A good sword was the obvious weapon of choice by the Viking Age warrior.
That is, when they could afford or acquire one.
Swords used by the Norse have been found throughout Europe and it was common for a sword blade to be imported from a Frankish workshop with the hilt fittings made locally.
The most coveted of all Viking swords was a sword with the letters ULFBERHT inlaid into its blade.
These very well made, high quality blades were often called an Ulfberht sword. The secrets behind the making of this special sword had long been lost for a 1000 years and they were only produced from around 800 AD to 1000 AD. The Ulfberht sword was made of the best craftsmanship and had a sharpness and strength that was unmatched. It literally was the best sword ever made in Europe and it was a Viking sword.
The typical viking sword of the day had impurities, such as slag which made it weaker including the fact that it was forged with low carbon. This made the sword soft and brittle. The steel was of poor quality and would break in battle. The typical early blacksmith of the day didn’t make slag free steel. They couldn’t get their fires hot enough to over 3000°f which separates the slag and allows more carbon to mix in evenly.
However, the Ulfberht sword had three times the carbon content of other medieval swords and were relatively clear of slag, making them what’s called crucible steel. Crucible steel required very high heat temperatures that nobody in Europe knew how to do at the time. The method behind forging the Ulfberht sword was a closely guarded secret.
There is no archaeological evidence anywhere in Europe that shows that this type of steel production was carried out. However, the Norse, especially in the Viking Age had a trade reach like no other culture and it is assumed that this steel was traded for from the Far East, possibly in Central Asia.
There have been Buddhas and rings with the name Allah inscribed on them found in Viking digs. So we know that the Norse had established trade in the Far East along the Volga Trade Route due to these objects being in Scandinavia during this time period. Some believe the steel may have originated from Iran and was traded and brought back to Norse blacksmiths whom made the sword under secret conditions.
The word Ufberht actually had two crosses in it, one before the word and one at the ending before the “t.” Whereas it actually spelled “+-U-F-B-E-R-H-+-T.” Archaeologists have not been able to determine the meaning behind the word, Ufberht. It is unknown if it was the name of the designer or meant something entirely different.
Getting your hands on a real Ulfberht sword was difficult and extremely expensive and there were many counterfeits.
Most swords of the time were made from low carbon steel by means of pattern welding. A method where the central section of the blade was made from twisted rods of iron and pounded together forming a strong and pliable core, then a harder (but more brittle) edge was then welded to the core.
When the quality and knowledge of iron smelting improved, in addition to purer and more regular sources of iron becoming more readily available, the method of pattern welding was discontinued.
- This article is an excerpt from the book:
Kane, Njord. “Norse Armor and Weaponry.” The Vikings : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2015. ISBN 978-1943066018 .
Used by permission from the author and publisher exclusively for use on spangenhelm.com only.
- Hayward, John (2000). Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc. ISBN 0-500-01982-7.
- Oakeshott, R.E. (1996). The Archaeology of Weapons, Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry. New York: Dover Publications Inc. ISBN 978-0-486-29288-5.
- “Arms and Armour Part 8 Shields”. Regia Anglorum. 10 December 2002.
- Holman, Katherine (2003). Historical Dictionary of the Vikings. Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-4859-7.
- Peter G. Foote and David M. Wilson, The Viking Achievement. Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd, March 1970.
- Kane, Njord. “Norse Armor and Weaponry.” The Vikings : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2015. Print. 978-1943066018
Read more in The Vikings by Njord Kane
by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing
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