(About): Wield the Sword that Every Viking would have Killed For
The Germanic smiths who provided most of early-Medieval Europe with master-forged swords had developed a spectacular technique for forging blades with flowing organic patterns like the course of a mountain stream. Pattern-welding, as we call the technique today, dominated swordcraft for centuries, and the most sought-after blades of the early Viking Age bore its characteristic contrasting imprint. Our hand-forged Damascus Viking Sword is a spectacular homage to the weapons of this period.
The Berserker’s Blade
Our Damascus Viking Sword is made from pattern-welded high-carbon steel – what blade-makers today call ‘Damascus steel’. This steel has been made by twisting and folding together billets of two different types of steel, 1095 and 15n20 steels, until it consists of 176 layers! This results in a beautiful contrasting repeating two-tone pattern all the way along the blade. The blade is tempered and hardened to 54-55 HRC; this means that it is a rugged battle-ready blade, capable of being used in light combat and LARP settings against other similarly-hard blades with minimal damage.
Our manufacturer has carefully duplicated the style of blade-making that was predominant for most of the Viking period – a large proportion of the Viking swords that have survived into the modern era show signs of having been made with the pattern-welding process, which it began to go out of style towards the end of the 9th-century CE. This means that our Damascus steel Viking sword is of a late-Viking design, as the Viking Age gave way to the Norman precursors to the medieval knightly arming sword. The blade is much more tapered than the early-Viking sword, which had nearly-parallel edges and a spatulate (rounded) tip – this pointer progression is a design which we see emerging to produce faster, more agile blades better suited towards thrusting to split chainmail. The blade of our Damascus Viking Sword is of Oakeshott Type XI, with a narrow fuller and a long, graceful point.
A Shining Cast-Brass Hilt
The hilt of our Damascus steel Viking sword is a gorgeous tribute to the weapons of the late-Viking age, cast from solid brass and polished to a beautiful sheen. The cross-guard is a simple, elegant arc which curves downward toward the blade – this type emerged with the widening of cross-guards into proper hand protectors rather than simple upper-guards for the hand grip as in earlier Viking swords. The grip is a rich brown leather wrapped around wood, which matches the hand-stitched leather back-scabbard which is supplied with our Damascus Viking Sword. The pommel is again solid cast-brass of a large wheel type, weighted so as to bring the centre-of-balance closer to the hilt, making for a blade that will move like water through the air. The hilt construction is full-tang and peened, where the cross-guard, grip and pommel are threaded onto the ‘tail’ of the blade, and then the tang is hammered flat to secure it all tightly in place. This means it is a fully battle-ready weapon.
In all, such a weapon is not one to be taken lightly – it is a sword filled with the magisterial gravitas of generations of swordsmiths who painstakingly perfected piling and composition to develop a fine art of pattern-welding ‘Damascus’ blades. Even on its aesthetics alone, it would make an incredible wall-piece to add to your collection, such is its beauty. But this sword is a fully functional armament, capable of standing up to the rough-and-tumble of LARP use and light combat. It would make a fantastic addition to a Viking-inspired noble outfit, or to the panoply of a fantasy warrior. So – grip the hilt and enter your berserker’s blood-trance…
(History): The Mysterious History of ‘Damascus’ Steel
When modern sword-makers refer to ‘Damascus steel’, they mean the beautiful, whorled patterns made by the process of pattern-welding – like those use in the hand-forged blade of our Damascus Viking Sword. Pattern-welding had been used widely in Europe from around 200 BCE. But in the medieval period, ‘Damascus’ steel referred to something else entirely: a rare and mysterious metal, much harder and deadlier than any which could be manufactured in Europe – and indeed was the best sword-making material manufactured by human beings in the pre-Industrial era. We’ll have a brief look at what these materials would have looked like in the medieval period.
Judging by the archaeological record, pattern-welding seems to have been developed by Celtic smiths in Central Europe somewhere between the 4th– and the 2nd-century BCE. Celtic metalwork was a haphazard affair, certainly more art than science, with techniques likely passed between individuals rather than recorded in any written form – is has been theorised that much ‘Druidic’ knowledge was actually secret, and so might have even subject to strict controls and taboo. Nevertheless, the Celts were skilled metallurgists, and so had perfected carburising the iron that they made in simple clay bloomeries, thus turning it into small amount of primitive steel.
Judging by the metallographical construction of surviving swords from the Celtic and Roman periods, Celtic smiths had also realised that different grades of metal performed better in different parts of the sword blade – and so they would ‘pile’ different billets (bars) of different grade steels together in the right shape, and then forge-weld them into a single blade:, a softer, more flexible metal core (either pure iron or <0.5% carbon ‘mild’ steel), with harder carburised steel (c. 1% ‘high carbon’ steel) welded to the sides to hold an edge and withstand impacts.
Solving The Blooming Problem
However, they realised that conditions in their bloomeries were very difficult to control, and so produced very variable qualities of iron. Pattern-welding was the fix some clever smith (or smiths) developed to better control the steel available to them. The smith would take one or more billets from one iron bloom, and one or more from another, forge-welding them into one – creating a bar of two different steels, one darker and one lighter. But then the smith twisted them together. This would intertwine the two different steels (with their slightly different colours) into a two-layered spiral – which the smith would then fold over and hammer into the original billet shape again: creating a four-layer sandwich. And then again, twisting, folding, hammering, increasing the complexity of the pattern each time.
This steel was not necessarily ‘better’, but it was crucially much more consistent, being the result of several ‘averaged’ iron blooms rather than one. Smiths also say that the twisting process manipulates the grain of the steel in such a way that makes it easier to forge-weld.
Laying Down the Pattern
Thus, swords that looked very much like this Damascus Viking Sword for sale became highly desirable. They were generally better in quality due to the homogenisation of their materials – but the spectacular allure of the patterns in the metal must have been as bewitching to the Franks, Vendels, Angles and Saxons as it is to us today – just look at some incredible modern reproductions of traditional pattern-welds. Pattern-welded swords reached their high-point in the 7th– and 8th-century CE, with almost every single surviving Anglo-Saxon sword found in Britain showing signs of being made using this technique. However, by the late 9th-century smiths were beginning to experiment with all-steel construction, where the whole blade was made from one single quality of steel rather than piled from homogenised pattern-welded steel. This was due to the increasing quality of their own domestic steel – as well as a mysterious new metal imported from exotic lands. Enter – true Damascus steel.
True Damascus Steel
With the withdrawal of the Roman Empire, ‘global’ trade largely withdrew with it: objects which had moved relatively freely across the vast distances spanned by Rome now became rare and sought-after luxury objects available only to the elite. But with the resurrection of pan-European trade by the Vikings from the 800s CE, in their incredibly fruitful economic relationship with the Islamic empires of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, a miraculously hard, resilient steel with a characteristic water-like grain began to be imported from the East. Crusaders who encountered Islamic warriors wielding sabres of this steel reported that it could be bent up to 90 degrees without breaking. This is what medieval scholars meant when they referred to as ‘Damascus steel’, rather than the pattern-forged European blades of comparatively inferior quality.
A Magical Metal – Brought to You
We might have gotten the word ‘Damascus’ from the Arabic ‘damas’ meaning ‘watered’, for its flowing grain, perhaps from the flowing silk ‘damask’ fabric – or maybe after the Syrian city of Damascus, where such metals and swords were forged and traded. Either way, the origins of true Damascus steel are on the Indian subcontinent. Contemporaneously with Celtic smiths figuring out pattern-welding in the first few centuries BCE, metallurgists in Sri Lanka and Kerala were using a very different technique. Iron blooms were taken from bloomeries – but instead of being beaten in a charcoal hearth or case-hardened, the bloom was packed into a clay ‘crucible’ (a coffin or container) with wood chips. This crucible was then fired to an incredible heat: 1200-1400ºC, liquefying the iron completely and infusing it throughout with the carbon from the wood. The resulting alloy was a very pure, swirly-grained steel – the hardest steels in Europe were likely only around 1% carbon in this period, whereas Damascus steel was 1.4-2%, like a modern high-carbon steel. This South Indian crucible steel was likely the finest steel in the world available before the advent of industrialised steel processes in the late 18th-century.
Blades made from this material would have been orders of magnitude better than any comparable sword made in any other contemporary fashion, and they would have seemed to have supernatural powers: notching or breaking other blades at a stroke whilst remaining able to slice through fine silk themselves. Whilst we have still not been able to reliably reproduce the methods of these incredibly talented metalworkers, we have found telltale signs of this kind of steel in some medieval European blades – so it is likely that European smiths coveted this seemingly magical metal. Our Damascus Viking Sword is the closest you can get to these mythic blades.
- Total length: 41 ½ inches
- Blade length: 31 ¾ inches
- Blade thickness: 5.5mm
- Blade width: 1 ¾ inches
- Blade material: Pattern-welded 1095/15n20 alloy, 176 layers, 300-350 folds
- Blade hardness: 54-55 HRC
- Guard and pommel material: Brass
Grip material: Leather