viking period swords: the scholars of swords

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Viking Period Swords: the Scholars of Swords. Steven Blowney January 2016 The study of the Viking Period sword is dependent on the efforts of archaeologists. Since archaeology’s beginning, swords have been of interest. In J.A.A. Worsaae’s English edion of The Primeval Anquies of Denmark (1849) the sword of the Viking Period are discussed in “Anquies of the Iron Period” (1). While other weapons, such as axes, are also discussed, it is swords that have connued to spark the interest of later generaons. A review is worthwhile because an understanding of past scholarship will allow for a beer understanding of a connued interest in Viking Period swords. But Worsaae only took a passing noce of swords. The first important source about swords is O. Rygh’s Norske Oldsager of 1885 (2). The book is a catalog of archaeological finds divided along Worsaae’s scheme of “Stone Age,” “Bronze Age,” and “Iron Age.” Each object is given a number and a brief descripon, along with an illustraon. Rygh, however, modifies Worsaae’s “Iron Age” categorizaon to the “Older Iron Age” and the “Younger Iron Age,” starng about the year 800 AD. The term “Viking Age” is not used, and to our modern eyes this seems odd. 19 th Century archaeology was in its youth and the discipline did not have the experience or techniques of dang objects it had in later years. The category Younger Iron Age is a well thought out term for its me (3). The swords categorized to the Younger Iron Age are of interest here. Objects 489-512 are of specific interest. Items 489 to 491 show enre double-edged swords; 492 through 495 present only the guard-tang-pommel constructs; 496-500 show single-edged blade with guard-tang-pommel constructs: 501 to 512 returns to these constructs only, except for 507 (guard and pommel only) and 512 (only the guard is presented).

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Viking Period Swords: the Scholars of Swords.

Steven Blowney January 2016

The study of the Viking Period sword is dependent on the efforts of archaeologists. Since

archaeology’s beginning, swords have been of interest. In J.A.A. Worsaae’s English edition of The

Primeval Antiquities of Denmark (1849) the sword of the Viking Period are discussed in “Antiquities of

the Iron Period” (1). While other weapons, such as axes, are also discussed, it is swords that have

continued to spark the interest of later generations. A review is worthwhile because an understanding

of past scholarship will allow for a better understanding of a continued interest in Viking Period swords.

But Worsaae only took a passing notice of swords. The first important source about swords is O.

Rygh’s Norske Oldsager of 1885 (2). The book is a catalog of archaeological finds divided along

Worsaae’s scheme of “Stone Age,” “Bronze Age,” and “Iron Age.” Each object is given a number and a

brief description, along with an illustration.

Rygh, however, modifies Worsaae’s “Iron Age” categorization to the “Older Iron Age” and the

“Younger Iron Age,” starting about the year 800 AD. The term “Viking Age” is not used, and to our

modern eyes this seems odd. 19th Century archaeology was in its youth and the discipline did not have

the experience or techniques of dating objects it had in later years. The category Younger Iron Age is a

well thought out term for its time (3).

The swords categorized to the Younger Iron Age are of interest here. Objects 489-512 are of

specific interest. Items 489 to 491 show entire double-edged swords; 492 through 495 present only the

guard-tang-pommel constructs; 496-500 show single-edged blade with guard-tang-pommel constructs:

501 to 512 returns to these constructs only, except for 507 (guard and pommel only) and 512 (only the

guard is presented).

Rygh’s innovation is presenting the differences in swords dated to Younger Iron Age. Item 494

has a straight guard (or hilt) with a two-piece pommel, the upper part being triangular and the lower

part being straight. Differently, Item 501 has a longer, slightly curved guard and a rounded upper piece

of its pommel. Still other swords have lobed pommels, and not all sword blades are double edged.

Norske Oldsager served as the first reference source that allowed archaeologists and enthusiasts to

roughly date and compare the object they discovered.

Rygh, however, cataloged a variety of objects. A. Lorange specialized in his Den Yngre

Jarnslader’s Svaerd (The Sword of the Younger Iron Age.) (4). This 1889 work is the first publication to

physically examine swords. Well illustrated, Lorange presents 26 swords and other object (spearheads

and tools). The date of each sword’s discovery is given where possible, the oldest being 1825. However

Loranges work set up the concerns about Viking Period that remain to the present day. The first

concern is the investigation of inscribed sword blade, especially VLFBERHT inscriptions. The second

concern set up by the author is the making, or more exactly the forging, of swords. Looking at the

distinctive patterns found on these sword blades, Lorange concluded they were of “false-damascas

process” manufacture. Later studies would call this process pattern welding.

The first true typology of Viking Period sword was created by J. Peterman and published in 1919

as De Norske Vikingeswerd: Ein Typologisk-Kronologisk Studie over Vikingtidens Vaaben (5). This work

has been considered the stand since its publication and much of the 20th Century. J. Graham-Campbell,

F. Androschuk, and V. Kazakevius have included this typology in their works (6). There is also a partial

English translation by K. Noer available online (hppt://www.vikingsword.com/Petersen) since 2003 (7).

With a sample of about a thousand swords, Petersen devised a typology not based upon the

weapon’s blade, but the guard-tang-pommel construction. Designating each type with a letter, the

author then created a chronological order of swords. Types A and B were designated for the pre-Viking

Period, and are considered “transitional” examples. Types C through I designate Early and Middle

Viking Period (the Late 8th, 9th and Early 10th Centuries. Types K through Z represent the Late Viking

Period (the Late 10th and 11th Centuries.) The most numerous type is H with 213 examples, followed by

M with 198. Dated to have been used 800ish to 950, Type H is described here (8):

“The handle consists of a wide guard with an elliptical cross section. The upper guard is especially wide; the greatest with of the upper guard from the Viking Age attained. The guard is often slightly, or in other specimens, a clearly ridged upper side. They are seldom entirely flat. The pommel has three sides, so it had a wide base…”

The strength of Petersen’s typology is the size of its sample. But despite including some a

thousand swords, many have criticized Petersen for not taking the blade into consideration. Given the

1919 date of the publication, the author’s ability to examine the sword blade was extremely limited. As

a graduate student writing a thesis, Petersen was probably not entrusted with things like X-Ray

machines, which were a very new form of technology.

J. Petersen was not the only archaeologist to a typology of Viking swords. In 1927 M. Wheeler

published a typology in London and the Vikings (9). Like Petersen, Wheeler only examined guard-tang-

pommel construction, which he called a “hilt.” The typology consists of seven forms:

I. Hilt with straight cross-pieces (the guard): no capping pommels.

II. Hilt with straight cross-pieces (the guard) and a triangular pommel.

III. Three or five lobes (on curved) pommels with straight guards.

IV. A type which…has a comparatively flat pommel, generally, with 5 lobes.

V. …a distinctive group with (a) high-peaked central lobe and…curved guards.

VI. A later type (10th and 11th centuries) three lobed (pommel), with flat curved guards.

VII. (A type)…with a semicircular pommel, some plain but more often with grooves…

Though Wheeler vaguely acknowledged swords outside of England, he only discusses weapons

found on that island. The size of the sample of his typology is not presented, but it seems to be small.

In 1938 L.R.A. Grove wrote of his frustration using this typology (10).

M. Wheeler’s typology might have become an archaeological curiosity, if it had not been

adopted and modified by E. Oakeshott. In his 1960 book The Archaeology of Weapons (11), Oakeshott

used Wheeler’s typology, but added two more types to the original seven”

VIII. (This type)…has a pommel which is…nothing but a simplified development of Type VI. The divisions between the upper and lower parts have vanished as well as the lobes, leaving a form just like a brazil nut.

IX. (This type)…is, I believe a bye-form of (Type) VIII. The general shape of the hilt is similar, but the pommel as it retains the division into upper and lower parts, the upper taking on an exaggerated cocked-hat form.

After presenting his modified typology, Oakeshott discusses the decoration of the guards,

grips, and pommels. He then vaguely discusses Viking Period sword manufacture. Yet, as much as

Oakeshott contributed to the general study of medieval swords and weapons, The Archaeology of

Weapons does not discuss the size of the sample from which this Viking sword typology is derived. The

only advantage of the Wheeler/Oakeshott Typology is its simplicity and that it was written in English.

Between the publication of Wheeler’s typology and Oakeshott’s adaption of it, the study of

Viking Period swords turned its attention to the blade and its manufacture. H. Maryon claims to have

coined the term pattern welding to describe the method of forging Ancient and Early Medieval swords

(12). The author, after his own experiments, explained the differences between pattern welding and

damascening of blades. Pattern welding is a technique of twisting softer iron rods with harder steel

rods and then forging them together. This makes for an elastic blade—one that will return to form after

striking—while being able to hold a sharp edge. Damascening is folding layers of specialized steel from

India called “wootz” in order to achieve an elastic but sharp blade.

While both Janssens and Maryon discussed the differences between pattern welding and

damasking, J.W. Anstee further documented pattern welding with series of eight experiments (13).

Using a small hearth, a box bellows, a simple anvil (a cast iron cheese weight), a small vice, a three

pound hammer, and a pair of tongs, the author conducted his experiments. The iron used came from

an old Victorian Era fence. At first charcoal was used, but the author found had had an inadequate

supply, and so had to use a mixture of hard woods. Each experiment built upon knowledge gained from

the previous work, with the eighth experiment being an attempt to forge a sword blade. The result was

then examined visually, with a hardness test, and, finally with a series of X-rays. Anstee states that the

blade took 43 hours to forge, and 74.5 hours to complete. In others words, the manufacture of pattern

welded sword was not a hap-hazard affair, but required a specialized, highly skilled craftsman.

The previous work of Maryon, and Anstee allowed for Antein’s article, “Structure and

Manufacture Techniques of Pattern Welded Objects Found in the Baltic States” (14). 41 swords were

examined, dated from the 6th to 12th Centuries. Spear-heads were also examined. The swords were

divided into five groups with Group 1 consisting of blades forged entirely by pattern welding. A single

edged sword from Grobina dated to the 8th or 9th century belongs to this group. The weapon was made

of three strips of metal forged together—a fairly basic pattern weld. Group 2 consists of swords where

strips of iron and steel were pattern welded to make a central core. Here the edges of the blade were

added later and then modified (probably tempered). A 9th or 10th century sword found Kirima belongs to

Group 2. Group 3 consist of blades with VLFBERHT inscriptions and dated to the 9 th and 10th centuries.

VLFBERHT blades will discussed in more detail below, but Anteins states that these bleads consisted of

strips of iron and steel embedded into a homogeneous material. Group 4 consists of only one sword.

Group 5 consisted of sword blades with other inscriptions than VLFBERHT.

In 1986 R.F. Tylecote and B.J.J. Gilmour published The Metallography of Early Ferrous Edge Tools

and Edged Weapon (15). Though this work presented the metallurgy of iron in a wider context—it

included tools—the work also included bother single edged (generically called scramasaxes by the

authors) and double edged swords. However before presenting the authors’ presented their finding,

they presented their methods of examination. On the whole samples from the object in question was

cut out of it. Many of the objects were simply wholly cut; in the case of valuable objects a sample was

cut out without breaking the object. Samples were then placed in resin, polished in a series of dry and

wet techniques, and then, finally, etched with solution of nitric acid (Nital). After this process, the

sampled were ready for examination under a microscope. Samples were also tested for hardness.

Careful as Tylecote and Gilmour was, their process of preparation was destructive. However, of

the eight single edged swords examined, seven were dated to about the Eighth through the Tenth

Centuries, the approximant time of the Viking Period. At least of these blades could be considered large

enough to be called “swords.” One of the them, designated S-37, was found in the River Thames and

was constructed in three parts, with a harder edge.

The authors also examined 39 double edged swords, eleven of which are dated to Viking Period.

The interesting information found by the authors is variation of construction of these eleven swords. In

short the technique of pattern weld was beginning to fall into disuse as far as double swords were

concerned during the Tenth Century. The sword designated S-43 showed a complex construction of

composite iron/steel around a central core. An X-ray of the weapon suggested twelve separate

components. The sword was found in the Thames and is dated to about 900 AD.

A more recent study of pattern welding was conduction by J. Land and B. Ager (16). 142 swords

dated from the 5th to 11th centuries were examined. All the swords are owned by the British Museum,

and X-rays were used to discern the sword blade’s construction. The result were five main types: A, B, C,

D, and P with subtypes. Type A consisted of two strips of iron or steel forged together. Type B consisted

of three strips forged together. Type C consisted of four strips forged together. Type D had five. Type P

swords could not be identified. Of the 142 blades, 32 are dated to the Viking Period, with 8 being

considered from Scandinavia, and the rest from England or somewhere else.

The result of the examination of pattern weld sword blades not only showed that there was

considerable variation used in the technique, but also allowed for the expansion of the study of Early

Medieval sword, including Viking Period swords. Three related areas of work became possible. The

first was the creation of typology of swords that included the weapon’s blade. Second was the study of

swords imported to Scandinavia. Third was a more in depth examination of inscribed blades, especially

VLFBERHT blades.

In 1991 A. Geibig published Beitrage zur Morpholosichen Entwicklung des Schwerrtes im

Mittelalter (17). This book re-examined the guard-tang-pommel (the sword’s “hilt”) construction, and

more importantly, took sword blades into account. The author created two typologies of 19 basic types

for the hilt construction, called Kombinationstyp (“combination types”), and 14 type for blades called

Klingentypen. Geibig’s work is very complex.

C.L. Miller—found online at http://myArmour.com-- and L.A. Jones—found in the book Swords

of the Viking Age—explain Geibig’s typologies (18). The author’s sample consists of 347 swords dated

from late 7th to the 13th centuries. The sample is not from Scandinavia, but from East Frankia (essentially

Germany). On might question if a set of typologies based upon a sample from Germany be valid for a

sample from a different (if close) location like Scandinavia. The answer lies in Geibig’s use of his

typologies in Das Archaologische Fundmateria IV published in 1999 (19). This work is an examination of

the swords discovered at Hedeby, a Viking Trading port.

Fundmaterial presents twelve swords. Of these, only four can be typed. Four other swords

have only fragmentary blades, and the last four have no blades what so ever (not surprising with

archaeological finds). Sword Number 4 is classified as Kombinationtyp 8 (see below), with a round

pommel, a straight guard, and an almost complete blade. This weapon is dated to the 9 th Century.

Sword Number 6 is classified as Kombinationtyp 11 and has a two-part pommel with three lobes on the

top piece and bottom being straight and elliptical. The guard of Number 6 is also straight and elliptical,

but is larger. Number 6’s blade is incomplete, but the date of the weapon seems to be split between an

older blade (possibly the 8th Century) with new hilt construction added (date the 10 Century). Geibig

devised his Kombinationtyps by examining the front (along the face of the blade), the profile (along the

blade’s edges), and the top of hilt construction.

Yet the important part of Geibig’s work is his examination of blades, and the creation of 14

Klingentypen (blade types). Since the author examined swords dated to before and after the Viking

Period, only blade type dated to about 800 AD to about 1100 will be discussed here. L.A. Jones includes

Klingentypen 1 through 5 in his discussion (19). C.L. Miller includes Blade Type 1 to the Late 7 th or Early

8th Century (20); Type 1 has the shortest blade and only makes brief appearance in the Viking Period, if

at all. Klingentypens 2 through 5 are dated to the Viking Period, with Types 2 and 3 representing the

mid-8th to 10th centuries. Klingentypens 4 and 5 are dated to between the Mid-10th to 11th Centuries. All

these blade types have double-edges and fullers. The length of the blades vary from about 56 to 80

centimeters. Klingentypen 14 is reserved for single-edged blades, but Geibig dates these blades to

before the Viking Period.

Contemporary with Geibig is M. Jakobsson’s 1992 book, Krigarideologi och Vikingatida

Svardtypology (21). This book takes a different approach to swords than previous works. The author

divided large samples of swords into six “Design Principles” (the phrase translated from the German

word “Utformningsprinciperna”). These six are:

1. 880 swords: Triangular pommel; Petersen Types, A,B,C,H/I, N-D-S and Special Types (Sartyp) 8,6,15, 3.

2. 490 swords: Tripartite Pommel; Petersen Types, A,D,L,E,U,V,R,S,T,W,X, and Z, The Mannheim Types, and Sartyp 1,2,6,13,14, and 19.

3. 90 swords: Five or Polyparte Pommel: Petersen Types K,O, and S. 4. 170 swords: Absence of Pommel; Petersen Types M,Y,P,Q, AE, and Sartyp 5.5. 480 swords: Bent Bottom Guard; Petersen Types K,L,X,Y,O,P,Q,Z,T,AE, and Sartyp 7,14,15,16,

and 19.6. 210 swords: Absence of Top Hilt: Petersen Types X and W.

Jakobsson’s design principle typology is complex, and is best explained in the English Summary

Provided: “In this thesis it is suggested that the design principles from strategies of reproduction, where

the purpose was to reproduce a symbolic value attached to a physical form.” In other words,

Viking Period swords were more than a weapon and made with symbolic purposes in mind. This

symbolic purpose varied from region to region in the Viking World, but for someone to own and carry a

sword gave them a sense of empowerment.

When it is realized that many Viking Period swords were imported from outside of Scandinavia,

Jakobsson’s ideas become all the more complex. The selling or giving away a sword from one nation to

another suddenly takes on political overtones, yet the importation of sword has long been known to

scholars. Writing in the 1930s, Sheltig and Falk state (22):

“It is remarkable that historical sagas never mention a sword made in the North, whereas it is expressly stated (that) a number of swords …were obtained in a foreign country… Foreign origin…is indicated also by the sword-name which are derived from (the) names of other peoples.”

More recently B Solberg summarizes this thinking in a 1991 article (23). The author defined this

importation by noticing criteria for the trade of foreign weapons in the Viking World:

1. The inscription of sword blades in Latin letters (and not runes)

2. Decoration in non-Nordic style.

3. Pattern welded blades.

There is a fourth criterion, but it only applies to spearheads. The first three criteria lead to the study of

inscribed blades present in the Viking Period—especially blades with VLFBERHT inscriptions. While

other inscriptions have had attention paid to them, blades with VLFBERHT have received to the most

scholarship.

In 1951 H. Jankuhn identified VLFBERHT as a Frankish by examining three swords found in

Germany (24). The author though VLFBERHT was not the name of a place, but rather of a person. This

conclusion presents a problem, since swords with this inscription have been dated between two

centuries. No one could have lived that long.

In the 1960s A.N. Kirpichnikov began to examine Viking Period arms and armor, especially

inscribed swords. His method was to first grind the suspected part of the blade and then treat that area

with a chemical to bring out the inscription (25). While his method may seem destructive, the results

have attached the interests of other scholars. In 1994 A. Stalsberg announced a collaboration between

Russian and Norway for the examination of inscribed swords (26).

Stalsberg continues this work with VLFBERHT inscribed sword to the present. This Norwegian

archaeologist has charted some 166 examples of VLFBERHT blades found all over Europe. With this

sample she discerned seven types of these inscriptions (27):

1. +VLFBERH+T

2. +VLFBERHT+

3. VLFBERHT+

4. +VLFBER+T+

5. + VLFBERH+T

6. +VLFBERHIT, +VLFBEHT+, +VLFBERH+, VLFBERHH+T, +VLFBERTH

7. Non-Definable.

Stalsberg also examined the inscriptions found the reverse side of the blade. These

inscriptions were designated by Roman Numerals and cannot be easily typed upon the page. “Inscription

V,” for instance, looks approximately like II IXXI I.

The author then applies a chronological scheme to her sample. This scheme is based upon

Petersen’s work: the Early Viking Age (EVA) is the 9th Century; the Middle Viking Age (MVA) is mainly the

10th Century; the Late Viking Age (LVA) is the 11th Century. No sword is exactly dated, so there is some

overlap in the chronology. Stalsberg’s geographical/chorological distribution of VLFBERHT swords is as

follows:

Iceland: 2 MVA.

Norway: 44 total; 17 EVA; 19 MVA; 5 LVA.

Sweden: 17 total; 9 EVA; 3 MVA; 1 LVA.

Denmark: 3 MVA.

Finland: 14 total; 2 EVA; 3 MVA; 2 LVA.

Ireland: 2 EVA.

England: 4 total; 1 EVA; 1 MVA; 2 LVA.

France: 1 LVA.

Spain: 1 LVA.

Switzerland: 1 LVA.

Belgium: 2 LVA.

Holland: 3 total; 2 EVA.

Germany: 14 total; 2 EVA; 3 MVA; 9 LVA.

Czechoslovakia: 2 LVA.

Poland: 7 total; 3 MVA; 3 LVA.

Croatia: 2 EVA.

Ukraine: 6 total; 1 EVA; 5 MVA.

Belorussia: 1 MVA.

Latvia, Lithuania, & Estonia: 18 total; 5 EVA; 5 MVA; 7 MVA.

Russia: 10 total; 4 EVA; 5 MVA; 1 LVA.

The seeming discrepancies in the sword count is explained by understanding that not all VLFBERHT

swords can be dated. Petersen’s typology maybe chronological, but it is also dependent upon the Hilt

Construction.

Finally, Stalsberg speculates about the identity of VLFBERHT and the nature of who might have

forged the blades. Since the name is Frankish, it is assumed the smithy for these blades was located in

Frankia—Germany, France, Belgium, and Holland. The author makes a good argument for placing the

smithy at an abbey manned by illiterate slaves, but overseen by someone educated. However, exactly

where and when the VLFBERHT smithy was located and who did the work remains unknown.

Stalsberg is not the only archaeologist to examine inscribed sword blades. In 1998 L. Thalin-

Bergmann and A.N. Kirpichnickov published a small catalog of swords owned by the Swedish Historical

Museum (28). Three of the fourteen swords have the VLFBERHT inscription, and another sword has an

INGELRII inscription (specifically, “INGELRIIMEFECIT”—INGELRII MADE ME). Furthermore, in 2005 A.

Pedersen published a small catalog of inscribed blades found in Denmark (29). Of the thirteen blades,

only three have the VLFBERHT inscription. The other ten, however, have different inscriptions:

Sjaelland: Petersen Type S found in water in 1924 with an VLFBERHT inscription.

Sjaelland: Petersen Type S found in a burial in 1887 with an VLFBERHT inscription.

Fyn: Petersen Type S found in a burial in 1994 with an VLFBERHT inscription.

Sjaelland: Petersen Type X found in a lake with lattice work inscription.

Lolland: Type H with an illegible inscription; finding circumstances unknown.

Lolland: Type V found in a burial in 1885 with faint letters and lattice work.

Jylland: Type H found in a lake in 1878 with figure 8 inscription.

Jylland: Probably a Type X found in a burial with an uncertain inscription.

Jylland: Probably a Type H found in a river with a figure 8 inscription.

Jylland: Probably a Type H found near a river with letters on both sides.

Jylland: Type H found in a river with interlace or lattice inscription.

Scania: Type X found buried with a Greek Cross and circle inscription.

Unknown Provenance: Type E with double Omega inscription.

A completely different method of examining Viking Period swords, and VLFBERHT blades, was

conducted by paleo-metallurgist A. Williams (30). In 2009 he published the results of a metallographic

examination of 44 swords using a hardness test at certain points on each blade. A Vickers Hardness scale

was used to describe the results, which the author divided into Groups A through E.

However, before presenting these results, Williams explained the differences in early medieval

iron and steel. These differences were important when considering the results. Bloomery iron was the

product of the European smelting process and would have about 0.8 percent of carbon. This iron/steel

would have a hardness of around 250 on the Vickers Scale and is called euectoid steel. Conversely, steel

smelted in India using a crucible resulted in a metal with about 1.2 carbon content. This crucible steel

has about 300 to 350 hardness on the Vickers Scale and is called hypereuectoid steel. Put in simpler

terms, Indian steel of the Early Middle Ages is harder than European steel of the same period.

Williams Group A consisted of 14 swords, all of which had +VLFBERH+T inscriptions. Nine of

these blades contain hypereuectoid steel—only known to be produced in India as crucible steel. The

carbon content of one blade could not be determined; two other blades were from cremation graves,

which changed the chemistry of the metal in the weapon. An example of a Group A sword is from the

Museum fur Hamburg Geschichte had an average hardness of 355 on the Vickers Scale. The edges had a

hardness from 439 to 476. This would indicate a very hard edge that was probably forged out of

hypereuectoid steel. Williams also believes that the edges of this sword underwent some hot work

during forging, thus increasing their hardness.

Group B consisted of 5 swords, each with an +VLFBERHT+ inscription. Three of these swords

have completely hardened edges; the other two seem to have had some heat treatment. Williams

believes that these blades might have come from the same smithy. A sword in Group B from Helsinki,

Finland has an average hardness of 210 and an edge hardness of 310-390 of the Vickers Scale. An

electron microscope analysis shows the blade to be almost pure iron; the author speculates that

perhaps two different irons were used during forging.

Group C consists of 14 swords with variations of the VLFBERHT inscription. The blades edges of

this group have been hardened in some way. These edges are made of medium carbon steel. Six blades

had edges hardened by quenching; eight blades were not quenched. A blade from Bergens Historisk

Museum in Norway was in this group with an average hardness of 188 and an edge hardness of 175 to

243 on the Vickers Scale.

Group D consisted of eleven swords, all with variations of the VLFBERHT inscription. These

swords were all made of softer iron and seem to have had no steel content. An example of a sword

from Group D is from the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, England and has an average hardness 143 on the

Vickers Scale. However, the author believes that the blade once had a hardened edge that was removed

by repeated sharpening. The blade seems to have been intentional bent.

Group E consists of seven swords with either a unique inscription or no inscription. The

hardness test and microanalysis of these blades indicate some grade of steel was used in their forging.

An example here is privately owned, but is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Dated to the 9th Century, the blade has the inscription HARTO()FER and has a hardness of 296 on the

Vickers Scale.

Yet, Williams metallurgical examination is only in preparation to his historical conclusion. The

presence of crucible steel argues that the manufacture of VLFBERHT blades was conducted outside of

Western or Central Europe. The author speculates that VLFBERHT blades were made in Eastern Europe,

along the Volga Trade routes, which would have been able to bring Indian crucible steel. This conclusion

is controversial.

Still, Williams’ results show that VLFBERHT blades were not all forged in the same way, and that

some blades that were not VLFBERHT inscribed were of high quality. However, the author’s work has

not met with universal agreement. In 2011 E.E. Astrup and I. Martens, who are also paleo-metallurgists

interested in Viking Period weapons (31) published three objections to Williams article. The first

objection contends that the sample used did not include enough examples from Central Europe

(Christian) and instead used swords from mostly pagan (non-Christian) areas. The objection here is that

VLFBERHT inscribed blades were the product of a Frankish-Christian civilization. Secondly, Astrup and

Martens state that Williams’ method of a hardness test was not conducted using standard procedures,

specifically that both edges of a blade were not tested. Thirdly, the authors object that the approximant

dates of the blades were not included in the information published.

Williams was allowed to answer (32). He dismisses Astrup’s and Marten’s first objection by

pointing out that ill-literate smiths could have inscribed the Latin letters of “VLFBERHT” to fool ill-literate

customers—no one would have known the difference. Secondly, Williams points out that these blades

were no longer made after the 11th Century and the Volga Trade to and from the Baltic was interrupted.

In short the availability of crucible steel from India was cut off. Thirdly, Williams explains his methods of

examination by stating, “Sectioning undamaged historical objects is simply not permissible…” as Astrup

and Martens seem to require. The swords Williams examined were loaned to him; he could not have

possibly damaged the swords he did not own by cutting into them.

Astrup and Martens does not refute that nine of the blades examined had crucible steel. Nor do

they address the fact that the Volga Trade was interrupted. However, no one takes the changes to

Western and Central Europe into account, much less a resurgent Byzantium. The metallurgical

examination of Viking Period inscribed sword blades may add to the complexity of Early Middle Ages,

but much more work needs to done.

Some of that work has been done by Polish archaeologist P. Pudlo, who has written extensively

on the Viking Period and the Early Medieval swords found in his country. In 2011 Pudlo published a

series of articles about the swords found in the Museum of the First Piasts (33). This examination of ten

swords includes a weapon dated to the 13th or 14th Century, well out of the Viking Period. Seven of the

swords were water finds; two were from graves. X-rays revealed some of the structure of the blades.

However, Pudlo employed a “thermovision” method to continue his examination. Here the blades are

heated and then observed with infrared light. Two VLFBERHT inscribed swords were discovered without

mechanically grinding the blades and possibly damaging them.

Last, but certainly not least, is F. Androshchuk’s immense Viking Swords. Swords and Social

Aspects of Weaponry in Viking Age Societies published in 2014 (34). With a core catalog of 832 swords

examined by the author, this work is a comprehensive discussion of Viking Period swords.

Comprehensive here means that the history of the subject’s study, the details of past typologies

(notably Petersen’s), Sword furniture (scabbards and scabbard chapes), the decoration of swords, the

dating of swords, and the distribution and circulation of swords (including imported swords) are all

present and discussed in some detail. Viking Swords reflects the realized complexity of the subject, and

should be the standard work on the subject for some years.

Androshchuk work does not have a stated thesis. The purpose of his studying swords and

eventually writing Viking Swords is best stated by him (35):

“Like other colleagues in Eastern Europe I gradually became interested in Viking Age weaponry—the category of material culture most discussed in Eastern European archaeology. The types of weapons, their chronology, distribution, technical production, consumption, and social setting were some of the questions that were most unclear…we cannot come to agreement in our interpretations without a deep knowledge of Scandinavian material.”

The archaeologist is interested the social, political, and cultural aspects of swords, and for this reasons

divides his analysis into microanalysis and macroanalysis. The microanalysis of swords sees the weapon

as a composite of the blade, hilt construction (the guard, tang, handle and pommel), and the scabbard

assembled for a specific purpose: fighting and war. Macroanalysis sees the sword as circulating through

a series of communities in a social aspect, only to finally to leave a community in a burial or water

sacrifice. Here the form of the sword, along with the sometime elaborate decoration that may or may

not be on the hilt construction and the scabbard, state the economic and political value of the sword

and the position its owner over the long term.

The problem with summary essays is that they can create a sense of continuity—that is to say

the impression of a planned purpose agreed upon by scholars over the years. With Viking Period

swords, this sense of continuity is nonsense. The history of the study of these weapons is a disjointed

one. Lorange may have presented the original questions concerning swords, but the people after him

had their own purposes in studying these objects. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the

people after Lorange had other interests. Petersen’s chronological typology was his Phd thesis. After

1919, this archaeologist turned his attentions to other Viking Period object, notably jewelry. Wheeler

did not just discuss swords in his book London and the Vikings, but he presented other objects as well.

Even Oakeshott, who was primarily interested in arms and armor, and swords in particular, was not

solely interested the Viking Period. In fact, for Oakeshott, Viking Period swords can be seen as

something of side-light, especially when you compare his adapted typology with his wholly original

typology found in Records of the Medieval Sword (36).

Yet, progress in the study of the Viking Period swords has been made since Lorange. An

apparatus of discussion has been created. When someone uses “Type X, Y, Z” the reader can find and

approximant shape of that sword. When someone uses the term “pattern-welded,” it refers to a

specific technique of forging, even if there are variations within that technique. When someone refers

to an “VLFBERHT” or “INGELRII” sword, they are referring to a specific part, even if our understanding of

that part is growing more complex with continued study. The study of Viking Period swords is at the

ending of its beginning.

The obvious question is what’s next? Technical examinations of swords will continue and the

technology used for those examinations will continue to improve. For instance, U. Lehmann has

published a study of 28 pre-Viking Period sword where the weapons were examined using industrial

“computerized x-ray tomography” (37). The results of using this method was a three-dimensional

image of the swords’ construction. The layers of the blades can be seen, as opposed to a flat image that

was seen in previous studies.

But improved examination technology comes with its own problems. The technology is complex

and requires a technician or technicians to run the machine. The situation makes the work time-

consuming and expensive. How large a sample of swords can be examined in how much time within

budget? It is doubtful that the 766 sword founds in Sweden that F. Androshchuk used for his book can

be X-rayed or given a hardness test within a reasonable amount of time, even if the owners of those

swords were willing to loan them.

Technical analysis, however, is not the only aspect of Viking Period swords. First, the decoration

found on many of these weapons—mostly on the hilt construction—is an aspect that seems

inadequately explained. Androshchuk spends some time here, but his discussion seems only a beginning

(38). Secondly, while technical and typological publications have revealed a great deal of information,

that work has occurred outside of the weapons’ original context. Where a sword (or any other object)

was found is important from historical and archaeological perspective.

That original context can be divided into three groups: settlements, bodies of water, and most

especially burials and/or graves. Of these three groups burials and graves have the most variation.

Viking Period graves and burials can be further divided into two basic forms: cremation graves and

inhumation graves. There are a variety of subforms: mounds, boat-burials/graves, ship burials/graves,

pseudo ship graves, chamber graves, ship-chamber graves (only one known example—but very

prestigious), flat graves, and “other.”

The other element that requires more attention is the condition of the blade as it was found.

Some blades are so corroded that they are fragments. Other blades have been intentionally bent or

broken. Still others were found mostly intact. These conditions are due to a variety of causes, some

them the product of human intentions; some of them the product of the forces of nature. The condition

of the blade and the hilt construction should affect how the blade is interpreted historically in its original

context.

Taking into account the original context and the condition of the sword as found, the following

scheme of cataloging is proposed:

The Blade’s Condition:

1. Intact—most of the sword is extant, even if there is some corrosion.

2. Incomplete—some of the sword is missing, especially with the blade.

3. Intentionally Broken—The blade is broken, but was found in its scabbard, etc.

4. Broken—The blade is broken, but no signs of an intentional break exists.

5. Intentionally Bent—the blade is bent so as to be useless.

6. Fragmentary—the blade and hilt construction was found in pieces.

The Sword’s Original Context:

A. Burials/Graves,

I. Inhumation Graves.

a. Chamber Graves.

b. Boat/Ship Graves.

c. Burial Mounds.

d. Flat Graves.

e. Stone Graves.

f. Other.

II. Cremation Graves.

b. Boat/Ship Graves.

c. Burial Mounds.

d. Flat Graves.

f. Other.

B. Bodies of Water,

R. Rivers.

L. Lakes, Ponds, etc.

C. Settlement Finds.

D. Stray Finds.

An example of a sword entered into this scheme can be found in the boat burial discovered in

Scar, Scotland (39). A Petersen Type H sword was found in an inhumation grave (A,I) in a boat (b). The

archaeologists believe the swords was intentionally broken (Condition Category 3). Thus: 3,A,I,b.

The purpose of this cataloging scheme is to begin reconnecting the sword with it original context

when discovered. For a sword to be used in this scheme, it must be reasonably well documented; that

is to say reported in well accepted archaeological or historical publications, such as a periodical or a

book. News reports, web-logs (blogs), or other reports will not be accepted, unless that specific report

gives detailed information. Still, it should be noted that not all scholarly reports of swords have the

detail needed. The reason for this standard is that while the scheme may loan itself to quantitative

analysis, the qualitative information is a necessity.

The study of Viking Period swords reflects the development of archaeology as a discipline. This

reflection, however, is incomplete. The continued study of these weapons with new technologies in

conjunction with a renewed understanding of their sources holds much potential. The struggle to make

the connection lies in the details of each documented source and the sword found in it. If that

connection can be forged, Viking Period swords will no longer be a simple curiosity found in museums.

Notes/Sources

1. Worsaae, J.A.A. The Primeval Antiquities of Denmark. (1847, English Edition) 49-50.

2. Rygh, O. Norske Oldsager (Antiquities Norvegiennes). Christina, Norway: Forlgt AF (1885).

3. The term “Viking Age” or “Viking Period” was a debatable in the 19th century, as far as some archaeologists were concerned. As witnessed by the periodical Bergens Museums Aarbog, which did not use the term Viking Age until about 1904. The Stavanger Museums Aarshefte used the “Younger Iron Age” terminology at the same time. The problem is one of dating objects found. Modern dating methods were not available in the 19th Century, and so archaeologists had to collect enough similar objects in order to use the seriation technique, where similar objects from a specific geographical area are compared with each other in order to form a series of development. Apparently by the 20th Century, enough objects had been collected and compared that term “Viking Age” gain validity.

4. Lorange, A.L. Den Yngre Jernalders Svaerd. Et Bidrag til Vikingetidens Historie og Technologi. In Bergens Museums Skrifter 4. (1889).

5. Petersen, J. De Norske Vikingesverd. En Typologisk-Kronologisk Studie Over Vikingetidens Vaaben. Kristiana, Norway: I Kommission Hos Jacob Dybwad (1919).

6. Four citations:

Graham-Campbell, J. “IV. Weapons.” In Viking Artefacts: a Select Catalogue. London: The British Museum (1980) page 67.

Kazakevicius, V. IX-XII a. Baltu Kalavgai (IX-XII Century Baltic Swords). Lituvos Istorijos Institutas (1996).

Androshchuk, F. “Chapter II. Description of Swords and Sword Types” in Viking Swords. Swords and Social Aspects of Weaponry in Viking Age Society.” Stockholm: Historiska. The Swedish History Museum (2014) 29-95. This chapter is a significant part of Androshchuk’s book and well worth reading.

Noer, K. De Norske Vikingsverd (online). http://vikingsword.com/petersen. (1998). This is a partial translation of Petersen’s 1919 typology.

7. Noer, ibid.

8. Noer, ibid.

9. Wheeler, R.E.M. London and the Vikings. London Museums Catalogues No. 1. London: Lancaster House (1927) 18-37.

10. Grove, L.R.A. “Five Viking Period Swords.” Antiquaries Journal 18, #3 (1938) 251-257.

11. Oakshott, E. The Archaeology of Weapons. New York: Praeger (1960).

12. Maryon, H. “Pattern-welding and Damascening of Sword Blades.” Studies in Conservation 5 (1960) 25-30, 52-60. Maryon was not the first to investigate pattern welding. M. Janssens was in his article, “De Reconstitution d’un procede de fabrication d’epees damassces.” Studies in Conservation 3 (1958) 93-106. Also it should be noted that pattern weld was an ancient technique of forging sword, as well as Early Medieval.

13. Anstee, J.W. and L. Brek. “A Study in Pattern Welding.” Medieval Archaeology 5 (1961) 71-93.

14. Antein, A. “Im Ostbalttrkum gefundese Schwerter mit damaszerter Klingen (Structure and Manufacture Techniques of Pattern-Welded Objects Found in the Baltic States).” Waffen und Kostumekunde. (1966) 111-125.

15. Tylecote, R.F. and B.J.J. Gilmour. The Metallography of Early Ferrous Edge Tools and Edged Weapons. Oxford, England: British Archaeological Reports (B.A.R.) British Series 155 (1986).

16. Lang, J. and B. Ager. “Swords of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking Periods in the British Museum: a Radiographic Study.” In Weapons and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England. Sonia Chadwick Hawkes (ed.) Oxford, England. Oxford Unversity Press, (1989) 85-122.

17. Geibig, A. Beitrage zur Morpholoischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter. Eine Analyse des Fundmaterials vom ausgehenden 8 bis zum 12 Jahrhundert aus Sammlungen der Bundesrepublick Deutschland. Neuminster, Germany: Karl Wachholtz Verlag. (1991).

18. Two Citations:

Jones, L.A. “Overview of Hilt and Blade Classifications” in Swords of the Viking Age. I. Peirce (ed.). Woodbridge, England: The Boydell Press (2002). ISBN: 0851159141.

Miller, C.L. http://myArmoury. 2003.

19. Geibig, A. “Die Schwerter aus dem Hafen von Haithabu” in Das Archaologische Fundmaterial IV. A. Geibig and H. Paulsen (eds.). Wachholtz Verlag (1999) 9-92.

20. See Miller, Note 18.

21. Jakobsson, M. Krigarideologi oc Vikingtida Svardstypologi. Stockholm: Akademitryck AB (1992).

22. Shetelig, H. and H. Falk. (E.V. Gordon, translator). “XXII Weapons” in Scandinavian Archaeology. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press (1937) 377-405.

23. Solberg, B. “Weapons Export from the Continent to the Nordic Countries in the Carolingian Period.” Studien zur Sachsenforschung 7. Hildesheim, Holland: Niederschisches Landesmuseum (1991) 61-76.

24. Jankuhn, H. “Ein Ulfberht-Schwert aus der Elbe bei Hamburg” in Festschrift fur Gustav Schwantes zum 65. K. Kersten (ed.). Neumuster, Germany: Karl Wachholtz Verlag (1951) 212-229.

25. Kirpichnikov, A.N., L. Thalin-Bergmann, and I. Jansson. “A New Analysis of Viking Age Swords from the Collection of the Statens Historiska Musser, Stockholm, Sweden.” Russian History. 28 (2001) 221-224.

26. Stalsberg, A. “The Russian-Norwegian Sword Project” in Developments Around the Baltic and the North Sea in the Viking Age. (The Twelfth Viking Congress). B. Amborsiani and H. Clarke (eds.). Stockholm: Statens Historiska Museer (1994) 183-189.

27. Stalsberg, A. “Herstellung und Verbreitung der Vlfberht-Schwertklingen” Zeitschrift fur Archaeologie des Mittlealters. 36 (2008) 89-118. This article is also available online as “The Vlfberht Sword Blades Reevaluated.” http://jenny-rita.com/annestalsberg.html (2008).

28. Kirpichnikov and Thalin-Bergmann. Ibid.

29. Pedersen, A. “Bridging the Distribution Gap: Inscribed Swords from Denmark” in The Viking Age: Ireland and the West. Papers from the Proceedings of the Fifteenth Viking Congress, Cork 18-27 August, 2005. J. Sheehand and D. O’Corrain (eds.). Portland, Oregon: Four Courts Press (2010) 309-321.

30. Williams, A. “A Metallurgical Study of Some Viking Swords.” Gladius (2009) 121-184.

31. Astrup, I. and I. Martens. “Studies of Viking Age Swords.” Gladius (2011) 203-206.

32. Williams, A. “A Note on the Analysis of Viking Swords.” Gladius (2011) 207-210.

33. Pudlo, P. P. Sankiewicz, and A.M. Wyrwa (eds.). Miecze Sredniovieczne Z Ostrowa Lednickiego I Giecza. Lednica, Poland: Muzeum Pierwszych Piastow Na Lednicy (2011).

34. Androshchuk, F. Viking Swords. Swords and Social Aspects of Weaponry in Viking Age Societies. Stockholm: Historiska, The Swedish History Museum (2014).

35. Androshchuk. Ibid, page 10.

36. Oakeshott, E. Records of the Medieval Sword. Woodbridge, England: The Boydell Press (1991).

37. Lehmann, U. “Wurmbunte Klingen—Studies of Pattern-welded Swords in Early Medieval Westphalia Using Computerised X-ray Tomography” in Dying Gods—Religious Beliefs in Northern and Eastern Europe in the Time of Christianisation. C. Ruhmann and V. Brieske (eds.). Neue Studien zur Sachsenforschung Band 5 (Series Title). Stuttgart, Germany: Niedersachsisches Landesmuseum Hannover; Konrad Theiss Verlag Gmbh (2015) 269-285. ISBN: 9783806232608.

38. Androshchuk. “Chapter V. Sword Decoration and Viking Age Art” in Viking Swords. 128-140.

39. Owen, O. and M. Dalland. Scar. A Viking Boat Burial on Sanday, Orkney. Edinburgh, Scotland: Tuckwell Press. (1999). ISBN: 1862320802.