Berserkers are unique warriors hailing from the Scandinavian countries or Germanic tribes that populated ancient and early medieval Europe. They fought with the ferocity of a frenzied animal, which is how they’ve gotten their name. Wild, unpredictable and sometimes unstable, these warriors were a sight to behold on the battlefield.
Most of what we know about these mystical warriors comes from the Scandinavian eda’s – poems that were written by historians or priests of the middle ages. The very description of the word berserker was either interpreted as an individual going into combat without a shield or chest armor, or to describe an individual fighting with the strength of a bear. They were often described in extremes. Namely, they were uncontrollable men angered in a frenzy that did not distinguish a friend from a foe. Massacring, butchering, plundering and raping were also one of their ways to get across the path of conquest. The berserkers were chosen of the cults they represented by wearing ornately decorated and engraved armor. The most notable was the one with the heads of the bears, wolves or boars. These fur clad men were said to be the messengers of the gods themselves, in regards to battles which would earn their brethren the right to have a seat in Valhalla. Their frenzy was seen as either a blessing or a curse. It very much depended on which god has blessed them; they were either butchers or men of honor.
Earliest known records encompass men wearing pelts of animals in order to compare their martial prowess to that of the animal headdress. Most notable were the barbarians – the people who were not under the empires grasp. They either fought against the empire or as auxiliaries of the empire itself. The prime example was the war between the emperors Trajan and Dacian. Both sides had berserkers in their army roster. Trajan’s army had some boar headed Germanic berserkers wielding large two handed axes and only fur as their clothing to protect them from the weather but no armor to shield them from the enemy’s attacks. The Dacian’s warriors on the other hand, had wolf headed berserkers said to wield two handed versions of the falx, also known as a scythe sword, which was their trademark.
Just how effective were these ravenous warriors of old? Theories have suggested that they derived their famous frenzy from hallucinogenic mushrooms imbibed before or during the battle itself, which had nulled their pain receptors combined with adrenaline rush they felt in combat, making them juggernauts who took arrows, blows from swords, axes or spears and shrugging them off as if only the wind had touched them. Another theory suggests that these were simply mentally ill, uncontrollable and wild people who proved to be the sole embodiment of gods’ will. Whatever the case it may be (either by historian records or by the poems’ epic tales of mysticism), these soldiers destroyed uncoordinated armies for being disciplined and effective to the utmost.