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The fake “sword of Hedeby”


In the following short post, we would like to focus on public debunking of one of the most common Internet myths about the Viking Age, which has been shared on a semi-annual basis for more than a decade and has caused considerable damage in the community of academics, reenactors, and generally anyone interested in history. We are talking about the so-called sword from Hedeby, which is nothing more than a spectacularly decorated forgery.

Fig. 1: Original unedited photo of the sword from the Peter Finer gallery.

Myth background

The discussed sword was sold by the London gallery Peter Finer to an unknown collector, no later than 2008, when it was first brought to the attention by the discussion forum. It is worth mentioning the “expert opinion” that was provided during the auction:

An Exceptional Viking Sword with Gold and Silver Inlaid Blade and Hilt, early 10th century

With double-edged blade of gradual taper; inlaid on both sides in gold and silver with decorative patterns, one side bearing a gradually tapering geometric-architectural design in five stages and the other bearing a gradually tapering palmette design. The hilt comprising down-curved cross guard, sturdy tang and five-lobed pommel riveted to the upward-curving upper guard; the cross-guard, upper guard and pommel all inlaid in silver with decorative knotwork and tracery and in gold with dots. Overall length: 94 cm (37″); Blade length: 80.6 cm (31.75″).

This rare Viking sword, the hilt of Petersen Type O, has a cross-guard with decorative devices reminiscent of those on one of the three swords that were found in the rich ship burial of about 900 at Hedeby in Denmark when it was subsequently excavated in the 1950s. More of these ‘rabbit ear’ or ‘knotted rope’ characters may be found on three of the ‘Hiltipreht’ group of swords, namely one in the Wallace Collection, London (Inv. No. A456), the Ballinderry sword in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin (Inv. No.1928.382) and the example from Malhus in the Trondheim Museum, Norway (Petersen, Abb.89).

The credentials of this prestigious weapon are further enhanced by the decoration upon the blade. On one side there is a palmette design of inlaid silver with traces of gold that is very similar to that on a fragmented blade from the River Bann in Ireland and illustrated in Bøe. This should be compared with the inlay on a sword from the Waal near Nijmegen (Oakeshott, Records of the Medieval Sword, p.47). On the other side, the inlaid precious metals may well represent a schematic plan view of a building, as is believed to have been intended upon another silver inlaid sword illustrated and described by Ewart Oakeshott (Records of the Medieval Sword, pp.28-29). (…)”

Since the assessment with the identical argumentation used by Ian Peirce for the evaluation of a type K sword (Peirce 2002: 63), it can be inferred that the sword was offered for auction in 2002-2008. The sword was brought to wider attention by the server in 2014, when it included it in a collection of several dozen impressive, but in many cases, clearly forged weapons. This server used auction photos to create a collage that shows both sides of the sword and hilt against a black background.

Fig. 2: Edited sword photo from the Peter Finer Gallery. Source:

The origin and present of the myth

After being placed on the Internet, the image became very popular. At the same time, however, the first comments appeared that simplified and made the original auction description even more imprecise, for example:

A rare Viking sword, Petersen type O hilt, one of three swords found in a rich ship burial from around 900 in Hedeby, Denmark.

In 2018 at the latest, we encounter a photo with the caption “Viking sword, Hedeby, Denmark, 10th century“, especially on profiles, accounts and platforms that profit financially from sharing random historical objects with vaguely defined or wrong captions. The most prominent promoter is the Museum of Artifacts channels with more than 5 million followers, who have shared this sword at least six times since 2016. The account’s posts are being copied by smaller but still influential entities trying to replicate the strategy of successful channels (e.g. Archeology and art; Nordic Vikings). A significant role is played by the sharing using Pinterest, Reddit and Tumblr, sites well indexed in search engines. Due to this combination, the discussed sword is one of the first to be displayed by search engines when the keyword “decorated Viking sword” is entered. The idea being conveyed to the general public through these channels is that this is an example of a well-preserved and decorated Viking Age sword found in the 20th century in Haithabu / Hedeby. The sword’s credibility is reinforced by the fact that some prominent swordsmiths have produced and sold reproductions of it over the past few years.

Fig. 3: Reproduction of the fake sword. Source: Wojcek Szanek.


Assessing the authenticity of historical objects without invasive methods is always an approximate estimation, which does not lead to definitive, but approximate conclusions with a high degree of probability. In the article Forging the Forgeries (Vlasatý 2020) we tried to identify the most common categories in which fake early medieval swords fail. They are:

  1. Sword condition
  2. Artifact provenance
  3. Differences in technology and traces of counterfeiting
  4. Typological classification
  5. Decoration
  6. Inscrriptions and marks
  7. An existing template
  8. Price

In general, if a sword fulfills several of these conditions at once, it can be considered suspicious even without the need for metallurgical analysis: for example, if the sword is in almost complete condition, typologically difficult to classify and at the same time it comes from a private collection or is offered for sale by an auction house, there is a significant risk that it is a fake. With this assumption, one of the suspected swords from a private collection was subjected to specialized analyzes in 2019 that confirmed it is a forgery (Rychlík 2019). The reality of the early 21st century is actually quite grim: the forgery business is huge, producing at least several dozen early medieval swords each year, many of which have already found their way into published literature (Baumann 2010; Petty-Hill 2023).

If we apply the aforementioned criteria to the sword from the Peter Finer gallery, we find several aggravating facts. The sword is complete (including the pommel and the tip of the blade), which is unusual for archeological early medieval swords. The high-quality state of the decoration is difficult to reconcile with the state of the remaining metal parts, which are covered with patina. The sword comes from a dubious provenance in an auction and collector environment, not a clear archaeological context as the abbreviated descriptions try to suggest. In terms of typology, the hilt really corresponds most closely to Petersen’s type O (Petersen 1919: 126-8), namely Androshchuk’s variant O2, which is characterized by iron components decorated with inlay in a braided or animal ornament (Androshchuk 2014: 72). The lateral lobes of the pommel cap are sharply cut instead of arching away from the center, which can be considered an atypical feature. In original swords of this variant, we normally encounter inlay made of silver or copper wire (see Müller-Wille 1973; 1978), but never gold or a combination of the two materials. Inlay made with gold wire can be described as a very unusual feature in itself. In the case of original swords, we could rather encounter the use of a brass-like alloy that is supposed to imitate gold (which, finally, may also be the case with the discussed sword, which was incorrectly described by the commentator). The comparison with the sword from the boat chamber grave from Haithabu is therefore odd, as it belongs to type K and has a different shape of the hilt components and a different form of decoration (see Arents – Eisenschmidt 2010: 426). Since a large part of the myth concerns the Haithabu / Hedeby origin, let us add that we currently know of at least 50 archaeological sword finds from the Haithabu agglomeration (Geibig 1989; 1991; 1999; Hilberg 2022), but the discussed sword does not appear in any of the works on Haithabu or swords from this locality.

Fig. 4: The condition of a genuine O2 type sword after being in the ground for a millennium.
Source: UNIMUS catalog, C16380.

An equally remarkable element is the decoration of the blade, consisting of two non-ferrous metals inlay. A typical form of blade decoration in the 9th-11th century period is represented by iron pattern-welded rods forming various signs and inscriptions. The inlay made of one non-ferrous metal belongs to the unusual forms of archeologically documented swords of this period (e.g. Geibig 1999; Košta – Hošek 2014; Milošević 2016). The motif itself, reminiscent of a multi-storey building, seems extremely strange for such an early sword. At first glance, the similarity with the blades of the 12th-13th centuries is evident, namely the closest finds come from the Bann River, Ireland (Bøe 1940: 85; Davidson 1998: Fig. 70), Riga, Latvia (Anteins 1966) and Yverdon, Switzerland (Wegeli 1904: Fig. 12), other close pieces can be named from Estonia (Ebert 1914), Finland (Leppäaho 1964), France (Oakeshott 1991: 47) and the Netherlands (Ypey 1984).

Fig. 5: Examples of 12th-13th century decorated blades.
Source: Anteins 1966; Oakeshott 1991; Ypey 1984.

The final evaluation speaks against authenticity: we evaluate the sword as an early forgery, which is successful in the sense that it does not raise questions for most people interested in early medieval weaponry. However, upon critical reading, every detail of this weapon is suspect, and when combined, these elements are incompatible. Among other things, the product gives a certain testimony about its maker. The forger had to have access to academic literature, which was the only source of detailed drawings at the time. The prototype for the decoration on the hilt was the Petersen type Z sword from Södertälje, Sweden (SHM 20981), which has been published several times (e.g. Du Chaillu 1890: Fig. 789; Grieg 1947: Pl. XXIV.7; Nerman 1929: Fig. 82), but all sources can be considered under-the-counter and mostly academic. The intention to connect the type O shape with the type Z decoration testifies to a certain knowledge of the 10th century sword evolution, which could only be obtained from Petersen’s (1919) or Müller-Wille’s work (1978). Based on the similarity of the motif and material, we are convinced that the main inspiration for the blade production was the sword from Riga, Latvia (VRVM-23000), which could have been known to the forgers only from Anteins’ works (1966: 117; 1976: 52), one museum catalog (Galvanovska et al. 1990: Fig. 9-11) or from a personal inspection of the original in the museum. The aforementioned catalog depicts a greater extent of the decoration in colour photographs that are more vivid than Anteins’ black and white drawings, so one can reasonably suspect a forger of using this book or visiting a museum where the sword is on display. Since both the sword and the book are unknown abroad, the creator’s knowledge of them indicates that he or she was active in Eastern Europe or the Baltic region. The blade of the Yverdon sword, which may have been known to the forger from Oakeshott’s book (Oakeshott 1991: 49), may have been a source of inspiration when the roof of the building was being inlaid. In any case, the creator must have had at least four or five academic books.

Figs. 6-8: Inspirational sources of decoration – swords from Södertälje, Riga and Yverdon.
Sources: Galvanovska et al. 1990: Fig. 10-11; Nerman 1929: Fig. 82; Oakeshott 1991: 49.

When evaluating the weapon, we must not forget to mention that the same gallery offered another fake for sale at the same time, which shares a number of similarities with the previous sword and which confirms the suspicion of Eastern European or Baltic origin. Again, this is an exceptionally well-preserved piece that has a decor made of identical combination of silver and copper alloy, both on the hilt and on the blade. The shape of the hilt imitates the so-called Silver-plated type according to Moilanen, who dates it to the 11th century (Moilanen 2015: 265-8). Swords of this type are strictly found in Estonia (Jets 2013: 97-127; Mandel 1991), Finland (Leppäaho 1964; Moilanen 2015) and Karelia in today’s Russian Federation (Ščedrina 2023), exceptionally also in Latvia (Tomsons 2018: 62). The manufacturer chose a decoration that is not compatible with this type and which is significantly simpler than the complicated decoration of the Silver-plated type: silver triangles imitate the decoration of Petersen type T2 swords (e.g. Kočkurkina – Summanen 2021: 275; Tomsons 2018: 63-4). A mark in the shape of a Celtic cross is placed on the blade. The direct source of this decoration is unknown to the author’s team, but for example, similar crosses are visible on Finnish swords of the 12th-13th century (see Leppäaho 1964: Taf. 28).

Fig. 9: The second sword from the Peter Finer gallery. Source:

Ultimately, the discussed sword fits well into the supposed pattern that the number of forged swords in Europe are curiously correlated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of some museums there, whose curators with some knowledge of the originals and literature and great connections with restorers and antiquarians probably found a new livelihood in the production and selling fakes (Vlasatý 2020).

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