Why Were Swords So Important To Ancient Vikings?

To the Vikings a sword was much more than just a weapon. Since swords were difficult to make, they were rare and expensive and as such they were not so common and used by kings and Vikings of high rank and class.

This ornate 1,000-year-old Viking sword dates back to the final days of the Vikings, it has been linked to battles in England. It was found with a corpse in a Langeid grave in the Setesdal Valley, UK. Image credit: Ellen C. Holthe, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo

Vikings believed a man and his sword were bound together. The sword gave power to the warrior, but warrior’s strength could also be transferred to the sword.

A Viking sword was a deadly weapon and symbol of power. It was jewelry for a man, with ‘magical properties’. How the Vikings named their sword was a matter of heritage. Swords were given names and passed from father to son for generations.

The ideal sword was light, strong, easy to handle, flexible, and had two sharp edges. Most Vikings would fight with their sword in one hand and their shield in the other. If the sword was not light the Norseman would soon tire in the heat of battle.

According to Dr. Alan Williams, an archaeometallurgist and consultant to the Wallace Collection, the London museum which has one of the best assemblies of ancient weapons in the world, Viking swords were far better than any other swords made, before or since, in Europe. And these must have been extraordinarily valuable to their contemporaries, because of their properties.

One of the most mysterious Viking artifacts is the Ulfberht Sword. It’s an ancient artifact far ahead of its time and we do not know whose name is inscribed on this enigmatic ancient sword.

Four Ulfberht swords found in Norway (drawings from Lorange 1889). Credits: wikipedia

Archaeologists have discovered that damaged Viking swords were often repaired. Several surviving swords have blades that were broken in two and then welded back together and returned to use. The loss of a sword was a catastrophe to a Viking.

Image credit: Mike Raabe/Corbis

Swords played a significant role in Norse Sages as well as in the lives of the Vikings. Researchers have so far identified about 100 named swords in Norse mythology. Tyrfying and Gram are two famous magical swords in Norse mythology.

The Norse legend of hero Sigmund and the magical sword in the Branstock tree mentioned in the Sigurdsaga that is part of the Volsunga Saga (Völsunga Saga) show why swords were believed to have such unusual properties.