A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Vladimir Cervenka Single-Edged Viking Sword
A hands-on review by Kirk Lee Spencer, with comments from Tom Carr
Like a bird of prey, the Northlands swoop down between the Baltic and North Seas. The Northmen that inhabited these lands lived there in relative peace while, to the south, barbarian tribes moved westward in a cascade of migrations. In the 9th century, the Norsemen would become the exclamation point to end this period of migration. The Viking invasions occurred on two wings: one stretched to the west, and the other east. Both eventually descended to the south. In their light and swift longboats the Vikings sailed from the rocky fjords of Norway westward to Britain and Ireland, then beyond to Iceland and Greenland, and further still to the borderlands of America. They also raided southward through the English Channel and up the rivers of Europe. The eastern wing of Viking invasions spread from the lakes and streams of Sweden across the Baltic. Viking longboats entered the large rivers, working ever southward, deep into unknown lands. In time, Viking colonies slowly blended into the surrounding cultures. However, while the Vikings as a distinct group disappeared into the background, Viking swords from three centuries of brutal adventures are still being discovered along the lakes and rivers of Europe.
The sword featured in this review is a single-edged Viking sword made by Vladimir Cervenka. The inspiration for the design came from a 9th century Viking sword found on the North Arhus farm in Norway. Using the classification system developed by Jan Petersen (see our Oakeshott Type X Spotlight for some background), this sword has a Type H hilt, the most common of all Viking swords. While the hilt is of common design, the single-edged blade is not what we might imagine when thinking of Viking swords. In fact many historians believe that these single-edged Viking swords have a different origin from their double-edged siblings. It is suggested that they developed from the langseax. Like the seax, single-edged Viking swords could be used as a tool as well as a weapon. Such multi-tasking would be important in more uncivilized lands without clear divisions of labor. It is not surprising that single-edged Viking swords are generally believed to be of local manufacture. This is based on both the fact that not many single-edged blades are pattern-welded and the speculation that pattern-welded blades were imported from major blade-making centers. However the North Arhus Farm sword does in fact have a very beautiful pattern welded blade. At the same time, it has a Type H hilt design, a type thought to be the creation of local smiths. So in this case, it may be that the blade was imported and then hilted by a local smith, or it could be that at least one local smith learned the art of pattern-welding. Single-edged blades are also thought to be of local manufacture because they appear to be very common in the Viking homeland of Norway. On average, one out of every five Viking swords found in Norway are single-edged.
In the last year or so, the swords of Vladimir Cervenka have been getting more attention within the sword collecting community, yet in preparing for this review I discovered that Cervenka is not a newcomer to the forge; he has been working steel since 1975. Beginning with knives and daggers, he later graduated to swords and rapiers, which he has been actively researching and crafting for the last decade. Although English is a second language for him, he is very friendly and prompt in his communications. Additionally, his customers are not required to pay anything until the sword is completed. Vladimir even sends photos of the completed sword before payment.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Vladimir Cervenka of the Czech Republic.
This single-edged Viking sword has a grip that bulges slightly at its center to fill the hollow of the palm. When tightening your grip it forces the hand to expand against the guards, locking the hand to the hilt. With a dry hand, the wire-bound grip feels very secure and is in no way uncomfortable. The tops of the wire have been sanded down to a smooth polish: it has enough undulation in the surface to provide good purchase but is not so rough that it abrades the palm.
This blade was obviously not designed for thrusting. Even the curvature of the tip allows for slicing tip cuts rather than deep thrusts. The extra weight in the back edge makes for a more rigid blade than a typical double-edged sword of the same thickness. Also there seems to be much less vibration with impact away from the sweet spot (Center of Percussion). The heavy single-edged blade certainly has more cutting power on heavier targets than many double-edged blades. The blade tracks well, yet I found it a little harder than usual to achieve correct blade alignment during a side cut. Overhead downward cleaving cuts were less of a problem.
I sought out fellow collector Tom Carr's perspective on this sword. He echoed my feelings on the pommel, saying "That long sharply tapered pommel is a bear when it digs into your wrist! Ouch! I found that holding closer to the pommel in a handshake grip and laying your index finger over the cross is the best way to use this sword. The pommel slides naturally over your palm when held this way and the index finger provides much-needed edge orientation. The feel of the sword is solid and very alive with a brutally effective cutting action! Tip cuts are effortless. The pronounced curve of the tip is reminiscent of much later sabers. This sword is really sharp! Vladimir outdid himself."
Fit and Finish
Vladimir has perfected the art of adding centuries of patina using a carefully developed acid and water wash treatment. This technique produces a fine weathered and polished gleam that I really like. This, along with the age-worn edges, adds to the character of the sword and gives it a sense of being unique. Once the brass and steel wire binding on the grip darkens, the overall aged affect should be very convincing. While few Viking sword replicas have grips bound with wire, there are many originals with remnants of wire that once bound a long decayed grip. The Turk's head knots used as ferrules are certainly not correct for the period. Vladimir told me this when I asked him to do it, but he was gracious enough to add them for me. He even ground them down so they look more like the braided patterns sometimes seen on Viking jewelry and carvings.
In consideration of how this Cervenka recreation would compare to original single-edged Viking swords, I have included the data on single-edged swords published in Swords of the Viking Age by Ian Peirce:
While the above sample is very small, it would suggest that Cervenka's single-edged sword is similar in overall proportions to those published in Peirce's work. Compared to the averages above, it is a bit long in the grip, but within the range for Viking swords overall. Also, it is balanced closer to the hilt. At first I considered that the original Viking swords' Point of Balance (PoB) measurements did not include the grips and if the grip weight was added, the balance point would move closer to the hilt. This is indeed true; but when I placed a loose grip I had on top of the hilt and re-measured the PoB it had only changed half a centimeter. So the difference in PoB, with or without grip, is almost negligible. So I must conclude that this review sword is a little less blade-heavy than the typical original for that time periodat least compared to those within the book.
Swords in the Viking Age were of such value that they were passed down from father to son for several generations. In my opinion, Vladimir Cervenka has also produced a Viking sword of fine quality, worthy to be used and passed on to the next generation. This sword is not machine-perfect. If it were, I would probably sell it to someone who required such perfection. I prefer swords with a handcrafted look, those that possess a certain level of imperfection. Even more, I like swords that show a little age and use. If you want such a truly handcrafted, authentic and well-balanced sword then you should consider the work of Vladimir Cervenka.
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