A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Vladimir Cervenka Petersen Type S Viking Sword
A hands-on review by Kirk Lee Spencer, with comments from Tom Carr
To the Northmen, "vikingr" was a pirate, and "viking" was more of a verb than a noun. So it is doubtful that a Viking would call himself by that name. Although the Viking invasions involved both barbarity and peaceful settlement, the acts of violence seem to have gotten most of the press. It should not be surprising that the term "pirate" or "viking" would eventually be applied to a whole culture. And what a culture it was, being possibly the last that would carry openly the heroic warrior ethic that praised strength of arms and an individual renown found only in battle.
Typical double-edged Viking swords are believed to have developed from Celtic swords by way of the Roman cavalry spatha. Because the Roman spatha design developed in a society with a clear division of labor, it would not only serve well at its intended purpose, but would quickly identify the position and status of its bearer. As the Roman Empire melted away at the edges, the barbarian petty kings adopted the prestige of the spatha design. During this time, the design of European swords followed other changes in contemporary art. Barbarian decoration began to appear upon older Roman forms. The relatively narrow lens or octagonal cross-section of the spatha blade widened and developed shallow fullers. The hilt components also changed: hourglass shaped hilts with silver plating over organic cores changed to more simple organic grips. The upper and lower guards became more distinct and were formed by riveting together layers of metal and organic material. On the upper guard of these "sandwich"-type hilts appeared decorative caps covering the peened end of the tang.
The Viking sword appears in the archeological record with the enlargement of these "pommel caps" and the uniting of the sandwiched components into solid upper and lower guards. As a matter of fact, the earliest solid guards even have false rivet heads decorating them. From this beginning, the Viking sword diversified into a complex array of forms, many of them showing fine hilt decorations of carved gold and silver, with shimmering twisted wire accents and inlays. Some of the earlier forms even had beautiful pattern welded blades. In the hands of Viking warlords, these magnificent "ancient heirlooms" must have been breathtaking. In this sense, they symbolize all that is frightening and beautiful in the Viking culture, a culture that is itself a fitting and glorious epitaph to the sword as the magical companion of ancient heroes.
Editor's note: The position that the European sword developed from the Roman spatha is strictly the author's opinion. Many of the design features used herein to illustrate this development are also found in European Celtic sword designs, both from the Bronze and Iron Ages. As these Celtic types were either in use before Celtic contact with Rome, or were used concurrently with the spatha, this developmental link cannot be firmly established.
In a landmark publication in 1919, Jan Petersen produced a working typology of Viking swords based upon their hilt designs. He included 26 types, designated A-AE along with about 20 special types. His typology showed several periods of linear development often interrupted between certain types. These interruptions could be due to a lack of discovery or possibly a mixing of different regional influences.
The sword featured in this review is of Petersen's Type S. It is believed that Type S swords arose in the 10th century from the older type D Viking swords. The S types retain the large bulbous central lobe of the D types but have a more semicircular shape. Viking swords of Type S are commonly found in Nordic countries and Eastern Europe, with only a small number found in Western Europe. Although this sword would be classified as a Type S, the slight curvature of the guards would make it a variant of the classical form. This curvature of the guards may even show Anglo-Saxon influences, by way of Type L hilts, upon the older traditional S types. In any case, it is this slight curvature of the guards that makes this form of Viking sword more comfortable when used in any other fashion than a straight-arm cut with a hammer grip.
The sword featured in this review was made by Vladimir Cervenka. He is one of several swordsmiths in the Czech Republic. He not only creates beautiful swords and rapiers, but also pole-arms and armour. Over the years Vladimir has handled and studied original swords and researched the details of their design by visiting museums, libraries and Internet forums. His desire is to model his works after historical pieces, not only in the way they appear in three dimensions, but also in the way they feel in hand. Vladimir says he wanted to make swords that are elegant, light, balanced, and authentic. He hand forges his blades from high quality Si-Cr steel, hardened to 50-52 on the Rockwell scale. Vladimir requires no deposit before he begins a commissioned project, and he sends photos of the completed work before he expects pay. Vladimir uses a very simple but effective means of shipping his swords. A thick cork stopper is placed over the tip of the sword. Then a thick layer of bubble wrap is securely taped around the sword. It is then packed tightly in a thick cardboard box.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Vladimir Cervenka of the Czech Republic.
The grip has a slight bulge in the center that naturally fills the hollow of the palm. However, for my hand, it seems just a bit oversized.
Fit and Finish
The blade and fullers are well-shaped and show a bright mirror polish. They do have slight undulations on the surface from the forging process, but these are only slightly visible when looking down the blade against a light source. Also, very slight grinding marks can still be seen when viewed at certain angles. The edges have absolutely no secondary bevel. They display a very smooth transition from the fuller ridge to a razor sharp edge.
One of the first things I noticed when removing this sword from the shipping box was that it does not look like your typical Viking sword replica. It looks like Viking swords I have admired in museum pictures. The blade is thin with shallow fullers rather than the thicker blades and deeper fullers seen on many replicas. Also the pommel is large and bulbous, a feature typical of Type S hilts. The large hilt and extra mass in the pommel helps to give the sword a very nice balance. I was curious to see how Cervenka's Viking sword would compare to originals of similar type. Ian Peirce, in his Swords of the Viking Age, does include statistics of a few Type S Viking swords:
While the above sample is very small, it would suggest that this Cervenka Viking sword is similar to original finds in its proportions. Maybe it is a bit long in the grip for the type, but easily within the range for Viking swords overall.
In my opinion Vladimir Cervenka produces one of (if not the) best values on the sword market today. His work is very clean and balanced with the authentic lines of historic pieces. Cervenka blades are tough and flexible with just enough of that handmade character to escape the modern machined look of so many swords on the market today. I have no doubt that Vladimir Cervenka will continue to improve his craft and we will see much more of his work in the future.
About the Author
Kirk Spencer is Assistant Professor of Science and History at The Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. Since 2001, he has researched western swords of all time periods, compiling an archive of thousands of photos and archaeological drawings. He also enjoys collecting and refurbishing modern sword reproductions.
Photographer: Kirk Spencer