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Viking sword

The Viking Age sword (also Viking

sword) or Carolingian sword is the type
of sword prevalent in Western and
Northern Europe during the Early Middle
Viking Age sword

Two 10th-century sword hilts (Petersen type S)

with Jelling style inlay decorations, with
replicas, on display in Hedeby Viking Museum.[1]

Type Sword

Production history
Produced 8th to 11th centuries

Mass ca. 1.0 to 1.5 kg[2]

Length ca. 84 to 105 cm[2][3]

Blade length ca. 70 to 90 cm[4]

The Viking Age or Carolingian-era sword
developed in the 8th century from the
Merovingian sword (more specifically, the
Frankish production of swords in the 6th
to 7th century, itself derived from the
Roman spatha) and during the 11th to
12th century in turn gave rise to the
knightly sword of the Romanesque


Two men armed with swords, detail of an

illustration from the Stuttgart Psalter (fol. 7v), dated
c. 830.

Although popularly called "Viking sword",

this type of sword was produced in the
Frankish Empire during the Carolingian
era. The association of the name "Viking"
with these swords is due to the
disappearance of grave goods in
Christian Francia in the 8th century, due
to which the bulk of sword blades of
Frankish manufacture of this period were
found in pagan burials of Viking Age
Scandinavia, imported by trade, ransom
payment or looting, while continental
European finds are mostly limited to stray
finds in riverbeds.[6]
Swords of the 8th to 10th centuries are
also termed "Carolingian swords",[7] while
swords of the late Viking Age and the
beginning High Middle Ages (late 10th to
early 12th centuries) blend into the
category of Norman swords or the early
development of the knightly sword.


Depiction of a Carolingian sword with scabbard

(donor portrait in the St. Benedikt in Mals, South
Tyrol, early 9th century)

During the reign of Charlemagne, the

price of a sword (a spata, or longsword)
with scabbard was set at seven solidi
(totaling about 1.3k USD) (Lex Ribuaria).
Swords were still comparatively costly
weapons, although not as exclusive as
during the Merovingian period, and in
Charlemagne's capitularies, only
members of the cavalry, who could afford
to own and maintain a warhorse, were
required to be equipped with swords.
Regino's Chronicle suggests that by the
end of the 9th century, the sword was
seen as the principal weapon of the
There are very few references to
Carolingian-era sword production, apart
from a reference to emundatores vel
politores present in the workshops of the
Abbey of Saint Gall.[8] Two men
sharpening swords, one using a
grindstone the other a file, are shown in
the Utrecht Psalter (fol. 35v).

The sword gradually replaced the sax

during the late 8th to early 9th century.
Because grave goods were no longer
deposited in Francia in the 8th century,
continental finds are mostly limited to
stray finds in riverbeds (where anaerobic
conditions favoured the preservation of
the steel), and most extant examples of
Carolingian swords are from graves from
northern or eastern cultures where pagan
burial customs were still in effect.

Pattern welding fell out of use in the 9th

century, as higher quality steel became
available. Better steel also allowed the
production of narrower blades, and the
swords of the 9th century have more
pronounced tapering than their 8th-
century predecessors, shifting the point
of balance towards the hilt. Coupland
(1990) proposes that this development
may have accelerated the disappearance
of the sax, as the sword was now
available for swift striking, while the
migration-period spatha was mostly used
to deliver heavy blows aimed at
damaging shields or armour. The
improved morphology combined
maneuverability and weight in a single
weapon, rendering the sax redundant.[9]

Swords were very costly to make, and a
sign of high status. Owning a sword was
a matter of high honour. Persons of
status might own ornately decorated
swords with silver accents and inlays.
Most Viking warriors would own a sword
as one raid was usually enough to afford
a good blade. Most freemen would own a
sword with goðar, jarls and sometimes
richer freemen owning much more
ornately decorated swords. The poor
farmers would use an axe or spear
instead but after a couple of raids they
would then have enough to buy a sword.
One sword mentioned in the Laxdæla
saga was valued at half a crown, which
would correspond to the value of 16 milk-
cows. Constructing such weapons was a
highly specialized endeavour and many
sword-blades were imported from
foreign lands, such as the Rhineland.
Swords could take up to a month to forge
and were of such high value that they
were passed on from generation to
generation. Often, the older the sword,
the more valuable it became.[10] Local
craftsmen often added their own
elaborately decorated hilts, and many
swords were given names, such as Leg-
biter and Gold-hilt.[11]

As mentioned above, a sword was so

valued in Norse society that good blades
were prized by successive generations of
warriors. There is even some evidence
from Viking burials for the deliberate and
possibly ritual "killing" of swords, which
involved the blade being bent so that it
was unusable. Because Vikings were
often buried with their weapons, the
"killing" of swords may have served two
functions. A ritualistic function in retiring
a weapon with a warrior, and a practical
function in deterring any grave robbers
from disturbing the burial in order to get
one of these costly weapons.[12] [13]
Indeed, archaeological finds of the bent
and brittle pieces of metal sword
remains testify to the regular burial of
Vikings with weapons, as well as the
habitual "killing" of swords.[14] The
Swords were not exclusive to the Vikings,
but rather was used throughout

The Frankish swords often had pommels
shaped in a series of three or five
rounded lobes. This was a native
Frankish development which did not exist
prior to the 8th century, and the design is
frequently represented in the pictorial art
of the period, e.g. in the Stuttgart Psalter,
Utrecht Psalter, Lothar Gospels and Bern
Psychomachia manuscripts, as well as in
the wall frescoes in the church in Mals,
South Tyrol. Likewise, the custom of
inlaid inscriptions in the blades is
Frankish innovation dating to the reign of
Charlemagne, notably in the Ulfberht
group of blades, but continued into the
high medieval period and peaking in
popularity in the 12th century. While
blade inscriptions become more
common over the Viking Age, the custom
of hilt decorations in precious metals,
inherited from the Merovingian sword
and widespread during the 8th and 9th
centuries, is in decline over the course of
the 10th century. Most swords made in
the later 10th century in what was now
the Holy Roman Empire, while still
conforming to the "Viking sword" type
morphologically, have plain steel hilts.[16]

The distribution of Frankish blades
throughout Scandinavia and as far east
as Volga Bulgaria attest to the
considerable importance of Frankish
arms exports, even though Carolingian
kings attempted to prevent the export of
weapons to potential enemies; in 864,
Charles the Bald set the death penalty on
selling weapons to the Vikings.[17] Ibn
Fadlan in the 10th century notes explicitly
that the Volga Vikings carried Frankish
swords.[18] The Saracens raiding
Camargue in 869 demanded 150 swords
as ransom for archbishop Rotland of

Viking swords
Foreign-made, specifically Frankish,
weapons and armour played a special
role in Norse society. Norsemen attained
them either through trade (an extension
of gift-giving in Norse society) or as
plunder. Therefore, their possession and
display by any individual would signify
their station in the social hierarchy and
any political allegiances they had.[19][20]
One example of an exchange of weapons
between the Franks and the Anglo-
Saxons occurred in 795 when
Charlemagne exchanged weapons with
the Anglo-Saxon king Offa of Mercia. [21]

Scandinavian affinity towards foreign

arms and armour during the Viking Age
had an eminently practical aspect. Norse
weapon designs were obsolete and
sources of iron within Scandinavia were
of poor quality. Many of the most
important Viking weapons were highly
ornate—decorated lavishly with gold and
silver. Weapons adorned as such served
large religious and social functions.
These precious metals were not
produced in Scandinavia and they too
would have been imported.[22][23] Once in
Scandinavia, the precious metals would
have been inlaid in the pommels and
blades of weapons creating geometric
patterns, depictions of animals, and
(later) Christian symbols.[24]
During the mid-9th century, there was an
influx of these high-quality weapons into
Scandinavia, and Frankish arms became
the standard for all Vikings.[25] As Ahmad
ibn Fadlan observed in his account of his
journey to Russia, every Viking carried a
"sword of the Frankish type".[26] The
Franks attempted to limit the Vikings' use
of weapons and armour produced in
Francia—fearing that they would
eventually face equally armed
opponents.[27] Chapter 10 of the
Capitulare Bononiense of 811 made it
illegal for any clerical functionary to
supply swords or armour to non-Frankish
individuals.[28] Laws like this were
enacted throughout Francia. Ultimately,
in 864, King Charles the Bald of West
Francia made the practice punishable by
death.[29] Some scholars have proposed
that such laws proved so effective at
stemming the flow of Frankish weapons
that they initiated the practice of raiding
for which Vikings became notorious.[30]

Carolingian scabbards were made of
wood and leather. Scabbard decorations
are depicted in several manuscripts
(Stuttgart Psalter, Utrecht Psalter, Vivian
Bible). A number of miniatures also show
the system of suspension of the sword
by means of the sword-belt. While the
scabbards and belts themselves are
almost never preserved, their metal
mounts have been found in Scandinavian
silver hoards and in Croatian graves.[31] A
complete set seems to have included
two to three oval or half-oval mounts, one
large strap-end, a belt buckle and a trefoil
mount. Their arrangement on the sword-
belt has been reconstructed by Menghin

Type B sword hilt with gold "wheel" ornaments,
dated c. 750–850, found in the river Meuse near
Den Bosch, the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum van
Oudheden, Leiden)

Type D sword hilt with gold wire ornaments, dated

c. 750–850, found in the river Meuse near Aalburg,
the Netherlands (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden,

Hilt of a Frankish sword of ca. the 10th century, with

characteristically lobed pommel.[33]
The seminal study of the topic is due to
Jan Petersen (De Norske Vikingsverd,

Petersen(1919): 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[34] this typology remains the
most commonly used. Petersen's types
are identified by capital letters A–Z.
Petersen listed a total of 110 specimens
found in Norway. Of these, 40 were
double-edged, 67 were single-edged and
3 indeterminateThe seminal study of the
topic is due to Jan Petersen (De Norske
Vikingsverd, 1919).[35]

R. E. M. Wheeler (1927): Created a

simplified typology of sword hilts based
on finds from Britain, combining
Petersen's hilt typology with a blade
typology, in nine types labelled I to IX.[36]

Oakeshott (1960): Added two more types

to Wheelers typology bridging the gap
between the Viking Age and the later
mediaeval sword.[37][38]

Geibig (1991): introduced an additional

typology based on blade morphology
(types 1–14) and a typology of pommel
shapes (types 1–17, with subtypes),
focussing on swords of the 8th to 12th
centuries found within the boundaries of
East Francia (as such including the
transitional types between the "Viking"
and the "knightly" sword).[39]

Oakeshott (1991): Mainly dealing with

sword from the post Viking-age period.
He classifies all of the Viking Age swords
as his type X.[40]

Jakobsson (1992): has recently

published a number of maps detailing
the distribution patterns of Petersen’s
sword hilts across Europe. Jokobsson's
conclusions are discussed in Ian Peirce's
'Swords from the Viking Age'[41]
Peirce (2002): Oakeshott provides an
overview of typologies and a discussion
on inscribed blades.[42] 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.[43] Peirce provides a catalogue of
examples, detailing 85 complete or
almost complete swords and comparing
them to Petersen's discoveries.

An important aspect in the development
of the European sword between the early
and high medieval periods is the
availability of high-quality steel. Migration
period as well as early medieval sword
blades were primarily produced by the
technique of pattern welding,[44] also
known as "false Damascus" steel.
Blooms of high-quality steel large enough
to produce an entire sword blade were
only rarely available in Europe at the time,
mostly via import from Central Asia,
where a crucible steel industry began to
establish itself from c. the 8th century.
Higher quality swords made after AD
1000 are increasingly likely to have
crucible steel blades. The group of
Ulfberht swords includes a wide
spectrum of steel and production
method. One example from a 10th-
century grave in Nemilany, Moravia, has a
pattern-welded core with welded-on
hardened cutting edges. Another
example appears to have been made
from high-quality hypoeutectoid steel
possibly imported from Central

Notable examples

Drawing of the Sæbø sword and its inscription from

Petersen (1919).

The Sæbø sword, a 9th-century type C

sword found in 1825 in a barrow at
Sæbø, Vikøyri, in Norway's Sogn
region. The sword is notable for its
blade inscription, which has been
interpreted as runic by George
Stephens (1867), which would be very
exceptional; while Viking Age sword
hilts were sometimes incised with
runes, inlaid blade inscriptions are,
with this possible exception, invariably
in the Latin alphabet.
One of the heaviest and longest extant
swords of the Viking Age is dated to
the 9th century and was found in Flå,
now kept at Museum of Cultural
History, Oslo, at a total length of
102.4 cm and a mass of 1.9 kg.[2]
Sword of Saint Stephen: A 10th-century
sword of Petersen type T with a
walrus-tooth hilt with carved Mammen
style ornaments. On display as the
coronation sword of Hungarian king
Saint Stephen in the Treasury of St.
Vitus Cathedral, Prague.[47]
Lincoln sword (River Witham sword): A
sword dated to the 10th century, with a
blade of German/Ottonian
manufacture classified as a Petersen
type L variant (Evison's "Wallingford
Bridge" type) and hilt fittings added by
an Anglo-Saxon craftsman, was
recovered from the River Witham
opposite Monks Abbey, Lincoln in
1848.[48] Peirce (1990) makes special
mention of this sword as "breath-
taking", "one of the most splendid
Viking swords extant".[49] The Lincoln
sword is also remarkable for being one
of only two known bearing the blade
inscription Leutfrit (+ LEUTFRIT), the
other being a find from Tatarstan (at
the time Volga Bulgaria, now kept in
the Historical Museum of Kazan). On
the reverse side, the blade is inlaid with
a double scroll pattern.[50]
The Sword of Essen is a 10th-century
sword preserved at Essen Abbey,
decorated with gold plating at the
close of the 10th century.
The Cawood sword, and the closely
related Korsoygaden sword, are
notable in the context of delineating
"Viking Age swords" from derived high
medieval types; these swords fit neatly
into the "Viking sword" typology, but
Oakeshott (1991) considers them
derived types dating to the 12th
The Sword of Lake Vidöstern: An 8-
year-old girl pulled a pre-viking sword
from a lake in Sweden. The scabbard
was made from leather and wood and
the sword measures 85 centimetres
[33 inches] in overal length. The
artifact was found due to extremely
low water levels in Sweden. Currently
residing in the Jonkopings Lans

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media

related to Viking swords.

Migration period sword

Viking Age arms and armour

1. M. Müller-Wille, "Zwei
wikingerzeitliche Prachtschwerter
aus der Umgebung von Haithabu",
Offa 29 (1972) 50–112 (cited after
Schulze-Dörrlamm (2012:625).
2. Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo
C777 length: 102.4cm, blade length:
86 cm, weight 1.9 kg. Peirce
(2002:36): "it is extremely rare to find
a Viking Age sword with an overall
length of more than 1 metre. Even
considering the huge pommel, this
weapon has a very poor balance and
consequently does not handle easily.
[...] Petersen determined the weight
of C777 as a massive 1.896 kg (4.17
3. Ingelrii sword found in the Thames:
length 84.2 cm (blade 69.7 cm):
Peirce (2002:80). There are shorter
swords found in boys' graves,
presumably shortened from full
sized sword (Peirce 2002:86) and in
some cases diminutive swords
made for boys (Peirce 2002:95).
4. L. A. Jones in Peirce (2002:23),
citing Geibig (1991): "Dimensions of
Viking Age Sword Blades in Geibig's
Classification" type 1: 70–80 cm,
type 2: 74–83 cm, type 3: 74–85 cm,
type 4: 63–76 cm, type 5: 84–91 cm.
5. 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-
6. V. D. Hampton,"Viking Age Arms and
Armor Originating in the Frankish
Kingdom" , The Hilltop Review 4.2
(2011), 36–44.
7. Goran Bilogrivić, Carolingian Swords
from Croatia – New Thoughts on an
Old Topic, Studia Universitatis
Cibiniensis X (2013). Madeleine
Durand-Charre, "Merovingian and
Carolingian swords", Microstructure
of Steels and Cast Irons, Engineering
Materials and Processes, Springer
Science & Business Media (2013),
8. W. Horn and E. Born, The Plan of St.
Gall, 3 vols. (Berkeley 1979) 2.190.
9. Simon Coupland, "Carolingian Arms
and Armor in the Ninth Century" ,
Viator: Medieval and Renaissance
Studies 21 (1990).
10. Stephen V. Grancsav, “A Viking
Chieftain’s Sword,” The Metropolitan
Museum of Art Bulletin, XVII (March
1959), 181.
11. "Viking Weapons and Warfare" .
BBC. 15 October 2010. Retrieved
15 November 2010.
12. "Holman 2003"
13. name="Hall 2007"
14. Oxenstierna, Eric (1916). The
Norsemen. Connecticut: New York
Graphic Society Publishers, Ltd.
15. 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-
16. Schulze-Dörrlamm (2012:623): "In
den Waffenschmieden des Reiches
sind während des  10. Jahrhunderts 
offenbar  nur  sehr  schlichte, 
unverzierte Eisenschwerter (Typ X)
84 mit einteiligem,
halbkreisförmigem Knauf und
gerader Parierstange, wenngleich
mit gut geschmiedeter, damaszierter
Klinge  hergestellt  worden,  wie  z. B. 
das  Schwert  aus  dem  Lek  bei 
Dorestad  (prov.  Utrecht / NL).
Deshalb mögen den Kaisern der
damaligen Zeit typische
»Wikingerschwerter« mit ihren
prächtig ausgestalteten, wuchtigen
Griffen für Repräsentationszwecke
besser geeignet erschienen sein."
17. Capitulare missorum in Theodonis
villa datum secundum, generale c. 7;
Capitulare Bononiense 10, 167; both
decrees were included by Ansegisus
in his collection of laws, as articles
3.6 and 3.75 respectively; Edictum
Pistense c. 25.
18. cited after J. Brondsted, The Vikings,
ed. 2 (Harmondsworth 1965) 265.
19. Callmer, Johan (2008). "Scandinavia
and the Continent in the Vikings
Age". The Viking World: ch 33.
20. Hedeager, Lotte (2008). "Scandinavia
before the Viking Age". The Viking
World: ch 1.
21. Hampton, Valerie Dawn (2011).
"Viking Age Arms and Armor
Originating in the Frankish Kingdom".
The Hilltop Review. 4 (2): 36–44
22. Pederson, Anne (2008). "Viking
Weaponry". The Viking World: ch 15.
23. Ljungkvist, John (2008).
"Handicrafts". The Viking World.
24. Pederson, Anne (2008). "Viking
Weaponry". The Viking World: ch
25. Callmer, Johan (2008). "Scandinavia
and the Continent in the Viking Age".
The Viking World.
26. Ibn Fadlan (2005). Journey to
Russia. New Jersey: Markus Wiener
Publishers. p. 63.
27. Hampton, Valerie Dawn (2011).
"Viking Age Arms and Armor
Originating in the Frankish Kingdom".
The Hilltop Review. 4 (2): 36–44
28. "Capitulare Bononiense" .
Translations and Reprints. VI.
Retrieved 2014-11-21. "Ch. 10. It has
been enacted that no bishop or
abbot or abbess, or any rector or
guardian of a church, shall presume
without our permission to give or sell
a byrnie or sword to any man
outside, except only to his own
29. Hampton, Valerie Dawn (2011).
"Viking Age Arms and Armor
Originating in the Frankish Kingdom".
The Hilltop Review. 4 (2): 36–44
30. Hampton, Valerie Dawn (2011).
"Viking Age Arms and Armor
Originating in the Frankish Kingdom".
The Hilltop Review. 4 (2): 36–44
31. E. Wamers, "Ein karolingischer
Prunkbeschlag aus dem
Römisch‑Germanischen Museum,
Kö1n," Zeitschrift fur Archäologie des
Mittelalters 9 (1981) 91–128.
32. W. Menghin, "Aufhängevorrichtung
and Trageweise zweischneidiger
Langschwerter aus germanischen
Gräbern des 5. bis 7. Jahrhunderts,"
Anzeiger des Germanischen
Nationalmuseums (1973).
33. Notes sur la collection d'armes
anciennes du Major Henry Galopin,
Geneva (1913), plate 8, no. 1: Epée
carolingienne du Xe siècle, pommeau
à 3 lobes avec inscription en
caractères runiques, fusée manque,
provenance: Trèves.
34. Pedersen 2008:p. 205
35. Petersen, Jan (1919) De Norske
Vikingesverd. [The Viking Sword].
36. Wheeler, R.E.M. (1927) London and
the Vikings. London Museum
Catalogues: No 1
37. Oakeshott 1960:p. 137
38. Oakeshott, Ewart (1960) The
Archaeology of Weapons.
Lutterworth Press. 1960.
39. Ian Peirce's 'Swords of the Viking
Age'. Jones 2002
40. Oakshott, Ewart (1991) Records of
the Medieval Sword. Boydell.
41. Peirce's 'Swords from the Viking
Age'. Jones 2002:p. 16
42. Oakeshott 2002
43. Jones 2002
44. Maryon, Herbert (1948). "A Sword of
the Nydam Type from Ely Fields
Farm, near Ely". Proceedings of the
Cambridge Antiquarian Society. XLI:
73–76. doi:10.5284/1034398 .
45. David Edge, Alan Williams: Some
early medieval swords in the Wallace
Collection and elsewhere , Gladius
XXIII, 2003, 191–210 (p. 203).
46. See:
Williams, Alan (2009) "A
metallurgical study of some
Viking swords," Gladius, 29 :
National Physical Laboratory
(U.K.) uncovers Viking trade
routes (2009 January 12)
47. Schulze-Dörrlamm (2012:630)
48. British Museum 1848, 1021.1
Antiquities from the River Witham,
Archaeology Series No. 13,
Lincolnshire Museums Information
Sheet (1979)
49. Peirce, Ian (1990), "The Development
of the Medieval Sword c. 850–1300",
in Christopher Harper-Bill, Ruth
Harvey (eds.), The Ideals and
Practice of Medieval Knighthood III:
Papers from the Fourth Strawberry
Hill Conference, 1988, Boydell &
Brewer Ltd, pp. 139–58 (p. 144).
50. British Museum 1848, 1021.1 .
Kendrick, T. D. (1934): 'Some types of
ornamentation on Late Saxon and
Viking Period Weapons in England',
Eurasia Septentrionalis Antiqua, ix,
396 and fig. 2; Maryon, Herbert.
(1950): 'A Sword of the Viking Period
from the River Witham', The
Antiquaries Journal, xxx, 175–79; '
51. "the runes inscribed upon the bronze
collars which once held the grip at
top and bottom [...] rather roughly
incised in a rather 'home-made' style,
have been positively dated as being
no later than 1150 and unlikely to be
much earlier than 1100. These
datings have been made by two
extremely eminent Runologists, Eric
Moltke and O. Rygh, each
independently corrobating the
other's finding. On stylistic grounds
and on the circumstances of its
burial, Jan Petersen dated the sword
to c. 1050" Oakeshott (1991:76)
52. "Åttaåring Fann Järnålderssvärd."
Jönköping Läns Museum. October 2,
2018. Accessed December 12, 2018.
fann-jarnalderssvard/ .
Alfred Geibig, Beiträge zur
morphologischen Entwicklung des
Schwertes im Mittelalter (1991).
P. Paulsen, Schwertortbänder der
Wikingerzeit (1953).
Ian G. Peirce, Swords of the Viking Age,
Jan Petersen, De Norske Vikingsverd,
1919 ( ).
Mechthild Schulze-Dörrlamm,
"Schwerter des 10. Jahrhunderts als
Herrschaftszeichen der Ottonen" ,
Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen
Zentralmuseums 59 (2012) 609–51

External links
Swords (
Wiglaf's Weapon Widget Database of
Viking swords.
The Norwegian Viking Swords by Jan
Petersen, translated by Kristin Noer
An online English translation of Jan
Petersen's typology of Viking swords.
Petersen typology
Christopher L. Miller, The Sword
Typology of Alfred Geibig

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