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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Apr, 2014 11:50 am    Post subject: Where were the best quality dark age viking swordblades made         Reply with quote

In highschool and a few other places i was given the impression that the place that, during the viking age, exported the best sword blades was from the land of the franks, but then i was reminded of the ulfbert swords by someone i know as being the best made. eing made in a different region.

so, which blades were more highly prized frankish blades, or german/ scandinavian ulfbert swords?, or is it the case of the centre of the best blademaking simply shifting over time?
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Apr, 2014 1:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

German and frankish is pretty much the same for a greater part of the viking age. Frankish empire was divided to France, Italy and Germany (modern names of course) and these were further divided into many little states, but for a Scandinavian viking, most of these places would be "frankish". And those famous swordsmithing places like Rheinland or Passau are were famous for sword making before and after period in question. Names and rulers changed, but a place with high quality iron ore and smithing knowledge of the local smiths endure...
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Apr, 2014 8:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:
German and frankish is pretty much the same for a greater part of the viking age. Frankish empire was divided to France, Italy and Germany (modern names of course) and these were further divided into many little states, but for a Scandinavian viking, most of these places would be "frankish". And those famous swordsmithing places like Rheinland or Passau are were famous for sword making before and after period in question. Names and rulers changed, but a place with high quality iron ore and smithing knowledge of the local smiths endure...


and what about the famous ulfberht swords? where do they fit into all this?
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Apr, 2014 10:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ulfberht is a Germanic name or word. This points to a place of manufacture in the Frankish lands.
There is further also crosses incorporated in the form of the inscription which further points to an origin of christian culture.

There has been suggested that Ulberht swords were made in scandinavia, but I am personally of the opinion that this is not likely.
Scandinavian craftsmen used runes, not latin letters. As these swords were made over a rather long period (a couple of generations?) it seems unlikely there were a small group of craftsmen somewhere in scandinavia that held on to a christian faith and used latin letters surrounded by people who had different belief and used a different system of writing.

We don´t know exactly where Ulfberht swords were made. We cannot place any sword blade of this period to its origin with absolute certainty and exactness. We can make some educated guesses, however. Passau or Solingen has been suggested as probable places of origin, just like Luka say.

Ulfberht sword are held to be among the absolute best of their time , if not *the* best as the research of Alan Williams suggests.
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William P




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2014 1:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

so, the assertion that the franks were known for exporting some of the best quality blades still holds up then? I was told it might be outdated information.
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William P




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2014 2:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

also if wikipedia is correct apparently some of the earlier ulfberht sword were made with crucible steel imported from india, is that statement correct as well?
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2014 4:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William P wrote:
also if wikipedia is correct apparently some of the earlier ulfberht sword were made with crucible steel imported from india, is that statement correct as well?
I wouldn't trust wikipedia on this. This startement is likely based on the work of Dr. Williams. His theory got really popular after the NOVA special.

While a decent thesis, it is just one theory put forth, and unfortunately it stands in opposition to some evidence that indicates otherwise. For example, research by another academic, Dr. Anne Stalsberg, into the grave contexts and hilt typologies seems to point the other way. That is to say that the H+T (ie the crucible steel examples) are mostly found on the later examples.

The truth of the matter is that no one knows for sure where the vlfberht blades were made. The general belief in academia is that they are Frankish. There are alternative theories (such as Dr, Williams) that believe it is Scandinavia. Dr. Williams theory is popular to laymen due to a TV special.

Also, don't forget that Frankia at the time the vlfberhts are being made includes much of modern Germany.

A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2014 8:37 am    Post subject: Ulfberhts         Reply with quote

Good questions William,

I have been researching these swords for a long time.

One comment we have from an Dr in Afghanistan about this time is that the locals felt the blades from the north where better than their local crucible steel blades and that the Norse did not like their crucible blades either as they did not react well to the cold.

The Ulfberht blades are an excellent example how our modern ideas can distract, and miss lead the understanding of the past. Our context does not inform the particulars of where, why and how these blades where made. We need to turn to the context of their age and see the logic of the minds of their day in the process of creating swords, not the way we look at them. As Luka points out the resources dictate the probably areas of the production of these blades. Peter describes the Ulfberhts correctly as far as what we can and cannot say about them in the place of their manufacture.

What we can say is what these blades tell us from their attributes and structures. This is to often done from a modern mind set that basically reduces the assumptions to trying to fulfill some misguided idea of what period production and a smith of the day may have been like. The blades can tell us several things that are important.

One- that the production of these pieces was done over a long time frame, as Peter mentions, and a wide geographic area. There where several different producers as the materials, styles and structures point to. Obviously on detailed examination some of the blades seem to be from a consistent source. The idea that these where blades from a smith named Ulfberht and then copied or faked by others is a very modern idea. It gained traction when an article Here was written in a newspaper in the UK about Dr. William’s research and they used those terms in the the article. I do not think Alan promotes this interpretation. The idea that the smith would incorporate his name in such a significant way in a blade does not work well with the knowledge we have of a period craftsmen and how they viewed their work and themselves in relation to their work and the world.

We have some of these swords that seem to have been made by exceptional smiths and others that look to be made by less skilled and talented folks. The changes in inscriptions also speak to vastly different starting points for different artists in making these pieces.

When we look to the reasons people of this period would make such a blade it provides far more logical and satisfying theories. The main clue is the name itself. This is definitely a Saxon/Frankish term and would translate into something like “Bright Wolf”. The use of the bright and wolf terms are quite common in these languages and have several good sources for confirming this in period.

One theory is they are connected with positions of power in the clergy as Dr. Stalsberg mentions, this seems to have some good support in the structure of the names as well as the use of forms of the name in Anglo-Saxon bishops as well.

My personal opinion is these swords would have been viewed as objects/symbols of power in their day. Whether one uses the concept of a kenning for the “Bright wolf” term or a title of a person of power these swords most certainly where special pieces in their day. It may even be a reference to some famous or legendary sword lost to us today. They where made to invoke an idea that many would recognize. This would explain the wide distribution and multiple renditions over time. The desire to have objects associated with higher powers is very appropriate for this period. This would explain the cost and effort that was needed to make these swords and why it was not a smith’s name. That would in fact fly in the face of the concept of self for a craftsmen of this period. To sign ones work would have been a display of hubris that those paying for the work would find offensive.

This could also explain why the diversity of the renditions is so great. The idea to make such a sword would have traveled by word of mouth. Not that one saw one and tried to replicate it.

Sorry I am rambling along ☺ been thinking about this for many years.

Best
Craig
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2014 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

to bring the topic back around to its original point

what information is there about the idea that swordblades locally made by the franks were prized as good blades

And were blades 'exported' likee they are now?
I'm curious about that whole dynamic of sword blades being a trade commodity
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2014 1:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sword blades have been a major export/import item in many times/places. High value, and can be worth transporting even with high transport costs. Al Kindi's descriptions of foreign swords suggest that these were known and available to his audience, Song maritime exports to the Persian Gulf area included sword blades, the Japanese exported large numbers of sword blades, to the Ming and elsewhere, and Toledo and Solingen were famous sword exporting centres.

Even in stone age technology cultures, high quality weapons were traded long distances. Polished axe heads and obsidian weapons (and tools) were traded between central Australia and the coast, and between Polynesian islands.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Apr, 2014 2:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A lot of these societies had a strong "gift" culture. Even if they weren't traded as we know today, high value items like swords were presented as gifts. The more valuable the gift, the more prestige the giver gains. Items could be distributed over vast distances because the receiver often didn't keep the gift, but gave it, in turn, to someone else. The mentality was different to ours. It was about "conspicuous consumption". Chieftains weren't interested in accumulating wealth, they wanted to give it to as many people as possible to enhance their prestige.
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