Weapons in Norse Mythology

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  • 0:04 Norse Weapons
  • 0:38 Gungnir & Dainsleif
  • 2:17 Skofnung
  • 2:58 Gleipnir
  • 3:49 Mjolnir
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Weapons played an important role in Norse mythology. In this lesson, we are going to check out a few of the most notable weapons and see what role they played in Norse legends.

Norse Weapons

If there's anything that most people know about the Vikings, it's that they lived in a warring culture. Viking raids, Viking wars, and Viking armies make up a large portion of the history of medieval Northern Europe. For the Vikings, and for all of Norse culture, war was an important way of life, and therefore, weapons were important tools for survival. It's no surprise then that some weapons hold an important place in Norse mythology. While Norse tales are full of gods, heroes, and the many weapons that accompanied them into battle, here are a few of the key players.

Gungnir & Dainsleif

Let's start with a very powerful weapon, wielded by a very powerful god. Gungnir is the spear of Odin, ruler of the gods. This magical spear hits its mark every time it is thrown and always kills its target. According to some stories, this is the weapon Odin will use at the battle of Ragnarok, the great cosmic war at the end of time.

Odin is associated with both spears and the noose, since he hanged himself from the cosmic tree to learn the truth of the universe. Therefore, many human sacrifices in Norse cultures are done with either spear or hanging. According to other sources, Norse warriors sometimes throw their spears over their enemies' heads to symbolize sacrificing the entire opposing army to Odin.

Odin's spear is one of many magical weapons wielded by the gods. Of course, the gods aren't the only ones in Norse mythology with access to magic. Hogni is a legendary Scandinavian king who plays a major role in the battle of Heodenings, a battle without end. Hogni's sword is named Dainsleif and was created by the dwarves. It is also magical, being cursed so that any wound it inflicts will never heal.

This sword is also dangerous in another way. It is said that whenever Dainsleif is unsheathed, it cannot be returned to its sheath until it has claimed a life. In one story, Hogni goes on to rescue his kidnapped daughter and ends up finding that she is alive and happy. However, Dainsleif had already been unsheathed, and so a battle has to be fought. The sword has to claim a life, and what could have been the end of an eternal war fell back into fighting.

Skofnung

Another magical sword belonging to a human ruler is said to belong to the legendary Danish king Hrólf Kraki. Hrólf is an interesting figure, something of a Danish King Arthur, and also a character who shows up in the Saxon epic of Beowulf. While many historians believe Hrólf may have represented an actual person or collection of people, who exactly this was is unclear.

Skofnung was Hrólf's sword and is said to contain the spirits of the king's guards and is famous for being the sharpest and hardest sword in the north. This magically enhanced weapon also may have caused wounds that could not heal, and its final resting place has been an enduring mystery and source of fascination for many.

Gleipnir

Norse mythology contains many magical swords and spears, but there's only one magical ribbon: Gleipnir. It's not your traditional weapon, but Gleipnir is actually one of the most important objects in Norse mythology. According to Norse legends, the wolf-god Fenrir is amongst the baddest of the bad. In fact, at Ragnarok it is Fenrir who devours the cosmos. To contain the wolf, the gods commissioned the dwarves to create a chain to bind Fenrir.

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