Viking weapons: Viking swords

Despite the fact that Viking swords were considered the most basic of Viking equipment, not all Vikings could afford to own their own as they were the most expensive weapons of their time. Because of the higher price, Viking swords were mainly used by Viking leaders – Chiefs, Jarls, and Kings, who could afford beautifully decorated and the top quality steel.

So while wealthy Vikings were equipped with swords and helmets, poorer Vikings used axes and shields.

The most successful warriors could also acquire finer weapons through exploitation.

When it came to the production of Viking swords, they could have been homemade as well as imported. Vikings had iron ore at their disposal and made early Viking swords out of it.  These pure iron swords were known to bend in battle, which lead to later Viking swords being made by pattern welding, a sophisticated technique in which numerous thin strips of metal are interwoven together at high heat to create a stronger blade. However, local swords were of lower quality than the imported ones. Vikings imported whole swords or only the blades, for which the domestic artists made intricately decorated hilts.

The Vikings mainly imported their swords from the Franksih Empire whose reach lead to the weapon trade during this era being widespread, popular, and common. The Frankish rulers prohibited the production and trade of swords by the Nordic inhabitants, ensuring that the Vikings would support the Frankish artisans. Both of these wrongdoings were held under the penalty of death. The highest punishment also applied to all monasteries and their forges. 

Because Viking swords were produced at different places, almost every sword was a unique piece, yet they had some common elements. The weapons were straight, with a double-edged blade, culminating in blunt or round tips. Unlike ax blades, Viking swords were only around 60-80 cm (24-31 in) in length. Later, one-meter (40 in) blade swords came into use. Viking swords were beautifully decorated and often carried their owner’s name.

For example the Ulfberht sword, a Frankish personal sword, had the inscription +VLFBERH+T or +VLFBERHT+ on its blade. This distinctive blade became a sort of trademark and sign of top-quality craftsmanship. The Ulfberth swords were made from the 9th to the 11th centuries and the quality of steel used in their creation hadn’t been surpassed until the Industrial Revolution. The Ulfberth swords were used by multiple bladesmiths for several centuries. They are considered to be the predecessors of the so-called ‘arming sword’ used in the High Middle Ages. 

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