Sword

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A range of distinctive types of sword-hilt and pommel were used through the early medieval period. As a rule, sword-blades were made separately to having hilts and pommels fitted. There was a lively export trade (particularly from Germany), with the ‘Ulfberht’ brand being particularly widespread (with its name on the blades), even though recent research suggests plenty of low-quality imitations (nothing changes!).

Swords were expensive, and should be looked after carefully. That means they should normally be carried in a high quality scabbard to protect the blade, and normally drawn in battle only once the warrior has exhausted his supply of spears/javelins


What sword to use

Since hilts and pommels essentially followed local fashions, we would encourage characters to have an appropriate sword for the context of each event if possible. However, we appreciate that this will not always be possible, and we do not expect members to have several swords as they are relatively expensive. Swords were valuable items and could be passed through several generations, as well as travelling widely with their owners – and were obvious items to be taken from the slain or defeated after a battle.

It can be difficult to make clear judgements about exactly where a particularly sword came from based on its eventual resting place, given their mobility and re-use. Identifications are made in the light of styles of decoration on hilts, accompanying items and (at least for Scandinavia) datable context from burials. Dates indicate the general period in which a particular hilt type was popular. Some examples may have continued in use for some time afterwards, but we would prefer not to see obviously ‘late’ period swords in use at an early date.


Sword typologies

The following is based on E. Oakeshott, ‘Introduction to the Viking Sword’ in I. Peirce, Swords of the Viking Age (Boydell 2002) pp.3-5. Although it may be useful as a short summary, it cannot replace the original.

Wheeler sword typology.png

A gazetteer of viking age swords is available based on Petersen's typologies and other typologies, with many thanks to Peter Campbell.

Type I, Type II

Norwegian, particularly used on the one-edged swords popular in Norway (330+ examples found there, mostly on one-edged swords). In the British Isles, found in Orkney, Western Isles and Dublin.

Type I was popular c.850-1050, while Type II (and its variants) span c.775-1050.

Type III (‘tri-lobed’)

Three (sometimes five) lobed pommel, often with zoomorphic ends, and straight guards. Central lobe is always the largest.

The normal type in north-west Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries, i.e. NW Germany and southern Scandinavia.

Very rare in Britain, bar a couple of examples in Norse areas of Scotland and Dublin.

Type IV

Nearly flat five-lobed pommel, usually with straight lower edges and straight guards.

Widespread distribution from Yugoslavia to Norway and Ireland. Probably a Frankish style. In use c.850-950.

Type V High, peaked central lobe, with sharply curving pommel-base and guards.

Examples found in Norway and England have English decoration from the late ninth century; generally considered English, dated c.875-950.

Type VI

Characteristically Danish from the tenth and eleventh centuries. The majority of finds are from Denmark, or else the parts of Southern England where Danish royal armies were active in the early eleventh century (especially the Thames).

Type VII (‘tea cosy’)

Almost semi-circular, flattish pommel shaped like a tea cosy, generally with grooves dividing the surface into three parts (reminiscent of Types III and VI).

Found quite widely, especially in rivers along the western coast of France, with some examples possibly dating from c.850-900. This type was popular in the tenth century and remained in use to at least the mid-eleventh century.

Type VIII (‘brazil nut’) and Oakeshott Type X

Sword type VIII or Type X.png A simplified evolution of Type VII. Such swords usually have slender guards, longer than usual and curving downwards slightly.

Finds are generally from northern and central Europe (rare in Norway), apparently dating from c.950-1000. The form continued in use throughout the twelfth century (Oakeshott’s Type X).

Type IX (‘cocked hat’)

Another form of Type VIII, keeping the distinction between upper and lower parts of the pommel and with a ‘cocked hat’ lobe.

Much less common than Type VIII; this style was extremely popular in 13th century Germany.

Disc-pommels, Oakeshott Type Xa

Sword Type Xa.png A rounded pommel, sometimes with the edges bevelled off, with straight guards.

These are generally assumed to have first come into use in the twelfth century. However, the form was used in the eleventh and perhaps even tenth century, as pictorial evidence suggests. Archaeological proof comes from a number of ‘disc pommel’ swords found from graves in Finland dated 1000-1100.

This form of hilt was in use from c.1050-1550, and was popular in assorted variations in the eleventh to fourteenth centuries.

Anglo-Saxon swords

  • Wheeler Type V, sometimes named after the 'Gilling' sword, is considered characteristically English, with a number of finds from c.875-950.
  • Wheeler Type VII ‘tea-cosy’ (ninth to eleventh centuries) and its evolution, the Wheeler Type VIII (‘brazil nut’) / Oakeshott Type X, which appeared in the late tenth century and continued into the twelfth.


Viking swords

  • Wheeler Type I, Type II, popular in Norway, especially on single-edged swords.
  • Wheeler Type III, common in north-west Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries; rare in Britain, bar a couple of examples in Norse areas of Scotland and Dublin.
  • Wheeler Type VI, characteristic of tenth and eleventh-century Denmark.
  • Wheeler Type VII ‘tea-cosy’ (ninth to eleventh centuries) and its evolution, the Wheeler Type VIII (‘brazil nut’) / Oakeshott Type X, which appeared in the late tenth century and continued into the twelfth.

For the ninth century, the Type I, Type II, Type III and Type VII are recommended. For the tenth century, the Type I, Type II, Type III, Type VI, Type VII and Type VIII may be used.

Late eleventh century swords

Normans may wish to use:

  • Wheeler Type VII ‘tea-cosy’ (ninth to eleventh centuries) and its evolution, the Wheeler Type VIII (‘brazil nut’) / Oakeshott Type X, which appeared in the late tenth century and continued into the twelfth.
  • Oakeshott Xa, the 'disc-pommel', which was in use from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries.

Vikings may wish to use:

  • Wheeler Type VI, which is characteristically Danish from the tenth and eleventh centuries.
  • Wheeler Type VII ‘tea-cosy’ (ninth to eleventh centuries) and its evolution, the Wheeler Type VIII (‘brazil nut’) / Oakeshott Type X, which appeared in the late tenth century and continued into the twelfth.

Other edged weapons

Sabres

The single-edged, slightly curved sabre was widely used by the steppe tribes of the east. It was adopted by the Rus elite in the later tenth century, and by the Turkish military elites of the middle East in the later eleventh century.

Langseaxes

Langseaxes are a specific type of seax. Langseaxes should be at least 21" long and may be primary combat weapons in place of a sword.