Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Wood species used for sword scabbards


As a follow-up to the previously published article Wood species used for sword grips, we decided to collect published information on the wood species used for building early medieval scabbards. This detail is often overlooked in publications as an insignificant redundancy or only a few specimens are mentioned in the main literature (Geibig 1991: 104-5; Hošek – Košta – Žákovský 2019; Kainov 2012: 53). So far, the most comprehensive work in the field of investigated scabbards of 9th-12th century is represented by Geibig’s article on swords from Haithabu (1999). Taking into account the Migration period, we need to mention the works of the teams of Tegel (Tegel et al. 2016) and Haneca (Haneca – Deforce 2020) that mapped more than 120 scabbards. In the following post, we will focus on 8th-12th century European single- and double-edged sword scabbards, which with a list of 38 pieces will be an interesting expansion of the previously mentioned works. It should be added that most of the analyzed scabbards listed by Opravil (2000) are missing from our catalog. This work is characterized by internal inconsistencies that prevent closer identification; we can only state that some of the swords from Mikulčice – Valy (graves 280, 341, 375, 425, 438, 500, 580, 715, 717, 805) were undoubtedly analyzed with the result that two scabbards were ash, one maple, one pine and one of unspecified evergreen wood.

We can preface our catalog by stating that scabbards were composite organic products that combined wood, textile and leather in various ways. The basis of all sword scabbards of the Early Middle Ages is a wooden corpus, made of two long, identical boards (laths) with a thickness of about 1-5 mm. The laths, deliberately formed from a tree trunk so that the annual rings pass across their shorter sides, was hollowed out into a blade shape on the inside and then covered. It can be assumed that the choice of materials and the way they were handled aimed at ease of processing, low weight of the result and good performance during the usage (e.g. the scabbard was able to resist the weapon blows, see Androshchuk 2014: 107). Let’s now see what wood species there are preserved 8th-12th century Europe.

Schematic representation of trunk parts that were chosen for the production of scabbards and shafts. Source: Tegel et al. 2016: Fig. 3A.

Wooden scabbard corpus. Production: Roman Král, King’s Craft.

Analyzed scabbards


  • Bíňa, Slovakia (Nevizánsky 2006: 292).
  • Grimstrup, Denmark (Stoumann 2009: 46, 290).
  • Haithabu – harbour, sword no. 2, Germany (Geibig 1999: 41).
  • Haithabu – harbour, sword no. 4, Germany (Geibig 1999: 41).
  • Haithabu – harbour, sword no. 5, Germany (Geibig 1999: 41).
  • Kaldus, hrob č. 364 (Kaźmierczak – Rybka 2010: 175).
  • Mikulčice, grave 90, Czechia (Hošek – Košta – Žákovský 2019: 160).
  • Mikulčice, grave 265, Czechia (Hošek – Košta – Žákovský 2019: 161).
  • Opolany – Kanín, grave 184, Czechia (Hošek – Košta – Žákovský 2019: 199).
  • Rajhradice – Stráně nad Habřinou, grave 71, Czechia (Opravil 2000: 173).
  • Rajhradice – Stráně nad Habřinou, grave 316, Czechia (Hošek – Košta – Žákovský 2019: 233).
  • Vipperow, Germany (Schoknecht 1966: 200).


  • Cronk Moar, Isle of Man, Great Britain (Bersu – Wilson 1966: 68).
  • Haithabu – harbour, sword no. 1, Germany (Geibig 1999: 41).
  • Hollingstedt, Germany (Brandt 2007: 302). Dated to ca. 1200.
  • London, The Palace of Westminster, Great Britain (Dunning – Evison 1961: 126).
  • Trummen, Sweden (Digitaltmuseum 2022).


  • Flintinge Å, Denmark (Pentz 2009: 172, 191).
  • Haithabu – harbour, sword no. 3, Germany (Geibig 1999: 41).
  • Haithabu – harbour, sword no. 6, Germany (Geibig 1999: 41).
  • Haithabu – harbour, sword no. 11, Germany (Geibig 1999: 41).


  • Ciepłe, grave 42, Poland (Wadyl 2019: 299).
  • Ciepłe, grave 42, Poland (Wadyl 2019: 299).
  • Haithabu – harbour, sword no. 7, Germany (Geibig 1999: 41).


  • Borovce, Slovakia (Staššíková-Štukovská 2001: 380).
  • Gnězdovo, grave L-207/2017 (Kainov – Novikov 2024: 251).
  • Gulli (C53315), Norway (Gjerpe 2005: 40-1).
  • Szczecin Lagoon, Poland (Garczyński 1961: 384).

Poplar / willow:

  • Skerne, Great Britain (Cameron 2000: 58).
  • Cumwhitton, Great Britain (Paterson et al. 2014: 108).
  • Kostice – Zadní Hrúd, Czechia (Hošek – Košta – Žákovský 2019: 125).


  • Gdańsk, Poland (Nadolski 1955).
  • Scar, Great Britain (Owen – Dalland 1999: 110-111).


  • Dysnes, Iceland (Ísberg 2020: 70).


  • Závada, grave 23, Slovakia (Bialeková 1982: 140).


  • Vienna, the scabbard of the Imperial Sword, Austria (Schulze-Dörrlamm 1995: 35, 117).


  • Essen (Pothmann 1995: 4, 14).


  • Kyiv, Church of the Tithes, Ukraine (Bredis 1996).

The sword from Vipperow. Source: Schoknecht 1966: Fig. 115a.


The catalog shows that a wider variety of locally available wood species were used to make scabbards, which in all cases come from deciduous trees (in order of frequency: beech, oak, alder, linden, maple, poplar / willow,, ash, birch, hornbeam, olive tree, Rosaceae, boxwood). The general tendency points towards usage of wood species that are easy to work by splitting and are flexible or strong, and as long as this condition is fulfilled, the type of wood itself is not that important (Owen – Dalland 1999: 111). Scabbards from the Migration period show the same picture – almost half of all known pieces (129 pieces) are made of alder wood, followed by beech, poplar / willow, maple, birch, hazel, ash, apple and linden (Haneca – Deforce 2020). The scabbard from Valsgärde grave 6, which is omitted by Haneca and Deforce, is made of rowan (Arwidsson 1942: 45-6). Alder and beech are generally the most popular types of wood for the production of early medieval wooden cores. The wood of conifers is not known in a single case. An interesting example is Iceland, where the choice of wood was significantly limited, which justifies the use of birch, which was among the most common wood species there (Zori et al. 2013: 160).

The sword from Trummen lake. Source: Digitaltmuseum 2022.

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.


Arwidsson, Greta (1942). Valsgärde 6, Uppsala.

Bialeková, Darina (1982). Slovanské pohrebisko v Závadě. In: Slovenská archeológia 30/1, 123-164.

Bersu, Gerhard – Wilson, David M. (1966). Three Viking Graves in the Isle of Man. The Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph Servies: No 1, London.

Brandt, Klaus (2007). Schwert und Scheide von einem mittelalterlichen Schiffshandelplatz dei Hollingstedt, Kreis Schleswig-Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein. In: Burmeister, Stefan et al. (eds.). Zweiundvierzig: Festschrift für Michael Gebühr zum 65. Geburtstag, Rhaden, 301-306.

Bredis 1996 = Бредiс, Наталія (1996). Технологiчнi дослiдження стародавнього меча з княжого поховального комплексу // Церква Богородиці Десятинна в Києві. Упоряд. П. П. Толочко, Київ, 47.

Cameron, Esther A. (2000). Sheaths and Scabbards in England AD 400-1100. BAR British Series 301, Oxford.

Digitalt Museum 2022 = Svärd. In: [2022-03-26]. Available at:

Dunning, G. C. – Evison, V. I. (1961). The Palace of Westminster Sword. In: Archaeologia 98, 123–158.

Garczyński, Władysław (1961). Wczesnośredniowieczny miecz z Zalewu Szczecińskiego. In: Materiały Zachodniopomorskie 7, 381-386.

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.

Haneca, Kristof – Deforce, Koen (2020). Wood use in early medieval weapon production. In: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 12:9.

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

Ísberg, Marjatta (2020). Víkingaaldarsverð í nærmynd. Íslensk víkingaaldarsverð, gerð þeirra og uppruni. Háskóli Íslands, Reykjavík.

Kainov, S. Yu. (2012). Swords from Gnёzdovo. In: Acta Militaria Mediaevalia VIII, 7-68.

Kainov – Novikov 2024 = Каинов, С. Ю. – Новиков, В. В. (2024). Новые находки мечей в Гнёздове (2017-2020 гг.), Москва.

Kaźmierczak, Ryszard – Rybka, Krzysztof (2010). Wczesnośredniowieczny miecz z grobu 364. In: Chudziak, Wojciech (ed.). Wczesnośredniowieczne cmentarzysko szkieletowe w Kałdusie (stanowisko 4), Toruń, 175-179.

Nadolski, Andrzej (1955). Pochwa miecza znaleziona w osadzie miejskiej z XI wieku w Gdańsku. In: Wiadomości Archeologiczne XXII/2, 186–192.

Nevizánsky, Gabriel (2006). Staromaďarské jazdecké pohrebisko v Leviciach-Géni. In: Slovenská archeológia 54/2, 285-328.

Opravil, Emanuel (2000). Holz aus frühmittelalterlichen Gräberfeldern in Mähren. In: In: Poláček, Lumír (ed.). Studien zum Burgwall von Mikulčice IV, Brno, 171-176.

Owen, Olwyn – Dalland, Magnar (1999). Scar: a Viking boat burial on Sanday, Orkney, Tuckwell.

Paterson, C. – Parsons, A. J. – Newman, R. M. – Johnson, Nick – Howard-Davis, Ch. (2014). Shadows in the sand : excavation of a Viking-age cemetery at Cumwhitton, Cumbria, Lancaster.

Pentz, Peter (2009). Bådgraven ved Flintinge Å – og en kammergrav ved Rabjerg. In: Aarbøger for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie 2005, 161-208.

Pothmann, Alfred (1995). Das Zeremonialschwert der Essener Domschatzkammer, Münster.

Schoknecht, Ulrich (1966). Bemerkenswerte slawische Gräber aus dem Bezirk Neubrandenburg. In: Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg, Jahrbuch 1965, 195-206.

Schulze-Dörrlamm, Mechthild (1995). Das Reichsschwert. Ein Herrschaftszeichen des Saliers Heinrich IV. und des Welfen Otto IV., Sigmaringen.

Staššíková-Štukovská, Danica (2001). Vybrané nálezy z pohrebiska v Borovciach z pohľadu začiatkov kostrového pochovávania staromoravských a nitrianskych Slovanov. In: Galuška, L. – Kouřil, P. – Měřínský, Z. (eds.). Velká Morava mezi východem a západem, Brno, 371-388.

Stoumann, Ingrid (2009). Ryttergraven fra Grimstrup : og andre vikingetidsgrave ved Esbjerg, Ribe.

Tegel, Willy et al. (2016). The wood of Merovingian weaponry. In: Journal of Archaeological Science 65, 148-153.

Wadyl, Sławomir (2019). Ciepłe. Elitarna nekropola wczesnośredniowieczna na Pomorzu Wschodnim, Gdańsk.

Zori, Davide et al. (2013). Feasting in Viking Age Iceland: sustaining a chiefly political economy in a marginal environment. In: Antiquity 87, 150-165.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *