Ancient Viking Swords
For ancient Norse warriors, the sword was their most valuable weapon. Swords were the most efficient and deadly weapons for Vikings. They also had a significant amount of status in Viking culture. The medieval Nordic warriors valued their swords so much that they would pass them down from generation to generation and even give them names.
Though not everyone could afford one, swords were very expensive due to the great skill required to make them in the Middle Ages; most Vikings couldn’t afford one.
What are Viking Swords?
A sword makes for a deadly and pivotal point in the story of Offa of Angel, who is one of the most famous heroes from Danish legends.
When King Wermund’s son Offa is to engage in combat with two opposing Saxons, the swords he has been given break when he tries to use them. Feeling stressed over this strange occurrence, and noticing that his sword Skræp is also no longer working out for him, the king decides to dig up his old forgotten weapon from where it has lay since he became too old to effectively wield it .
King Wermund said, “That was Skræp that struck!” whenever Offa’s sword cut the opponent. The story demonstrated the great importance attached to swords as weapons. Sharp swords were sometimes given names, such as in the story about Offa and his sword Skrap. Swords with names are involved in several other stories including Sigurd’s sword Gram which was also forged from a broken sword of his father Viking Chief Volsung.
To learn more about these powerful weapons, archaeologists turn to the archaeological evidence. Archaeologists find that a large number of swords provides them with much more information.
Viking swords were about 90 cm long and they either had double-edged blades or unsharpened edges. Sometimes the swords are pattern welded with traces of two different iron types mixed together.
The Viking sword was the primary weapon of the Vikings and one of the main types of swords used during The Viking Age. It wasn’t just limited to only the Viking people, though, it was also used by other tribes in North Western Europe.
The Viking sword was the primary weapon of viking warriors. It evolved out of the Migration Period sword in the 8th century and eventually into a knightly sword with a cross-guard. Ulfberht swords were made from steel with higher purity and carbon content than other swords, which may have arrived in Europe in the form of ingots coming from the middle or far east.
The blade length of these early examples vary from 71 to 84 centimeters but later models have single, deep, wide fullers that run the length of the blade. The shared single fuller reduces weight without compromising its strength so a swifter wielder may swing faster and harder strokes as needed. Later swords also featured more tapered points for increased effectiveness against chain-mail armor.
All swords from this time period have single-handed blades and handgrips. However, the shape of the sword’s pommel has changed dramatically within this era. The hammer features a blade attached at right angles to a shaft with a handle, while in the Viking Age it was built into one section that looked more like either an ax head or the profile of an aircraft propeller. While both styles may seem similar due to their straight lines, Hammer swords are short (only 15 inches) and usually had only one grip so they could be carved out of wood by skilled carpenters without needing any metalworking skills whatsoever.
Geibig’s system of classification is precise, rather than a comparison of morphology. It can take the same amount of statistical information in order to establish the classification and relationships between blades.
The fact that all the swords and sword fragments used to build up Geibig’s typology were found within East Francia might seem like a significantly large objection. However, this is not so significant because it corresponds roughly with modern Germany, including areas covered by France.
Evidence from finds suggests that the Ulfberht swords were probably made in the Rhineland. This would make sense due to the region’s role in influencing many medieval sword development improvements. In addition, Frankish/Rhenish weapons have been found almost everywhere and are still sought after today.
The popularity of sword blades in what is now Germany during the early to high medieval period was so great that imitation blades with a distribution range nearly as wide as the genuine examples have been found. Since the surveyed blades were apparently of moderate popularity, it could very well be that they represent reasonable cross-sections of blade types in use throughout Europe during their time period and that this evolution reflects the general evolution.
Geibig separated surveyed blades into seventeen groups, with a further four types also being present. For each group he identified the metrical characteristics, key relationships between different blade components as well as construction methods and time frame for maximum popularity.
To show the types of swords, below is a table from Geibig. Not all of his less objective categories have been included because they differ so drastically between different swords. All measurements are provided in meters, based on information from Geibig’s text and/or diagrams with guidance from other researchers’ survey data. All of the pommel types discussed in this article are divided into three categories, according to whether they can be found with a straight blade (the first category), curving blade hand-and-a-half design (in the second category), or curved two handed type blades (in the third category).
Petersen’s Viking hilts are classified into 9 types. Geibig has a type 6 that corresponds to Petersen’s Type K, but the 9th type matches Oakeshott’s simplification of it. Oakeshott’s pommel types, as detailed in The Archaeology of Weapons (1100-1325), can be found within Geibig’s pommel type variants. Type 17 bears resemblance to Oakeshott’s Type C and D. There will be some variation among these types. For example, Mannheim’s Type 2 and Type 3 are reminiscent of Petersen’s Types 2 and 3, but they contain differences as well.
The Sword Typology of Alfred Geibig
The following examples of blade types are taken from Geibig’s catalog with the exception of Type 14. It is not possible to provide an example for type 14, but a similar blade can be seen in Ian Peirce’s Swords of the Viking Age (Illustration A).
This type of blade is short and often has two parallel edges that meet near the very tip. Blades of this type usually have shallow fullers or no fuller at all, and are typically less than 31.5″ in length. All blades of this type which have hilt types have been found date from before 800 CE.
The blade has a convex curve to the edge and possesses a more refined appearance. The fuller is well-defined, but does not reach the point of the blade. The type is divided into three variants: blade concave in shape, with wide fuller; sharp throughout; broad bladed, low-pointed blades.
- Variant A – Fullered examples with heavy blades–greater than .9″ wide, 27.5″ to 31.5″ long
- Variant B – Slimmer, lighter blades of ~.75″ width (25.25″-27.5″)
- Variant C falls somewhere in-between the other two variants
In the late 8th century, some blades had a shape known as Type 2. These type 2 blades typically accompanied hilt types that go along with this era and may have been in use until the 10th century.
Blades of this type are essentially a Type 2 sword with the exception that it is shorter and narrower throughout the entire length. The difference in fuller taper ratios also makes it interesting for tracing major developments of swords between these two types. This kind first appears about 800 AD and seems to be less popular than the Type 2 sword, as most blades from this time period were made in Japan and China. The spatha continued in production throughout the 9th century, and continued being used until the end of the 10th century. The later examples of this type display something of the longer, more pointed forms which will start to predominate with Type 4 and Type 6.
There is only one type of blade that has straight edges with the taper tapering to a point, but the extent of the fullness can vary greatly. They are differentiated from Type 2 and Type 3 because at a ratio of about 10:1-to-30:1, it will be clear that this distinguishes them as being different types. Type 4 swords can be distinguished from Types 2 and 3 by their smaller size. Type 4 blades probably emerged alongside Type 5 swords, most likely during the later half of the 10th century and soon supplanted them as new innovations were developed.
Type five blades are slim and long with a slight convex curve that’s stepped. Their continual taper helps make for an easier transition into the blade’s point. Type five has two variants: Fuller tapered differentially, or not at all. Type 5 blades possess fullers of a uniform width, while the tapering ratio of Type 5 variation 1 is approximately 1.06:1 over its first 15.75 inches. Blades with this shape appear to have emerged at the same time as blade shapes of Type 4 and hilt types found on Type 5 swords are more in line with those that date back up to about 12th century CE.
Blades of this type taper to a point from the handle. The variant is divided into two groups: those with Variant A have a flowing transition into the point, while those in Group B have less taper at the tip and shorter points. Type 6 blades are a common feature of long-lived hilt types, which means it is difficult to date with certainty. However, Type 6 can be dated with some certainty from the mid-11th century on into the 12th century and may have overlapped with Types 5 throughout this period.
The blade of this type is characterized by medium-length, slim blades with narrow fullers. The blade edges follow a gentle concave curve that flows into a point, and the association with hilt types 16 and 17 supports an origin for this blade type between the end of the 11th century and the middle of the 12th century.
Blades with a now-iconic, straighter edge that curls into a more gentle curve at the point, drawing your attention to the blade. This type first appears in swords from around the 12th century because there are fewer hilt types associated with it.
This type of knife has edges that meet very close to each other and are only slightly curved. The curvature starts in the point section, and it is most obvious around the end of the fuller. The curves on this type versus a Type 5 – Type 7 can be seen if you look at an outline drawing where blades for both styles will show some resemblance with their shapes being somewhat similar though not identical.
These are long, heavy blades with tapering edges that gradually end in a convex point. Blade width varies according to variants A and B. Variants A has a blade width of 2 to 4 inches while the blade width of Variant B is smaller at between 1 and 3 inches. These blades are dated to around 1200 AD based on their resemblance to types 6–7.
This type of blade is wide and heavy with a straight cut along the edge. The blended edges curl near the point for safety purposes but are still narrow in comparison to other types. This is one of nine sword types that was popular during the 12th century
Long, heavy blades had extremely narrow, short fullers. The blades tapered continuously until the end of their fullers, where they curved inward to form a convex point. These blades were around toward the end of the 12th century and remained in production well into the 13th century.
Type 13 blades are very long and similarly narrow with straight edges that taper continuously. These types first appeared around the 11th century, roughly contemporary with those of Type 12. Example blade fragments show a point section is missing from this type, hence it is unknown whether there was one present or not.
One of Geibig’s blades is an example of this type. The blade itself is narrow relative to its length and dates prior to the 9th century. The sword pictured below is not from the same survey as the one that was analyzed but falls into the same category.
The ancient viking sword provides the ancient vikings with a deadly weapon that could lead them to victory. Archaeologists will continue to study the ancient viking swords and hopefully they’ll learn more about ancient Viking culture from this ancient viking sword.
Archaeologists have excavated numerous ancient viking swords because of their understanding of how important the ancient Vikings were in history; So archaeologists are now able to study these ancient weapons, or artifacts.
The first thing that they look at is what kind of metal was used for the blade, often pattern-welded steel, and then whether it is single edged or double edged.