Migration Type D Sword by Albion Armorers
A hands-on review by Patrick Kelly

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Between the Roman era and the Viking Age, Central Europe experienced a period of great change. This period of, roughly, 250 A.D. until 700 A.D. has become known as the Migration Era. During this period entire tribes and nations of Teutonic peoples were moving westward into the lands of the old Roman Empire. The ancestors of what would become modern Europe brought with them new types of weapons and warfare, which would sweep away the vestiges of the old Roman world.

Of all these weapons, none was held in more esteem than the sword. In this period the sword was the weapon of the Chieftain or Warlord, as well as a few of the Lord's favored warriors. The sword was not the weapon of the common man; as such, the swords that survive from that time tend to be rather elaborate in their ornamentation. While their decoration is indeed of interest to modern historians, it is in the method of their construction that the most fascinating information is to be obtained.

While the Celtic swords of the La Tene period are widely regarded as the progenitors of the medieval sword, it is in the swords of the Migration era that we see the beginnings of what would become the medieval knightly sword. Swords of the Migration Era are fascinating examples of man's ability to make the most of his available resources. One of the most interesting details of their construction lies in the hilt. During this period iron and steel manufacture was still a very costly and time-consuming business. Consequently, these materials were only used where absolutely necessary, that is, in the sword's blade. Hilts were made from a variety of materials, nonferrous metals, bone, ivory, and wood. These materials were then assembled in a composite fashion, which yielded a functional and attractive hilt.

Unfortunately for sword collectors, replicas from this period are rather scarce, and range in quality from decorative to merely adequate. There is, however, a bright spot on the horizon. Albion Armorers of New Glarus, Wisconsin has introduced two swords of the Migration Era into their Albion Mark Line. One of these, the Type D, is the subject of this review. The Type D is named according to the late Ewart Oakeshott's classification for Migration Era hilt types of A through D. The Type D represents a style that came into use during the period of 600-700 A.D.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:1 pound, 12 ounces
Overall length:34.5 inches
Blade length:29 inches
Profile taper:2 inches at base tapering to 1.3 inches
Distal taper:.212 inch at base tapering to .96 inch
Point of Balance:7.25 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~20.5 inches from guard

Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.

Fit and Finish
Albion's Type D exhibits a high level of fit and finish throughout its construction, and has been designed using historic information supplied by swordsmith Peter Johnsson. The blade is finished with a very pleasing satin sheen, which is attractive as well as being very practical. The blade also features a twin fullered design, which was quite common from the Bronze Age. This design fell out of general use after the Migration Era, and did not reappear until the high Middle Ages. The blade's edge exhibits a strong geometry, which would have given good service against the armor of the period.

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Side View of the Grip

The sword's hilt is really the most striking feature aesthetically, and was my only cause for concern. My initial concern when ordering this sword was the hilt's lack of ornamentation. As has been previously stated, swords were not considered a commoner's weapon during the Migration Era. As such, surviving examples tend to be rather elaborate in their ornamentation. In order to keep the sword affordable, Albion elected to manufacture a hilt without this elaboration. I had originally thought of using a bone grip as a way to add detail and contrast to the sword's hilt. While discussing the project with Albion's head cutler Eric McHugh, it was decided that a grip made from bone presented too many design limitations. Apparently there are only so many ways that bone can be worked so as to yield a functional sword grip. Eric suggested that walnut burl be substituted for the standard walnut normally used in this sword. Eric felt that the burl would add the level of detail and contrast that I was looking for. Judging from the end result I would say that he was right.

Note: The use of materials such as walnut burl are strictly subject to issues of supply and the time involved in the manufacturing process. Any questions involving pricing and availability should be directed to Albion's customer service department.

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The Hilt
The sword's hilt is constructed in the traditional fashion of the Migration Era. The upper and lower guards are assembled from a composite of wood and bronze. A wooden plate is sandwiched between two bronze plates, and two pins that are riveted into place secure the assembly. The grip's construction departs from the method found in most modern replicas. Instead of using a solid piece of wood, bored through to accept the blade's tang, a two-piece construction is used. Two panels of wood are hollowed out to accept the tang. The two pieces are then glued together and held into place by two bronze ferrules. This is a much more common method of construction throughout the Migration Era, and up through the Middle Ages. A small pommel cap of "cocked hat" design then secures the assembly. The one ahistoric detail of the hilt's construction lies with this pommel cap. The cap is threaded and peened into place. The more correct method would be to peen the tang's end over the upper guard, and then secure the pommel cap over it with two pins. This would have complicated the assembly, and as such would have increased the sword's price. This was a conscious choice made by the Albion staff so as to keep the sword within an affordable price point. Given the sword's other historic details, I personally find this design change to be perfectly acceptable.

One of the difficulties found in assembling Migration Era designs lies in their composite hilt construction. When assembling and finishing the various components, it is found that the different materials respond to grinding and sanding at different rates. Wood or bone will be removed quicker than bronze or steel. As such, a lot of attention must be given during the assembly process. Close examination of the sword's hilt will show that Albion paid the bill in full in this department. The fit of all of the various components is perfect. I could find no gaps or overlapping in the sword's assembly. Everything is put together in a firm and secure fashion.

Handling Characteristics
While being a fairly light sword, the Type D cannot be called quick or responsive, when compared to later designs. The sword has a definite point forward feel to it. This is due to the fairly light construction of the hilt. Given the materials used, and their fairly light weight, this is understandable. There is only so much one can do with the balance of a migration design and still maintain authenticity. In spite of these issues, the sword still has a very pleasant feel during handling. Broad sweeping cuts are performed without difficulty or strain. This design would give good service when used with the sword and shield tactics of the period. I did not find the sword's grip to be constrictive during handling. The edges of the upper guard did, however, jab my wrist when used with the typical hammer style grip. When the hilt was "palmed", in what I suspect as being a more appropriate method of use, this discomfort did not occur.

The Albion Migration Type D is, in my opinion, one of the best swords of its type on the production market. The piece features an excellent level of fit and finish throughout its construction. When the difficulties of construction are taken into account, the Migration Type D represents an outstanding value at the current price point.

About the Author
Patrick is a State Trooper serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. He has been fascinated with edged weapons, particularly the medieval sword, since early childhood. Not only is Patrick thankful for any opportunity to indulge in his favorite hobby, he is also blessed with a wife who tolerates a house full of sharp pointy things.

Photographer: Patrick Kelly

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