folkvapn (OSw) folkevapn (ODan) fulkvapn (OGu) folkvápn (ON) noun

Literally ‘folk weapons, people’s weapons’ or perhaps ‘battle weapons’ where folk refers to ‘troops, army’. Folkvapn were the prescribed weapons of men in combat, though it is unclear whether it was considered a privilege to own these weapons or a requirement; possibly both. The term appears in several Swedish, Danish and Norwegian laws, though the number and type of weapons varied.

In ÖgL three folkvapn are named: shield sword and kittelhatt (iron hat?), while in HL every man capable of fighting was required to have five, probably for levy service: a sword or axe, an iron hat, a shield, a mailcoat or musu (coif?) and a bow with three dozen arrows. In HL folkvapn could be inherited by sons of concubines (frillosonr). Four folkvapn are listed in SdmL, but three — a carving knife, a food knife and arrows — are listed as murder weapons. There also seems to have been some overlap between folkvapn and ‘sea warrior district weapons’ (hamnu vapn) in SdmL. In the Swedish laws, the ability to bear folkvapn may also have distinguished free men from those of lesser status, i.e. slaves, or even sons of householders — someone who was ‘folk-free’ (folkfri) had the right to bear folkvapen and go to war. In HL all men capable of bearing arms over 18 (higher than the age of majority) were required to have folkvapn.

In JyL (3.4) the captain of a ship was required to have a crossbow, three dozen arrows and a man who could fire it (if not himself). All householders on a ship were meant to have a shield and three folkevapn: a sword, iron hat and spear.

In FrL (VIII.13 & 15) all unmarried men were supposed to own folkvapn, namely a shield, spear and sword or axe. For the levy (leiðungr) every other man (one per bench on a ship) had to provide a bow while the other was to supply two dozen arrows.

In GL the folkvapn formed part of the inheritance given to illegitimate sons when they left home, along with three marks in coin, a variety of bedclothes and fifteen ells of broadcloth for outdoor clothes. There is no description of what they consisted of. Daughters received a cow instead, so they must have been quite valuable.

A citation from a text on lögfræði and a later canon law statue stipulate that clerics should not bear folkvápn (without necessity).

battle weapon OGu GL A 20

folk weapon ONorw FrL Intr 21
ONorw GuL Leb
OSw HL Äb, Rb
OSw SdmL Gb, Mb
ODan SkL 88
ODan VSjL 56

Brink forthcoming; SL ÖgL/UL 71; Larsson 1988; KLNM s.v. folkvapen; NGL V s.v. folkvápn; Schlyter s.v. folkvapn; Tamm and Vogt, eds, 2016, 35

  • ‘folkvapn’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.