Viking Age Arms and Armour - Weapons - Sword


The Viking sword was for single-handed use to be combined with a shield, with a double edged blade length of typically around 90 cm. Its shape was still very much based on the swords of the Dark Ages and on the Roman spatha with a tight grip, long deep fuller and no pronounced cross-guard. This was in keeping with the rest of Europe as, at that time, this design of sword was the most widespread. The double-edged blade design hints toward combat based on thrusting as opposed to hacking.

Swords were very costly to make, and a sign of high status. Like Roman spathae they were worn in leather-bound wooden scabbards suspended from a strap across the right shoulder. Early blades were pattern-welded, a technique in which strips of wrought iron and mild steel were twisted and forged together, with the addition of a hardened edge. Later blades of homogeneous steel, imported probably from the Rhineland, bore inlaid makers' marks and inscriptions, such as INGELRII or ULFBERHT. Viking craftsmen often added their own elaborately decorated hilts, and many swords were given names, such as Leg-biter and Gold-hilt. Swords with pattern-welded cores gave greater strength and flexibility. The sword grip was usually made of an organic material such as wood, horn, or antler (which does not often survive for archeological uncovering) and may well have been wound around with textile.

Owning a sword was a matter of high prestige. Persons of status might own ornately-decorated swords with silver accents and inlays. Only the wealthier Viking goðar, jarls and sometimes freemen could afford swords. The rest of the adult male population carried axes or spears into battle. One sword mentioned in the Laxdæla saga was valued at half a crown, which would correspond to the value of 16 milk-cows. Constructing such weapons was a highly specialized endeavour, and was likely outside the skill of an average Norse smith; many sword-blades were imported from foreign lands such as the Rhineland. Swords could take up to a month to forge and were of such high value that they were passed on from generation to generation. Often, the older the sword, the more valuable it became.

A distinct class of early single edged swords is known from Eastern Norway at the time. These had grips similar to the double edged swords, and blades of comparable length. The blades varied from long and slim, like the more common two edged swords, to somewhat heavy, giving the weapon a more cleaver-like balance. Confusingly the same finds are sometimes classified as "sabres" or "seaxes" in English literature.

As mentioned above, a sword was so valued in Norse society that good blades were prized by successive generations of warriors. There is even some evidence from Viking burials for the deliberate and possibly ritual "killing" of swords, which involved the blade being bent so that it was unusable. Because Vikings were often buried with their weapons, the "killing" of swords may have served two functions. A ritualistic function in retiring a weapon with a warrior, and a practical function in deterring any grave robbers from disturbing the burial in order to get one of these costly weapons. Indeed, archeological finds of the bent and brittle pieces of metal sword remains testify to the regular burial of Vikings with weapons, as well as the habitual "killing of swords.

  • Viking Swords and axes
  • Viking swords displayed at the Wikingermuseum in Haithabu.

  • A Danish axe on the Bayeux tapestry.

  • Two axes found in Western Norway on display in Bergen

  • Modern reproduction of a Dane axe

Read more about this topic:  Viking Age Arms And Armour, Weapons

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Famous quotes containing the word sword:

    My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it.
    John Bunyan (1628–1688)

    Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
    Bible: Hebrew, Proverbs 12:18.

    Another hand thy sword shall wield,
    Another hand the standard wave,
    Till from the trumpet’s mouth is pealed
    The blast of triumph o’er thy grave.
    William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)