(About): The Waning of the Viking Age; The High Point of its Swordcraft
Our 11th Century Viking Sword is a careful recreation of the ‘Suontaka sword’, a fabulously beautiful sword discovered in Finland the 1960s. This type of sword, classified by Petersen in his definite typology of Viking swords as a Type Æ, is part of a constellation of Late Viking swords as they transitioned from the square-hilted Carolingian-style swords of the Viking Age, into the round-pommeled arming swords of the High Medieval ‘Age of Chivalry’. The Suontaka sword is spectacularly deocated with flowing Norse art, in the Late Viking ‘Urnes’ style, named after the carvings on Urnes Stave Church which are contemporary with this hilt – and, most enigmatically of all, it was discovered as part of the funereal possessions of a woman. Who was this Skjaldmær? Perhaps her sword will allow us to find out.
A Fine Steel Blade from the East
The blade of our 11th Century Viking Sword embodies the changing nature of medieval warfare as the Viking Age gave way to the High Medieval period. Steel technology underwent a rapid change in the last half of the 10th-century CE, with the centuries-old technique of pattern-welded blades replaced in an historical blink of an eye with new, deadly, all-steel swords. Where before, blades were often constructed by welding hard high-carbon edges onto a core of softer pattern-welded iron, a mini-industrial revolution in metal-production permitted the production of blades made wholly from good quality carbon steel throughout. Frustratingly, it’s not entirely clear why metallurgy rapidly improved in this period, but historians have theorised that it might be due to the increasing availability of high-quality metals from outside of Europe (due in no small part due to the stimulating effects of Viking sea trade), and improvements in European bloomery steelmaking. Oakeshott classifies these swords as Type X, the first in his catalogue of European swords in the Age of Chivalry. Like other typical Type X blades, our 11th Century Viking Sword has a broad, flat blade that is lenticular in profile, that narrows tapers only slightly from guard to tip, and is impressed with a shallow, wide fuller. These swords were exquisitely adapted to the world of their time – they were made to cut through stout textiles and burst chainmail Darksword Armory’s master smiths have forged our 11th Century Viking Sword blade from 5160 spring steel, the gold standard for modern functional swords, and it is heat-treated with their signature dual-temper, hardened to 60 HRC at the edge and to 48-50 HRC in the core. The end result is a blade of unmatched resilience, retaining its edge brilliantly whilst also being flexible enough to absorb knocks and blows with ease.
A Heritage Hilt Reproduced with Thousand-Year-Old Techniques
The hilt of our 11th Century Viking Sword stands out as an enigmatic, unique weapon on any battlefield, imbued with its own specific history. It clearly bears influences of both the Viking Age and the emerging Age of Chivalry: a lengthened, curving guard, and a rounded pommel intermediate between the ‘brazil nut’ of Late Viking swords, and the ‘wheel’ pommel typical of High Middle Ages arming swords. The ambiguous draconic creatures which coil and writhe and knot across the bronze of the hilt are known in art history circles as ‘Great Beasts’, and they appear throughout Norse art, shot-through with symbolism of ferocity and portent, such as the great serpent Níðhöggr who devours the bodies of the dead and gnaws upon the roots of the World Tree Yggdrasil.
The master artisans at Darksword Armory have meticulously reproduced the Suontaka sword’s intricate abstracted artwork for our 11th Century Viking Sword, complete with coiling serpentine forms with limbs which extend into filaments which knot and interweave. They have done this through intensive study of the original historical object, carving an exact replica of the original in wax, making sure that every curve and curl is precisely correct, before casting it in solid bronze using the lost-wax process for a final result that is as close as one could get to hold the Suontaka sword itself (without breaking into the National Museum of Finland).
The handgrip is a simple leather wrap, providing the best possible grip surface. The pommel is just as luxuriant as the guard, featuring another unique intricate Great Beast knotwork, again painstakingly replicated and cast in bronze using the lost-wax method. But this sword is not merely a show-piece: it has been constructed as a fully-functional, battle-ready sword with a full-tang peened construction. This means that it can be used safely for re-enactment and roleplay, as well as in light combat with swords of similar hardness. In all, this sword is the living embodiment of the glory of the Vikings at the height of their power as masters of Northern Europe: in many ways, they had achieved everything that they had set out to do, straddling the known world and holding European trade in the palm of their hands – and they no longer needed to be the Vikings any more. This sword would make a perfect accompaniment to a historically-accurate Viking shield-maiden re-enactment, or it could be the sword of a Viking inspired barbarian noble fantasy outfit. Whoever you choose to be when you wield it, it will fill you with the power of the Great Beast!
(Curiosity): The Lost Shield Maiden of Suontaka
Since the beginning of the 21st-century, evidence has begun to mount that the fighting women known as Skjaldmær or ‘Shield-Maidens’ who appear in Viking sagas were more than just literary devices or flights of fancy. The Suontaka sword puzzled archaeologists since its discovery in the 1960s, as it was found in the grave of a woman, alongside objects such as fine jewellery and devotional objects traditionally associated with female Viking burials. As our understanding of Viking society has progressed, we have discovered through genetic testing, for example, that around half of Viking ‘warrior’ burials in many areas of Viking colonisation were likely women. This has led historians and archaeologists to question the traditional assumptions of gender roles that we have back-filled onto warrior-societies like the Vikings, which often flow unexamined from the colonialist attitudes of earlier 19th and 20th century archaeologists. It is becoming increasingly apparent that, at least in certain Viking societies, women were clearly equally associated with warfare, perhaps taking up arms themselves and participating in raiding. The Shield Maiden of Suontaka’s sword was beyond any mere ordinary blade – could she have been a Viking warrior queen? Perhaps it is a mystery that will not remain unsolved forever…
- Total length: 36 inches
- Blade length: 30 inches
- Blade width: 2 inches
- Blade material: 5160 carbon steel
- Blade hardness: 60 HRC at edge ; 48-50 HRC at core
- Guard and pommel material: Solid bronze
- Grip material: Leather