Albion Armorers Next Generation Gaddhjalt Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow, with comments from Patrick Kelly
Interwoven iron rings, known as chain-mail or simply mail, formed the standard armour used in battle for over a millennium. Warriors of many centuries, from Roman legionnaires to knights of the crusades, relied on hauberks (shirts) of mail. Against armour of this type, a blade form emerged that nearly as long-lived as the mail itself. These were wide and flat, tapering little in width, yielding an optimal shape for executing powerful cuts. This type of blade was passed through the ages and was as favored by the Vikings as it was by the peoples the preceded and followed them.
Though the blades varied little, existing swords of the Viking era show a wide variety in hilt components. We see swords from the late Viking era that illustrate everything from typically Viking hilts to classic wheel-pommeled knightly swords. One form of hilt that saw use in the Viking age and in the transition to the High Middle Ages is known as the "gaddhjalt." People of the Viking era were known to name things in a very literal manner (there is a well-known story of a sword named "Leg-Biter"): "gaddhjalt" literally means "spike hilt." This form gets its name from a long, slender guard that tapers in thickness toward its ends. This guard is often paired with a brazil-nut-shaped pommel. These swords saw their highest level or popularity between 1000 and 1150 AD.
Albion Armorers of New Glarus, WI, introduced their Next Generation Line to the Internet community in August of 2003. The Gaddhjalt, the subject of this review, was the first sword produced. As with the rest of the Next Generation line, it was designed by Peter Johnsson, a noted and respected swordsmith and researcher. These swords are not based on any one surviving antique, but are designed to incorporate the defining characteristics of a particular type into a sword wholly typical of that type. Albion produced a sword named the Gaddhjalt as part of their original Albion Mark line, but that sword should not be confused with the one reviewed here.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
The relatively thin grip was at its most comfortable when I wore gloves. Ungloved, it felt nice at first, especially with the cord riser nestling in nicely between the middle and ring fingers. Later, though, I experience some mild cramping in my hand which subsided when I put the glove back on. Since the late Viking/early medieval warrior wore gloves as a general rule, I don't see this as a problem.
Fellow collector Patrick Kelly has called the Gaddhjalt's handling "pleasing." He goes on to say that "while I would not classify the Gaddhjalt as a quick sword it is an agile one. The long blade makes for a sword that is well suited for long sweeping cuts from the back of a horse. It would also give good service to a warrior fighting on foot, allowing him a good sense of reach from behind his shield. While at Albion I did a little cutting with the Gaddhjalt, using the traditional Japanese cutting medium of rolled and water-soaked tatami mats. The Gaddhjalt yielded no surprises during cutting. The sword tacked well into and out of the cut. All cuts were cleanly executed with no perceivable vibration being felt. While the Gaddhjalt possesses a serviceable point, it is a sword dedicated to the cut. Nevertheless, the sword would have been reasonably effective against the mail and soft body armors of its period. Whether fighting in a shield wall, or trying to defeat the same from horseback, the Gaddhjalt would be well-suited to the task."
Fit and Finish
Patrick was able to handle the prototype for this sword during a visit to Albion last year. He remarks, "Over the past year this group of swords, Albion's Next Generation Line, have been a big hit within the sword community. This comes as no surprise to me, as I was very impressed with that first prototype. The sword's finish was a step above anything I had previously seen on the production market. Its evenly applied satin finish was very attractive, with just the right amount of sheen to bring attention to the blade's crisp surfaces. I was impressed by the straightness and definition of the fuller, which was again a cut above the competition. The same attention to detail had been shown to the guard and pommel. The simple straight guard, from which the sword gets its name, was evenly machined and finished. The brazil-nut style pommel was equally as attractive, with the hot peening of the tang nicely blended with the pommel so as to be nearly invisible to the eye. As impressive as these details were, the most groundbreaking feature was the hilt construction. Gone were the threaded pommels and slip-on hilt components of other replicas. By individually affixing the hilt components and using a hot peening method, Albion achieved a sense of strength and historical accuracy not previously seen in the production replicas market. Given this method of construction, the hilt should stay tight and secure throughout its service life."
The Gaddhjalt is a unique sword that would not be out of place in the hand of a Viking or at the Battle of Hastings. It handles just as you would imagine a sword from this time to handle: with a great deal of authority in the cut without being sluggish or clumsy. Albion Armorers has also faithfully included the subtleties of shape and volume that often separate original swords from reproductions. As the first of the Next Generation product line of swords, it set the standard by which the rest of the line was to be judged.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
I want to extend my thanks to Patrick Kelly for his comments and observations.
Photographer: Chad Arnow