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In the early Viking period the basis of the army was the hirð (pronounced - heerth), the men of the lord's hearth who had sworn loyalty to him. Many would be fellow countrymen drawn by a lord's reputation for valour and generosity, but some would be professional fighters seeking the best rewards. In peacetime they acted as the lord's or king's officials, forming embassies, exacting tribute, recovering dues, and acting as messengers; in war they formed the core of his army. In addition the lord could call upon his estates to provide ships and crews (the coastal nature of Scandinavian warfare meant that armies were often calculated in terms of ships' crews).
''Original article by Andrew Nicholson 1991''