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Hervor dying after the battle with the Huns. A painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo

A shieldmaiden was a woman who had chosen to fight as a warrior in Scandinavian folklore and mythology and they are often mentioned in sagas such as Hervarar saga and in Gesta Danorum. Shieldmaidens also appear in stories of other Germanic nations: Goths, Cimbri and Marcomanni.[1] The Valkyries might have been based on the shieldmaidens,[1] and they were J.R.R. Tolkien's inspiration for Éowyn.

Contents

Historical accounts

There are few historical attestations that Viking Age women took part in warfare,[2] but the Byzantine historian Johannes Skylitzes records that women fought in battle when the Scandinavian ruler of Kiev attacked the Byzantines in Bulgaria in 971.[2] When the Norsemen had suffered a devastating defeat, the victors were stunned at discovering armed women among the fallen warriors.[2]

When Leif Ericson's pregnant sister Freydís Eiríksdóttir was in America, she is reported to have taken a sword, and, barebreasted, she scared away the attacking Indians.[2]

Legendary accounts

Examples of shieldmaidens mentioned by name in the Norse sagas include Brynhild in the Volsunga saga, Hervor in Hervarar saga, the Brynhild of the Bósa saga ok Herrauds, the Swedish princess Thornbjörg in Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar and Hed, Visna and Veborg in Gesta Danorum.

According to Saxo Grammaticus, 300 shieldmaidens fought on the Danish side at the Battle of Bråvalla, in the year of 750.

References

  1. ^ a b The article Sköldmö in Nordisk familjebok (1917).
  2. ^ a b c d Harrison, D. & Svensson, K. (2007). Vikingaliv. Fälth & Hässler, Värnamo. ISBN 978-91-27-35725-9. p. 71

See also

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