Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Viking swords - Hit or Miss ? Reply to topic
This is a standard topic Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4  Next 
Author Message
Bill Tsafa




Location: Brooklyn, NY
Joined: 20 May 2004

Posts: 599

PostPosted: Mon 31 Mar, 2008 8:11 pm    Post subject: Viking swords - Hit or Miss ?         Reply with quote

I want to share a very interesting clip from a National Geographic show called The Secrets of Viking Warriors. It included some very interesting analysis of historical Viking swords. Surprisingly, they concluded that a good portion of Viking Swords were not very good. They also implied that this was the case through out the rest of the world at the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtIyj8KoDoE

The rest of the two part show contained a lot of interesting information and I recommend everyone watch the two part documentary. The Issue in question was: What if anything gave the Vikings an advantage over other Europeans.

I find this source of information particularly valuable because the people being interviewed have had the benefit of having examined not just a handful of historical swords but hundreds of them. I also like that these are professional historians, metallurgists and archaeologists who would be unbiased in their analysis.

No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
Roger of Hoveden, 1174-1201
www.poconoshooting.com
www.poconogym.com
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website AIM Address
B. Stark
Industry Professional



Location: ORYGUN
Joined: 25 Jan 2004
Reading list: 11 books

Posts: 393

PostPosted: Mon 31 Mar, 2008 8:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This shouldn't seem surprising that many Viking blades were not all that great in quality. The more I read or hear about the analysis of the quality of the blades on swords leads me to believe that there was a huge range of variation(more of it poor by comparison to todays standards of quality control and knowledge of the chemical background that creates quality steel). Many early swords have no evidence of quenching let alone deliberate heat treat. The same can be evidenced in viking era blades. I guess we assume that since they could shape the metal that they understood the chemistry behind a good or bad blade. More likely superstition and tradition played a more important roll(or perhaps some underhanded merchantry as well..."we have a poor batch of blades here...sell them to the Norse or the Slavs...etc.").
"Wyrd bi∂ ful aręd"

Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense?

Patrick Henry
View user's profile Send private message
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 656

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 7:01 am    Post subject: Re: Viking swords - Hit or Miss ?         Reply with quote

Hi Vassilis,

Thanks for the heads up on the National Geographic special. I will be on the lookout for it.

You wrote, " The Issue in question was: What if anything gave the Vikings an advantage over other Europeans."

In general terms I tend to support the "if anything" camp. Most of the Vikings weren't rich, if they had been they'd have stayed home. Sailing was risky in and of itself, trading at the time was risky, and killing people and stealing their stuff seems doubly dangerous inasmuch as people tend to get a little huffy about that kind of thing. It turned out that the hide on that church door wasn't stripped from a Viking's body but the legend that it was speaks volumes.
My understanding is that a lot of the guys pulling the oars were outlaws (often murderers), second sons with nothing to lose, and men who found themselves on the wrong side of some local feud. More or less the 10th century version of the Hells Angels. It probably wasn't a career path for people concerned about retirement. It seems like they did well at raiding, essentially smash and grab robbery but stand up battles didn't always work out well for them although I think numbers and logistics weren't often on their side.
I think the Vikings only material asset was their ships. I believe that the only people who were able to out sail them were the Portuguese, who were able to do so because they were in their home waters. The ships were amazingly well adapted to raiding. They were capable of long sea voyages and yet were shallow draft vessels able to go up rivers and had demountable masts so they could be pretty inconspicuous when they wanted to be and they were pretty fast.
It seems reasonable to me that men who steal for a living are going to steal and loot to get their weapons and thus their weapons are going to be essentially the same as those of the people they preyed upon. I also thought that most Viking swords were made by the Franks. I'm not saying this to argue that the Vikings had better swords than did anyone else but there is the possibility that there is a selection process at work. The scientists are seeing sword that were left in graves, maybe the swords in the graves weren't the best ones. Who knows? Maybe Hrolf Wolfbreath took his third best sword to Valhalla while Hrolf Wolfbreathson kept the best to try to stay alive.
We all know that even today there are swords and then there are swords. Some are wall hangers and some would be the envy of the guys who really used them if they were alive today. Japanese swords weren't all the same either, some were a lot better than others and some had some pretty serious flaws.

Interesting stuff, thanks again,



Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
Michael Curl




Location: Northern California, US
Joined: 06 Jan 2008

Posts: 486

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 9:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Uhh, why are they calling them the preeminent warriors? They raided the french into getting normandy, but I don't recall the French king having much of an ability to get his barons and men together. I mean, what else did they conquer? Ireland? Ireland was as disunited as they were. Most of the viking reputation comes from attacks on villages. Everyone is bad ass versus women, children, and priests. I mean seriously, outside of the Normans, I don't recall the vikings taking any land from other nations, or really winning very many battles.
E Pluribus Unum
View user's profile Send private message AIM Address
Bill Tsafa




Location: Brooklyn, NY
Joined: 20 May 2004

Posts: 599

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 10:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It seems to me that the Vikings were very practical. If you were strong they traded with you, if you were weak they raided you. That said the Vikings, at least early on, preferred easy targets such as Monasteries for the treasures they held and villages as a source of slaves. The took women and children for Northern Europe and sold them to Arabs. The slave trade was the big money maker for Vikings.

A number of sources have confirmed for me that the Vikings technological advantage was their longships. The were sturdy enough for the open ocean and small enough to negotiate rivers. They are even known to have dragged their ships over land between river bodies. The longships allowed for hit and run tactics.

The other advantage that Vikings had was that all of their men were trained to fight. In Christian Europe, the 90% of men that belonged to the peasantry did not learn to fight. They only worked the land. The viking raiders would only need a very basic training to overcome these completely untrained peasants and clerics.

The show I mentioned above divided the Viking era into three parts. The first was the raiding era. These were very basic bandits that performed hit and run tactics. The second was the invasion era were they took Yorkic. This would have involved a higher level of organization and training. They would have had fight in formation and hold ground. Third was the settlement era. These vikings were primarily merchants and craftsmen that developed Yorkvic. The soon stopped teaching their sons to fight and adopted Christian ways and followed the peasant model of the rest of Europe. There was a good deal of overlap between these different Vikings in that 200 years. One group did not necessarily get along with the other.

In the case of the Normans, the French invited a group of Vikings to settle there and defend the area. Essentially the French king created a buffer zone. Again these are a different bread of Vikings, not raiding slave traders. The Normans were Vassels to the French king and this did create conflicts later on because the French were so weak early on.

No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
Roger of Hoveden, 1174-1201
www.poconoshooting.com
www.poconogym.com
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website AIM Address
David McElrea




Location: Canada
Joined: 26 Nov 2003

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 438

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 10:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just a subtle adjustment to one of the posts above. The Vikings didn't conquer Ireland; they raided and then settled. For most of their history they were, in fact, vassals to local Irish kings-- the complications arose in that they owed fealty to both Irish kings and to their own kings (whether in Norway, Man or Orkney). Through the eyes of later Irish nationalists the Battle of Clontarf became a symbol of throwing off foreign rule, in fact it was a conflict between Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, and Mael Morda, King of Leinster. The Norsemen supported Leinster, (although there were Viking mercenaries to be found in Brian's host as well) and suffered a catastrophic defeat in that Battle.

Scotland, on the other hand, was under Norse and then Danish Rule for a great number of years. The Vikings were able to settle in both places in strength for the reasons listed above (by one of the other posters). Neither Ireland nor Scotland had a strong national identity. You weren't Irish so much as you were an Ulsterman or Leinsterman. You weren't an Ulsterman so much as you were Dal Riata or Dal n'Araidh (tribes). There were no cities or towns in the modern sense of the word, so if you were raided, you were raided amongst a number of other isolated farms. As well as wealth, the Vikings helped the Irish move from a decentralized to a more centralized society, wherein strength was found in numbers and warbands could be raised in relative haste.

All of this to say, even within the context of the later Viking Age, the Vikings were not the overlords some imagine. But then I think it would be a mistake to go too far the other way and think of them as weak. They were remarkably capable of organizing themselves as the Irish, Scots, Saxons and French (or at least Parisians) found.


Last edited by David McElrea on Tue 01 Apr, 2008 7:02 pm; edited 1 time in total
View user's profile Send private message
B. Fulton





Joined: 28 Dec 2004

Posts: 180

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 11:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oddly enough, I am actually in Clontarf Castle at the moment.......


I don't know about the sword quality per se, but the Vikings were primarily one-on-one fighters to my knowledge, and their main method of fighting was the hit and run raid. Being aggressive, well armed and attacking by surprise, you don't even have to be that good. Hitting an un-or-barely-armed target , fear does half your work for you (when everyone around you is screaming and running away, most people run away). But they did end up with the Danelaw, large chunks of Scotland and Ireland being Viking or Viking-inspired.


On the sword topic, wasn't the primary weapon for them their spears first? Spearheads and axeheads are harder to screw up than a sword blade. If you don't actually end up using the blade much, how do you know it's bad?
View user's profile Send private message
Jared Smith




Location: Tennessee
Joined: 10 Feb 2005
Likes: 1 page

Spotlight topics: 3
Posts: 1,532

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 2:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

At least per legend, folklore, and small amounts of archeological remnants, the Vikings probably attempted to colonize Greenland, and possibly New Foundland, plausibly traveling beyond that (a bog ingot in Manchester Tennessee at the ArrowHead museum was described by at least one scientist as "inexplicable" in methods of casting and date except as a possible Viking expedition artifact. The newspaper article is at the museum. I could photograph it as well as the ingot sometime if anyone cares)

I have never really considered the Scandinavian Vikings as conquerors (trying to displace others and seize all of their lands), but rather extraordinary explorers and traders who were prepared to fight along the way. If a good situation presented itself, they might resettle in Saxony, the Balkans, Russia, or the New World.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
View user's profile Send private message
Jim Adelsen
Industry Professional



Location: WI
Joined: 28 Dec 2005

Posts: 137

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 4:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are of course many examples of Vikings winning battles. Cnut The Great conquered England and became king. They also laid siege to Paris several times. The Franks brought in Vikings and gave them land as their best defense. They were typically not trying to take land, just treasure. This they did extremely well. Also to support their prowess in battle it is well known that the emperor of Byzantine had an imperial guard of Scandinavian warriors called the Varangian Guard. Certainly he would not have brought them all that way if they were not the best fighters in the land.



Michael Curl wrote:
Uhh, why are they calling them the preeminent warriors? They raided the french into getting normandy, but I don't recall the French king having much of an ability to get his barons and men together. I mean, what else did they conquer? Ireland? Ireland was as disunited as they were. Most of the viking reputation comes from attacks on villages. Everyone is bad ass versus women, children, and priests. I mean seriously, outside of the Normans, I don't recall the vikings taking any land from other nations, or really winning very many battles.

www.viking-shield.com
www.thevikingmuseum.com
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Bill Tsafa




Location: Brooklyn, NY
Joined: 20 May 2004

Posts: 599

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 4:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Veragian Guard is a good example of Vikings doing business in an honorable manor with strong kingdoms. They would not dream of crossing Basil II would was found of poking peoples eyes out. Part II of Secrets of Viking Warriors referenced the Veragian Guard as an example of Vikings finding new ways to fit in during the third phase of their era. During the third phase they also settled nearby Kiev.
No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
Roger of Hoveden, 1174-1201
www.poconoshooting.com
www.poconogym.com


Last edited by Bill Tsafa on Tue 01 Apr, 2008 5:00 pm; edited 2 times in total
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website AIM Address
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 656

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 4:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think that two major stumbling blocks hampered Viking expansionist efforts. I think the first was population. Compared to Gaul or Italy there simply were not enough Viking fighters to do the job. I think the second was logistics. The boats which many see as assets were also somewhat of a limiting factor inasmuch as the Vikings couldn't transport a lot of men or material very efficiently. The fact that the Vikings fought as warbands rather than a national army is also an organizational issue (they needed to organize themselves into a state) and seems to me to also be a logistical problem.

Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
James R.Fox




Location: Youngstowm,Ohio
Joined: 29 Feb 2008

Posts: 253

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 7:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sirs-I might point out that the heavy spear and the axe were simpler to make, not just because you didn't have the problems with tapering,tempering, etc but also because many of these weapons were made of iron with a steel edge welded on. This meant that many weapons could be made with one batch of good steel,an iffy thing to make with no scientific metalurgy.If you read the accounts of pattern-welded swords, most had steel edges and pattern-welded bodies.
Ja68ms
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
M. Eversberg II




Location: California, Maryland, USA
Joined: 07 Sep 2006
Reading list: 3 books

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,435

PostPosted: Tue 01 Apr, 2008 8:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Advantages of the spear are numerous. Cheap, easy to learn, easy to maintain, easy to use in formation, long reach, and there are several things you can use a spear for outside of combat.

M.

This space for rent or lease.
View user's profile Send private message AIM Address Yahoo Messenger MSN Messenger ICQ Number
Elling Polden




Location: Bergen, Norway
Joined: 19 Feb 2004
Likes: 1 page

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,576

PostPosted: Wed 02 Apr, 2008 7:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Viking swords would, like most other weapons, vary widely in quality.
Some smiths where just better than others, then as now.

As for viking fighting style, the main tactic in field battles was tight shieldwall formations. This is supported by the standard equipment of large shield, spear and sword.
Raiding, of course, is largely a matter of hit and run.

I sometimes get the impression that the notion of individualist skirmishers are "transfered" from scottish highlanders, rather than being typically viking. The scots, however, are kitted for hit and run skirmishing, with their small shields and swords.

Domestic raiding was banned at a very early stage scandinavia. There where no "clan wars" or cattle raids on your neighbours. The blood feuds told of in the sagas where highly illegal; most of the participants where outlawed.
Internal warfare took the form of different pretenders fighing for the throne. Plunder in the name of a king was acceptable, so every two bit band of brigands would usually have a "pretender" to fight for.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website MSN Messenger
Sean Manning




Location: Austria
Joined: 23 Mar 2008

Posts: 427

PostPosted: Wed 02 Apr, 2008 9:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In an organized battle, a Viking force's discipline and cohesion, and how much armour it had, would matter more than the quality of a backup and duelling weapon like the sword. For raiding, surprised monks and villagers don't tend to have excellent swords either!
View user's profile Send private message
Bill Tsafa




Location: Brooklyn, NY
Joined: 20 May 2004

Posts: 599

PostPosted: Wed 02 Apr, 2008 9:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From what I can recall hearing in a Viking lecture I took... during the second phase when they invaded England and stayed they used a combination of hit and run with shield walls. The skirmishers would go out to attack and quickly retreat. The defenders thought they had the Vikings on the run and pursued them. The pursuers would then run into a waiting shieldwall that that skirmishers had run behind.
No athlete/youth can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack... then he will be ready for battle.
Roger of Hoveden, 1174-1201
www.poconoshooting.com
www.poconogym.com
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website AIM Address
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 656

PostPosted: Wed 02 Apr, 2008 4:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael

You wrote "Uhh, why are they calling them the preeminent warriors? They raided the french into getting normandy, but I don't recall the French king having much of an ability to get his barons and men together. I mean, what else did they conquer? Ireland? Ireland was as disunited as they were. Most of the viking reputation comes from attacks on villages. Everyone is bad ass versus women, children, and priests. I mean seriously, outside of the Normans, I don't recall the vikings taking any land from other nations, or really winning very many battles."


Have you ever heard of the Rus? Do you know who they were and what they did? Ever hear of an Arab named Ibn Fadlan? While he was under impressed with their hygiene he was pretty impressed with them. "Never had I seen people of more perfect physique; they are as tall as date-palms and reddish in colour. ...their swords are Frankish in pattern, broad, flat and fluted. Each man has (tattooed upon him) trees, figures, and the like from the finger nails to the neck."

Yeah, I guess you're right they don't sound so tough.

Ibn Rustah writing twenty or thirty years after Ibn Fadlan related how the Rus lived on an island (Scholars think this was Novgorod) and raided the surrounding Slavic villages for slaves. Ibn Rustah says, "When a son is born the father will go up ro the newborn baby, sword in hand, throwing it down he says; "I shall not leave you any property: you have only what you can provide with this weapon!" He continues with how they hold duels if they are not satisfied with the ruling of their chief. He also says, "They are courageous in battle and when they attack another tribe's territory they persist until they have destroyed it completely."

There's a bunch of sissies for you!

In 965 the prince of Novgorod Svjaslav (or Sveinald) conquered the Khazar stronghold of Sarkel. One of his sons (Vladimir) was given Novgorod and the other Kiev. Vladimir with help from Sweden killed his brother and became the ruler of a Khaganate which covered all of western Russia.


So do you think all the people they were fighting were, "... women, children, and priests." ?
View user's profile Send private message
Nick B.




Location: Upstate N.Y.
Joined: 11 Apr 2007

Posts: 64

PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 1:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it's real easy to live in these times where you don't have to live by the sword and pass judgement. The Christians from many countries slaughtered women and children during the crusades. The Romans put women and children in the arena to be killed for entertainment. The Spartans would drop babies with imperfections off of cliffs. But no one questions their courage or fighting abilities. I think the Vikings were no better or no worse then anyone else in those times. I don't think anyone can question their courage both in battle or in exploration. I know I would think twice about picking a fight with them.
View user's profile Send private message
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 656

PostPosted: Fri 04 Apr, 2008 3:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vassilis Tsafatinos said,

"From what I can recall hearing in a Viking lecture I took... during the second phase when they invaded England and stayed they used a combination of hit and run with shield walls. The skirmishers would go out to attack and quickly retreat. The defenders thought they had the Vikings on the run and pursued them. The pursuers would then run into a waiting shieldwall that that skirmishers had run behind."

Well from what Ibn Fadlan, said all they would have had to do was get enough of them upwind of their foes and their smell alone would have won the battle for them! Probably their enemies smelled as bad as they did so that wouldn't work either! Laughing Out Loud

I don't claim to have any tactical experience but I've read that the feigned retreat is extremely difficult and dangerous because it is too easy for it to turn into a real retreat. My impression is that only highly trained and well disciplined fighting forces could pull off a feigned retreat.

Getting back to the sword quality question, maybe they just didn't worry about it that much. I know that sounds a little crazy but if you didn't know that things could be different you'd just accept cruddy swords as a normal part of doing business. They, the sword users of whatever stripe, carried another weapon like an axe or a long seax anyway and probably figured that they could always pick up a sword that had belonged to a casualty.

One of the things I noticed in reading descriptions of the Rus is that it seemed to only take about 25 or 30 years for them to adopt the Eastern style of sword as opposed to the Frankish style that they brought into the areas originally. When you consider that they kept the trade lines open with Sweden and Western Europe and could have obtained Viking style swords pretty easily you have to wonder. Maybe the swords they could get locally were better than the ones from Western Europe.

Ken Speed
View user's profile Send private message
Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Reading list: 7 books

Posts: 2,689

PostPosted: Sun 06 Apr, 2008 12:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
I don't claim to have any tactical experience but I've read that the feigned retreat is extremely difficult and dangerous because it is too easy for it to turn into a real retreat. My impression is that only highly trained and well disciplined fighting forces could pull off a feigned retreat.


*grins* And we, being the ignorant moderns that we are, tend to underestimate the level of training and discipline of the warriors of yore! While not all Vikings would have been able to do it, I'm entirely sure that at least some groups were sufficiently trained and disciplined to practice it. After all, it's such a basic and instinctive tactical ploy that we can find in almost every warrior culture for which we have a sufficiently large body of records.
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Viking swords - Hit or Miss ?
Page 1 of 4 Reply to topic
Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4  Next All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum