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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Viking Longsword? Reply to topic
 
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A. Jake Storey II




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PostPosted: Wed 04 Dec, 2013 11:55 pm    Post subject: Viking Longsword?         Reply with quote

I have been trying for a while to find examples of Norwegian Longswords, and haven't found anything. All I ever find are the famous earlier viking swords, such as the +Ulfbreh+t. Sometimes I find something from a little later that looks like an early arming-sword (meaning it's a "one-hander"). Did they not have any longswords, or where they basically just German longswords?
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Ian Hutchison




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Dec, 2013 12:21 am    Post subject: Re: Viking Longsword?         Reply with quote

A. Jake Storey II wrote:
I have been trying for a while to find examples of Norwegian Longswords, and haven't found anything. All I ever find are the famous earlier viking swords, such as the +Ulfbreh+t. Sometimes I find something from a little later that looks like an early arming-sword (meaning it's a "one-hander"). Did they not have any longswords, or where they basically just German longswords?


Hi Jake,

What time period do you have in mind. I'm sure I can find some examples of Finnish/Swedish swords from 12th-14th centuries.

'We are told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I know which of these weapons I would choose.' - Adrian Carton de Wiart
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Peter Johnsson




PostPosted: Thu 05 Dec, 2013 12:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most every kind of scandinavian sword of the high and late medieval period are either imported or versions of swords that were common on the continent.

A trend among scandinavian long swords are weapons with unusual long grips in proportion to the blade.
You may want to read this thread:

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Baard H




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Dec, 2013 1:32 am    Post subject: Re: Viking Longsword?         Reply with quote

A. Jake Storey II wrote:
Did they not have any longswords, or where they basically just German longswords?


If by "Longsword" you mean a sword meant to be used with both hands (rather than a handle made extra long as an easy way to balance it better for lesser swordsmiths), then no there were no longswords in the Viking age (793-1030 or 1066). There were probably scandinavian longswords in later periods, but that is outside my area of knowledge, looks like there are a couple of others here that can help you in those periods though.

At kveldi skal dag leyfa,
konu, er brennd er,
mki, er reyndr er,
mey, er gefin er,
s, er yfir kemr,
l, er drukkit er.
-Hvaml, vsa 81
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Peter Messent




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Dec, 2013 9:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

No Viking Longswords - there have been a few incomplete finds that have been touted as two-handers, but for the most part it's been due to bad pictures and no specs.

I have often thought that it probably did occur to a Viking-age swordsmith that a sword could be used two-handed (I seem to recall that using a typical Viking-age sword with both hands had some mention in one of the Sagas, but my memory's too foggy to be sure) and thus that a dedicated two-handed sword could be made, but they would be faced with several large problems:

1) Longer swords require better balance. While I wouldn't consider it beyond their skill, starting from scratch as it were would involve trial and error, which would be very costly considering the following:

2) Longer swords require more steel, and steel was expensive.

3) Longer swords require better quality steel, or they are at a higher risk of breaking - leverage!

And add that to the following:

4) Longer swords aren't of any significant benefit in the Viking age. Shorter swords and axes cut quite fine and spears poke very well.

5) The scarcity of armor compared to later eras (and the total lack of plate armor) would render the Longsword user very vulnerable - contrary to modern movies, swords don't make good shields. Due to the large length of useable handle, a spear or even a larger axe can be utilized with a shield easier than some two-handers - my GSoW is one sword I would NOT want to use with one hand.

May also be worth noting that swords were more than likely not primary weapons, and a two handed sword is a much less appealing 'backup' weapon.

Hope that helps some,
Pete
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Peter Johnsson




PostPosted: Thu 05 Dec, 2013 11:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Messent brings several good points.
The last two are the really central ones however.

Shield *and* sword (or axe or spear) was the main weapon combination for close quarter fighting during the viking period. The use of the shield was integral to the use of the weapon (sword, spear or axe). The shield was much more than a bucket lid to hide behind. It was most probably used actively to lock and block the options of the opponent to open the line of attack for the sword. The shield could also be used offensively in direct attacks with boss and rim.
Those accounts of finds of long swords from the viking period should not be given much credence. At best they are based on confused evidence. As mentioned, the idea of a long sword used with two hands would not seem very worthwhile to a viking period warrior. The weapons that required two hands were various kinds of hafted weapons that gave longer reach than even a big two handed sword could manage. Without his shield he would not be able to take on opponents with longer haft weapons and also be in a disadvantage against other swordsmen who had a shield.

The accounts of viking age warriors using two hands to wield their sword should be seen from the perspective of how fighting was done at the time. Only in desperate situations or if the fighter showed a complete contempt for (or acceptance of) death would he willingly discard the protective and tactical use of the shield.
A raging or cold blooded warrior showing a complete disregard for his own safety, and hell bent on the utter destruction of his enemies would have been a terrifying sight.

The design of the viking period sword is optimized to work well together with a shield. Its size, weight, balance and proportions work really well in combination with a centrally gripped round shield.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Fri 06 Dec, 2013 8:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Check out this thread: Early Great Swords.

Longswords, the way we moderns define them, didn't exist. Some things you could call great swords (a period term), may have existed in the late Viking era.

Happy

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Peter Messent




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PostPosted: Fri 06 Dec, 2013 3:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very interesting; the sword in that thread does have a somewhat earlier look than I would consider typical (though it is outside my main realm of study) - the broad cross, relatively short grip and somewhat boat-shaped pommel give an interesting aesthetic.

Only the blade measurement is given from what I saw, but by scaling it (at 34 3/8") I get a grip size for that one of a touch over 6 1/2" from cross to pommel. That would make a very short grip (IMO) for a dedicated two-hander, particularly considering that the pommel is not ideal for being part of the grip, as in later scent-stoppers and the like. To me, the pommel looks distinctly designed to be comfortable on a single-handed sword.

But that really just raises more questions - why such a big grip for a one-hander, why such a small grip for a two hander and why a less-than-ideal pommel for a hand and a half?

Very cool nonetheless!
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Shahril Dzulkifli




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PostPosted: Wed 11 Dec, 2013 6:50 am    Post subject: Viking Longsword?         Reply with quote

I think Chad is right. Longswords were never made or carried by Vikings. They would never carry a two-handed sword to battle as opposed to their lighter one-handed sword.
"The blood memories of this wretched creature have shown me that your treachery knows no bounds"
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Tjarand Matre




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PostPosted: Thu 12 Dec, 2013 11:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would also think it was a matter of metallurgy and steel quality. A lot of the viking grave sword finds have been ritually bent (almost into a knot). If such a degree of bending was possible with a short sword I would think a longer sword would be prone to deforming in combat use.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Thu 12 Dec, 2013 8:15 pm    Post subject: Re: Viking Longsword?         Reply with quote

Shahril Dzulkifli wrote:
I think Chad is right. Longswords were never made or carried by Vikings. They would never carry a two-handed sword to battle as opposed to their lighter one-handed sword.


That's not exactly what I said. Longswords, as most people use the term, are pointier and didn't exist. There is some compelling evidence of swords with long grips that aren't terribly pointy (these seem to be in the XIIa and XIII family in terms of blade shape). It seems probable that some people in some places during some part of the Viking era used swords whose grips were made to accommodate a second hand to some degree. Happy

No they weren't common during that era and would seem to have only come on the scene late in the period.

Happy

ChadA

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Peter Johnsson




PostPosted: Fri 13 Dec, 2013 5:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tjarand Matre wrote:
I would also think it was a matter of metallurgy and steel quality. A lot of the viking grave sword finds have been ritually bent (almost into a knot). If such a degree of bending was possible with a short sword I would think a longer sword would be prone to deforming in combat use.


This bending is hot work. It is not done with a cold sword.
You cannot base any opinion on the quality or metallurgy of a blade based on the fact it has been ritually destroyed.
Swords seems to often have been "killed" as part of a ritual deposit, in a grave or otherwise. This confuses the results of modern analysis to some degree.

A funerary pyre reaches temperatures that are high enough to melt silver some times. It is certainly high enough to change the structure of the steel.
Bending might have been done after the sword was put on a funerary pyre, r as a separate event before or after the burning of the body.
There is some evidence that even bronze age swords were annealed (heated until soft) before being sacrificed in water. I am sorry but I have mislaid the paper that discussed this.

Metallurgy would not hinder the making of longer swords in the viking period. If they wanted long sword (or great swords) they would have made them and used hem.
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Jussi Ekholm




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PostPosted: Sun 15 Dec, 2013 8:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just throwing this out for folks with more knowledge to comment on.

Viking swords are my favorite European style swords. On my visit to Riga I visited couple museums and I was thrilled to see the viking age items. There were many intresting items to be seen, unfortunately all info was in Latvian.

Here is one sword which had quite long grip length. I just smashed my keyboard as I didn't took a picture of the info table on the wall that might have indicated the approximated period of this one... stupid me.




Sorry for the bad pics. But I think you can see the overall propotions on it. Unfortunately I can't provide any more info than these 2 pics of it.

This sword reminds me of Oslo Universitetets Oldsaksamling C18798, which can be seen in Peirce's book pg. 126, tapering blade & long hilt.

Jussi Ekholm
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Shahril Dzulkifli




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Dec, 2013 10:25 am    Post subject: Viking Longsword?         Reply with quote


This rare archaeological find from a museum in Riga must be one true example of a Viking longsword, I should say.

"The blood memories of this wretched creature have shown me that your treachery knows no bounds"
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Peter Messent




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Dec, 2013 11:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have to disagree. The handle might be longer than the norm (maybe, but can't be sure without measuring it) though it is almost certainly made to look longer by the fact that the upper guard is out of place, and the blade is fairly narrow, probably due to the heavy corrosion. If we cut out the upper guard and put it back into place, there is nothing unique about its grip proportions, and it is certainly no two hander:

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Baard H




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Dec, 2013 12:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even if it had the right proportions of a longsword/hand-and-a-half/two-hander. It would be one (1) among thousands of viking swords found. In other words; it would probably be either a failed experiment, or a "one of" made for a richman who wanted to be noticed. Either way, it had no widespread use.
At kveldi skal dag leyfa,
konu, er brennd er,
mki, er reyndr er,
mey, er gefin er,
s, er yfir kemr,
l, er drukkit er.
-Hvaml, vsa 81
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Dec, 2013 3:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jussi Ekholm wrote:
Just throwing this out for folks with more knowledge to comment on.

Viking swords are my favorite European style swords. On my visit to Riga I visited couple museums and I was thrilled to see the viking age items. There were many intresting items to be seen, unfortunately all info was in Latvian.

Here is one sword which had quite long grip length. I just smashed my keyboard as I didn't took a picture of the info table on the wall that might have indicated the approximated period of this one... stupid me.

Sorry for the bad pics. But I think you can see the overall propotions on it. Unfortunately I can't provide any more info than these 2 pics of it.

This sword reminds me of Oslo Universitetets Oldsaksamling C18798, which can be seen in Peirce's book pg. 126, tapering blade & long hilt.


C18798 has a grip of 10.3 cm. This isn't anywhere near long enough for 2 hand use. In fact, its not even as long as some modern makers make their one hand viking grips.

This Latvian example from above looks pretty similar to many examples found in the Baltic and surrounding region from the 11th C. An example would be NM1174:1 from p138 of SotVA or several examples from Kirpichnikov's Drevneruss Orugrie (sp? sorry don't know how to do Cyrillic). These all tend to have narrow blades which creates the illusion of a longer grip.

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Peter Johnsson




PostPosted: Fri 27 Dec, 2013 1:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This topic about two handers or long swords used in the viking age keeps returning.
It is a longing, a wish-it-was-so topic. Just like the carrying of swords on ones back.

The examples that has been brought forward as possible examples of long swords in the viking age are not supporting the idea very well. There are no swords of viking age type that has two handed grip. There are no viking age swords that are of long sword proportions.

There are some early cruciform swords with longer than usual blades that are very big. They do not really belong to the viking age or a viking culture setting.
They are weapons of a later period and a later era.
There is f course a gradual shift in sword development but the sword we recognize as the *viking sword* was never made in long sword or for two handed use.
We have to wait until the cruciform sword has emerged to find variations of this type that have long sword size and proportions.

Something happens in the shift between what we know as the viking age to the high medieval period that involves a change on many levels in society. Warfare is just one such are where there are some pretty dramatic changes. The design of weapons and changes in tactics and even the role and ideals of the warrior changes in a fundamental way.
This means new types of swords were made to meet the needs of their time.

The fact there is a lack of long swords and two handed swords in the viking age and that we se a trend towards longer swords with longer grips after the end of the viking period (@ 1066) is in itself interesting. It is worthwhile to study why this change was brought about, but it is not worthwhile to keep looking for long swords that are dated to the viking period.
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