Petersen type M sword

Many Viking Age sword are richly decorated, which makes quality reconstruction very expensive. That is why I was asked by my colleagues to provide an overview of undecorated swords that would be more affordable to reconstruct. I chose Petersen’s type M for its simplicity and major representation among Scandinavian sword finds. Because this type is often overlooked these days, it certainly deserves our attention.


Description

The type M (also known as R. 489) describes a sword variant standing between types F and Q. It is characterised by a simple hilt in the shape of the letter I. Sharply cut cross-guard and upper guard are usually straight and of similar height. From the front view, both the upper and cross-guard are of rectangle shape, with the cross-guard slightly bent in rare cases. The upper guard is of simple shape similar to cross-guard, and the tang is held in place by hammering it into a rivet shape; the upper guard is never ended by a pommel. Sides of the guards are usually straight, less often rounded. An important feature of type M swords is undecorated hilt. Blades are usually double-edged (single-edged variants make up to 15% of finds according to Petersen) and simple, although we also know of some Norse and Swedish blades made of patern welded steel (Androščuk 2014: 386–7; Petersen 1919: 118). Petersen notes that none of Norse blades carries an inscription, which according to our information is still actual. That said, there is a variant of ULFBERHT inscription on a blade from Eura, Finland (Kazakevičius 1996: 39). While the swords are of simple design, they are made of quality materials.

typM-framdalir
Type M sword from area of Framdalir, Iceland.
Source: Androščuk 2014: 68, Fig. 23.

Type M swords are in general up to one meter long, usually between 80 and 90 cm. The longest sword that we know of is 95 cm long. An average width of Scandinavian blades is 5,5-6 cm, sometimes up to 6,5 cm. Measured swords of average length weigh 1100-1200 grams. The shortest piece we are aware of weighs 409 grams and is 47,7 cm long, with blade having 38,5 cm in length and 0,48 cm in thickness (Peirce 2002: 86). This sword, said to had been found in a boy’s grave, seems to be a miniaturised, yet fully functional version. In order to outline anatomy of this interesting type, we chose six relatively well-preserved swords that we will describe in more detail.

C59045_DovreDovre, Norway (C59045). Well-preserved sword found in a grave in 2013. Total length of 89 cm, blade length is 77 cm and 5,9 cm wide. Fuller is visible 12 cm from cross-guard up to 6 cm from blade point. Length of the hilt is 12 cm, with grip being 9,3 cm long and 3,4 cm wide. Cross-guard’s length, height and width are 9,4 × 1,1 × 2,3 cm. Upper guard has the measurements 7 × 1,3 × 2,2-2,3 cm. Total weight 1141,1 g. Photo source: Vegard Vike, Museum of cultural history, Oslo.

C58919_FlesbergÅsland, Norway (C58919). A preserved sword placed in a grave, found in 2013. Total length 87 cm. Length of grip 8,5 cm. Length, height and thickness of cross-guard is 11,6 × 1,2 × 2,6 cm. Length, height and width of upper guard is 8,1 × 1,2 × 2,7 cm. Photo source: Elin Christine Storbekk, Museum of cultural history, Oslo.

C24244_ArgehovdMogen, Norway (C24244). Well-preserved sword found in a grave before 1937. Total length 85 cm, blade width 5,5 cm. Grip length 9,6 cm. Length of cross-guard 12,9 cm, length of upper guard 8,3 cm. Photo source: Peirce 2002: 86, Museum of cultural history, Oslo.

C53462_TelemarkTelemark, Norway (C53462). Partially corroded sword donated to museum in 2004. Total length 71 cm, damaged blade is 59,5 cm long and 5,8 cm wide. Length of grip 9,7 cm. Length and height of cross-guard is 10,5 × 1 cm, length and width of upper guard 6,8 × 0,8 cm. Photo source: Ellen C. Holte, Museum of cultural history, Oslo.

parisUnknown French location, possibly found in a river (Musée de l’Armée, Paris; J3). Very well-preserved sword found before 1890. Total length 90 cm. Blade is 75 cm long and 5,3 cm wide. Length of cross-guard 10 cm. Length of grip 12 cm. Photo source: Peirce 2002: 86, Musée de l’Armée negativ K23710.

T19391-rorosRøros, Norway (T19391). Well-preserved sword found in 1973. Total length 90 cm, blade is 78 cm long and 5,5 cm wide. Length, height and width of cross-guard 12,2 × 1,3 × 2,3 cm. Measurements of upper guard are 8,1 × 1,3 × 2,1 cm. Photo source: Ole Bjørn Pedersen, Museum of cultural history, Oslo.

We should also pay an attention to organic remnants found on type M swords. In general, we could say that many swords show traces of wooden panelling of the grip and wooden scabbard. Let’s examine several specific examples. The sword find from grave 511 in Repton, England was stored in wooden scabbard, that was inlaid with sheep’s fleece and covered in leather (Biddle – Kjølbye-Biddle 1992: 49). The scabbard was held by a hanging system, of which only a single cast buckle survived. The handle was made of softwood, which was then wrapped with a cloth strip. The sword from Öndverðarnes, Iceland (Kt 47) had a wooden grip wrapped in thin, plaited cord, and a wooden scabbard covered in textile (Eldjárn 2000: 326). Traces of leather cover were found at the tip of the scabbard, with remnants of sword belt slider located 3 cm below the cross-guard. In another Icelandic grave from Sílastaðir (Kt 98) – was found a sword with grip of wooden panels that were retracted below the cross-guard and wrapped with a cord at the upper guard (Eldjárn 2000: 326). This sword’s scabbard is wooden, inlaid with textile and covered in linen and leather; there are still several spots with visible profiled wrappings. There was a metal strip placed 12 cm below cross-guard, most likely used for sword belt attachment. The scabbard had a leather chape at the tip.

Organic components are also often present at type M swords from Norway. One of the Kaupang swords had a wooden grip wrapped with a leather cord or strap, and a wooden scabbard covered in leather (Blindheim – Heyerdahl-Larsen 1995: 61). Fragments of wooden grips and scabbards were simultaneously found with swords from Brekke (B10670), Hogstad (C52343), Kolstad (T12963), Støren (Androščuk 2014: 76, Pl. 111) and Åsland (C58919). The sword from Nedre Øksnavad (S12274) had a wooden grip and scabbard covered in textile. The sword from Eikrem (T12199), which is most likely of type M, had a scabbard made of spruce with parts held together by metal clamps and covered in leather and textile. The sword from Soggebakke (T16395) had a wooden scabbard. Swords from Hallem søndre (T13555), Havstein (T15297) and Holtan (T16280) had fragments of wooden grips. This is only a limited inventory that I was able to list during my short research. Yet it is an immensely valuable source that provides us with a decent idea of what the typical type M sword looked like.


typM-ondverdarnestypM-kaupang

Swords from Öndverðarnes, Iceland and Kaupang, Norway.
Source: Blindheim – Heyerdahl-Larsen 1995: Pl. 48; Eldjárn 2000: 326, 161. mynd.


 

Distribution and dating

When it comes to distribution of the swords, it seems that type M was mainly a Norwegian domain. In 1919, Petersen noted that that there are at least 198 type M swords known in Norway, of which at least 30 were single-edged (Petersen 1919: 117–121). Nonetheless, in the past 100 years, an immeasurable amount of new swords were excavated, and the number increases every year – such as in Vestfold, which is absent in Petersen’s list, we already have 42 finds (Blindheim et al. 1999: 81). Highest concentration of type M swords is in Eastern Norway and Sogn, where we know of at least 375 swords according to Per Hernæs (1985). Mikael Jakobsson (1992: 210) registers 409 swords in Norway. And current number will undoubtedly be even greater. We will most likely not be far from truth while claiming that type M is together with type H/I one of the most widespread Norwegian swords. The number of sword finds in neighbouring areas is disproportionate. From Sweden, we only know of 10 swords (Androščuk 2014: 69), at least 4 from Iceland (Eldjárn 2000: 330), at least 4 from Great Britain (Biddle – Kjølbye-Biddle 1992: 49; Bjørn – Shetelig 1940: 18, 26), 4 from France (Jakobsson 1992: 211), 2 from Denmark (Pedersen 2014: 80), 3 from Finland, 1 from Ireland and 1 from Germany (Jakobsson 1992: 211; Kazakevičius 1996: 39). Vytautas Kazakevičius (1996: 39) registers at least 9 type M swords from Baltic, at least 2 from Poland and 2 from Czech Republic. Jiří Košta, the Czech sword expert, denies there is a single type M sword find from Czech Republic and according to him, claiming so is but a myth often cited in literature (personal discussion with Jiří Košta). Baltic swords are rather specific – they are shorter and with a narrower single-edged blade, features causing them being interpreted as local product. It is safe to say we know of over 440 pieces, though the real count being much higher.

When it comes to dating the finds, Petersen argues that first type M swords appear in Norway around the half of 9th century and prevail until the beginning of 10th century (Petersen 1919: 121). Recent archaeological finds from Eastern Norway, Kaupang especially, show that they were being placed in graves during first half of 10th century (Blindheim et al. 1999: 81). Two Swedish datable pieces come from the 10th century (Androščuk 2014: 69), which is also the case of two swords from Iceland (Eldjárn 2000: 330). Polish finds can be dated to 9th century (Kazakevičius 1996: 39). Type M swords are thus widely present from both geographical and chronological perspective, and one can only argue if the similarity is just a rather randomness caused by simple design.

typM
Type M sword distribution in Eastern Norway and Sogn.
Source: Blindheim et al. 1999: 81, Fig. 9, according to Hernæs 1985.


Intepretation

Generally speaking, a sword is a clear symbol of elite status and power. It is evident that Old Norse people, like people anywhere else, tended to compare to one another, be it in skills or wealth. This often resulted in quite a heated dialogue, in which men attempted to triumph in greatness of their qualities (so called mannjafnaðr). Swords undoubtedly played a role of wealth and status symbols in such situations. Looking from a broader perspective, one can find the answer in Norway that was multipolar in 9th and 10th century – ruling families were attempting centralisation, which resulted in creation of society with a strong feel for expressing its independence or importance through adopting the elitism model of sword ownership and its placing in graves. This led to Norway providing us with immense amount of sword finds, which is unprecedented. Social tensions affected everyone to a point, but only a few had the wealth to invest large in exclusive weaponry. “Simpler”, yet fully functional type M swords can be perceived as cheaper alternative that provided free men of lesser wealth with ability to improve reputation and identity of their families in times with no clear social stratification. This is supported by their look and amount present in both male and female graves (Kjølen, C22541).

„Simple iron parts without any precious metal decoration make up the hilt of the sword. It is a pragmatic sword, probably worn with pride, but not by the highest strata of society. Such simple and unpretentious swords seem to be the norm in mountain graves, and they were probably made or at least hilted in Norway.“ (Vike 2017)

 

Type M swords seem to be utility weapons that could had played a representative role to their owners. Two rare Norse swords – a sword from Strande (T1951) and sword from Lesja (C60900) – suggest that they were handed down for at least 50 years and were modified to match the latest fashion. This approach is also the case of other Viking Age swords (Fedrigo et al. 2017: 425). The swords from Strande has type E pommel, which was additionally attached to tang along with typologically younger cross-guard of type M (Petersen 1919: 78, Fig. 66). The sword from Lesja consists of blade with tang, to which a cross-guard of older sword style (type C) was attached together with type M upper guard (Vike 2017). It is also important to add that the sword from Lesja was found on an iceberg, where it most likely served a reindeer hunter 1000 years ago.

Lesja, Norway (C60900). Very well-preserved sword found in 2017 on an iceberg. Type C cross-guard with type M upper guard. Total length 92,8 cm, length and width of blade 79,4 × 6,2 cm. Thickness of blade 0,45 cm. Length of hilt 13,4 cm, grip is 10,1 cm long. Cross-guard measures 7,5 × 1,7 cm. Total weight 1203 g. Photo source: Vegard Vike, Museum of cultural history, Oslo.


Bibliography

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.

Bjørn, Anathon – Shetelig, Haakon (1940). Viking Antiquities in Great Britain and Ireland, Part 4 : Viking Antiquities in England, Bergen.

Blindheim, Charlotte – Heyerdahl-Larsen, Birgit (1995). Kaupang-funnene, Bind II. Gravplassene i Bikjholbergene/Lamøya. Undersøkelsene 1950–1957. Del A. Gravskikk, Oslo.

Blindheim, Ch. – Heyerdahl-Larsen, B. – Ingstad, Anne S. (1999). Kaupang-funnene. Bind II. Gravplassene i Bikjholbergene/Lamøya: Undersøkelsene 1950–57. Del B. Oldsaksformer. Del C. Tekstilene, Oslo.

Fedrigo, Anna et al. (2017). Extraction of archaeological information from metallic artefacts—A neutron diffraction study on Viking swords. In: Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 12, 425–436.

Hernæs, Per (1985). De østnorske sverdfunn fra yngre jernalder : en geografisk analyse. Magistergradsavhandling i nordisk arkeologi – Universitetet i Oslo, Oslo.

Jakobsson, Mikael (1992). Krigarideologi och vikingatida svärdstypologi, Stockholm : Stockholms Universitet.

Kazakevičius, Vytautas (1996). IX–XIII a. baltų kalavijai, Vilnius.

Pedersen, Anne (2014). Dead Warriors in Living Memory. A study of weapon and equestrian burials in Viking-age Denmark, AD 800-1000, Publications from the National Museum. Studies in Archaeology & History Vol. 20:1 1. (Text), Copenhagen.

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

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

Vike, Vegard (2017). A Viking sword from Lesja. UiO Museum of Cultural History, Oslo.
https://www.khm.uio.no/english/research/collections/objects/15/sword_lesja.html

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.

kniha

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.

princip1-rozsireni
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.

princip3-rozsireni
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.

princip4-rozsireni
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.

princip5-rozsireni
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.

princip6-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 6, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Unclassifiable

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

The forms of Norwegian sword grips

While self-learning about swords from Early Medieval Norway, I noticed quite a number of specimens having well-preserved organic remnants of hilts and sheaths. Because normally these components do not remain, I considered useful to gather these materials into coherent articles to enrich sword enthusiasts. In this article we will follow up on Norwegian sword hilts from the Viking age, however we think that the Norwegian material can be used for pointing out all the sword hilt types used in early medieval Europe.

We start by quick recapitulation of how we define the hilt and handle of these swords. The sword is composed of a blade and hilt components which are mounted on the blade’s tang. The hilt components are the lower guard (fremra hjaltit) and a pommel, which can be one-pieced or two-pieced. In case of the one-pieced pommel, the tang goes through and is riveted at its top. However, in case of the multi-pieced pommel, the tang is usually riveted to the upper guard (efra hjaltit) and then the cap of the pommel is riveted to the upper guard by two rivets. Uncovered part of the tang between the lower guard and the pommel provides the space for a handle (meðalkafli). Now we will explore the ways of covering the tang to enable comfortable and smart use of the sword.

Viking Age sword terminology. Created by Jan Zbránek and Tomáš Vlasatý.

During a fairly thorough exploration of the Unimus catalogue I was able to find four main hilt forms. We can notice that most of the hilts are anatomically shaped, widening towards the lower guard.

Wooden handle
A tang covered with a wooden handle of an oval cross-section – that seems to be the most common variant used in the Viking Age, which also has great variability. The handle could be made of two identical scales, a cylinder with a burnt-in gap or a cylinder with a cutting that would be covered with a narrow piece of wood when mounted on the tang. The material seems to be the wood of broad-leaved trees (i.e. T16054 and T20736, and the pre-Viking B4590 seems to have a birch handle as well). In contrary to Pre-viking periods, the profiling of the handles in terms of finger copying bumps is not documented. Some swords seem to have only an unwrapped wooden handle, in other cases the wooden handles are wrapped in leather, fabric, metal or a combination of these.

  • Leather wrapping
    We have evidence that the wooden base was wrapped with a leather cord (C57001) or a strip of leather (T14613). The shape cannot always be reconstructed exactly, at least in one case the wrapping leather does not have a specified shape (C23127, Ts2954). Identical leather wrapping can be found on Swedish and Icelandic swords.

  • Cloth wrapping
    We can sometimes detect thread (S3821), textile strap (B5161) or cloth plus iron wire wrapping (T3107). Some of the finds are wrapped in unspecified textile (S11782, T12962, T21998). Identical methods of cloth wrapping can be found on Swedish swords as well.

  • Wire wrapping
    Silver, gold or copper alloy wire was a quite popular and very spectacular option for wrapping (C5402, C22138, C23486, C58882, T19225) as manifested on S and Æ types. This variant is also mentioned in written sources (vaf), specifically in the context of elites around the ruler and rich farmers (Falk 1914: 23). As we can see, the wrapping was typically executed with orderly separation of thin wires and two pairs of coiled wires opposite to each other, thus creating the fishbone effect. The wires are often entwined into curls of thicker wire at the ends of the handle. Wooden handles were quite minute under the wire, making the resulting handle rather subtle. This can arise some questions regarding possible special designation of such swords, for example combat swords fit for stabbing (personal debate with Roland Warzecha).

  • Metal ferrules on the handle
    Usage of bronze pre-cast or plated ferrules at the ends of wooden handles was equally popular (B1481, B11477, C1194, C1977, C5464, C8095, C9981, C11301, C16107, C18494, S5371, T8257, T16054, T20913). Pre-cast ferrules are crown-shaped and their tongue-like protrusions often depict animal or humanoid heads. These ferrules are probably mentioned even in written sources under the name véttrim (Androshchuk 2014: 31). Some hilts have simple ferrules spread on the inner surface of the handle (B878, B11477).

rukojetiDiverse variants of Norwegian sword handles.
B8118, C57001, T3107, C58882, T16054.

rukojeti-svedsko
Swedish analogies. Taken from Androshchuk 2014: 104-105.

 

Antler handle
As far as I know, there was only one sword in the Viking age (S2453) with its grip made of antler scales. Handles made of this material are very rare in neighbouring Sweden too, where only two specimens (Androshchuk 2014: Jä 12; Holm 2015) were found. The antler scales of Swedish swords were riveted on the side with tiny iron rivets.

rukojeti-paroh
Antler handles from Norway and Sweden.
S2453 (left), SHM 12426 (right).

Straw / bast wrapping
According to the Unimus catalogue, a single-bladed sword was found at Tussøy (Ts3639) whose handle was wrapped in straw or bast. This modification seems to be completely unique and I know of no parallels to it. Due to insufficient description, we can provide no detailed information. In addition, Sveinulf Hegstad, the photo archivist University of Tromsø, provided me with a current photo of the object and there is no organic trace left.

Metal handle
Pre-cast or forged handles are found on some of Peterson’s type D swords in Norway (i.e. B5774, C4072. C8095, C24887, T14309). These swords, being among the heaviest of all Viking swords, can be dated to 800-950 AD. They are composed of triple-lobed, two-pieced pommel, guard and typically also a metal handle. These handles are massive products of metal casting or smithing and their surface is covered with geometric or animal decor. The lower layers of the profiled decoration are decorated with copper alloy, the upper layers with silver. These handles are also sometimes decorated with ferrules on the handle tops (véttrim). According to Petersen, there were 11 swords of this type in Norway in 1919 (Petersen 1919: 70-75), while Hernæs filed up to 16 specimens by 1985 (Hernæs 1985).

rukojeti-kovoveD type swords with metal handles.
B5774, C4072. C8095, C24887.

Bibliography

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

Falk, Hjalmar (1914). Altnordische Waffenkunde. NVAOS. No.6., Kristiania.

Hernæs, Per (1985). De østnorske sverdfunn fra yngre jernalder : en geografisk analyse. Magistergradsavhandling i nordisk arkeologi – Universitetet i Oslo, Oslo.

Holm, Olof (2015). A Viking Period sword from Skäckerfjällen with a decorated antler grip. In: Fornvännen 110:4, 289-290.

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