(Vaguely related to What kind of equipment would a giant slayer use, but different premise enough)

In a somewhat Northern-mythology inspired setting, "viking" villages and cities huddle in fjords, different manners of monsters creep in caves and tribes of giants haunt the hills.

The most common kind of giant-kin are similar to fantasy ogre:

  • 3.5m tall in average, up to 4m in exceptional cases.
  • Significantly stronger than humans.
  • Tribal stupid: can fashion a club, rudimentary shelter, but no boat or complex weapons (no bows, no forging, can scrap metal to a certain extent). Capable of simple strategy when raiding.
  • Boar-like hide, hard to pierce/slash.
  • May enslave smaller races and use them as cannon-fodder in combat.

I'm wondering what kind of weapons would humans use in this context to defend their settlement against such opponents. Some restrictions for answers:

  • A hit and run strategy isn't viable, it's a fixed location defense.
  • No "Van Helsing ballistae". It's a 8th/9th Scandinavian kind of technology setting.
  • The defenders don't have access to potent poisons. No neurotoxic sap on your arrow. The best they can manage would be something that cause an infection.
  • Pits and traps are doable, but you have to take into account, a full fledged raid will be something like two dozens ogres preceded by 50 human/near-human slaves.

This is a question about weaponry (blades, spears, axes and all that good stuff). If you want to back it up with a strategic explanation, that's fine, but please, no meddling with the parameters (the slaves won't turn on them, the cities won't go nomad, etc).

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    $\begingroup$ Reputedly the antler of a hart would do the trick, but it might not work for you since it may have to be wielded by Freyr. IIRC traditionally giant slaying was left to the gods. $\endgroup$ – gmatht May 24 '20 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ @gmatht It's okay, you can leave Mjolnir alone, we're not dealing with Jotuns here. But I liked the reference. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai May 24 '20 at 3:17
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    $\begingroup$ normal viking weapons will work fine on a giant. boar hide is not that tough. Plus their blood will be under high pressure so they will bleed a lot. chances are they will kill more vikings than a normal opponent but they likely can't replace their numbers nearly as fast. $\endgroup$ – John May 24 '20 at 3:51
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    $\begingroup$ Vikings were not big on using bows anyway, so it is not much of an issue. for battle they preferred throwing spears which will work fine. keep in mind there are humans close to 3 meters tall. viking defenses which relied on palisades and slopes work better against giants. as I said the giants will kill more effectively but will not be much better at surviving. $\endgroup$ – John May 24 '20 at 3:59
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    $\begingroup$ two hand axe like dane axe for example,spear,javelin, throwing axe, sling. trick them to dry grass plain and then ignite it, or trick them to swamp or marsh or quicksand to sink them to incapacitate them or drown them. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun May 24 '20 at 10:03

11 Answers 11



If this is a fixed location defence, then fortify, using standard layered defences with a couple of tweaks to take advantage of the giants' weaknesses.

  1. Early warning - as with any defensive position, have sentries to give early warning of approaching enemies. Make sure each sentry has a trained dog that will be able to use its better-than-human senses of smell and hearing to give more warning at night. Put "noisy" surfaces on all approaches such as gravel and easily-broken twigs etc. The giants are not listed as having any special stealth or night vision abilities, so this is the same sort of situation as defending against humans.
  2. Prepared ground in approach to wall - deep obvious obstacles plus pit traps. Depending on the exact terrain around the village or city and available resources, use a combination of a moat (or pits of water), deep (4+ metre) trenches etc. The "safe lanes" between the obvious obstacles should have pit traps that are perfectly safe for even a 100 kg person to walk over but will break under the weight of a 300+ kg giant. The pit traps have barbed spikes at the bottom - these will be more effective against a giant than against a human because their ability to penetrate is using the giant's weight and much greater ground pressure to drive the spike through their skin. (Note that if heavy carts need to routinely run over these pit traps then have them covered with a drawbridge during times of commerce which is pulled up when an attack is detected.)
  3. The wall - Build a wall that is more than 4 metres tall with all the usual features of a defensive wall. Ideally, make it a bit lower in a couple of places to create a "weak spot" a metre or so across that even a moderately stupid giant will realise is the easiest spot to climb, with a parapet to cover the people either side of this small gap. Ensure that the people on either side of the gap have sledgehammers ready to smash the fingers or heads of any giant who tries to climb up there.
  4. Defender weaponry - Finally addressing the point of the question, this is the weaponry that is used by the defenders of a wall. First option is bows (against the slaves) and slings (against the giants) to hit attackers while they are crossing the prepared ground, especially those who are caught in pit traps, moats etc. Second option is medium size rocks and hot sand to drop on the heads of those trying to climb the wall, although pianos and anvils are entertaining options if the budget is available. (Also have long poles with forks on the end to push scaling ladders away, though these are not technically "weaponry" and the giants may not be smart enough to build ladders.) Finally, if any giant somehow manages to get a hand or head up to the top of the wall, everyone should have a mace, hammer or sledgehammer to ensure that they do not get any further. (Crushing damage does not care too much about cut-resistant skin.) Burning torches could also be a good option to push into the face of a giant as its head gets level with the parapet, especially if they are too primitive to understand fire.

Without the engineering ability to defeat fortifications, the giants have no hope of defeating a well-fortified village, let alone a city. Other than using slings at range and blunt weapons up close to defeat the cut-resistant skin, defending against giants is no different to defending against primitive human attackers, with the added bonus (for the defenders) of weight-sensitive pit traps that will not impede their own day-to-day movements.

EDIT: Various other answers and comments are suggesting that spears / polearms will work well against giants. There are two standard ways of using these weapons - either one-handed with a shield (through most of early history) or two-handed after plate armour made the wearer highly resistant to most attack forms (probably not yet developed in the "viking" era). The problem here is that neither of these techniques will work well against a group of attacking giants. While closing to melee range, the giants can throw rocks that are too massive to be deflected by a human wielding a shield and will disable even a well-armoured fighter with blunt force. If the giants are using spears (very probable) then those spears are twice as long as those of the humans and wielded with much greater strength. Some humans will probably survive to get inside the reach of the giants' spears and do some damage, especially as relative width on the battlefield will mean that any given giant in the front line will be facing two humans, but the humans need much greater numerical superiority to win and will take many more casualties than they would if they defend from their fortifications.

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    $\begingroup$ Be warned: build a trap that a stupid giant can't spot, and you end up selecting for smarter giants. $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica May 24 '20 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ Note: Spears should still work fine. The "cut resistant skin" is defined in terms of boar hide; spears work just fine on boars. You only need special boar spears (with "wings") to prevent the boars from working their way up the spear in their death throes, if the giants don't have that level of suicidal dedication, standard spears and pikes should work just fine, just like they do on boars and lightly armored humans. $\endgroup$ – ShadowRanger May 24 '20 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ I like the mention of slings here. Those things are darn powerful, fully comparable to modern handguns: nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/05/… $\endgroup$ – ZeroOne May 26 '20 at 10:39

a pike, or a halberd would be ideal for this task, as would most polearms.

for fighting a giant, you'd want to have something with reach, and hence the polearm.

using their weight aganst them, and polearm is your choice.

Battlefield weapons is what Vikings warriors actually used in real life, plus the spear and pike was what most viking warriors used, so which means a viking type civilization would already have on hand the best weapons to fight giants with.

  • $\begingroup$ They already used a shield wall, so a pike square isn't something too difficult to come up with. :) $\endgroup$ – vsz May 25 '20 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ Vikings spears were very crude and short. Vikings had bad metallurgy and lack of good large trees. Creating a real late-medieval polearm in 8-9 century would be like creating AKs during WWI - only prototypes and very small number can be made, but not mass-production. $\endgroup$ – ksbes May 25 '20 at 10:14
  • $\begingroup$ Reply to "ksbes". Not sure where you're getting that idea. Higher status weapons like swords were relatively rare and expensive, and iron was not as plentiful as in later periods, but the vikings made fairly good quality swords for the time period. Ulfbert swords were well known for their quality, in fact. While it may not be as good as late medieval swords, they were good for the time. Also, even with short trees, spears of 9 to 10 feet should be no problem. The average battlefield spear was 6 -8 feet. $\endgroup$ – Redbud201 May 27 '20 at 10:04

Your most effective weapon is your organisation.

People tend to focus way too much on hardware, which can be pretty marginal in warfare. A well-trained, well-organised, well-disciplined force with good leadership and sound tactical sense will beat a disorganised, undisciplined force with ease.

Lack of intelligence means the giants are doomed to fall prey to even relatively simple battlefield ruses like feigned retreats, and will be consistently outmaneuvered and face adverse odds every time they are trapped into a battle. Compared to the giants, any moderately competent commander will be Caesar, Napoleon and Alexander the Great rolled into one. The giants are likely to be demoralised after repeated defeats as they realise that whatever they do they are doomed, and this will accelerate their collapse and make it easier to bluff them.

Small forces of giants will be split off or lured away, ambushed and exterminated mercilessly. Most will be killed while fleeing; smart giants will flee as soon as they see a human force.

Weaponry is fairly irrelevant, but spears or other polearms would be useful, backed with any missile weapons that the force can use to concentrate firepower.

Even if defeated, a well-led force will take perhaps 20% casualties with the rest escaping and reforming, while a badly-led force if defeated will be surrounded or chased down and annihilated. This soon adds up.

EDIT: Also, cavalry. Light cavalry could harass the giants forces indefinitely with no fear of ever being caught, as the giants are too big to ride horses. Heavy cavalry with lances could probably destroy groups of giants.

  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't really play into what you said about intelligence, but the first guy who ran away at the end of The Battle of the Black Gate (LotR) was the giant. Nor would it jive if the number of orcs and goblins was reversed with giants, but it'd still require organization and discipline, which was the moral of the story, +1 $\endgroup$ – Mazura May 25 '20 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ Even world war 2 is a good example: many people mistakenly believe Germany conquered most of Europe using superior tanks. They indeed developed some powerful (but overengineered and too expensive) tanks, but only later in the war. In the beginning when they did all the conquering, they mostly had only light tanks, most of them equipped with machine guns only. Even them only in relatively small quantities. What won the day for them was daring generals, better organization, superior tactics, good communication lines, and a sluggish opponent which was still thinking along WW1 doctrines. $\endgroup$ – vsz May 25 '20 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ The German invasion of Russia - in which the Germans has a 6-1 disadvantage in tanks, and worse tanks at that - is a case in point $\endgroup$ – David Hambling May 25 '20 at 13:31

I'll go tree-hugger on this one. Vikings didn't use much stone, so grow a forest around your village.

enter image description here

Giants call this accursed place "headwhack forest".

The tree species should be selected for its propensity to grow low branches, so a conifer would be a bad choice, but there are Scandinavian oaks that should be able to do that. With a bit of work (ie, harvesting high branches) trees can be encouraged to grow in the desired shape. Of course it would take a while, but it's an investment, plus you get wood, game, etc.

If the branch height is just right, humans can run and fight normally, horse carts can be driven through, but giants will have to crouch, which will strongly handicap their fighting ability, especially considering their favorite attack is the overhead smash with a big club.

The other giant specialty, throwing big stones, also becomes difficult as they will hit branches.

A dense forest also makes long spears useless, as they would hit trunks and undergrowth.

Since your Tree Vikings have bows, throwing spears, and can run, and giants don't have bows and can't even stand upright, the playing field should be very uneven. This is a bit of a frame challenge on your question, as instead of new weapons I'm going for a setting that enhances the efficacy of traditional viking weapons against giants.

This isn't as good as a defence as a Bigass Stone Wall, but vikings didn't build castles.

Also, thorns. Fantasy settings need thorns.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ That is. A super very nice idea. Love it. Also very cinematic. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai May 25 '20 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Also, holly bushes. These are truly evil ^^ $\endgroup$ – bobflux May 25 '20 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ There is a bounty coming your way as soon as the button appears, cause you just made one of the settlement a thousand times better. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai May 25 '20 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ Awesome! Here, some carnivorous brambles as inspiration... Hooked thorns and stupid are a real bad combination XD $\endgroup$ – bobflux May 25 '20 at 20:28

The bigger they are the harder they fall.

Humans can break bones in a fall, and a giant is going to fall further and harder than a human. If falling onto flat ground isn't enough to kill them then six foot tall spikes would help. For this reason I think rope trip traps would be you best bet, perhaps aided with a bit of oil or grease.

The Slaves aren't that relevant. If they know what is good for them they'll switch sides and pay their danegeld. Since they don't know what good for them, they will be put to the fire and sword like an uppity Saxon (well mostly axe actually, but vikings had a bit of fire and sword too).

Or the Vikings could try to re-enact the legendary battle between Freyr and a giant by leaping into the fray bearing no weapon bar the antler of a hart. Sure they might die. Probably would, actually. But they would have a tale to tell upon entering Valhalla.

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    $\begingroup$ pit traps are more effect than trip lines, the Romans made some simple yet ingenious ones. even simple ground spikes (an iron spike in a piece of wood) will do wonders the weight of giant will drive the point very deep. $\endgroup$ – John May 24 '20 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ I guess I knew Vikings had oil and presumed they had rope for sailing. I guess they could dig a pit too. $\endgroup$ – gmatht May 24 '20 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ Gravity and the square cube law, +1 $\endgroup$ – Mazura May 25 '20 at 0:48

Economic warfare.

Giants gotta eat. If they have agriculture, burn their fields in hit and run raids. If they are hunter-gatherers, kill their preferred prey species and root out whatever plants they gather.

That forces the giants to raid human settlements for food, but over time this species cannot win a war of attrition against humans. At this size, their reproductive rate will be slow. If forced to fight humans continuously for resources, at any realistic casualty ratio they are on a slow train to extinction.

As described, you've basically made them mammoths on their hind legs. Mammoths on their hind legs are in a bad situation if humans of Norse-level civilization decide to actively attempt to wipe them out.


The defenders don't have access to potent poisons. No neurotoxic sap on your arrow. The best they can manage would be something that cause an infection.

Some poisons available to Scandinavians:

  1. lectin - available from mistletoe (Viscus Album) - the plant from which the arrow that killed Baldr (a brother of Thor) was made

  2. ergot killed King Magnus II of Norway shortly after the Battle of Hastings

  3. Amanita phalloides - said to be quite a tasty mushroom

  4. hensbane - hypothesized as the way to make berserkers, also used for flavouring the beer before hops replaced it

Delivery? Ummm... how about the resemblance of a hastily abandoned fete, you reckon your ogres and their raiding party can resist the temptation?
Granted, they won't drop dead immediately, the village will need to resort to other defenses for a couple of days.

Others, still available to vikings, suggested in comments:

  • common yew - cardiotoxic, due to taxine alkaloids, absorbed quickly from the intestine and efficiently via the skin, causes death due to cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. No known antidotes for yew poisoning, estimated lethal dose (LDmin) of Taxus baccata leaves is 3.0-6.5 mg/kg body weight for humans

  • hemlock - based on coniine, structure and effects similar with nicotine. Causes a flaccid paralysis (like curare) by binding binding and stimulating the nicotinic receptor on the post-synaptic membrane of the neuromuscular junction. Native Americans used hemlock extract as arrow poison. LD50 - about 12mg/kg.

  • northern wolf's-bane - contains aconitine, blocks open the sodium-ion channels. Proper-fucks the heart and the digestive system muscles, death by respiratory paralysis or cardiac arrest. Used as an arrow/lance poison (even in whale hunting, paralyzing and causing it to drown)

  • $\begingroup$ Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and wolf'sbane (Aconitum lycoctonum) are present in Norway. Foxgloves and deadly nightshade don't seem to be. $\endgroup$ – CSM May 25 '20 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ You don't want them to die immediately; if they do the human slaves will be used as food-testers. $\endgroup$ – CSM May 25 '20 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ All this poisons are very slow to act and at most not 100% deadly, with exception of "death cups" - amanita phalloides. Lust one kills human in 3-4 days. A litle bit long for "battle poison"! $\endgroup$ – ksbes May 25 '20 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ You forgot to mention one of the nastier ones, yew -- it does appear that T. bacaata pops up in the southern parts of Scandinavia, and it's a rather mean plant from a "being toxic" perspective, known since antiquity for its poisonous properties due to the presence of cardiotoxic alkaloids that can cause rapid circulatory collapse (within a few hours, vs. days) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay May 26 '20 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay thanks, I'll add it (lucky me, I didn't pretend to list all of them) $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi May 26 '20 at 6:58

Fight them from a fortified height, soften them up long range then axes and spears as they close.

A half naked mob of runaway slaves beat the Romans using slings from high ground in the Second Servile War, for giants staff slings and bows would be better, they require little training and can throw bigger rocks or incendiaries as far as a hand sling. They're still in use today.

A hand sling is capable of breaking bones and outranges most bows, a staff sling is even more dangerous and a spear butt could easily be modified to attach the sling to so the melee weapon is right there when the surviving giants finally poke their heads over the wall.

I have both sorts of slings and they're lethal weapons. The current World record is 477 metres with a hand sling.


Of all the people and places you would choose, I really don’t see the Norsemen having any real trouble fighting the giants on your terms. I see some glorious battles in your future.

First off, if they are Vikings, they will fight like Vikings. The Vikings were very mobile armies and favored offensive tactics. Before the giants show up at the gates, they will have been engaged at least once, maybe three or four times out in the field. In the steep slopes of the fjords, using the terrain to your advantage would quickly eliminate the giant’s height advantage. Given that the giants are not too bright, this might work quite often.

The axes favored by the Norse, especially the two handed ax, could cut chainmail and split iron helms. Thick skin is not going to be that much of a problem unless it is actual stone.

Norse warriors were taught from childhood how to catch a thrown spear and return it to the sender. If the spear or rock is too large to catch, simply stepping out of the way seems trivial.

The Norse also favored heavy wooden shields and very quickly closing with their opponents. If the shield blocks that one spear jab while your friend closes to close combat, it may not matter that you get knocked on your rear.

Last, given what I have read about the Norse berserkers, in a one-on-one against a giant, I do not favor the giant’s odds.

Back to the siege, the Norse were extremely adaptable to their environment. There were rarely stone fortifications in that time period as there were no Frankish navies laying siege to Scandinavia. When the Norse men moved into Scotland or were invited into the northern Frankish territories (becoming known as the Normans) they adapted to the needs of the region and built stone keeps all over the landscape. If your settlements need stone walls, they will build stone walls. If they need ballista, catapults, or trebuchet they will build ballista, catapults, or trebuchet, all of which they had working knowledge of.

Do not forget about the longship as a weapon. Any settlement with access to the water could quickly reposition part of their force to place the attackers on the defensive.

The Vikings’ worst defeats were when they were caught or ambushed out in the open by a very mobile army. That shouldn’t happen in the fjords.


The human slaves/cannon fodder would be a minor threat at most - a panicked rabble with more incentive to escape than to fight. A promise of leniency/freedom if they proved themselves worthy by turning on the giants would go a long way, or simply letting them flee. If these really aren't options, they're still poorly armed and untrained - no match for a basic militia with a palisade and good throwing arms.

If they didn't have oversize crossbows/torsion spear-throwers, they'd invent them pretty quickly. These have a poor rate of fire, so you'd want to delay the giants once they were within range This could be done using something in between a Cheval de Frise and a Czech hedgehog - think 3 logs, sharpened and formed into a tripod. You might want to make them about 2m tall, 2m across and 1m apart, but that would mean they wouldn't impede the human slaves very much; in turn that would usefully separate the slaves from their masters.

A skilled and well-organised society familiar with bows (even if mainly for hunting and skirmishing), as the Norse of the time were, would have no trouble coming up with something close to a Roman ballista or scorpio. A bolt the size of a spear would be able to penetrate even tough skin at long range, and do real damage, not just irritate a giant. Fire might be worthwhile if the giants are particularly frightened of something that hurts and they don't understand, but may not be very reliable. Instead a barbed head would be particularly crippling as it couldn't be removed and a giant isn't going to attack very fast after taking a spear to the knee.

Of course all this would be combined with pits/moats and scouting skirmishers (mounted javelineers attacking from the flanks/rear unless the giants were surrounded by a solid mass of human slaves).


Think about mammoths.

In prehistoric era a score of hunters with poles/spears could bring a mammoth down. That is the most realistic real world analogy I could think of.

  • $\begingroup$ I am new here, please comment on downvote. $\endgroup$ – Bojan Hrnkas May 25 '20 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ Mammoths are prey animals, Giants are hunters. Check a few of the other answers to see the level of creativity, especially the one with the photo. $\endgroup$ – boatcoder May 26 '20 at 15:29

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