Roman Legion vs Vikings: who would win?

Your typical Viking shield.

Your typical Viking shield. Source: Wikimedia

Our last article about who would win in a battle between a Roman Legion and a Greek Phalanx has been such a success that we’ve decided to continue the series. This piece is about who would hypothetically win in a fight between a Roman legion and a Viking formation.

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In a way, both the Romans and the Vikings were pillagers and plunderers. However, the way they went about it were quite distinct. For instance, the Vikings placed a lot of reliance on spiritual guidance of their gods, whereas the Romans spent extensive time developing military strategies that have proven to be quite successful.

Although both parties would use a technique known today as “The Shield Wall”, which served as an excellent way to protect a formation from being penetrated by the enemy, the Roman legions preferred to use it in smaller units to maneuver better. This would’ve given them an advantage over the Vikings on land. The fact that the Vikings preferred to charge into battle fearlessly with little planning whereas the Roman legions were professionals also speaks in favour of the latter.

However, naval history paints quite a different picture. Some historians believe that Vikings were the first “pirates”. Indeed, their sailing skills were well-developed and their longships could travel very long distances in shallow, as well as deep, waters. The ships were also very speedy for its time and could maneuver a lot better than the Roman ships. The Romans didn’t really place a lot of stock in the navy – they did have a fleet of sorts but they mostly relied on the ram in order to sink or immobilize an enemy ship.

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What do you think?

  • James

    Your missing the facts that romans had Iron and cheap steal. Very heavy compared to the chain mail of the vikings as well as not as sturdy. The vikings used speed and force. You misconstrued the effectiveness. Rome was very effective until matched with against something completely unconventional. In other words the vikings. I believe the romans would do damage, however would inevitably be slaughtered by the large, fast moving, violent norsemen.

  • MrSherlockGoal

    The Romans lost fights as all armies but not many wars. They tamed the German Barbarians and Spartacus along slaves lost the war mainly because a lack of good strategy. Romans had not only just piercing swords but also spears and. Don’t forget also their walls and flexible formations. Also they had war machines and chariots. They were a far advanced army. In open field and battle Vikings have no chance at all.

  • Alistair North

    The vikings used Kite-shaped Shields…? Are kites round?

  • Billy J. Harris Jr.

    Interesting article, except that you are wrong when it comes to naval warfare. The Romans had a powerful and effective navy, which during the Imperial period was mostly made up of biremes called Liburnians, which were adopted first by pirates and then by the Romans, they also had squadrons of river craft that patrolled all the major rivers. While Viking craft were not designed as warships but rather as transports, so I doubt that naval battles would have happened at all. As for land warfare, you are spot on, the Romans would have destroyed the Vikings in open warfare, the Vikings excelled at raiding.

    • Enrico

      You are absolutely right! In addition this article doesn’t consider the fact that Romans defeated the Carthaginians who had, during the ancient ages, the most powerful war ships. The Romans would of course win a naval warfare.

  • Wow- all these pop-ups begging people to share and subscribe who just want to rad a damn two paragraph article has stopped me from looking more into this site.

  • Nathan

    One can best understand this by looking at what actually happened when the Romans faced Germanic forces. The Norse were really just a second wave of Germanic raiders/invaders, with very similar weapons, tactics, and organizational ability. The Romans would likely have done well in set-piece battles (which the Viking raiders tried to avoid in any case), but they would lose some as well. It also depends on which Roman forces one is talking about…after the Romans gave up trying to conquer the Germans, they began recruiting them, to the point that by the 3rd century the Roman army was mainly Germanic anyway. At sea, a Roman warship was more substantial than a longship, which was in any case a transport and not a fighting ship (as already noted). The problem for the Romans would be catching up to them. Once again, actual history is instructive – during the 4th century the Saxons used very similar boats raid into Roman territory. What is today northeast France and southeast England was known to the Romans informally as the “Saxon coast” because of the constant raiding.

  • Mike Eustace

    One omission is a consideration of metallurgy. By the time the vikings were on the scene, technology had moved on since Roman times and the steel was much better quality. Viking weapons would have been harder, stronger and sharper than Roman ones and would have blunted less quickly. Similarly, viking chain mail would have been stronger and lighter than Roman plate armour. X-rays of surviving viking and saxon swords shows that they were made of what today we would call Damascus steel – heated and folded many times over. Ironically, it was a technology that spread through Europe from the Eastern Roman Empire, although at a much later date than the height of the Western Empire.

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