of some of the weapons
discovered with the Hjortspring Boat,
for example shields and spearheads. Big picture © the Hjortspring Boat Guild
A few of the highest ranking warriors carried a short sword which was to be used for hand-to-hand fighting. A few of the officers also wore a ring mail.
If we assume that the defending army consisted of approximately 100 men or a little more, it means that they must have come from hundreds of villages and farms.
It is believed that the attacking forces went ashore on at least three to four boats. However, it is possible that as many as six or seven boats took part in the attack.
The attack probably started when a swarm of roughly cut flint stones was thrown at the enemy by use of slings.
Then came the next assault wave which consisted of the spears with spearheads made of bone. At last came an assault wave which moved up closer to the enemy since it consisted of the shield covered warriors.
Another assault wave came from the warriors in the second row. They now threw their square-pointed spears against the enemy. Yet another assault wave was mobilized from the warriors in the first row, when the warriors threw their piercing narrow-headed spears whose iron heads could penetrate ring mails. All of this was done to create a weak spot in enemy lines before the fierce hand-to-hand fighting began.
We don't know exactly where the battle took place. We don't know the details from the battle either. But we do know how it ended. After the first assault wave and the following advance the armies clashed in hand-to-hand fighting, using the sharp bayonet-like spears and sometimes also the single-edged swords.
Hand-to-hand fighting. Big picture © Lejre Experimental Centre
After the battle the bog was to receive its biggest sacrifice so far. The 22 metres long wooden boat was pulled into the opening in the bog which was just big enough for it be lowered into it. It was turned on its side and sank to the bottom of the black bog. All the captured weapons were thrown inside the boat or around it. However, many of them were destroyed first so they could not be used again. Shafts of spear were broken in half, spears were bent and swords were bent double. A couple of paddles and shafts of spears were pushed into the boggy ground as well.
The Hjortspring find is one of the oldest - if not the oldest - of weapons finds in Denmark. And it proves that the trend in the arming at that time was towards footmen armed with spears and lances as opposed to previous times use of axes, daggers, spears and in only in rare cases swords.
More recent finds of large sacrifices of weapons from Illerup by Skanderborg, Ejsboel by Haderslev, Thorsbjerg in North Schleswig and Vimose in Funen supports the information of the weaponry; we do see warriors on horseback taking part in the battles, however.
This umbo from Illerup, whose purpose it was to protect the hand of the warrior who held the shield, is made of solid silver..