Viking Swords

In the Viking age, more than anything else, the sword was the mark of a warrior. They were difficult to make, and therefore rare and expensive. A sword might be the most expensive item that a man owned. The one sword whose value is given in the sagas was said to be worth a half mark of gold. In saga-age Iceland, that represented the value of sixteen milk-cows, a very substantial sum. Swords were heirlooms. They were given names and passed from father to son for generations. The loss of a sword was a catastrophe. Laxdæla saga (chapter 30) tells how Geirmundr planned to abandon his wife Þuríðr and their baby daughter in Iceland. Þuríðr boarded Geirmund’s ship at night while he slept. She took his sword, Fótbítr (Leg Biter) and left behind their baby. Þuríðr rowed away in her boat, but not before the baby’s cries woke Geirmundr. He called across the water to Þuríðr, begging her to return with the sword.

He told her to “take your daughter and whatever wealth you want.”
She asked, “Do you mind the loss of your sword so much?”
“I’d have to lose a great deal of money before I minded as much the loss of that sword.”
“Then you shall never have it, since you have treated me dishonorably.”

Swords in the Viking age were typically double edged. They were used with a single hand, since the other hand was busy holding the shield. Blades ranged from 24-36 inches long although 28-30 inches was typical. The blade was typically 1.5-2.3 inches wide. In the middle of most Viking swords was a groove called a fuller. It has nothing to do with the persistent legend of “helping the blood flow”. The purpose of the fuller is to provide strength and rigidity to the blade while lightening it at the same time. By having in effect two spines each closer to an edge, the edge bevels could be made thicker and thus stronger without increasing the weight and in fact reducing the overall weight of the sword. The hilt and pommel provided the needed weight to balance the blade, with the total weight of the sword ranging from 2-4 lbs (1-2 kg). Most swords weigh in at around 2.5-3 pounds. While there is comparatively little variation in the basic shape of Viking sword hilts, the variety of decoration and embellishment is staggering. Wire inlays, engraving, laminating, pins, file-work, dimples, various materials such as precious metals, ivory, stone, gems, bone and wood. Some of the well-preserved examples of historical Viking sword hilts are staggering in their beauty and execution. It gives one pause to remember that these peoples were anything but primitive barbarians hacking up helpless villagers.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Thomas Ponyets, Ben Rial. Ben Rial said: Check this out: Viking Swords – http://ping.fm/1IGZ4 […]

  2. One aspect of Viking swords is their construction. Specifically I am going to discuss the construction of the blade. Pattern welding is a process of forge-welding smaller pieces of iron and high carbon steel together. It is generally thought that due to the unrefined smelting processes of the early iron age, pattern welding was necessary to create a piece of steel large enough to forge a blade. During the welding and forging, the steel became further refined and the high and low carbon pieces complimented eachother. As a side effect to this process, if the finished blade was etched in acid (intentionally or otherwise) or weathered, or even through the polishing process, a pattern would emerge in the surface of the blade. This pattern was due to the different types of steel being used reacting in different ways to oxidation or chemicals (sweat, blood, etc.). The properties of the blade were effected by the amount and types of steel used. Iron and mild steels would provide shock absorption and high carbon steel would provide edge holding ability, stiffness, and resistance to wear. The pattern can be manipulated with predictable results depending upon how the smith would manipulate the pieces during construction. Today, this is called “damascus steel” but this is in fact a bit of a misnomer. The origins of true damascus steel are still being researched and open to argument. Pattern welding however has a more easily documentable history and the results are readily duplicated used tried and true techniques. After smelting techniques were improved with more predictable results, then widespread pattern welding, a time-consuming process, tended to be used less and less as a larger quantity of quality high carbon steel became available. The fame of the sword-making center of Toledo, Spain was due to their scientific approach to the smelting process and their ability to produce a predictable quantity of high quality high carbon steel.

  3. there was an episode on NOVA a while back called secrets viking sword and the sword that was brought back to life was called Ulfberht http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/secrets-viking-sword.html
    Ive always been fascinated with the vikings especially since i may have some viking ansestery

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