Shield Maiden

Shield Maiden

Shield-Maidens or "Skjaldmö" is a term in Old Norse (skjald: "shield") which designates a young warrior woman armed with a shield. The myth of the Valkyrie is based on the epic of the skjaldmös. Shield Maidens are not unlike the Greek myth of the Amazons.

The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrekr describes these women fighters and in particular the heroine of this saga, Hervor and her death.

The Gesta Danorum tells the story of the battle of Brávellir in which several hundred Shield Maidens took part.

Shield Maidens also appear in the legendary accounts of the Goths, Cimbers and Marcomans.

Historical Sources of Shield Maidens

The Byzantine historian John Skylitzes indicates that women fought in the troops of Sviatoslav I during the military campaign of Bulgaria in 971.

During the battle of Dorystolon, the soldiers were surprised to discover on the battlefield the corpses of many armed women.

Freydis Eiriksdottir, daughter of Erik the Red and sister of Leif Eriksson, is also one of these female warriors, having fought the "Skrælings" in Vinland.

Shield Maidens in the Sagas

Several Shield Maidens are mentioned in the Nordic sagas, such as Brunehilde in the Volsunga saga, Hervor in the Saga of Hervor and King Heidrekr, the princess Brynhild in the Saga of Bósi and Herraud, the Swedish princess Thornbjörg in Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar and Veborg in the Gesta Danorum.

According to Saxo Grammaticus, 300 Shield Maidens fought on the side of the Danes at the Battle of Brávellir in 750.

He also mentions Lagertha who fought alongside Ragnar Lothbrok and helped him win the battle by personally leading a clever attack on the enemies' flank.

The Grœnlendinga saga describes a fearsome Viking warrior named Freydis Eiriksdottir. She was the daughter of Erik the Red and the sister of Leif Eriksson.

During a stay in Vinland, she would have wielded a sword, topless, while advancing towards the threatening Amerindians who would have fled, frightened by this reckless and gesticulating woman.

Two Shield Maidens appear in some translations of the Saga of Hervor and King Heidrekr.

The first of the two, Hervor, was known to have taken on typical male roles from childhood and to have robbed travelers in the woods dressed as such.

Later, she took Tyrfing the cursed sword from her father's grave, claiming it as her inheritance, and became a pirate. Then she got married and stopped her activities.

Her granddaughter bore the same name and commanded troops against the Huns. Although the saga mentions her courage, she was mortally wounded by the enemies and died on the battlefield.

Shield Maidens in Popular Culture

In the series Vikings broadcast since 2013, the legendary skjaldmö Lagertha, played by actress Katheryn Winnick, is one of the main characters.

In JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, the skaldmö inspired the female warriors of the kingdom of Rohan, of which the character Eowyn is a part, called shieldmaidens in English.

In GRR Martin's Iron Throne series, the spearwives of the Free People, of which Ygritte is a member, are warriors loosely based on the skjaldmö, armed with spears instead of shields.

In Northgard, the Bear Clan has two exclusive units: the armored bear and the Skjaldmö, which replaces the usual warlord.

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