translated by Kristin Noer

The Sword Types

The typological - chronological arrangement of the sword types that will be given below, accompanied by an overview over their local distribution, will build mainly upon a study of the sword hilts. When I therefore speak of sword types, I mean types of sword handles. It is certainly the case that swords with the same type of sword hilt may also have the same type of sword blade. It is much more difficult however, to differentiate the types of blades than the sword hilts. They are therefore not as suitable for a typological arrangement as the latter [the hilts]. The blades may seemingly also undergo changes, as described previously, but these changes are not as obvious as those usually seen in the hilts.

As will become apparent in the following description, there are, within our Viking Age, a manifold of sword types, a sudden manifold, which however, is not as sudden as it appears. It is therefore not completely appropriate of Undset, when he [1] speaks of the uniformity that characterizes our Viking Age. All these types however, do not appear during the same period of time. It is inevitable that certain types appear at the same time, exist simultaneously, but at least in the case of the larger, more significant types, they usually succeed each other, as the case is with the bronze buckles from the older and newer Iron Age. But it often happens that one type has not entirely disappeared before the next one appears.

The original native soil for a large portion of these [sword] types must be sought outside our country [Norway]. The question regarding this factor will be considered further for each [individual] type. The development of each type can only be considered with difficulty, and has less significance [for this study] since it happened outside the country. For us it has more significance to know where they came from and their history in this country. The fact is however, that we, as Schetelig at one point explained to me, find the prototype for so many of our Viking Age sword types in the Germanic finds in Central Europe, especially from the so called Merovingian Period [500 - 750 A.D.]. Sl. Lindenschmit: Handbuch der Deutschen Alterumskunde I, p.226-27. The development of the "karolingiske" sword has taken place down here [Germany], consisting of, as a predominant characteristic feature, where the guards are getting larger and thicker. The relatively slight handle in older times: low, thin pommels and weak guards, have already in the early Viking Age, developed into the full weight that characterizes such a large portion of our swords from the Viking Age. [54]

Wherever possible, we shall discuss these swords in a chronological order, the way I understand they have succeeded or developed from each other. First we will take those types that belong to the transitional period, between the last part of the Migration Period and the earliest part of the Viking Age. From the latter part of the Migration Period we know, in this country [Norway], almost solely the single-edged swords without guards, those which have their origin in the Franconian scramasax [2] and that in particular are found in Vestlandet [western Norway] and in Trøndelagen [in central Norway]. Although these swords belong primarily to the 7th Period of the Iron Age, and as such do not concern this study, I shall nevertheless briefly make some observations about them before I proceed to the actual Viking swords.


Single-edged swords without guards

These swords were first excluded by H. Schetelig in V.J.G., p.163. In O. Ryghs atlas: "Norsk Oldsager", and in his statistical work, they are, however, included among the swords belonging to the Viking Age.

In my inventory over the Viking swords these are not included. It can be difficult to determine whether they actually end with the 7th Period, and in "Nye Jernaldersfund paa Vestlandet", p.76, Schetelig raises the possibility that they were still present at the beginning of the Viking Age. In my opinion, this must have been limited to the early beginnings of the Viking Age. However, they do appear together with weapons that earlier have been presumed to belong only to the actual Viking period, but that in my opinion began already in the 7th Period [of the Iron Age]. In addition, I have also studied ten finds, especially from Vestlandet, where there appear other items, where 8 of those in my opinion must belong to the 10th Century, and only two belong to the second half of the 9th Century. I should believe that we can completely disregard these finds based on the indicated time period for the swords, since we either have to view these swords as having been accidentally stored over a longer period, which is not likely due to the large number of them [of swords], or we have to view them as doubtful or uncertain finds, which at least two of the finds, where there are oval buckles of the type R652, points to.

It nevertheless has importance for the weapons of the older Viking Age that we take a little closer look at these single edged swords. The find-combinations that are created by them also have significance for the determination of the oldest weapons of the Viking Age. Single-edged swords also occurred during the Viking Age, but then they have guards, and similarly the blades partly differ. With regards to the hilt, it is evident that the single-edged swords have assumed this [characteristic] from the double-edged swords with guards, just as I have [55] pointed out for type B and C. The actual scramasax has special peculiarities such as the thickness of the ridge and the insignificant length of the blade. In this country however, the length developed in such a way that it even exceeded the blades of the double-edged swords of the Viking Age. There are many of these single-edged swords with blades that are 80 cm. long or so; five of them are even over 85 cm. long. I have only found a couple of the double-edged blades from the older Viking period of type C and H that reach such length. Recently Universitetets Oldtidssamling [University Museum of Antiquities in Oslo] has received the longest blade from the Viking Age at 90.7 cm., precisely from a single-edged sword of the H-type from the first part of the 9th Century, or from the 800’s. This is new proof that it is the old single-edged swords without guards that are now receiving hilts from the double-edged swords. The development is clearly that initially the short scramasax came to Norway from abroad. While in the country, it has then developed from purely a knife's length to the significant length that we mentioned above. Then, by the beginning of the Viking Age, these blades were still being forged, but were then equipped with hilts of the type that had just then become usual (fig. 51 a,b).

Fig. 51 b. Berge, Ø. Rendalen, Hed. 1/5,
Fig. 51 a. Allbjørk, Sigdal, Busk. 1/5
[The illustration has been rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise, such that Fig 51 b is shown above Fig 51 a.]

[paragraph continues] It is evident that this development took place in Norway, and it is also these domestic types, the single-edged swords, that receive guards during the Viking Age. I am herewith taking inventory over these single-edged swords without guards and their local distribution:

 Smaal : 1  Brb. : 8  Rmsd. : 14
 Akh. : 2  Ned. : 0  S.T. : 16
 Hedem.: 9  L.M. : 3  N.T. : 14
 Krist. : 31  Stav.: 26  Nordl. : 25
 Busk. : 6  S.B. : 32  Trms. : 19
 J.L. : 4  N.B. : 30  Ukjent: 3 [unknown]
     Total: 245 [56]

From these statistics it is evident that the single-edged swords without guards primarily belong to Vestlandet and Sydvestlandet [south-western Norway], together with Nordland [northern Norway], and to a lesser degree Trøndelagen. Statistics from the Kristians county will be misleading if one views this as an Østlands county [eastern Norway]. The single-edged swords without guards from this area are almost exclusively from Valdres and Øvre Gudbrandsdalen, rural districts that both in older and more recent times have been actively connected to Vestlandet. Of the 31 swords from Kristians county, 21 are from Valdres and 7 from Gudbrandsdalen, only 3 are from the actual eastern district of Kristians county. From Hedemarken county 4 of the 9 swords belong to Rendalen, a district which in this context must be viewed as connected to Trøndelagen. Possibly, one can here see a confirmation of the old tale that there ran a thoroughfare through Rendalen extending from Trøndelagen to Sweden.[3] A 5th sword is from StorElvedalen; so consequently only 4 swords are from the actual Hedemarken, and of those 3 belong to the same find. If we look at the 6 swords from Buskerud county, none of them belong to the actual Buskerud or Ringerike, but 1 is from Numedal, 2 from Hallingdal and 3 from Sigdal and Krødsherred. Only 14 single-edged swords without guards are therefore from the actual Østland’s area. If we included Telemarken we will have 22 [swords]. Of 245 swords are 231 found outside the actual Østland’s area.

This particular circumstance must depend on, as Schetelig suggests, the possibility that before the single-edged swords without guards came to the country, the sword was not a weapon for the common person, or that weapons were not at all placed in the common person’s grave. And these single-edged swords without guards penetrated only Vestlandet, Sydvestlandet and partly Trøndelagen, and the districts close in proximity. Whether other reasons also played a role, we will not discuss more closely here.

Next we shall look at the various combinations present in the finds. Of the weapons found together with the single-edged swords without guards, are the spearheads of "Vendeltypen" ["the Vendel type"] R519, thereafter the type "Stav. mus. aarshefte 1904", fig. 6 and V.J.G., p.163, fig. 393. My type A and B also appear several times, as well as type E. Of the ax blades type A is predominant, but we also find type B, and several examples of type C from Trøndelagen. Of the shields we have exclusively R564. In addition we have rattles of the oldest kind. Finally, in two finds of other swords, swords of my type A have also been found. Altogether, there are about 80 finds where other weapons of these kinds appear.[57] However, there were also 10 finds where weapons or jewelry of a younger [later] kind appear, which in my opinion, makes an unquestionably doubtful impression. These finds are entered here:

 C 3379.  Skatter, Laardal, Brb.
 C 2153.  Kyllingstad, Lye, Stav.
 B 1022.  Ringeim, Voss, S.B.
 B 4393.  Hole, Vossestranden, S.B.
 B 2606.  Oppheim, Vossestranden, S.B.
 B 403.  Molster, Vangen s.Voss, S.B.
 B 4432.  Vaksdal, Bruvik, S.B.
 B 5588.  Hilde, Indviken, N.B.
 B 6742.  Belle, Aurland, N.B.
 T 11315.  Lyngjem, Grytten, Rmsd.

Here we have younger slim spearheads, younger short necked ax blades, oval buckles like R 652, besides swords of type M and K, finally also an ax of type E in one find. Most of the finds are from Vestlandet, and could be explained in the same way as why type H lasted so long here, but strangely enough there is no connection. They are simply absent in the latter part of the 9th Century, and appear almost solely in finds from the 10th Century. Faced with the overwhelming material that otherwise exists, they do not change the opinion that they belong to the 7th Period [of the Iron Age] and barely survived the change of the century between the 8th and the 9th Century.

The first types that now will be examined shall include transitional types from the transition between the 7th Period and the Viking Age. They cannot be seen as belonging exclusively to any one of these periods, for in the case of a couple of distinctive types it will be argued that they belong to the 7th Period, while at the same time they will be included among the types found in the earlier part of the Viking Age, because they were initially thought to belong to the Viking Age.

As I mentioned, we are first and foremost using the hilts in the typological-chronological determination. Here one has to consider the various peculiarities that distinguish the hilts [from one another]. We will discuss briefly whether the [upper] guard [and pommel] consist of one or two pieces, a point that can be an important typological determining factor. The growing together into one piece, without doubt must be viewed as an attribute belonging to an earlier phase, something O.Rygh already noted in "Norske Oldsager".[~58] There are also numerous examples of intermediary types where the originally divided upper guard [and pommel combination] clearly shines through, making obvious the typological development. Thereafter we will consider the guards’ cross-section[4] , to see whether they are four-sided and whether the ends are rounded or pointed. These are important factors for the typological determination. [In those cases] where the upper guard is missing entirely, a cross-section of the lower guard may determine the type of sword. This can also be done if the upper guard is preserved, but the pommel is missing. Finally, it is of importance whether the guards and the pommel are decorated or not, whether they have a metal covering or branded lines or figures in the iron. If there is a metal covering, one has to consider the nature of the covering, and whether there is ornamentation present, such as figures, winding band loops, animal motifs, simple geometrical figures or finally, smooth plates that are hammered into the iron in strips. There are also other particulars: the shape of the pommel of course, but also whether the guards are ridged, flat or convex.


[1] Aarboger for Nordisk Oldkyndighet 1880, p.177 ff. [return]

[2] The question was last treated by H. Schetelig: "Nye Jernaldersfunn paa Vestlandet." Bergens Museums Aarbok 1916-17 Hist.-antikv. række nr.2. [return]

[3] See for example Jacob B. Bull: Rendalen I, p.39. [return]

[4] By cross-section we here , and subsequently, mean a length-wise cross-section. [return]

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The text of this English translation is Copyright © 1998 by Kristin Noer. All rights reserved. Country of first publication: United States of America.
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