Swords

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Completion Rating
This article's completion rating is 2 out of 5. Article structure and content is subject to change as data is still being collected.
Completion Rating
This article's completion rating is 2 out of 5. Article structure and content is subject to change as data is still being collected.
Viking Age Compendium articles on Swords:
VA Swords.jpg
Swords Overview
Viking Age Compendium articles on Swords:
VA Swords.jpg
Swords Overview
Major Reference Work
This article is primarily based on the work of:
Major Reference Work
This article is primarily based on the work of:

A large number of swords from the Viking Age have been found including at least 2,500 swords just from Norway [PEDERSEN 2008]. Viking Age swords vary from the plain to the most lusciously ornate. Swords are influenced from a number of countries, including Norway, Germany, Denmark, France and England. With each country contributing their own aesthetic to the decoration of their swords. Swords travelled widely across Europe with examples of many types appearing all over western Europe.

Previous Published Research

These swords have been well studied over the last century although surprisingly very few changes have been made to Petersen’s original work based on sword hilt styles found in Norway and published in 1919 [PETERSEN 1919].

  • 1919 Petersen: Devised the original hilt typology of 26 types that is still widely used across Europe for classifying and dating Viking swords. Based on about 1,700 finds of Viking swords in Norway [PEDERSEN 2008]:p.205 this typology remains the most commonly used.
  • 1927 Wheeler: Created a simplified typology of sword hilts based on finds from Britain.
  • 1960 Oakeshott: Added two more types to Wheelers typology bridging the gap between the Viking Age and the later mediaeval sword. [OAKESHOTT 1960]:p.137
  • 1991 Geibig: Created a modified version of Petersen’s hilt typology based on finds from Western Germany. More importantly he created the first sword blade typology.
  • No access to this document. A summary in English is provided by Jones in Ian Peirce's 'Swords of the Viking Age'.[JONES 2002]
  • 1991 Oakeshott: Mainly dealing with sword from the post Viking-age period. He classifies all of the Viking Age swords as his type X.
  • 1992 Jakobsson: has recently published a number of maps detailing the distribution patterns of Petersen’s sword hilts across Europe.
  • No access to this document. Jokobsson's conclusions are discussed in Ian Peirce's 'Swords from the Viking Age'. [JONES 2002]:p.16
  • 2002 Peirce: Oakeshott provides an overview of typologies and a discussion on inscribed blades [OAKESHOTT 2002]. Jones also provides an overview of hilt and blade classifications, provides a summary of Jakobsson's and Geibig's work and provides an updated typology date range chart [JONES 2002]. Peirce provides a catalogue of examples, detailing 85 complete or almost complete swords and comparing them to Petersen's discoveries.

Sword hilts

The most common method to date a Viking sword is by it's hilt style.

Summary of Typologies

The following table attempts to marry Rygh's types to Petersen's typology and to Wheelers more simplified typology. Although Pierce matched some of them as did Oakeshott, we have been unable to find a reference that attempts to match them all. The table here is our best guess at correlating all the different systems. It is worth noting that a number of sword forms do not sit well within Wheelers types and so we may rearrange some of them at a later date as more research is done and opinions are changed.
The typology used by Viking-Age Compendium is included on the far right. We have continued Pierce's practice of colouring the hilts to show those that have non-ferrous coatings. [PEIRCE 2002]:p.16

Rygh
1885
Petersen
1919
Wheeler
1927
Oakeshott
1960
Jones
2002
Compendium
Type
Characteristics
Type I For more about Type I swords see 'Swords of Type I found in Britain'
Rygh 493
Rygh 493
Type F
AD 800-850
Majority single edged
Type I
Type I
Iron Age
to C10th
Type I
Type I
Norwegian
800-850
Type F
Type F
Type G
Mainly single edged
790-850
Type G
Type G
Rygh 489
Rygh 489
Type M
198 finds
15% single edged
850-975
Type M
Type M
Rygh 508
Rygh 508
Type P
850-975
Type P
Type P
Rygh 502
Rygh 502
Type Q
122 finds
900-1025
Type Q
Type Q
Type AE 1000-1100
Type AE
Type AE
Type II For more about Type II swords see 'Swords of Type II found in Britain'
Type A
8 Norwegian finds
Type II
Type II
'Cocked-hat'
Norwegian
C8th to 900
Type II
Type II
Norwegian
AD 775-900
700-800
Type A
Type A

Blade: 25% single-edged. None are pattern-welded or have inscriptions.[PETERSEN 1919]
Hilt: Plain iron fittings. Tang goes through the upper guard & pommel. Guards are low.

Type B
22 Norwegian finds
750-820
Type B
Type B

Blade: 37% single-edged. 9% pattern-welded. No inscriptions. [PETERSEN 1919]
Hilt: Plain iron fittings. Tang goes through the upper guard & pommel. Guards are short, high, ridged and slightly bulge in the middle .

Rygh 490
Rygh 490
Type C
110 Norwegian finds
800-900
Type C
Type C

Blade: 61% single-edged. None are pattern-welded. A few with inscriptions in Norwegian runes. [PETERSEN 1919]
Hilt: No separate upper guard. Plain iron fittings. Tang goes through the pommel. Lower guards and pommel are short, high, ridged and of uniform width.
Amongst the heaviest of Viking Age swords.

Rygh 494
Rygh 494
Type H
213 finds
22% single edged
775-960
Type H
Type H
Type I
Type I
Type I
Type III For more about Type III swords see 'Swords of Type III found in Britain'
Rygh 506
Rygh 506
Type D
11 finds
No single edged
Type III
Type III
Northwest Germany
and southern
Scandinavia
Type III
Type III
Southern
Scandinavian &
North German
AD 750-950
800-850
Type D
Type D
Rygh 492
Rygh 492
Type E
19% single edged
860-920
Type E
Type E
Rygh 504
Rygh 504
Type R 925-975
Type R
Type R
Type S
22 or 25 finds?
930-1000
Type S
Type S
Rygh 510
Rygh 510
Type T 940-1020
Type T
Type T
Type IV For more about Type IV swords see 'Swords of Type IV found in Britain'
Rygh 511
Rygh 511
Type K
Type IV
Type IV
Frankish
AD 850-950
Type IV
Type IV
Frankish
AD 850-950
780-890
Type K
Type K
Rygh 507
Rygh 507
Type O 890-950
Type O
Type O
Type V For more about Type V swords see 'Swords of Type V found in Britain'
Rygh 505
Rygh 505
Type L
Type V
Type V
‘Wallingford Type’
English
AD 875-950
Type V
Type V
English
AD 875-950
850-975
Type L
Type L
Type VI For more about Type VI swords see 'Swords of Type VI found in Britain'
Type VI
Type VI
Danish
C10th-C11th
Type VI
Type VI
Danish
AD 900-1025
Type Lv
Type Lv
Type Z 1000
Type Z
Type Z
Type VII For more about Type VII swords see 'Swords of Type VII found in Britain'
Rygh 495
Rygh 495 ?
Type N
Type VII
Type VII
C10th
Type VII
Type VII
AD 875-1000
830-880
Type N
Type N
Type U 900-1000
Type U
Type U
Type V 925-950
Type V
Type V
Type W 900-960
Type W
Type W
Rygh 501
Rygh 501
Type X early
‘Tea Cosy’
9 found
850-1050?
Type Xe
Type Xe
Rygh 509
Rygh 509
Type X late
40 found
AD 950-1050
950 ->
Type Xl
Type Xl
Type VIII For more about Type VIII swords see 'Swords of Type VIII found in Britain'
Type VIII
Type VIII
Northern &
Central Europe
AD 950-1250
AD 950 ->
Type VIII
Type VIII
Type IX For more about Type IX swords see 'Swords of Type IX found in Britain'
Type Y
18 finds
5% single edged
Type IX
Type IX
AD 1000-1300|
900-1100
Type Y
Type Y
Type Disc For more about Type Disc swords see 'Swords of Type Disc found in Britain'
1025 ->
Type Disc
Type Disc

Methods of attaching the Pommel

Two main methods of attaching the pommel to the rest of the hilt fittings seem to have been deployed.

to an upper guard

The pommel is constructed in two parts. The tang passes through the upper guard and is then peened over. The separate pommel is then attached by two more rivets that are peened over under the upper guard.

directly to the grip

The tang passes straight through the grip and pommel and is simply peened over.

Hilt Materials

Hilt fittings of iron

The vast majority of sword fittings are made of iron.

Hilt fittings of copper alloy


Hilt fittings of bone or antler

MacGregor argues that the ability of bone and antler to withstand even quite savage blows should not be underestimated. [MACGREGOR 1985]:p.165
Finds from Archaeology

The Grip

Of wood


Of horn


Of bone, antler or ivory

  • Scotland, Ardnamurchan. Type K sword, grip of bone, antler or ivory with a copper alloy core. [HARRIS, COBB, GRAY and RICHARDSON 2011:p.17]


Covered in leather


Covered in cloth


Covered in wire


With decorative rings


Sword Blades

Most studies on swords concentrate on hilt styles and little attention is usually given to the actual blades. Sword blades just like everything else evolved in form and manufacture over the Viking Age.

Art
--
Literature

  • The C9th Emperor Louis is described by a monk of St Gall testing a batch of swords sent to him by ‘the king of the northmen’. This test involved bending the sword tip back to the hilt. Interestingly the first sword so tested broke but one of the envoys swords passed the test. This ability for swords to bend is again mentioned in the C11th Persian Geography, Hudud al-Alem. This states that the swords of the Rus may be ‘bent double’. [DAVIDSON 1962]:p.113-114
  • Laxdaela Saga, Kjartan bent his sword in fight with the sons of Osvifr and had to straighten it beneath his foot [WHEELER 1927]:p.29

Archaeology
--
Discussion
--


Dimensions of Sword Blades

Length of sword blades
Blade length Norway
[PETERSEN 1919]:p.8
Britain
Under 70cm
(27½")
9 (4%)  ?
71cm to 75cm
(27½" to 29½")
37 (17%)  ?
75cm to 81cm
(29½" to 32")
136 (62%)  ?
81cm to 90cm
(32" to 35½")
36 (17%)  ?


Width of sword blades
Blade width at hilt Norway
[PETERSEN 1919]:p.10
Britain
Under 5cm
(2")
70 (16%)  ?
5cm to 6cm
(2" to 2⅓")
300 (70%)  ?
Over 6cm
(2⅓")
61 (14%)  ?

Double-edged Sword Blades

The most comprehensive study done to date regarding sword blades from the Viking Age has been carried out by Geibig and is discussed in English by Jones in Ian Peirce’s Swords of the Viking Age. Geibig has broken the sword types down into 5 types.

Type 1: parallel edged to minimally tapering blade with short tip

600-800AD Type 1 blades date to the period before the Viking Age commonly referred to as the Migration period. These usually pattern welded blades have a length of between 70 to 80cm and a blade width at the cross guard of between 4.4 to 5.8cm. These blades are often found without fullers or alternatively with shallow fullers.

Type 2: gently tapering blade with fuller of near uniform width

750-950AD A length of between 74 to 83cm and width at the cross guard of between 4.8 to 6.2cm.

Type 3: gently tapering blade with tapering fuller

780-980AD

Type 4: moderately tapering short blade with elongated tip

950-1050AD

Type 5: moderately tapering long blade with elongated tip

950-1080AD


Single-edged Sword Blades

Single edged swords seem to be a particularly Norwegian item [OAKESHOTT 1960]:p.135.

Single Edged Sword Blades
Type Date Range Norway
[PETERSEN 1919]:p.10
Britain
B 750 - 825 36% of 22 finds  ?
C 800 - 900 63% of 110 finds  ?
H 775 - 960 27% of 213 finds  ?

Blades with inscriptions

A number of blades have inscription forged into them. The two most common are Ulfberht and Ingelrii.

Ulfberht

Anne Stalsberg has recently published an article on 166 finds of swords marked with Ulfberht signatures [STALSBERG ND]. It would appear that Ulfberht blades were made in the Carolingian Empire and can be found on swords dated from 800AD to 1000AD [STALSBERG ND: p.8]

Ingelrii

Oakeshott has dated the Ingelri swords from 925AD [OAKESHOTT 2002]:p.8. Some of the Ingelri swords contain the additional words ‘Me Fecit’ which translates as ‘Made me’

Other makes

Oakeshott lists a few other makers names that have been found on Viking Age sword blades [OAKESHOTT 2002]:p.8-9


References

Davidson, Hilda, Ellis (1962) The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England. [DAVIDSON 1962] ^ *
Graham-Campbell, James, and Kidd, Dafydd (1980) The Vikings. British Museum Publications. [GRAHAM-CAMPBELL & KIDD 1980] ^ *
Graham-Campbell, James (2013) Viking Art. [GRAHAM-CAMPBELL 2013] ^ 1 2 *
Halpin, Andrew (2008) Weapons and Warfare in Viking and Medieval Dublin. Medieval Dublin Excavations 1962-81: Ser.B Vol.09 [HALPIN 2008] ^ *
Harris, Cobb, Gray & Richardson (2011) 'Viking Boat Burial, Swordle Bay, Ardnamurchan'. Ardnamurchan Transitions Report no.17. (Available Online) [HARRIS, COBB, GRAY & RICHARDSON 2011] *
Jones, Lee, A. (2002) 'Overview of Hilt & Blade Classifications'. In Peirce, Ian (2002) Swords of the Viking Age. The Boydell Press. [JONES 2002] ^ 1 2 3 *
Laking, Guy (1920) Record of European Armour and Arms. (Available Online) [LAKING 1920] *
MacGregor, Arthur (1985) Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn, The Technology of Skeletal Materials since the Roman Period. Barnes & Noble Books. [MACGREGOR 1985] ^ 1 2 *
Oakeshott, Ewart (1960) The Archaeology of Weapons. Lutterworth Press. 1960. [OAKESHOTT 1960] ^ 1 2 *
Oakeshott, Ewart (2002) 'Introduction to the Viking Sword'. In Peirce, Ian (2002) Swords of the Viking Age. The Boydell Press. [OAKESHOTT 2002] ^ 1 2 3 *
Peirce, Ian (2002) Swords of the Viking Age. The Boydell Press. [PEIRCE 2002] ^ *
Pedersen, Anne (2008) 'Viking Weaponry'. In Brink, Stefan (ed.) (2008) The Viking World. [PEDERSEN 2008] ^ 1 2 *
Petersen, Jan (1919) De Norske Vikingesverd. [The Viking Sword]. [PETERSEN 1919] ^ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 *
Roesdahl, Else; Graham-Campbell, James; Connor, Patricia and Pearson, Kenneth (1981) The Vikings in England, and their Danish homeland. [ROESDAHL 1981] *
Roesdahl, Else (2010) 'Viking Art in European churches (Cammin-Bamberg-Prague-León)'. In Skibsted Klæsøe, Iben (ed.) (2010) Viking Trade and Settlement in Continental Western Europe. [ROESDAHL 2010] *
Thompson, Logan (2004) Ancient Weapons in Britain. [THOMPSON 2004] *
Wheeler, R.E.M. (1927) London and the Vikings. London Museum Catalogues: No 1 [WHEELER 1927] ^ *