More Weapons pages
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.
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
|Type I For more about Type I swords see 'Swords of Type I found in Britain'|
| Type F
Majority single edged
| Type G
Mainly single edged
| Type M
15% single edged
| Type P
| Type Q
|Type II For more about Type II swords see 'Swords of Type II found in Britain'|
| Type A
8 Norwegian finds
C8th to 900
Blade: 25% single-edged. None are pattern-welded or have inscriptions.[PETERSEN 1919]
| Type B
22 Norwegian finds
Blade: 37% single-edged. 9% pattern-welded. No inscriptions. [PETERSEN 1919]
| Type C
110 Norwegian finds
Blade: 61% single-edged. None are pattern-welded. A few with inscriptions in Norwegian runes. [PETERSEN 1919]
| Type H
22% single edged
| Type I
|Type III For more about Type III swords see 'Swords of Type III found in Britain'|
| Type D
No single edged
| Type E
19% single edged
| Type S
22 or 25 finds?
|Type IV For more about Type IV swords see 'Swords of Type IV found in Britain'|
|Type V For more about Type V swords see 'Swords of Type V found in Britain'|
|Type VI For more about Type VI swords see 'Swords of Type VI found in Britain'|
|Type VII For more about Type VII swords see 'Swords of Type VII found in Britain'|
| Type X early
| Type X late
|Type VIII For more about Type VIII swords see 'Swords of Type VIII found in Britain'|
|AD 950 ->|
|Type IX For more about Type IX swords see 'Swords of Type IX found in Britain'|
| Type Y
5% single edged
|Type Disc For more about Type Disc swords see 'Swords of Type Disc found in Britain'|
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 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
- Dublin. 2 possible guards of antler. [HALPIN 2008]:p.161-162
- York, 1 antler cross guard and 1 whale bone pommel [MACGREGOR 1985]:p.165
- Sweden, Sigtuna. Elk antler guard [GRAHAM-CAMPBELL & KIDD 1980]:p.168-169 [GRAHAM-CAMPBELL 2013]:p.108
- Check Republic, Prague Cathedral. Type T sword with ivory guard and pommel decorated in Mammen decoration. Photo & discussion [Roesdhal 2010:p.155]. Drawing & discussion [GRAHAM-CAMPBELL 2013]:p.109.
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
- Norway, Langeid.Heritage Daily
With decorative rings
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.
- 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
Dimensions of Sword Blades
|Blade length|| Norway
| Under 70cm
| 71cm to 75cm
(27½" to 29½")
| 75cm to 81cm
(29½" to 32")
| 81cm to 90cm
(32" to 35½")
|Blade width at hilt|| Norway
| Under 5cm
| 5cm to 6cm
(2" to 2⅓")
| Over 6cm
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
Type 4: moderately tapering short blade with elongated tip
Type 5: moderately tapering long blade with elongated tip
Single-edged Sword Blades
Single edged swords seem to be a particularly Norwegian item [OAKESHOTT 1960]:p.135.
|Type||Date Range|| Norway
|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.
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]
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’
Oakeshott lists a few other makers names that have been found on Viking Age sword blades [OAKESHOTT 2002]:p.8-9