Petersen type W sword

In the next article about swords, we would like to introduce the not yet well-known Petersen type W. As far as we know, this type of sword is rarely reconstructed among reenactors. In the following article we will describe, map and reveal this interesting type.


Description

Type W denotes a sword whose hilt consists of one-piece pommel and cross-guard cast from copper alloy. From the frontal look, the cross-guard is straight, with slightly rounded shorter sides. The one-piece pommel has a simple, semicircular shape with rounded edges and peened tang on the upper side of the pommel. When viewed from above, the shape of both components is lenticular, i.e. tapering towards the edges. Both copper-alloy components are hollow shells (see X-ray). All known components are characteristically decorated. The pommel is decorated by a series of lines that divide the pommel into four fields, which are filled with zigzag pattern. This pattern is well visible on the cross-guard as well. In two cases, cross-guards are decorated with concentric rings (Nedošivina 1991: 166). The decoration appears to be cast, although the lines (both dividing and those around the edge) might have been additionally highlighted. Some pieces have a shiny gold finish. The division of the pommel follows the type E and stands very close to the types U, V and X. Type W can be dated to the 10th century. Norwegian pieces date back to the first half of the 10th century (Petersen 1919: 157). Other swords with copper alloy components date back to this period, especially the Petersen type O, which were influenced by the same trend. In Eastern Europe, type W can be found in graves dating to the second half of the 10th century (Nedošivina 1991: 166).

typ_WDetail of copper alloy W type sword components. Found in 1816 at an unknown Norwegian site (B998). Author:
Svein Skare, Unimus.

The W type hilt is always a part of the double-edged sword. Swords of this type have relatively uniform dimensions. The complete swords are 878-930 mm long, with the blade always around 745-760 mm long. The blades are 50–60 mm wide and are embedded in prepared grooves on the undersides of the guards. The blades are usually without inscriptions, although the swords from Timerevo (grave 100) has a clearly readable Latin letter C on the blade (Nedošivina 1991: 166). The guards are 80–100 mm long, 12–18 mm high and 17–22 mm thick. The preserved pommels have a length of 58–67 mm, a height of 34–37 mm and a thickness of 19–21 mm (Androščuk 2014: 79–80 and self-observation). The handles are 85–105 mm long, which corresponds to the average width of the palms and testifies to the custom production. We were only able to find four pieces with preserved handles; in three cases, the tang forming the handle is covered with wooden scales, which in the case of the sword from Breivold (T3107) is additionally coated with canvas and wound iron wire. The fourth case, the sword from Klepp (S2453), has an antler handle. As far as sheaths are concerned, they can be assumed to have taken on standard forms. The Klepp sword has a preserved wooden scabbard with a leather cover, while the Timerevo sword (grave 100) is covered with fragments of a wooden scabbard (Nedošivina 1991: Рис I.I; see the picture here). At the end of the sword from Šestovica, a copper alloy chape has been preserved.

typ_W5
Detail of a preserved sword hilt from Breivold (T3107).
Author: Ole Bjørn Pedersen, Unimus.

To illustrate the anatomy of this type of sword, we will show four well-preserved examples:

typ_W1Bikavėnai, Lithuania. Overall length 930 mm, blade width 50 mm, handle length 105 mm, guard length 85 mm, guard height 18 mm. Wooden pieces of the handle. Photo and description: Kazakevičius 1996: 64–67.

typ_W2Östveda, Sweden (SHM 25370). Overall length 878 mm, blade length 743 mm, blade width 50–31 mm, guard length 100 mm, guard height 14 mm, guard thickness 22 mm, pommel length 60 mm, pommel height 37 mm, pommel thickness 20 mm, handle length 86 mm, handle width 20–26 mm, total weight 892 g. Photo and description: Androščuk 2014: 79, 337–338, Fig. 35.

typ_W3Šestovica, grave 42, Ukraine. Total length 890 mm, total length of hilt 145 mm, blade width 60 mm, guard length 85 mm, guard height 17 mm, pommel length 60 mm, pommel height 35 mm. The tip of the sword is covered with a chape. Photo & description: Androščuk – Zocenko 2012: 212, Fig. 151; Jana Korkodim, Wojtek Szanek.

kleppKlepp (S2453), Norway. Overall length 899 mm, total length of hilt 139 mm, blade length 760 mm, blade width 58 mm, guard length 100 mm, guard height 12 mm, guard thickness 21 mm, pommel length 59 mm, head height 36 mm, head thickness 21 mm, handle length 91 mm. By: Unimus.


Distribution

Generally speaking, the type W does not have too much representation among European swords – we currently register 18 pieces. However, distribution is interesting and deserves attention. Not surprisingly, we know the highest number from Norway. While Petersen knew 8 Norwegian W type swords (Petersen 1919: 156), Hernæs already knew nine of them and this number still seems to be current (Hernæs 1985). Only four of them have partially preserved blades, the rest being hilt components. In Sweden, we know one sword and two hilt components (Androščuk 2014: 79). We also know two components – one pommel and one guard – from the Schleswig region, Germany (Geibig 1991: Tab. 164: 4-5). There are two representatives from Timerevo, Russia (graves 100 and 287), where we find one complete sword and one fragment of the pommel (Nedošivina 1991: 166–167, Рис. I.I). We know one complete sword from the Lithuanian site Bikavėnai (Kazakevičius 1996: 64–67) and one sword from the Ukrainian Šestovica (Androščuk – Zocenko 2012: 212).

Several hybrid pieces stand very close to the W type swords and they do not fit to standard typology. First and foremost, a fragment of a two-piece pommel cast from copper alloy, found  during a settlement excavation in Pohansko, Czech Republic, in 2015, has to be mentioned (Košta et al. 2019: 215-6, Fig. 57-8). This piece is decorated with typical W type zigzag decoration. Another hybrid piece is the sword from Latvian Bēnes Kaijukrogs, which uses H/I type shape, but the components are cast in copper alloy and decorated with a zigzag pattern typical of type W (personal discussion with Sergei Kainov). The third hybrid piece is a detector finding of a one-piece pommel from Ukraine, which corresponds to a typical pommel of type W, but instead of a typical decor, it is decorated with a pit decoration typical of type E (personal discussion with Sergei Kainov). Three Latvian pieces that were mapped by Artūrs Tomsons (2019: 70) could be labeled as close to W type; their shape corresponds to type V pommels, but they are cast in bronze and decorated with patterns typical for R-S types. Significantly, hybrid pieces combine elements of types that stand very close each other. The total does not include finds from the United Kingdom (Jakobsson 1992: 213; Żabiński 2007: 65), since all these swords have iron components and therefore do not meet the basic W type criterion.

The hybrid piece from Pohansko, Czech Republic (Košta et al. 2019: Obr. 57-8).

The hybrid piece from Bēnes Kaijukrogs, Latvia (source: Sergei Kainov).

The hybrid piece from Ukraine (source: Sergei Kainov).

Of the total of 18 pieces, 8 are swords or fragments thereof, while the remaining 10 are separate copper alloy components. W type swords have been found in 7 countries, so they are relatively scattered compared to total numbers. The main distribution area is Northern and Eastern Europe, where swords are located in important sites.

typ_W4W type sword distribution, according to Jakobsson (1992: 228).


Reconstruction

In this chapter, we would like to present five successful reconstructions of the Petersen type W made by various European swordsmiths.

Blade width 68–40 mm. Weight 1540 grams, balanced 170 mm from the guard. Producer: Tomáš Zela, 2017.

Reconstruction of the sword from Šestovica 42. Weight 1200 grams.
Producer: Dmitry Chramcov, 2015.

Reconstruction of the sword from Šestovica 42 compared to the original.
Producer: Wojtek Szanek, 2016.

bobrProducers: Petr Floriánek, Radek Lukůvka, 2018.


Producer: Arma Epona.

Acknowledgments

This work exists thanks to the initiative of Tomáš Břenek from the group Goryničové, who owns the reconstruction made by Tomáš Zela. Since this type has not yet been seen on the Czech battlefields, there was a need to point out the finds and their distribution. We would like to thank every persistent enthusiast who was not discouraged by waiting. Sergei Kainov, who pointed to two Russian findings, and Ferenc Tavasz, who helped me with his advice, also have their merit in the article.


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Bibliography

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

Androščuk, Fedir – Zocenko, Vladimir = Андрощук Ф. O. – Зоценко В. (2012). Скандинавские древности Южной Руси: каталог, Paris.

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.

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.

Košta, Jiří et al. (2019). Velkomoravské meče z Pohanska u Břeclavia okolí – nová revize. In: Památky archeologické CX, 173-235.

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

Nedošivina N. G. = Недошивина Н. Г. (1991). Предметы вооружения, снаряжение всадника и верхового коня тимеревского могильника // Материалы по средневековой археологии Северо-Восточной Руси, Москва: 165–181.

Tomsons, Artūrs (2019). Zobeni Latvijas teritorijā no 7. līdz 16. gadsimtam, Rīga.

Żabiński, Grzegorz (2007). Viking Age Swords from Scotland. In: Studia i Materiały – Studies and Materials, Acta Militaria Mediaevalia III., Kraków – Sanok: 29–84.

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.


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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.