How common were shieldmaidens? Did they even exist?

May 2017
183
Virginia
#1
The recent controversy over the alleged female warrior in Birka, Sweden got me thinking. Though I know there is some question over whether or not the individual was a warrior or even a woman;do we know of any other female graves in the Norse world that were buried with weapons? I seem to recall some mass graves in England of Vikings that contained women with weapons though that may be simply because of mingling of remains. Though it certainly wasn't the norm, do we know of any outsider sources talking about them (such as the Byzantines in their war with the Rus in 971)? Just how true are the Norse stories of shield-maidens like the legendary Lagertha?

And I know I am mostly talking about the Germanic/Norse peoples, but feel free to discuss other cultures as well. For example, I believe there are Sarmatians graves with women warriors in them or at least women buried with weapons. Happy to hear your opinions and learn something new hopefully.
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,698
Lower Styria, Slovenia
#2
All I know about them is from the Nibelungenlied, so not much. Interested to hear what our fellow members have to say on this.
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,405
South of the barcodes
#3
Women were expected to be able to fight and defend themselves and their homes.

They werent expected to be on the battlefield.

If someone is using women in battle its because theyre desperate. Like because the best fighting men are dead.

Usually if you find the records of norse warrior women its because its a been commented on by the winning side.
 
May 2011
13,938
Navan, Ireland
#4
I'd like to hear more on this, I suspect that much showing of 'shieldmaidens' in series such as the 'Vikings' owes as much to modern 'feminism' and equality nonsense as it does actual history.

However I do not know enough about Nordic history to really comment.

I know the Romans used the position of women in 'Celtic' society as an illustration of their barbarism -- not only do we have evidence of Female Queens and war leaders but also that women fought in battle alongside men.

However I highly doubt they'd fight in a 'shield wall' -- women are not as strong as men -- but would rather have other roles such as missile users, scouts etc.

Interested to see other opinions.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,068
Dispargum
#5
Tacitus wrote that Germanic warrior men took their women along to war with them, but not stand in the battle line. Instead the women stood off to the side and acted like cheerleaders. The warlords were probably thinking that their men would not run away from battle if their women were watching.

All armies have always had campfollowers - people, often but not always women, who accompanied armies on campaign but who did not fight. I find it easy to believe that stories about camp followers and Tacitus' cheerleaders evolved into stories about shield maidens.
 

M9Powell

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
4,439
appalacian Mtns
#6
I'd like to hear more on this, I suspect that much showing of 'shieldmaidens' in series such as the 'Vikings' owes as much to modern 'feminism' and equality nonsense as it does actual history.

However I do not know enough about Nordic history to really comment.

I know the Romans used the position of women in 'Celtic' society as an illustration of their barbarism -- not only do we have evidence of Female Queens and war leaders but also that women fought in battle alongside men.

However I highly doubt they'd fight in a 'shield wall' -- women are not as strong as men -- but would rather have other roles such as missile users, scouts etc.

Interested to see other opinions.
I quite agree & they don't belong as front line combat troops today either, only politically correct BS puts them there.
 
May 2011
13,938
Navan, Ireland
#7
I quite agree & they don't belong as front line combat troops today either, only politically correct BS puts them there.

In Celtic society were are fairly certain that women had a strong place (lets not claim a modern feminists paradise of equality etc) but whether it be Queen Medb from legend or the historical reality of Queen Boudica , Queens could and did have real power and were considered war leaders , 'real' Queens.

The Romans claim that in Celtic battle women fought alongside their men (shocking a women's place is in the home!!) and ok why not? it may be Roman propaganda -- we have no Celtic sources -- to show their barbarity and perhaps it alludes to an actual large number of camp followers (nothing unusual there) but why say they fight?

perhaps its simply the shock that they had actual Queens with power? or perhaps they did fight.

But people in the past are not stupid especially when it came to killing (you or him).

Ok Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones fan) kicks M9Powell's arse in sparing and says I can stand in the shield wall/battle line then OK we'll not debar here simply because of her sex -- but she will be a rarity.

Just returned from a lovely trip to Scotland to watch my youngest daughter run in a mountain race -- those girls will cover distances over mountains far quicker than some muscle bound warrior-- a much better use of resources, scouts and skirmishers would be a sensible use of resources and our ancestors were on the whole sensible.
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
#8
Tacitus wrote that Germanic warrior men took their women along to war with them, but not stand in the battle line. Instead the women stood off to the side and acted like cheerleaders. The warlords were probably thinking that their men would not run away from battle if their women were watching.

All armies have always had campfollowers - people, often but not always women, who accompanied armies on campaign but who did not fight. I find it easy to believe that stories about camp followers and Tacitus' cheerleaders evolved into stories about shield maidens.
Well said, Chlodio.
 
Jan 2015
2,932
MD, USA
#10
The Romans claim that in Celtic battle women fought alongside their men (shocking a women's place is in the home!!) and ok why not? it may be Roman propaganda -- we have no Celtic sources -- to show their barbarity and perhaps it alludes to an actual large number of camp followers (nothing unusual there) but why say they fight?
DO they say that, actually? It's been too long since I combed through the sources, but I don't recall anyone coming up with anything like that in all the other discussions on this very topic over the years.

Tacitus says something like "The women are as fierce as the men." Means nothing--maybe he saw a legionary getting chased out of a girl's hut by an angry mother. There's a pre-battle pep talk that has the general telling his men that the rabble they are facing are women and dogs--he's INSULTING THE MEN, not performing a scholarly analysis of the Celtic military system.

No, women were not part of any regular military system. They were not expected to "defend their homes" or use missile weapons on the battlefield. Yes, if you overrun an enemy baggage train you can expect some of the girls to throw stuff or come screaming at you with a weapon. They're dangerous, and you can't just ignore or laugh at them, but they aren't trained or organized. And the smart ones are running out the back door.

Same with "defending the home". Military levies would never scoop up ALL the men on a regular farmstead, which would have included 3 generations of family plus farmhands, servants, slaves, etc. And any fool knows that if you kick in a Viking lady's front door, she's got all her hubby's spare weapons to choose from in there. But weapons drill was NOT part of her upbringing--she just knows that a weapon is naturally dangerous, and which end to hold. And again, if the women decide to grab the kids and head for the next farm or nearest town for help, no one's going to call them cowards.

There were certainly plenty of strong and impressive women in Norse society. And I'm sure there may be reasonably believable accounts of a few who actually fought as warriors. They are wild rarities.

Matthew
 

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