Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Viking - his Pride and Joy , the Sword and the Axe.

1. Viking picture stone, Gotland

A Nordic Viking's full weaponry were sword, axe, spear, bow and arrow. The noblest weapons among these were the sword and the axe. A Viking with esteem for himself wore them permanently. A real Viking loved luxury, colours and riches in his weaponry, his riding equipment and his clothes.

The Sword
2. Danish sword
The sword is known from several finds in Scandinavia, mostly from burials, but after Christianity arrived it was forbidden to put weapons or other things with the dead Viking. In a Viking warrior's grave were usually only one or two weapons, sword or sword and axe. In return there might in some graves be more than one of each. The long sword seems to occupy the first place among the attack weapons.The new feature about the new Viking sword is the Hialte, the crossbar between the blade and the handle, which meant to protect the warrior's hand. The Hialte did however not give a real protection to the hand, and it is unlikely if the sword was often used as a stabbing weapon.

The Viking's main weapon was probably the sword. The single-edged sword from before the Viking-period was replaced by the long, often broad, double-edged sword with a four-divided hilt.The blade might be Damascened and inlaid, and the hilt was often richly decorated with chase and gilt and with inlaids of gold, copper, silver or niello (a mixture), making the sword into a splendid weapon. The scabbard of the sword is usually not kept or found, but the bronze-"shoe", which forms the finish of the scabbard was sometimes found. It is triangular and often shows animals ornaments in openwork.

3. Swedish swords
Nordic archaeologists have divided the sword material into 20 mutually various groups , Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and common, older and younger. Several Viking swords were found in the interest-sphere in England, Ireland, France, Russia etc. The swords were probably made both in the North and abroad, some swords produced in the Viking's homeland and others imported.

4. Frankish sword, Hedeby

A sword is a complicated thing to create, and the whole working process is not made by the same man. The blade is made by one, the hilt by another, the joining by a third. A hilt might be decorated in a special Nordic ornamentation with a "gripping beast" or in the Jelling style. A sword like that was produced in the North. A blade with a signature like Ulfberth was undoubtedly welded abroad, probably in France. Usually there was enough technical skill in the North to produce a sword. The finds of iron and blacksmith-tools in the Scandinavian Viking finds are a witness of the important role of the Viking-blacksmith. There was a question. Who made the best swords? The answer: Undoubtedly the Franks. This is known from literary sources. And the Franks forbid export of their valuable swords. Charlemagne forbid, Charles the Bald forbid, the last even forbid on penalty of death. Charlemagne's embargo was aimed both to the East and to the North, the clerics were especially impressed to conform to this. This indicates that weapons were often processed in the closter-smithy. The embargo of Charles the Bald was firstly aimed to the Nordic Viking-emporium. He did not wish to equip the bloodthirsty Vikings from the North with the best weapons in the world. And the Frankish swords were considered the best in the world.

5. Charlemagne, A Dürer.
It seems that the Rhine district and especially Cologne was an important center of weapon fabrication. Another sign of the brilliance of the Frankish swords was told in a story in the Gesta Caroli Magni (Story of Charlemagne) about Louis le Gros, who, sitting upon his throne, received swords as gifts from the Norman kings, also Nordic swords, which quality he wanted to test. He tested each sword. The result was that only one sword passed the examination. It might be a fictional anecdote, but it shows the tendency however, the emphasis that the Nordic swords were inferior to the Frankish swords.

A Viking period-find by Swedish archaeologists from Øland in the Baltic sea were five Damascene sword blades with fabrication-signature, probably Ulfberth-blades from the Franks, imported to Sweden to have  bronze-hilts attached. The Nordic craftsmen were from tradition masters in producing the bronze hilts with inlaids and chase. But the blades had to be Frankish.

Legendary Swords
There are many named swords in the legendary literature, and although there might be no reality behind the stories they reflect anyway the importance of the swords - both symbolic and practical. The legendary hero Roland's sword Durendal, king Arthur's Excalibur and Sigurd Fafnersbane's sword Gram are wellknown examples.

Uffe and the Sword Skræp (Offa of Angel)
6. Uffe hin Spage,  Lorenz Frölich
The legend about king Vermund and Uffe belongs to Saxo's Danmarkskrønike. The Saxon king had treacherously challenged the old king Vermund, whose mute son Uffe regained his voice and, unexpectedly to his father, proved to be a strong guy. So big and powerful that every chain mail broke when he got it on. At last he got his father's chain mail which was split up in the side, which was protected by the shield. But no sword was good enough for Uffe, they all skipped into pieces when he swung them, or they could only take one cut. The blind king Vermund then lead his people to a place in the meadow, where he secretly had buried the special sword Skræp, when he thought his son was unfit for anything. Skræp was unusually sharp and could split whatever it hit, nothing could withstand this sword.
The combat took place on an island in the river Eider, and the blind old king wished to sit upon a wharf close to the edge, so he could throw himself into the water if Uffe lost the combat. The sword looked brittle and rusty, but it passed the test. Vermund was blind, but not deaf. When Uffe first chopped one, then the other opponent, both in one single cut, his father recognized the sound of Skræp from the old days. His chair was pulled back from the edge, the king regained his love of life, and the Saxons had to go shameful away. In this way the kingdom of Saxon came in Danish hands, and this sword really deserved a special name.

Sigurd Fafnersbane and the Sword Gram 

7. Fafnerdrabet, Eskilstuna
8. sketch from the Fafnerdrab
A picture and a runic inscription are carved in a rock wall at Eskilstuna in Sweden. It illustrates the legend about Sigurd Fafnersbane. The blacksmith Regin incites Sigurd to kill the dragon Fafner, and he gives him the sword Gram ,which he has welded. Sigurd rides out on his horse Grane and kills the dragon, but when he roasts the dragon's heart on the fire, he is burned, and when he puts his finger in the mouth to ease the pain, he gets the dragon's blood on his tongue, and now he understands the voices of the birds. They tell him about Regin's treachery, and he kills the blacksmith. The whole story is told in one picture. Between Sigurd and the decapitated blacksmith, the tools are seen

The hero Beowulf can only get rid of the troll's mother by using a sword which hangs in the underwater cave where she lives. The Sagas make these swords supernatural, they were not of course, but it is obvious that a good and precious sword was treated with care. Famous swords were inherited through several generations. 

The Axe
9. Axe, Trelleborg
The sword was an international weapon in the Viking period, but the axe was a Nordic weapon. Through the millenias of the Nordic prehistory the axe is much older than the sword. The sword first arrived when man during his cultural development finds a material, which allows to prepare a product like a sword; the metal: first the bronze, then the iron. But the axe had existed in milleniums when the sword arrived. In the Viking period the war axe out in Europe was not out of use, but it was considered an outdated weapon. In the North the war axe had a Renaissance in the Viking period. The haunted western European populations knew their enemy when they saw the long-handled axe, the special sign of a Viking. Upon the Lindisfarne stone the Vikings carry two weapons above their heads, the axe and the sword. The Viking's war axe is  varied in design, but in two main types: an older called the skægøksen (beard axe), which edge is drawn down like a chin beard, and the broad axe with outswayed edge-corners which came around year 1000. Both axes might be decorated with exquisite silver inlaids. A very fine silver inlaid broad axe came up in the excavation of the Danish Viking fortification Trelleborg. 

The Cross in the Axe
10. cross in axe.
In the exhibition of Silkeborg Museum in Mid Jutland is a splendid war axe, a special example of the broad axe, also called The Danish Axe. With its unique decoration it is a bridge between two elements: the life of a warrior and the new faith. The axe is special in its unique design; the blade is openwork, and from the back of the edge-section is seen a little cross. The axe came from a private collection so nothing is known of where it was found. The magnate, who was once the owner of this axe, was surely a Christian. He might have had a connection to the first clerical circles in Denmark, eventually as a protector or a life guard. It is obvious that a Viking remained a Viking, no matter how much he had converted himself to Christianity.

The Spear
11. spearheads, arrows, axe
The spear was widely known and used in the Viking period, it was called the third main weapon of the Viking. The shaft was never found preserved, only the iron spearhead, which has a very elegant shape. A long slender blade with a sharp middle rib. Some spearheads have socalled wings. They are undoubtedly of Frankish origin. In late Viking period are often found a rich silver inlaid in exquisite geometric patterns, such spears were splendid weapons, which no doubt were brought back to their owners after combat- if it was possible!

Bow and Arrow
This ancient weapon was important to the Vikings. This is often told in the Sagas. The bows are gone(they were probably just simple longbows) and the arrow shafts also. But the iron arrowheads are often found in the graves, sometimes also in women's graves. They are heavy, dangerous arrowheads, and sent from a strong bow they must have had a significant impact. They have been found in graves, assembled in bunches or in a bundle of 40 pieces.They were carried in a round quiver.

The Knife.
The iron knife is also a weapon, both a weapon and a tool. The simple one-edged iron knife with a wooden or bone shaft was carried by men at their belt, and  by women in a chain on their breast. In women's graves from the Viking period it is common to find the blade of an iron knife at the woman's breast or at her belt.

The Protection
12. Gokstadship, sketch with shields

13. Viking helmet
The most important protection devices of the Viking were the wooden shield, the iron chain mail and the iron or leather helmet. All three parts are rare to find in excavations, but they are known from depictions and from literary references. The shield was round, flat and rather thin, often painted and with a central round iron boss. On the famous Norwegian Viking ship at Gokstad the shields hang in a row along the railing  The chain mail and the helmet were rare and distinguished protection weapons, carried by chiefs.  They are only known in rests from the finds, but sometimes from depictions or from statuettes, where the helmet is formed like a pointed Monkshood, probably in leather; this pointed hat was possibly a loan from Oriental equipment. Woven depictions from the Norwegian Oseberg ship show whitepainted chain mails, which cover the whole body and with a hood up over the head.


The Berserks. 
Hagar the Horrible

 In connection to the mention of the Viking weapons there existed a strange subspecies of the Viking warriors, called bersærker (berserks); they were raging, half insane brawlers, who were gripped by the intoxication of war, and when the rampage (bersærkergang) came upon them, they had terrible powers, but afterwards they fell into daze and helplessness. Snorre Sturlasson tells in his favorite Saga about those warriors "filled with Odin's rage". Odin could make his battle-enemies become blind, deaf or scared witless, and their weapons did not bite more than a stick. But his own men walked around without chain mail and were like mad dogs or wolves; they bit in their shields and were strong as bears or bulls. They knocked  down enemy warriors like they were flies, and neither fire or iron could fight them. These berserks are often mentioned in the Norse literature; a researcher is of the opinion that they should be considered a species psychopaths, elected for their special powers and brutality and actually organized in teams for kings and chiefs; they were during the battle able to inflame each other until the insanity.

Grethe Bachmann

Source: Johannes Brøndsted: Vikingerne, Materiel kultur, Våben, Gyldendal 1960; Skalk: Smeden, nr. 1, 1963; Skalk: Ole Shiørring, Korset i Øksen, nr. 6, 1978; Skalk: Christian Adamsen, De sagnomspundne, nr. 2, 2011.

1.  Viking picture stone, Gotland, Sweden,
2, 3, Danish sword; Swedish swords; Johannes Brøndsted, Vikingerne. 
4. Frankish sword, found in Hedeby(Haithabu) , Gyldendal og Politikens  Danmarkshistorie, 
5. Charlemagne, painting by Albrecht Dürer, 1600, Buch: Kunsthistorisches Museunm, Wien.
6. Uffe hin Spage, drawing by Lorenz Frölich.  
7. picture and runes of the Fafnerdrabet upon at Ramsundsberget in Eskilstuna, Johs. Brøndsted, Vikingerne.
8. sketch of the Fafnerpicture, by J. Aarup Jensen, Skalk 1963.
9. Silver-inlaid war axe, found in the Viking fortification, Trelleborg, Sjælland ; Johs. Brøndsted, Vikingerne. 
10. Viking axe with cross, Silkeborg Museum, Jutland, Skalk 1978 .
11. Viking spearheads, arrows, axe, Johs. Brøndsted, Vikingerne.  
12. The Gokstadship (Norway) with shields, drawing from book by N. Nicolaysen about the Gokstad ship. 
13. Viking helmet, 7-9 century.
14: Hagar!


AgaB said...

Pozwoliłam sobie umieścić link do tego wpisu na swojej stronie Facebook :)

Thyra said...

Hello AgaB! I don't understand Polish , but if you mean that you have linked to your Facebook side, then it is of course okay. Thank you very much for your interest!
Grethe ´)

DaveM said...

Greetings, I am interested to know more about the open work axe & cross you mention that is on exhibition of Silkeborg Museum. Is this a real axe? Is it unique? Do the museum speculate as to weather it was functional or decorative? Can you point me to more information on it? Your blog is the only information I can find on-line about it. Thank you.

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