Viking Sword excavated from Ballinderry, Northern Ireland dated from the 9th Century on display at the National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology in Dublin
This is one of a family of 5 surviving swords in Ireland that bear the name “ULFBERHT” inscribed in the broad and shallow fuller of the blade. Such blades are thought to have been made in the Frankish lands around the Middle Rhine. The town of Solingen, which produced fine sword blades in the Middle Ages, came from this region and it is thought to be one of the origins of the “ULFBERHT” swords. It is unlikely to be the name of a person as they have been found in sites dating from the 9th to the 12th centuries.
So the “ULFBERHT” brand name was put on hundreds of swords over a period of 250 years. It is likely the brand name was a powerful mark as such swords have been found in high status graves all over Europe. Frankish and Viking blades were found as highly prised goods in Baghdad, travelling along the Silk Road. Much of the steel for these blades was Crucible Steel from India which travelled the same route to Europe.
The sword was found in a crannog in Ballinderry, Ireland while it was being drained by the Board of Works of Northern Ireland. With the sword, animal bones, part of a bone comb as well as two spearheads and an axehead, all from the 9th Century.
Hi I was wondering if you could send me a few nice picture's of Viking sheilds swords and axes as I would like to try to see if its possible to copy for my own personal experience of what they where like to design
I’d love two.
We’ll start with shields:
Almost all viking shields were round and sized to guard from the shoulder to just above the knee. They were made of planks of wood fit tongue and groove and rimmed by raw hide of possibly iron. In the center is a iron boss designed to protect the users hand and to a lesser extent parry attacks. Shields were painted, but usually in simple patterns and designs used mostly to identify friend or foe on the battlefield, combat shields would likely not have featured complex paint jobs as they would be ruined in the battle, though it is possible ceremonial or decorative shields featured more intricate designs.
The shields were held by a single handle running the length of the center. There is no evidence of Viking round shields using arm straps to stabilize though some did feature long straps used to carry the shield on the back when not fighting.
Kite shields began to appear at the very end of the viking period and were used in William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066 (Usually viewed as the end of the Viking Age).
Now for Axes
Viking Axes began as hand tools that were carried into battle by many because they simply could not afford a better weapon. Though it is worth noting that axes, swords, and seaxes were almost always backup weapons; the spear was the primary weapon of the Viking Age.
However, as the Viking Age progressed axes became more refined combat weapons. For starters they developed thinner profiles to reduce weight making for a faster swinging weapon that didn’t cut wood as well, but cut flesh exceptionally well. Secondly they began to develop a “beard.”
This beard i.e. the way the head hangs far past the lug at the top of the haft, made for a wider cutting surface without adding much weight to the axe head. In addition this hook design would have been useful in battle as a means to pull enemy shields and weapons away thus opening the enemy up for an easy kill.
And then there’s the big daddy! The Danish War Axe or more commonly Dane Axe was the two handed great axe of the viking age.
(Shout out to Skallagrim)
The Dane Axe showed up relatively late in the Viking era and was the grandfather of later weapons like halberds and polearms. Dane axes featured a broad head with a cutting surface almost a foot from end to end. Dane axes were sized for the user by measuring the haft length from the toe to just under the chin, meaning for a taller user the arch of the blade would easily be twelve to fifteen feet. These axes were most famously used by Harold Godwinson’s house carls at the Battle of Hastings where the were said to be able to generate enough force to decapitate a horse.
And finally swords.
Viking Swords are a descendant of the Roman Spatha (cavalry sword) and would evolve over time into the precursors of the middle ages broad sword. All Viking swords were one handed weapons that featured heavy pommels to counter the weight of the blade and one to two large fullers to reduce blade weight. Swords in the Viking Age were extremely difficult to make and thus status symbols, which were generally only carried by the very rich or elite warriors of a king or jarl.
Early Viking swords featured very minimal crossguards because at the time the steel quality was poor resulting in almost no blade on blade fighting as this would brake weapons. The crossguard was instead to protect the users hand from slipping up onto the blade.
As the Viking Age continued the steel quality and craftsmanship improved and crossguards become more pronounced. Swords also featured more ornate pommels such as the five lug design featured above.
By the late period Viking swords had developed into what would later be called “arming swords” by middle ages Europeans. Featuring broad crossguards these weapons were designed to be used both with a shield but could also fight blade on blade. The Ulfberht sword made famous in the Nova documentary available on Youtube and Netflix was a late period design made of crucible steel brought of from the Middle East.
That concludes our lesson on Viking weaponry for the evening. If you have further questions or would just like a picture master post don’t hesitate to ask, I love doing this stuff.
Almost everything I know I learned from Hurstwic.org check them out.