Home Forums Medieval Birka Bj.581 and Viking cavalry

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    I’ve been waiting for Neil Price and Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson’s Antiquity article on grave Bj.581 for a while now. It’s open access, so you can read it and the supplementary material online or download for later perusal. If anyone remembers the stink from their previous article on this grave, I can safely say that this is the article that they should have published. It’s measured and provides much more nuance and discussion, even if I do wish that they had included literary scholars on their team when analysing Old Norse literature for warrior women. That aside, I was struck by two sentences on p.184 of the article:

    ‘Weapons were present in an unusual profusion and variety, suggesting the equipment of a professional – probably a mounted archer able to deploy a remarkable repertoire of fighting techniques’

    ‘… the person in Bj.581 was a cavalry commander …’

    Could this be hard evidence for the presence of cavalry among Viking armies now? Not fixed bodies of cavalry as we tend to think per the modern infantry/artillery/cavalry trinary, but rather people capable of fighting mounted when needed. I’ve long been of the view (following Halsall et al.) that Viking huscarls, at least, would have been able to fight both mounted and dismounted as needed, much like medieval knights, so I was particularly intrigued by the quotations from the article. It does raise a ton of questions though. Was this a peculiarly Swedish thing? Was this person actually from an eastern people who made regular use of horse archers? Could this situation have applied throughout Scandinavia? Are there other graves that support this perspective? etc. etc.

    Anyway, I’m going to use this as an excuse to add horse archers in Eastern dress to my Blood Eagle warband, and I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you wish to use this evidence.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.


    Guy Farrish

    Thanks for that.

    Very interesting.

    It raises lots of fascinating and probably intractable questions.

    Obviously the cultural biases of those excavating/analysing the finds regarding gender/biological sex biases, but also a whole raft of what archaeology and wider society brings to interpreting evidence of the past.

    Do the presence of horses and weapons mean the dead person was a warrior? Does warrior mean Viking? Or could it mean ‘high status’ in group leadership terms?

    Could a woman be a warrior? Possibly. Could a woman have a high status leadership role in a group? Very probably. Did the latter imply the former? Not necessarily, but possibly.

    As for ‘Viking’ cavalry I would be amazed if Scandinavian fighters never fought mounted. Whether this was a regular, preferred and organised activity I remain to be convinced.

    But for wargames variety, whatever floats your longship.

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