Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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Lee 18th May 2016 11:48 AM

Viking Age Sax Size Range
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This summer the Hurstwic Viking Martial Arts group will again travel to Iceland in order to film their second DVD based upon the Icelandic sagas at the actual historic location of the action. In Grettir's Saga, his sax, Kársnautur, was a prized life long possession and it should not be too much of a spoiler that this sax will play a rather dramatic part in the climax.

In their pre-production research, the group has been asking just how large and heavy a sax would need to have been to accomplish the described human hemisection.

I can locate a lot of dimension information on the double-edged swords of the era, but not so much on the saxes of the time. So my question to the forum community is just how large could a sax get (within the confines of the reality of the archaeological record)?

Below is a photograph of three excavated saxes, the largest with a blade length of just over 21 inches and a weight of just under a pound and a half in its present state (649 grams).

Roland_M 18th May 2016 02:15 PM

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Hi Lee,

here are some average dimensions:

whole Length: 40 - 100 cm (16-40 inch)
Blade length: 30 - 80 cm ( 12-32 inch) (short Sax = 20 - 25 cm)
Blade width: 3 - 6.5 cm (1.2- 2.6 inch)
Blade thickness: 0.6 - 0.8cm (1/4-1/3 inch)

I hope, this will help. The german Wikipedia-article is pretty detailed. If you need more informations from this article (with some historical dates and also the archaeometallurgical background), I can try to translate it for you.
I added a picture of a Sax with some runes (

Norman McCormick 18th May 2016 04:22 PM

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Hi Lee,
This chart may be of some use.

P.S. I believe this chart was designed and compiled by a Mr Spencer using some existing typology.

Lee 19th May 2016 02:11 PM

and that leads to some links...
Roland & Norman, thank you both; I am sure that the Hurstwic group will find most of their answers within the information provided and I have found it most interesting as well. Apparently this has been well-discussed on several forums:
Bladesmith's Forum 1
Bladesmith's Forum 2
My Armoury
Sword Forum International

Pukka Bundook 29th May 2016 02:51 PM


I am sure everyone knows this, but the term Sax could originally be used for anything that cuts, even Scissors!

But I don't think Grettor did his damage with such!
I have read in I believe Hilda E Davidson's book, that Sax was often the term used for a single -edged sword as well.

I cannot think in Grettor's case, that he would have lasted as long as he did if his main armament was the sax-knife as we have come to understand the term, so believe his weapon either similar to those long bladed examples mentioned and in charts above by Roland or Norman, Or simply a normal single -edged sword.

I look forward to hearing more of this project!!!


Edited to say that my comments are made redundant by the depictions of the Sax, in Bladesmith 2, Illustrations 7 & 8.
This style is exactly what I was thinking about.

Should have looked at the links before I posted!!

Lee 6th June 2016 11:50 AM


Many thanks for this insight. I share in your suspicions.

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