In the early medieval period, the sword was the mark of a high-status warrior. Sword burials – as opposed to warrior burials with a spear and shield – make up a small fraction of the known warrior burials from this period.
The Viking sword was typically 70 to 80 cm long, although are examples as short as 60 cm and as long as 1 metre. The sword had a double-edged blade which ended in a slightly rounded point.
The various parts of a sword are shown in the illustration on the right. The pommel, tang and crossguard together make up the hilt.
In the early 20th century, Jan Petersen classified the different types of Viking swords according to their hilts. You can download an illustrated typology here…
The production of the right quality of steel was a difficulty in the early medieval period. Better quality swords were often produced ba a complicated process known as pattern-welding, where rods of iron with different carbon content were fused together and twisted and hammered to produce a blade of the right quality. You can see an illustrated explanation of this process here…
The Ulfberht swords
Between c. 850 and c. 1000 a number of swods of exceptional quality were made. These swords were constructed of steel of a very high quality. A quality, in fact, which has not been equalled until modern times.
These swords have the name “Ulfberht” set into their blades. About 300 “Ulfberht” swords have been found, but studies carried our by Dr Alan Williams, an archaeometallurgist who is a consultant to the Wallace Collection, has proved that many of these swords are fakes made of an inferior quality steel. The real Ulfberht blades have the inscription +VLFBERH+T, while the fakes have +VLFBERHT+.
You can read a short news article about this:
1,000 years on, perils of fake Viking swords are revealed
Or you can download the article describing the analysis:
A Metallurgical Study of some Viking Swords, Alan Williams
Parts of a sword
image: David Beard
(click on the images to enlarge)
The blade of an Ulfberht sword