Battlefield Behaviour

Vikings for all occasions, no speech too short

Manaraefan Herred

Entry on to the battlefield

All units, other than a hearth troop (the chieftains/kings body guard) of semi-professional warriors, should enter the battlefield in a very loose and ragged marching order.  On reaching their position on the start line unit leaders must call them into line and bring order from the chaos.  Where possible there should be no clear distinction between the units as they march on, only when they are formed up should this be clear.  If a unit has a mix of mailed and un-mailed warriors then the latter should lead the unit forming up immediately behind the unit leader and standard bearer, they are in effect the unit leaders hearth troop and should behave as such.  The remaining warriors should follow in ragged order.

Leaders performance

Unit leaders (officers) must appear calm and heroic in the face of all adversity and set a good example to the warriors.  Stand firm in the centre of the shield wall and give orders in a loud clear voice.  The unit leader must also be the calming influence in the unit, loved by their followers.  (Except, where the script calls for a specific characterisation. )  Unit leaders do not attend parleys unless the army leader calls them forward and then they should be matched by the other side.  This should be avoided, except where the script calls for it, as a crowd in the centre of the field makes it difficult to make out what is going on.

Sub-leaders performance

Sub-leaders (NCOs) must appear energetic and more frightening to the warriors in their unit than the enemy.  Suffer fools lightly and keep the warriors in the line and on task.  Their mother may love them but no one else does!  They should restrain warriors from interrupting their betters during a parley and inflict a suitable punishment if they do.  They should lead any responses or cheers called for by the army commander or unit leader.

Loss of unit standard

When a unit's standard is captured by the enemy the leader, sub-leaders and any warriors wearing chainmail must attempt to recover it or die in the attempt.  Other warriors in the unit may or may not help to recover the standard as they please, or are ordered.  

Capture of unit standard

To capture an enemy standard is a great feat of arms and the warrior who does so can expect great reward if he live to present his lord with his prize.  He will hold onto his prize until it is safe to take it to the army commander and not hide it behind the fighting line.

Death of a warrior

During scripted combat, all kills should be reacted to as wounds unless otherwise specified. Wounded warriors should drop back out of the fighting line acting in accordance with the wound received. Once safely behind the lines, the wounded warrior should wait to be attended to by the Fostrar or should bind the wound from a personal bandage stock, before being returned to the combat.  (See how much fun we could have with the two hit rule if instead of counting to ten a warrior had to get bandaged up before he was hit again, no doubt we would hear cries of “Leech! Leech!” on the battlefield.)

Death of unit leader

On the death of their leader, sub-leaders, standard bearers and any warriors wearing chainmail, rally around their fallen leader's body and fight to the death or victory, all other warriors rout off the field.  Any offers of surrender should be scorned with noble words.

Death of army commander

On the death of their commander the hearth troop, leaders, sub-leaders, standard bearers and any warriors wearing chainmail, rally around the body of their fallen commander and fight to the death or victory, all other warriors and units rout off the field.  Again any offers of surrender should be scorned with noble words.

Death of mailed warrior

Any warrior not an officer or wearing chainmail who kills an enemy who is wearing chainmail should attempt to stop and loot the body if it lies behind the killer`s fighting line.  The looter should be seen to attempt to take all the victims arms and armour, in the interest of safety the victims helmet and shield should be left unless the fighting is over.  Unmailed warriors should always attempt to loot the dead, especially when the dead are mailed, at the end of the battle.  The spoils should be presented to their lord who it is hoped will make a fine gift of some of the spoils to the warrior skilled enough to overcome a superior warrior.  Any lowly warrior who kills a mailed warrior will defend his kill from friend and foe alike.

Death of all one's followers

When a leader or commander is the sole survivor of a unit, an attempt to make a long speech should be made, in the hope that the enemy might get bored and wander off.  If the enemy does not fatally interrupt or wander off, the leader/commander should follow this by a desperate attempt to cut a way to freedom, or challenge for single combats and die heroically.

Leader runs away

If a unit's leader runs away, the unit will break and every warrior in the unit will follow unless rallied by the army commander or a sub-commander.

Comments on this site should be sent to Roger Barry

Standard Script Actions

During the Viking age people did many things differently than we do today, this was true both on and off the battlefield.  The Maldon poem gives good examples of what was considered responsible behaviour on an English battlefield and the Viking sagas are full of heroes and cowards alike.  The Anglo-Saxon chronicle expresses the disgust of the authors at the actions of some Saxon ealdormen, there by indicating that their conduct was not what was expected of them.  The following are actions that should be carried out by warriors to give the battle more of a Viking age aspect as opposed to a modern one.  The principle of what follows is that a warrior who is an officer, or possesses chainmail, is of a higher social rank, where the expectation is to preserve name and dignity rather that follow the dictates of common sense.  With this higher status they are expected to do things to preserve their name and dignity rather than what common sense dictates.  Religion also has an influence, a pagan Viking will wish to die well with an honest man’s weapon in his hand such as a sword, axe or spear so that Freya will choose him to spend eternity as a warrior of Valhalla or have all his desires met by the beautiful women in her hall Sessrumnir.  Christian warriors will wish to commit no base deed after their final confession if they wish to go to heaven.

These actions should be considered as the "default settings" of the warriors, if the script calls for a warrior to behave “out of character” then individuals will be appointed to play those roles.

Battlefield behaviour




Most of what follows is taken from the Hersir Handbook, I’m happy to include it in this article as this part of the handbook hasn’t been updated since I wrote it (as far as I can tell).  I have added some new bits that didn’t occur to me at the time.  The actions below, in my opinion, should be carried out during a scripted battle, I’d like to see them carried out in the free fight too but without some system of rewarding a warrior for their behaviour that will remain a vain hope.  I will point out that at the recent Corfe show I was the only standard bearer to fight with my standard in the re-fight, when my lord Guthrum was wounded I stepped before him and saved him from a second and fatal wound (two hit combat system works if you try hard).

Standard Bearer

The standard bearer’s job is to let everyone on their side know where the army commander or unit leader is, they stay right behind their lord at all times only stepping in front of him if their lord is wounded, they will be the first to defend their lord.  The position of standard bearer is the most prestigious after the army commander or unit leader, only the best and most reliable warriors are trusted with this task.  If their lord falls the standard bearer rallies the warriors to protect their lord’s body and avenge him.  They must be alert to what is going on and let their lord know what is going on around them.


Only the army commander, his standard bearer and a musician should go out for parley, any others just confuse the observers and show a lack of trust.  Swords should be sheathed, long axes and spears left behind with an attendant, if the army commander is using a hand axe he is on the losing side!  Only the principals should speak, to interrupt is rude and should result in censure from the offenders  lord.


Hostages are men of honour and give their word to the lord holding them not to run away and enter their new lord’s hearth troop.  They will not fight against their old lord but will fight for their new lord against a common foe, Byrhtnoth had a hostage in his hearth troop who died with him at Maldon.  Disarming a hostage and treating him as anything other than a friend is very bad behaviour.  A hostage will do all he can for his new lord in the hope that if his old lord betrays his oath the hostage will not suffer a dismal fate.  Killing hostages was rare, mutilation and or blinding more common.  Some hostages, whose lord had betrayed their oath, were accepted as full members of their new hearth troop and as they always felt under pressure to prove themselves they were the fiercest warriors.

             My hope is that as well as giving our shows more of an early medieval flavour that you will find it fun to behave in a different way, it will make the after battle story telling more interesting at any rate.

More About The Standard Bearer

Battles of the Viking age rage around the person of the king or chieftain leading an army or force of raiders.  The cause for which the warriors fight is their king or chief, they may devout believers in their faith but it is not for their god they fight.  They may proudly call themselves Danes, Norwegians or Englishmen but it is not their nation for which they fight.  They would have no concept of a political system but ironically this is what the fight for, they fight for their monarch or chief.  They do not necessarily do this for love of the man in that position, they do it for honour and self-interest.  A man’s honour is everything and without it he is nothing and has nothing, no man respects another without honour.  But even an honourable man cannot survive on honour alone hence the self-interest, the king or chief retains the loyalty of his followers by rewarding their good and brave deeds carried out in his name.  The king or chief feeds, clothes and houses his most loyal warriors, his hearth troop, and gives them special gifts when their service has been of a high standard.  On retirement from the king’s hearth troop he will bestow a grant of land upon them ensuring their comfortable retirement and the presence of a loyal man in the general populace.  Other rewards might be position and title and one of the most prestigious and sought was as the king’s standard bearer.

The warrior chosen had to be brave and skilled for he would stand beside or right behind his king and along with him would be the centre of attention for the king’s enemies.  The fiercest fighting would be around the king or chief for even though one side might be getting the worst of the struggle a single killing blow to the enemy king or chief would bring them victory, though the hearth troop would stand over their kings body and protect it or die many of the lesser warriors on hearing of their lords demise would see little point in risking their live further.

The standard bearer, being the closest warrior to the king or chief would be keen to keep his lord from harm and would be as close to him as possible.  With the standard in his left hand the standard bearer would only have his sword to protect his lord, tucked close to his lord so as to benefit from the protection of the kings shield he would use his sword to parry any blows aimed at the king.  So close to his king or chief would he stand that they might seem to move and fight as one, a single two headed beast with two sharp claws.  Everyone, friend or foe can see where the king or chief is because the standard is held high for all to see.

Should the king or chief fall the standard bearer will step before him and protect him until he rises again, or if dead until all the enemy are defeated or he himself is slain.  The standard bearer will call on the rest of the hearth troop to rally around their fallen lord and do likewise, no greater shame can a man bear than to return home without their lord unless he is fully avenged, and even then they will be lesser men for having allowed their lord to die.

Almost as great a shame is incurred if the standard is lost to the enemy, a lost standard give heart to the foe and disheartens the king’s host. To see their king’s standard amongst the enemy without him under it is a great shame and only quick action will save the army from breaking, the king and his hearth troop must throw themselves at the enemy to regain their lost honour and the kings loyal men must call his host to follow.  Quick action of this sort can turn shameful defeat into glorious victory.

No lord will set foot on the field of battle without a standard or banner. And army that has none is not and army, it is a band of brigands and dishonoured men without leadership.  The king’s host standing proudly under his standard will take heart seeing that their foe has no honour and can be relied on to run at the first setback.

The standard bearer is the first of the king’s champions, he is the most skilled and trusted warrior of the hearth troop and can be relied upon in every circumstance to be beside his lord.  Standard bearer is the greatest honour the king can bestow on one of his warriors, no prouder boast can a warrior make than that he was his kings standard bearer.