Wood species used for sword grips

In the internet discussions, I was asked whether I happened to have any source that would describe the wood species used for swords grips in 9th-11th century. As I went through the archaeological materials, I was surprised to find that this detail is rarely mentioned and is missing in the monographs. Therefore, I decided to describe 18 analyzed grips from the period.


If we approach the the period swords in general, first of all we surprised by the low number of analyzed wooden grips compared to the huge number of several thousand swords that we have at our disposal.

Several factors contribute to this fact. Well-preserved handles that could be analyzed are generally rare and are usually associated with swords found in water or well-preserved graves. A large number of swords were discovered more than 50 years ago, when it was not the standard to publish swords in detail with analyzes, and over time, organic components often degraded so that they could not be examined at this time. A specific case is the Mikulčice swords – the organic parts of which burnt during a depository fire in the 2007. Some well-preserved handles, which are still covered with a metal, textile or leather wrapping, are not analyzed to prevent damage to the wrapping. The main reason, however, is the general lack of interest in the analysis of the organic parts of swords, which often persists to this day.

The absence of analyzes of used tree species in monographs (eg Androščuk 2014; Geibig 1991; Košta – Hošek 2014) means that no serious attempt has been made to summarize the issue so far. The catalog below is probably the most extensive work that can be continuously supplemented with new findings.

Analyzed grips


Cirkovljan-Diven, Croatia

A sword belonging to Petersen’s type K, found at the bottom of Drava River. The handle, which is one of the best-preserved organic grips of the period, is made in one piece, is barrel-shaped, oval in cross-section and has been wrapped in a 2 cm wide linen ribbon.

Material: beech.
Source: Bilogrivić 2009: 132-3.

The sword from Cirkovljan-Diven. Bilogrivić 2009: T. III: 3.

Lednica, Poland

A sword with brazil nut pommel (MPP/A/31/33/84), belonging to type α var. 1 according to Nadolski and type X.A/B.1 according to Oakeshott, was discovered at the bottom of Lednica Lake. The grip was made of four parts attached to the sides of the tang, which were densely wrapped with a strip of leather.

Material: all four parts of the grip are made of maple.
Source: Stępnik 2011: 71.

The sword from Lednica. Stępnik 2011: Fot. 1, 2.

Lednica, Poland

Petersen’s type H sword (MPP/A/74/3/94), found at the bottom of Lednica Lake, has a handle made of four parts attached to the sides of the tang. The parts fit together and show no signs of gripping, which may indicate the use of glue.

Material: wider parts are made of yew, side parts are made of maple.
Source: Stępnik 2011: 71-2.

The sword from Lednica. Stępnik 2011: Fot. 3, 4.

Giecz, Poland

A Mannheim or H-type sword, found in connection with a former bridge, has a preserved piece of wood on one side of the tang that can be analyzed. The construction of the handle is not known, the wrapping is not visible.

Material of the preserved piece: deciduous tree wood.
Source: Stępnik 2011: 73.

The sword from Giecz. Stępnik 2011: Fot. 5, 6.

Donnybrook, Ireland

The type D sword found in the mound had a grip fitted with metal ferrules, thanks to which a piece of analyzable wood was preserved.

Material: coniferous wood.
Source: Hall 1978: 79.

The sword from Donnybrook. Hall 1978: Fig. 4.

Haithabu, Germany

In his detailed study of swords from the port of Haithabu, Alfred Geibig states that for five swords it was possible to determine what kind of wood was used to make the grip. The grips are fragmentary and their construction, shape and cross-section cannot be determined.

Grip material of the sword No. 1 (Mannheim type): maple. Scabbard made of oak.
Grip material of the sword No. 2 (Petersen type H): alder. Scabbard made of beech.
Grip material of the sword No. 3 (Petersen type H?): willow. Scabbard made of alder.
Grip material of the sword No. 5 (Petersen type N): alder. Scabbard made of beech.
Grip material of the sword No. 12 (type unceirtan): willow.
Source: Geibig 1999: 40.

Hegge Østre, Norway

The L-type sword found in the mound (T16054) has an exceptionally well-preserved handle with silver ferrules.

Material: from the look of the grip, it is clear that the wood used was Karelian birch.
Source: Unimus 2020a.

The sword from Hegge Østre. Unimus 2020a.

Hoven, Norway

The L-type sword found in the mound (T8257) has an exceptionally well-preserved handle with silver ferrules.

Material: from the look of the grip, it is clear that the wood used was Karelian birch, similarly to the sword from Hegge Østre.
Source: Unimus 2020b.

The sword from Hoven. Unimus 2020b.

Gulli, Norway

The M-type sword found in the tomb (C53315) has a well-preserved grip of oval cross-section that was most likely wrapped.

Material: linden. The same material was used to make the scabbard and axe shaft from the same grave.
Source: Gjerpe 2005: 40-1.

The sword from Gulli. Gjerpe 2005: Figur 22.

Gulli, Norway

The L-type sword found in the tomb (C53660) has a well-preserved handle with metal ferrules.

Material: oak. The same material was used to make the scabbard, axe shaft, knife handle, chest, hammer and some other pieces of tools from the same grave.
Source: Gjerpe 2005: 62.

The sword from Gulli. Gjerpe 2005: Figur 39.

Klepp, Norway

A sword of the indeterminate type found in the tomb (S12274) has a partially preserved handle of oval cross-section.

Material: most likely birch. The same material was probably used to make a knife handle from the same grave.
Source: Unimus 2020c.

The sword from Klepp. Unimus 2020c.

Tjora, Norway

The H-type sword found in the grave (S5460) has a partially preserved handle.

Material: deciduous tree wood.
Source: Unimus 2020d.

Dalen, Norway

The H-type sword accidentally found during plowing (T20736) has a partially preserved handle.

Material: deciduous tree wood.
Source: Unimus 2020e.

The sword from Dalen. Unimus 2020e.

Repton, Great Britain

The M-type sword found in grave No. 511 has a partially preserved handle of oval cross-section that has been wrapped in a strip of fabric.

Material: coniferous wood.
Source: Biddle – Kjølbye-Biddle 1992: 49.

The sword from Repton. Biddle – Kjølbye-Biddle 1992: Fig. 5.7.


The wooden grips of the swords were made by different methods, in different shapes and also from different materials. The information contained in the catalog allows us to state that the grips were usually made from locally available wood species. However, we would like to point out four interesting facts.

The grips are more often made of deciduous trees. Maple, beech and oak are known for their strength and durability and were often used in the early Middle Ages to make handles and shafts. The choice of linden, willow or conifer shows a lack of these materials or other preferences in the design of the handle.

An interesting phenomenon is the use of two materials in the case of the H-type sword from Lednica, Poland. This solution probably has no practical or aesthetic meaning and could have a certain symbolism for the owner (Stępnik 2011: 79).

Although most of the wooden handles were covered with a textile or leather strap, two Norwegian L-type swords show that an aesthetically impressive material was deliberately chosen that was not wrapped in any way.

The last interesting point is the match or mismatch of the grip material with the scabbard material. In the case of Haithabu swords, the examined grips do not correspond to the scabbards, but in the case of the Gulli tombs, it is clear that almost all the wooden products contained in the tombs were made from the same materials. This fact may be conditioned by the unavailability of other tree species, but perhaps also by the practical handling of the material. The idea of production of all the tool and weapon handles at one time – whether before or after the death of a man buried in a grave – is very tempting.

Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Androščuk, Fedir (2014). Viking Swords : Swords and Social aspects of Weaponry in Viking Age Societies, Stockholm.

Biddle, Martin – Kjølbye-Biddle, Birthe (1992). Repton and the Vikings. In: Antiquity, Vol. 66, 38–51.

Bilogrivić, Goran (2009). Karolinški mačevi tipa K / Type K Carolingian Swords. In: Opuscula archaeologica 33, 125–82.

Geibig, Alfred (1991). Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter : eine Analyse des Fundmaterials vom ausgehenden 8. bis zum 12. Jahrhundert aus Sammlungen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Neumünster.

Geibig, Alfred (1999). Die Schwerter aus dem Hafen von Haithabu. In: Berichte über die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 33, Neumünster, 9-99.

Gjerpe, Lars Erik (2005). Gravene: en kort gjennomgang. In: Gjerpe, Lars Erik (ed.). Gravfeltet på Gulli. E18-prosjektet Vestfold. Bind I. Varia 60, 24-104.

Farrar, R. A. – Hall, R. A.(1978). A Viking-age Grave at Donnybrook, Co. Dublin. Medieval Archaeology, 22(1), 64–83

Košta, Jiří – Hošek, Jiří (2014). Early Medieval swords from Mikulčice, Brno : Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

Stępnik, Tomasz (2011). Drewniane okładziny rękojeści mieczy. In: Wyrwa, A. M. – Sankiewicz, P. – Pudło, P. (2011). Miecze średniowieczne z Ostrowa Lednickiego i Giecza, Dziekanowice – Lednica, 71-79.

Unimus (2020a). T16054. In: Unimus [online]. [2020-06-09]. Available from:

Unimus (2020b). T8257. In: Unimus [online]. [2020-06-09]. Available from:

Unimus (2020c). S12274. In: Unimus [online]. [2020-06-09]. Available from:

Unimus (2020d). S5460. In: Unimus [online]. [2020-06-09]. Available from:

Unimus (2020e). T20736. In: Unimus [online]. [2020-06-09]. Available from:

Two peculiar Great Moravian swords

The Great Moravian period represents, in terms of swords, an epoch when high-quality swords of type X and Y appear in Czech and Moravian territories. Their increase is undoubtedly associated with the equestrian elite, which preferred these swords because of better functionality in cavalry combat. More information on this phenomenon is provided by Jiří Košta (eg Košta – Hošek 2014; interview with Jiří Košta).

Contrary to this progressive group of swords, there is certainly a group that maintains a traditional design with a shorter blade, a short guard and a multi-piece pommel. In this article we will focus on two swords that fit exactly into this group, and exhibit a rather atypical element – the organic components of the hilt.


Two swords originating from Olomouc – Nemilany and Staré Město have a construction consisting of a double-edged blade – in case of Nemilany, we are speaking about high quality blade with inscription – and wooden hilt components, which were coated with metal sheet (Hošek et al. 2019: ID No 164 and 226). The guard of this type of sword was relatively short and did not exceed the width of the blade too much. The metal sheet that covered the wooden oval block could be decorated, as shows the example from Staré Město, which is inlayed with brass wire.

The most interesting discovery of the latest research is detailed observation of the tang ends, which show that there are holes and fragments of wood. Apparently a wooden pommel was pinned through the hole with a small peg. The pegs were probably also wooden, as there were no metal fragments in the holes. With some degree of certainty, we can estimate that the original pommels could be one or two-piece, while the upper hilts were similarly massive as lower guards and the pommel caps were pyramid-shaped or divided into three lobes. The dating of the Nemilany sword goes back to the 9th or beginning of the 10th century (Hošek et al. 2019: 195), while the Staré Město sword dates to the period from the second half of the 8th to the first half of the 9th century (Hošek et al. 2019: 245).

Analogies that combine relevant shape and materials are missing in the period Europe. Massive oval guards with inlays similar to the Staré Město example could be found at German swords from 8th and 9th century (Geibig 1991; Westphal 2002). Swords with antler or bone components represent a kind of analogy; they were known in a big portion of Europe (Scandinavia, England, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary) in the 9th – 10th century and they usually copy standard types of swords (Vlasatý 2017). The combination of metal and wood used for hilt components can be found at Migration Period swords until the 7th century (eg Davidson 1962: Fig. 49-53), however the time gap prevents any closer connection of the two groups. The application of the hole at the end of tang can be spotted at Alanian two-edged sabre from grave 52 of Dmitrievskoe hillfort, 9th-10th century (Pletneva 1989: 73).

Sword from grave 116/51 from the Staré Město – Na Valách. Hrubý 1955: Fig. 27.2.

The sword from Olomouc – Nemilany

The sword from Olomouc – Nemilany was found during the archaeological excavations of 1999. It was located in the grave of a young adult man and it also contained a knife, two buckets and eggshells (Hošek et al. 2019: 195-6, ID No 164). The sword cannot be typologically classified, it falls chronologically into the 9th – early 10th century. Today, the sword is only a blade with organic fragments of hilt and scabbard. The length of the sword in this state is 936 mm and weight 852 g. The blade, which is 800 mm long, 63.4 mm wide and 5-3 mm thick, consists of a steel core and welded steel blades. On the obverse side of the blade, ther is the inscription IVLFBERHTI, on the reverse side, there is a lattice – both elements were made of pattern welded rods. The fuller is at its widest point 32.5 mm wide and it ends 80 mm from the tip. The tang is 136 mm long. The grip, which was 100 mm long, 42-20 mm wide and about 5 mm thick, is still partially covered with wooden fragments. The lower guard consisted of organic material. It was about 15 mm high and its position was still visible at the time the grave was opened. The pommel was also made up of organic material whose fragments were preserved. At a distance of 20 mm from the end of the tang, there is a corroded remnant of a sheet approximately 2 mm thick, which covered the organic head. The pommel was attached to the tang using a peg which was inserted through the hole at the end of the tang. The sheath fragments consist of wood that has been lined with three kinds of twill fabric. Today the sword is deposited in the Archaeological Center in Olomouc under registration number 22/99-841-1.

The sword from Olomouc – Nemilany. Hošek et al. 2019: 195.

The sword from grave 116/51 from Staré Město

The Staré Město sword was found during archaeological excavations in 1951. It was located in the grave of a man of advanced age, which also contained spurs, two knives and a bucket (Hošek et al. 2019: 245-6, ID No 226). The sword cannot be typologically classified, it falls chronologically to the period from the mid-8th to the mid-9th century. Nowadays, the sword consists only of a blade, a guard, fragments of hilt and scabbard. The length of the sword in this state is 872 mm and the weight is 728 g. The blade, which is 727.5 mm long, 62 mm wide and 5-4 mm thick, has not been metallurgically examined, but X-rays confirmed that the fuller area consists of twisted pattern welding panels and that there is a circle (14.5 mm in diameter) 18 mm below the guard, whose interpretation is uncertain. The fuller is at its widest point 30 mm wide, runs through the entire length of the preserved blade and tapers to 20 mm. The tang is 114.5 mm long. The handle, which was 92.5 mm long, 32-22 mm wide and 6 mm thick, is still partially covered with wooden fragments. A very short and high oval-shaped guard was formed by a wooden base, which was covered all around with iron plate. This plate was inlayed with a wire (73.9% Cu, 25.7% Zn, 0.4% Sn) in branch or herringbone pattern. The top of the guard was covered with copper alloy sheet. The guard is 75 mm long, 34-30 mm high, the original thickness is about 31 mm. The pommel was also made up of organic material whose fragments were preserved. It was set at a distance of 22 mm from the end of the tang, where the tang tapers. It can be assumed that the pommel was attached to the tang by means of a peg which was inserted through a hole located 16.5 mm from the end of the tang and that the pommel was covered with a sheet. The sheath fragments consist of wood that has been covered with several layers of textile and leather. The sword has been poorly reconstructed and preserved in the past and is therefore in a very bad condition. Today the sword is stored in the Moravian Museum in Brno under registration number 116/51.

The sword from grave 116/51 from Staré Město – Na Valách. Hošek et al. 2019: 245.

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Davidson, Hilda R. Ellis (1962). The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England. Its Archaeology and Literature, Oxford.

Geibig, Alfred (1991). Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter : eine Analyse des Fundmaterials vom ausgehenden 8. bis zum 12. Jahrhundert aus Sammlungen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Neumünster.

Košta, Jiří – Hošek, Jiří (2014). Early Medieval swords from Mikulčice, Brno : Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

Hošek, Jiří – Košta, Jiří – Žákovský, Petr (2019). Ninth to mid-sixteenth century swords from the Czech Republic in their European context, Praha – Brno.

Hrubý, Vilém (1955). Staré Město: Velkomoravské pohřebiště „Na Valách“, Praha.

Pletneva 1989 = Плетнева, С. А. (1989). На славнно-хазареком пограничье (Дмитриевский археологический комплекс), Москва.

Vlasatý, Tomáš (2017). Meče s organickým jílcem. Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Available at: http://sagy.vikingove.cz/mece-s-organickym-jilcem/, cited: 15. 2. 2020.

Westphal, Herbert (2002). Franken oder Sachsen? Untersuchungen an frühmittelaterlichen Waffen, Oldenburg.

Řemeslníci #3 – Craftsmen #3

Vítám Vás u v pořadí třetího dílu série o řemeslnících! Tentokrát se zaměříme na výrobu mečů a představíme si svět mého přítele Jana Motyčky, který se již řadu let věnuje výrobě výborných zbraní pod jménem Elgur.

Welcome to the third part of the Craftsmen series! This time we will focus on the production of swords and present the world of my friend Jan Motyčka, who has been dedicated to producing excellent weapons for many years.

Jan o sobě říká následující: “Jsem mečířem na plný úvazek. Toto řemeslo mě pohltilo. Líbí se mi na něm, že pro jeho zvládnutí musíte absorbovat plno jiných řemesel, minimálně v jejich základní formě, jako je kovářství, brusičství, tesařství, šperkařství, sedlářství, slévárenství atd. Je stále co objevovat, stále co se učit. Nejbližší je mi období raného středověku. Řemeslný um a cit pro estetiku tehdejších řemeslníků mi učaroval a obdivuji, co dokázali s daleko menšími prostředky a nástroji, než máme dnes. V mém hledáčku není jen tvorba dle nálezů, ale také tvorba vlastní, kde se snažím uplatnit svou lásku k symbolice.”

Jan says the following: “I am a full-time swordmaker and I am engulfed in this craft. I like the fact that a person has to absorb a lot of other crafts to master it, at least in their basic form, such as smithing, grinding, carpentry, jewelery, saddlery, foundry, etc. There is still much to discover and much to learn. The period I can relate myself the best is the early Middle Ages, the craftsmanship and aesthetics of the period craftsmen fascinated me. I admire what they accomplished with far less resources and tools than we have today. I do not only recreate weapons based on finds, but I also create also my own works, where I try to exercise my passion for symbolism.”

Janovy meče můžete shlédnout na jeho webové stránce www.sword-elgur.com nebo na Facebookové stránce Swordmakery Elgur. Jako vlastník meče od Jana mohu potvrdit, že jsem se nikdy nesetkal s mečířem, který by pracoval s takovým smyslem pro detail, láskou ke svému řemeslu a úctou k zákazníkovi. Jan je rovněž skvělým konzultantem, který svému zákazníkovi vždy ochotně poradí a meč mu vyrobí na míru. K mečům může vyrobit i pochvy.

Jan’s swords can be viewed on his website www.sword-elgur.com or on Facebook page Swordmaker Elgur. As an owner of a sword made by Jan, I can confirm that I have never met a swordmaker who would work with such a sense for detail, love for his craft and respect for the customer. Jan is also a great consultant who is always willing to advise his customer and make a custom made sword. Jan can make accurate scabbards too.
Meč Petersenova typu M.

Petersen type M sword.

Meč Petersenova typu X.

Petersen type X sword.

Meč Petersenova typu H.

Petersen type H sword.

Meč Petersenova typu Z.

Petersen type Z sword.
Příklad tausované záštity. 

An example of inlayed cross-guard.

Příklady dalších prací.

Examples of other works.

Zde výběr zakončíme. Pokud Vás Janovy práce zaujaly, jsem si jist, že velmi rád zodpoví Vaše dotazy. Lze jej zkontaktovat přes jeho osobní web, jeho Facebookovou stránku nebo po emailu ElGur@sword-elgur.com.

Here we finish the selection. If you are interested in Jan’s products, I am sure that he will be happy to answer your questions. He can be contacted via www.sword-elgur.comSwordmaker Elgur Facebook page or email ElGur@sword-elgur.com.


Pevně věřím, že jste si čtení tohoto článku užili. Pokud máte poznámku nebo dotaz, neváhejte mi napsat nebo se ozvat níže v komentářích. Pokud se Vám líbí obsah těchto stránek a chtěli byste podpořit jejich další fungování, podpořte, prosím, náš projekt na Patreonu nebo Paypalu.

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.

Jakobsson’s Hilt Typology

Jan Petersen’s revolutionary thesis De Norske Vikingesverd (1919) became a basis for many authors, who attempted to adjust or complete the work, or replace it with a typology of their own. Such an example is Mikael Jakobsson, who chose a different approach in his thesis Krigarideologi och vikingatida svärdstypologi (Stockholm, 1992), which we analyse in the text below.


The book Krigarideologi och vikingatida svärdstypologi [Warrior ideology and typology of Viking Age swords], which is a published doctoral thesis of the author, is a reputable and very thorough work. Personally, I see its main benefit in advanced analysis using data collected from majority of Europe. His goal is not a revision of Petersen’s hilt typology – with which he basically agrees – but a categorisation of broader hilt groups based on similarities in construction. Jakobsson labels these categories as “design principles”. While Petersen worked with three principles (a group with multi-lobed pommel, a group with simplified pommel, a group of unclassifiable types), Jakobsson expanded the list to six, respectively seven types:

  1. Triangle pommel
  2. Three-lobed pommel
  3. Five or more-lobed pommel
  4. Absenting pommel
  5. Curved guard
  6. Single-pieced pommel
  7. Unclassifiable


Design principle 1 : triangular pommel

Jakobsson’s triangular pommel corresponds to Petersen’s main sword types A, B, C, H and I, plus his special types 3, 6, 8 and 15. The swords using this design principle comprise a substantial part of swords finds portfolio – at least 884 pieces (48%) according to Jakobsson. This equals to 529 swords in Norway (60%), 147 in Sweden (17%), 81 in Finland (9%), 4 in Denmark (0,5%), 94 in Western Europe (11%) and 29 in Eastern Europe (3%). Their origin can be traced to continental swords with pyramid-shaped pommels. This principle emerged in Scandinavia sometime between the half and end of 8th century under the influence of Carolingian swords and remained there until the end of 10th century.

princip1-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 1.

princip1-rozsireniDistribution of design principle 1 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 2 : three-lobed pommel

The design principle 2 includes variants of type A, types D, E, L, Mannheim, Mannheim/Speyer, R, S, T, U V and Z, older variant of type X and special types 1, 2, 6, 13, 14 and 19. This principle is present at least on 492 swords (26%). This corresponds with 188 swords in Norway (37%), 58 in Sweden (12%), 43 in Finland (9%), 18 in Denmark (4%), 75 in Western Europe (15%) and 110 in Eastern Europe (23%). The origin can be traced to Merovingian swords, with the three-lobed pommel being based on a pommel with animal heads on the sides. This principle appeared in Scandinavia at the end of 8th century under the influence of Early-Carolingian swords, and supported by English influence in 9th century, it remained there until the beginning of 11th century.

princip2-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 2.

Distribution of design principle 2 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 3 : five and more-lobed pommel

Jakobsson’s design principle 3 includes Petersen’s sword types O, K and the five-lobed variant of type S. This principle is the least numerous with only over 88 swords (5%) and is tighly connected to the design principle 2. In Norway, there are 44 swords (49%), 4 in Sweden (5%), none in Finland, 1 in Denmark (1%), 26 in Western Europe (30%) and 13 in Eastern Europe (15%). Like design principle 2, also the design principle 3 is based on Merovingian pommels with animal heads on pommel sides. It arrived in Scandinavia at the beginning of 9th century and remained until the half of 10th century. The topic five and more-lobed pommels is vaguely analyzed, as there are more than fifty cast bronze pommels that are not included.

princip3-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 3.

Distribution of design principle 3 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 4 : absenting pommel

With its distinctive upper guard instead of a traditional pommel, design principle 4 includes main types M, P, Q, Y, Æ and special types 5, 17 and 18. We know of at least 712 swords (39%) belonging to this design principle. It is notable that the type M alone is the most numerous of all sword types with more than 432 finds (17%). As for the principle 4, we know of 631 swords in Norway (89%), 23 in Sweden (3%), 14 in Finland (2%), 2 in Denmark (0,3%), 28 in Western Europe (4%) and 14 in Eastern Europe (2%). Design principle 4 was in use from 9th century to sometime during 11th century.

princip4-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 4.

Distribution of design principle 3, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 5 : curved guard

This design principle of swords consists of main type L, Q, T, Y, Z and Æ, variants of types O, K and X, plus special types 7, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. The number of swords belonging to design principle 5 is somewhere over 482 pieces (26%). In Norway, we know of 312 finds (71%), 32 in Sweden (7%), 23 in Finland (5%), 3 at maximum in Denmark (1%), 45 in Western Europe (10%) and 70 in Eastern Europe (6%). Design principle 5 was in use during the same period as design principle 4 – from the beginning of 9th century till the end of 11th century.

princip5-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 5.

Distribution of design principle 5, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 6 : single-pieced pommel

The distinguishing attribute for design principle 6, containing sword types X and W, is a single-pieced pommel with absenting upper guard. There are over 211 swords (11%) of this kind, with 69 found in Norway (33%), 25 in Sweden (12%), 46 in Finland (22%), 8 in Denmark (4%), 51 in Western Europe (24%) and 12 in Eastern Europe (6%). While Jakobsson suggested design principle 6 coming into use at the end of 9th century or the beginning of 10th century, Jiří Košta proved on a set of type X swords from Moravia area of Mikulčice that this principle could had been in use in Central Europe as early as 9th century. This principle turned out to be dominant and substantial for following medieval weapons.

princip6-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 5.

Distribution of design principle 6, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.


Out of the total of 1900 included swords, as much as 97% can be classified into one or more of the previous six design principles. The remaining 3% (around 60 swords) cannot be categorised as such, because they are either a combination of some of two principles or represent a completely standalone category.

nezaraditelnePetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s unclassifiable category.

As the research shows, it is possible to see a certain evolution of the individual sword types, with a new type of sword per circa each new generation. On contrary, if we categorise the swords by Jakobsson’s design principles – thus working a wider group of sword types based on clearly defined attributes – the length of usage increases to over 100 years, in some cases even up to 200-250 years, i.e. 6-8 generations. Such a prolonged usage of similar manufacturing process undoubtedly must have a deeper meaning. At least in 10th century, all principles were used simultaneously, so it is not possible to connect different manufacturing processes with different chronology. The same goes with geographical distribution, as all principles were used in the similar area, and with practical features – design principle 1 has no connection between the pommel type and blade type, so we can come across both single- and two-edged swords. Jakobsson therefore suggests the popularity of six different principles being tied to something else entirely – to different strategies for reproducing a symbolical value tied to a physical form.

The symbolical value of swords goes hand to hand with their ownership and usage. The fact that the sword principles emerged in such volatile times filled with war, and that the swords are often found in graves suggests that their owners were perceived as sovereigns and combat capable figures. A sword is therefore a multi-layered expression of independence and legitimate membership of higher society (see The sword biography). This value was undoubtedly reflected by the visage of the sword, with some types or even whole principles being more suitable for such a presentation than others. Individual principles might have held a meaning we are not able to grasp anymore nowadays.

More traditional constructions (most of the principle 1, 2 and 3 swords) consist of heavier, usually decorated multi-pieced pommels and short guards, which are good especially for footed combat. In contrast to this conservative construction with deep roots in previous generations of Germanic weapons, there are lighter, less decorated swords with simple pommels, longer guards and better usage in mounted combat (principle 6, especially the type X). Their owners could had expressed their allegiance to continental aristocracy and fashion which the local elite promoted. This could also be the case of principle 5, which seems to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, with its features being widely replicated at least in Viking-Age Scandinavia. Principle 4 might had been more suitable for a part of population wishing to show their identity of sword owners but could not afford the previously mentioned principles. That is why Petersen‘s type M is the most common sword of the Early Middle-Ages (see Petersens type M swords).

Last but not least, it is important to mention that the weapon distribution throughout Scandinavia was not uniform, and that there were notable differences between rich centres and less important peripheries. In closed communities, such as Iceland and some Scandinavian regions, the weapons were widespread among the population, but swords were held by only the richest and in small numbers. In major centres such as Uppland, Central Sweden (also known as society dividing model), the weapons were mainly owned by warrior nobility, circa in ratio 14 Petersen’s types per 100 swords. In this societal model, the presence and absence of weapons among the wider population is crucial. In contrast to this model stand the peripheries settled by seldom stratified population attempting to demonstrate its power. Such a demonstration usually takes form of cumulation of vast number of weapons (also known as society uniting model), which is based on quantity and quality. This can be seen both in number of swords found in Norway, counting over several thousands, and relatively high diversity of sword types, being 10-13 Petersen‘s types per 100 swords in some areas. The vacuum created by absence of a central ruler is filled by number of lesser chieftains who represent their sovereignty by possession of exclusive equipment. Such a type of society, which uses more swords, preserves this trend and puts even more swords into circulation. Other reasons for the creation of Norwegian model could be interpreted by well-equipped militia, but also in other ways. According to Jakobsson, all the models are as a matter of fact a reflection of the same reality.

Jakobsson‘s work is a semiotic approach to material culture. He attempts to outline a complex relation between a symbol and a context and does not resort only to a single explanation. His approach to the subject is by both analysing the sword categories from broader historical perspective and by considering each of the specific weapons by the local and minor relevance. Despite its useful analyses and extensive appendixes, the book does not receive enough attention after more than 25 years. Nevetherless, Jakobsson‘s research should be revised in order to confirm or disprove its up-to-dateness.

Tomáš Vlasatý
Slaný, Bohemia, 2nd May 2019

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Petersen Type O sword replica

Bringing a thousand years old sword to life

In this article, I would like to present the work of my friend and colleague, craftsman Jan Zbránek from Marobud group. With my cooperation, he made an excellent blunt version of the Petersen type O sword from Dukstad (B 1103).



The start

The whole project started in spring 2016, when Jan ordered a blunt blade from swordsmith Ondřej Borský, aka Ernest’s Workshop. The idea was to create a more quality and unique sword than the average standard in the Viking reenactment. Another criterium was the fact the sword should be suitable for the impression of the 10th century Norway. Jan had no experiences with swordmaking, but he has bronze casting skill, since he makes jewelry for his store Skallagrim – Viking Jewelry. That’s why Jan asked me whether there are any Norwegian swords with bronze cast hilts.


The initial research

Bronze cast sword hilts occur in every corner of the Viking world. Basically, bronze cast hilts are typical for Petersen types O and W swords, as well as for some type H, L-variant and Z type swords, Late Vendel period swords and for rare types beyond the Petersen typology. Even though both types O and W date to the first half of the 10th century, Jan decided for the type O, because it has more examples in Norway and it is more decorated. Examples of the type O were found in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, France, Germany, Great Britain and Ireland, while sword of the type W were found in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Great Britain and Eastern Europe (Androshchuk 2014: 71–72, 79–80; pers. comm. with Lars Grundvad).

Petersen type O is described as the sword with the hilt that consist of the lower guard, the upper guard and the five-tongue-lobed pommel. The type is considered to evolve from the Carolingian type K (Żabiński 2007: 63). Even though Petersen divided the type O into three subtypes (Petersen 1919: 126–134), his typology was recently upgraded by Androshchuk (Androshchuk 2014: 71–72). As a result, type O is now divided into two main subtypes. The subtype O1 is characteristic by the pommel and guards that are cast in bronze (/made of iron core covered with bronze), often decorated with various knots. There are at least 12 examples of this subtype in Norway (Androshchuk 2014: 71). The subtype O2 is remarkable for the pommel and guards that are made of iron and decorated with silver plaques with engraved interlacing or animal motifs. There are at least 8 examples of this subtype in Norway (Androshchuk 2014: 72). While the subtype O1 is more or less evenly distributed in Norway, the subtype O2 has more coastal concentration, suggesting the higher probability of being imported objects (Żabiński 2007: 63). All swords of the type O are two-bladed, and there is a sword with an ULFBERHT inscription on the blade (C 16380) and two other swords with pattern-welded blades within the Norwegian material (Androshchuk 2014: 71).

Jan made up his mind to recreate the a relatively unknown find B 1103 from Dukstad mound, which belongs to the subtype O1. Together with the sword, an axehead and two spearheads were found. The Unimus catalogue has only vague information about the sword and quotes a book which is about 150 years old. Unfortunately, we have not contacted the museum of Bergen, so we had to improvise. Still, I dare to say that our improvisation is based on scientific knowledge.

Photos of the original sword from Dukstad (B 1103), Universitetsmuseet i Bergen.


Geibig’s typology of blades. Taken from Geibig 1991: 84, Abb. 22.

For example, the catalogue contains the information that sword is “30 inches [76 cm] long and intentionally bent“, but the attached picture of the sword clearly shows the blade belongs to the Geibig’s type 2, which is dated to period between 750 and 950 AD and is characterised by a gently tapering blade with long fuller of near uniform width, blade length between 74 and 83 cm, blade width between 4.8 and 6.2 cm and fuller width generally between 1.7 and 2.7 cm (Geibig 1991: 85, 154; Jones 2002: 22–23).

The size given by the catalogue is not impossible – there is a Petersen type O sword in British Museum collection (1891,0905.3.a), which has the same lenght – but this sword is described to have an “extremely short blade” (Pierce 2002: 90). The fact that the blade is bent complicated our chances for closer estimation and we rather used average, typical parametres of original Geibig’s type 2 blades; 77 cm long and 5.5 cm wide blade. This fact makes the complete sword 92 centimetres long, which is not so far from several type O swords (Kaldárhöfði: 91 cm; Berg: 95.8 cm; Eriskay: 97.5 cm).

While the original handle is “3 1/2 inches [9 cm] long“, Jan made his handle 1 cm longer for comfortable usage, which is a necessary compromise. Androshchuk lists 140 swords with the the lengths of handles ranging from 6 to 10.8 cm: “Most swords have grips 8.5-9.5 cm long, which could be estimated as the average width of a human palm. However, there are also other lengths of grips, which evidently means that sword hilts were assembled with taking into account the physical data of the customers.” (Androshchuk 2014: 105). The rest of the sizes on the sword recreation were proportionally estimated. The decoration, which is not well preserved in the case of B 1103, was carefully redrawn and compared to other known decoration of type O swords. It has to be stressed we had no chance to examine the sword personally, so we could miss some details that are invisible on the photos, like the side decoration of both guards.


Some examples of the decoration of subtypes O1 and O2.

The recreation

The result of the research was put to the graphic visualisation. Jan’s brother Jakub made a 3D layout under our detailed supervision. When both visualisations were made, Jan could better imagine the finished sword. After unsuccessful tries to make models of wood, Jan decided to order plastic models from a Czech company called MakersLab. What a fascinating experience to hold in hands the object which was on the paper seconds ago.


Models were brushed, polished and prepared for casting. Jan used the simpliest method, the casting into two-piece sand mould. During the first casting, two of three components were successfuly cast. The last component, the upper guard, was cast during the second try. It was a good experience for Jan, because until that time, he cast only small pieces of jewelry. Subsequently, metal fittings were shaped to the desired form; the sand mould casting is not perfect and a cast object requires a lot of additional work.



Examples of the applied wire on the pommel, B 4385, B 1780 and C 13458.

Afterwards, the chiselling of the ornament followed. When the work was done, it was necessary to put the fittings onto the tang. To reduce the risk, Jan used a modern drilling-machine and a file. After the work was successful and aesthetic, Jan fixed the twisted silver wires around the pommel and in-between lobes of the pommel. In case of original sword, the wire was missing, but five holes for the wire are still visible. Various methods of the applied bronze or silver wire can be seen on some type O swords (for example, the sword from Eriskay; or B 1780 and B 4385 within the Norwegian material).


The final phase consisted of woodworking and leatherworking – the handle and the scabbard. Regarding the handle, the original sword had no traces of the handle; however, several swords of the subtype O1 have relatively well preserved oval handles of wood, including swords from Kaldárhöfði, Eriskay or Rossebø. The wooden handle was then covered with leather for a better grip; the application of the leather corresponds to the Androshchuk type I: “grips with oval-shaped cross-section, made of wood; in some cases there are traces of leather and linen wrapped around the grip” (Androshchuk 2014: 104). When the handle was done, the sword was finished. It weighs 1280 grams; the balance point of the sword is placed 15 cm from the lower guard.


The core of the scabbard was made of two sheets of spruce wood covered with cow leather decorated with raised lines and mouth. Each wooden sheet is less than 5 mm thick, which seems to be a thickness of some preserved pieces (Androshchuk 2014: 43). The leather was sewn on the inner side and was stained in the end. The baldric can be suspended thanks to the ash wood bridge-like slide with animal head terminals, which is attached to the scabbard by twisted yarn. Such a method is highly dubious, but possible, if the extent of our knowledge about Viking Age suspension methods is taken in account. Basically, two main methods are known:

  • slider method. This method seems to be typical for Pre-Viking and Viking Age Scandinavia and England. The scabbard has only one fixed point; the baldic goes through the slider that is placed on the front side of the scabbard, longitudinally positioned a bit below the mouth. The slider can be integral part of the scabbard (for example Broomfield, Wickhambreux), or it can be separate and fitted to the scabbard. Fitted sliders could be made of metal, horn, antler or wood, and could be placed under the leather cover (York, Gloucester) or onto it (Valsgärde). No preserved slider from the Viking Age is known; however, short longitudinal slits in the leather for letting a baldric pass through were observed during the examination of English scabbards (Androshchuk 2014: 105; Mould et al. 2003: 3355-3366).


    The diagram of visible slits on scabbards from York. Taken from Mould et al. 2003: 3363, Fig. 1688.

  • Carolingian method and Ballateare-Cronk Moar type. This method is about two fixed points on the scabbard. Fixed points could be achieved by many ways, but I prefer to point out that they were perpendicularly positioned. The usage of two fixed points was the reason why this method needs a strap-divider. Generally speaking, this method involve the usage of metal parts, and that’s why we can trace this method much better than the previous one, even though it was used in a limited way in Viking Age Scandinavia (see Ungerman 2011).


    Carolingian type of suspension. Taken from Androshchuk 2014: Figs. 61, 67.


The sword and the scabbard were finished after a half of year in October 2016 and presented during the private event of Marobud group, Sons of the North.



The project involved many people who deserve our thanks. Firstly, we would like to thank to Ondřej Borský (Ernest’s Workshop) and his skill, because the blade is very well done. Secondly, our praise goes to Jakub Zbránek and his grafic skills. We have to mention also guys from MakersLab, who did a good job, and Unimus catalogue. We would like to also express our gratitude to Martin Zbránek and Valentina Doupovcová for documentation. The project would have not existed without the support and patience of our families.

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.



Androshchuk 2014 = Androshchuk, F. (2014). Viking swords : swords and social aspects of weaponry in Viking Age societies. Stockholm.

Geibig 1991 = Geibig, A. (1991). Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter : eine Analyse des Fundmaterials vom ausgehenden 8. bis zum 12. Jahrhundert aus Sammlungen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Neumünster.

Jones 2002 = Jones, L. A. (2002). Overview of Hilt and Blade Classifications. In. Oakeshott E. – Peirce, I. G. Swords of the Viking Age, pp. 15–24.

Mould et al. 2003 = Mould, Q., Carlisle, I, Cameron, E. (2003). Craft Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. The small finds 17/16, York.

Peirce 2002 = Peirce, I. G. (2002). Catalogue of Examples. In. Oakeshott E. – Peirce, I. G. Swords of the Viking Age, pp. 25–144.

Petersen 1919 = Petersen, J. (1919). De Norske Vikingesverd: En Typologisk-Kronologisk Studie Over Vikingetidens Vaaben. Kristiania.

Ungerman 2011 = Ungerman, Š. (2011). Schwertgurte des 9. bis 10. Jahrhunderts in West- und Mitteleuropa. In: Macháček, J. – Ungerman, Š. (ed.), Frühgeschichtliche Zentralorte in Mitteleuropa. Studien zur Archäologie Europas 14, Bonn, pp. 575–608.

Żabiński 2007Żabiński, Grzegorz (2007). Viking Age Swords from Scotland. In. Acta Militaria Mediaevalia III, Kraków – Sanok, pp. 29–84.