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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
Joined: 26 Aug 2010
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PostPosted: Mon 14 Nov, 2016 12:54 pm    Post subject: Viking Sword Belt Decoration         Reply with quote

Are there any extant finds or photos or descriptions of decoration (tooling, small metal mounts or pins, stiffeners, etc...) of belts associated with swords from the years 950--1050? More specifically, from the Baltic or Central European regions, ideally, though any information would be helpful. Buckle and strap end information is also welcome!
"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Kristjan Runarsson





Joined: 07 Nov 2015

Posts: 109

PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2016 5:07 am    Post subject: Re: Viking Sword Belt Decoration         Reply with quote

Kai Lawson wrote:
Are there any extant finds or photos or descriptions of decoration (tooling, small metal mounts or pins, stiffeners, etc...) of belts associated with swords from the years 950--1050? More specifically, from the Baltic or Central European regions, ideally, though any information would be helpful. Buckle and strap end information is also welcome!


That depends on what you mean by decoration. Most of what I know about belts of this period is in the context of what I have learned in my research of sword scabbards and knife sheaths. There is, for example, little evidence of leather embossing that I am aware of. So if you want to stay accurate you'll stay away from embossed belts. There was, however, a tradition of carving patterns into the wooden core of the scabbard and then moulding the leather covering onto it which produced raised patterns. There may have been other ways of achieving this raised effect. A good example from the Viking age of this practice is the Cronk Moar scabbard which had raised patterns on the scabbard and metal belt fittings. But you are mostly interested in belts so I think it is fair to say that for the most part that copper alloy belt fittings seem to have been quite rare in the sense that Armani clothes are fairly rare today and mostly associated with the very wealthy (the same goes for metal chapes and scabbard mouths for those that are interested in sword fittings). The Cronk Moar scabbard and it's associated belt work would, for example, have been a fairly high status item. I'd say that most common people probably used iron belt fittings if they used them a t all. You might have seen belts with bronze plates, bronze belt ends and bronze buckles (same goes for bronze scabbard fittings) being quite common in fabulously wealthy places like Gotland and other centres of trade.

In her book Esther Cameron, writing about scabbard fittings in Anglo Saxon England also concluded, after taking a look at a number of surviving belt buckle plates, that many swords were suspended using belts made of tablet woven bands or fabric belts rather than leather ones. She also stated that there was some indication that tablet woven ribbons were used to wrap around scabbards for decoration.

So the common run-of-the-mill Viking/Anglo Saxon/German warrior of the period should be kept in mind:

  • Scabbards were covered either with leather or waxed linen fitted with a leather chape or a wrapped fabric chape.
  • Very often belts had either no metal fittings or iron fittings and the same went for scabbard suspensions
  • Copper alloy fittings of any kind were high status items and copper alloy chapes were extremely rare.
  • Belts, if made of leather, tended to be rather narrow, no more than maybe an inch wide. Often probably half that.

The absence of metal fittings may be partly explained by the fact that when metal was used for things like D-rings, distributors and belt buckles these were were made of blackened iron and have corroded away. However, just because the people of this period did not use a lot of metal bling or leathers, it does not mean that their gear looked boring. Tablet woven and fabric belts can be quite decorative.

I started a thread a topic that ties into this in the sense that scabbards are usually associated with belts:
https://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=34288

Below is a picture of two scabbards I built. The one on the left incorporates some features of German/Norwegian specimens. You'll mostly be interested in the belt fittings which are made of iron and the notice that the leather straps on the baldric are rather narrow. Belts generally were not very broad in this period. You could replace the baldric's leather straps with tablet woven ones if Cameron is right and the same can probably applied to regular belts. The scabbard on the left is something only a wealthy individual would be able to afford. It comes with a complete set of belts with decorated bronze buckles.



If you are in the market for bronze bling for your belts this guy has a large selection:
http://www.re-enactment.com/
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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
Joined: 26 Aug 2010
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Posts: 472

PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2016 8:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Can the use of tablet woven belts be brought notably outside of the Anglo Saxon and maybe Scandinavian sphere? The Ottonian and central Germanic manuscripts I have seen so far seem to show belts being pale in color, or sumptuously decorated with gold and jewels (after the Late Carolingian belts, which are either dark, a bright blue or also richly decorated), and look like leather to me (for no particular reason, I guess...). Rarely are buckles shown, but aside from a single image that I have seen, all depicted belt ends show buckles, though the ends are often not shown at all.

My plan was to make a simple wrought iron buckle, or a bone buckle, and to see what I felt like for the strap end after the buckle had been sorted. I really like the linen idea, but the scabbards from the above manuscripts are almost always an unbroken uniform green, or are left pale, which makes me think they may be leather. That's part of the reason that I think leather belts may have been used--the earlier bindings on the body or near the mouth of the scabbard seen in other manuscripts doesn't really show up around 1000+/- AD, which seems to point towards a general trend away from cloth or woven straps being used. Maybe a leather with linen covering was used, as has been mentioned. The scabbards don't seem to show decoration of any kind, and neither do the belts, but that doesn't seem to be for or against the leather option.

"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Kristjan Runarsson





Joined: 07 Nov 2015

Posts: 109

PostPosted: Tue 15 Nov, 2016 5:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kai Lawson wrote:
Can the use of tablet woven belts be brought notably outside of the Anglo Saxon and maybe Scandinavian sphere? The Ottonian and central Germanic manuscripts I have seen so far seem to show belts being pale in color, or sumptuously decorated with gold and jewels (after the Late Carolingian belts, which are either dark, a bright blue or also richly decorated), and look like leather to me (for no particular reason, I guess...). Rarely are buckles shown, but aside from a single image that I have seen, all depicted belt ends show buckles, though the ends are often not shown at all.

My plan was to make a simple wrought iron buckle, or a bone buckle, and to see what I felt like for the strap end after the buckle had been sorted. I really like the linen idea, but the scabbards from the above manuscripts are almost always an unbroken uniform green, or are left pale, which makes me think they may be leather. That's part of the reason that I think leather belts may have been used--the earlier bindings on the body or near the mouth of the scabbard seen in other manuscripts doesn't really show up around 1000+/- AD, which seems to point towards a general trend away from cloth or woven straps being used. Maybe a leather with linen covering was used, as has been mentioned. The scabbards don't seem to show decoration of any kind, and neither do the belts, but that doesn't seem to be for or against the leather option.


I'd say an iron buckle that looks like it was made by a blacksmith would be a good choice. As for tablet weaving I am not aware of any research of the type that Cameron made having been done outside of the UK but I'd have to say it's fairly likely that tablet woven belts were used elsewhere in Europe. Leather of course is just as good a choice as long as you don't go for a really broad belt (inch or less, preferably quite a bit less if it is leather). It is also quite likely that the belt might have been made of linen or some other fabric. Take a look at the belt work on this scabbard a German re-enactor built:

http://www.reenactment.de/reenactment_start/r...heide.html

It is a toned down version of the scabbard and belt of the Reichsschwert which was made for Otto IV, a Welf, not an Ottonian and it dates to the end of the 12th century but it is an example of a fabric belt on a very high status sword that still has some leather components such as the short leather strap that attaches to the buckle. This might also explain why the belts are pale in colour in illustrations since natural linen tends to be range from yellowish white to almost grey or green-grey in colour. Sumptuous leather belts covered in copper alloy platelets and with a buckle and strap-end that all had elaborate raised decorations on them would be decidedly high status items like I pointed out before. What you see in manuscripts is normally not the common soldier, it's royalty, lords and their retainers. Also, reenactors tend to talk like leather was an abundantly available and cheap commodity during this period. I'm not entirely convinced of that. As always we are left with scant archaeological evidence where easily perishable organic materials are concerned and have to fill the gaps with educated guesswork. One final observation is that Giebig in his book on sword morphology mentions that in Germany it is hard to find surviving scabbards that can definitively be said to have been leather covered. According to him, fabric was by far the most common scabbard covering from ~700-1100 so it is quite reasonable to hypothesise that belts were made of fabric as well like on the Reichsschwert. Finally I remember reading somewhere a description of Charles the Great written by some monks at the monastery at St. Gall (if I recall correctly). That description mentioned the emperor himself carrying a scabbard covered with waxed linen. Having made such scabbards I can only say that I prefer them over the leather variety. Fabric covered scabbards are significantly lighter, more waterproof as well as easier and cheaper to repair.
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Kristjan Runarsson





Joined: 07 Nov 2015

Posts: 109

PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2016 11:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One last thing about leather embossing. When I said there was no evidence of leather embossing I meant (a) that there is little surviving evidence of this from Iceland/Norway (you did say Viking sword belt decoration) and (b) that while people did inscribe designs into leather during this period this usually took the form of soaking the leather in water and then inscribing designs on it with a blunt tool.

Something like this elaborately and painstakingly stamped and painted modern leather tooling would have been an expensive high status item:



While your average Viking/Saxon/Norman or Ottoman knight might have had something closer this quality level of decoration:



Some period examples are these decorated leather knife sheaths from York:

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Juraj S




Location: CZ
Joined: 22 Jul 2016

Posts: 12

PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2016 12:24 pm    Post subject: Templ         Reply with quote

Patrick Bárta has made a reconstruction of a belt and spurs from 9th century Moravia. It´s on his page.
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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
Joined: 26 Aug 2010
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Posts: 472

PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2016 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was going to do even less decoration for my scabbard, and likely none for the belt. I already have a nice long 3/4"-1" belt blank, and I'll likely condition it and trim it a bit narrower. I haven't been able to find much info on belts of 950-1050 anywhere, regardless of whether or not they held a scabbard. I can only assume that some belts were status items, and that it would make sense for some sword belts to follow suite, but most swords are shown stuck to the hip, without baldric or belt readily visible. I am, on the whole, not a huge fan of embossing leather with extensive tooling, unless it's done in imitation of originals (Bayerische XVIIIb, for example). Are there surviving finds or depictions or descriptions of belts from the time period that aren't linked to fabulous wealth? I know of some from Byzantium, but that's not very helpful.

I appreciate the input on this thread guys!

"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Kristjan Runarsson





Joined: 07 Nov 2015

Posts: 109

PostPosted: Wed 16 Nov, 2016 4:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kai Lawson wrote:
I was going to do even less decoration for my scabbard, and likely none for the belt. I already have a nice long 3/4"-1" belt blank, and I'll likely condition it and trim it a bit narrower. I haven't been able to find much info on belts of 950-1050 anywhere, regardless of whether or not they held a scabbard. I can only assume that some belts were status items, and that it would make sense for some sword belts to follow suite, but most swords are shown stuck to the hip, without baldric or belt readily visible. I am, on the whole, not a huge fan of embossing leather with extensive tooling, unless it's done in imitation of originals (Bayerische XVIIIb, for example). Are there surviving finds or depictions or descriptions of belts from the time period that aren't linked to fabulous wealth? I know of some from Byzantium, but that's not very helpful.

I appreciate the input on this thread guys!


Do you mean detailed pictures of belts in general? ... or pictures of the sword suspension? If you men the former, the kind of detail you are looking for is rarely present in manuscript illustrations but you can still get some clues about suspension. There is a small collection of manuscript illustrations of sword belts and mountings here:

http://www.vikingage.org/wiki/index.php?title=Sword_Scabbards

Here are some more resources:

The Stuttgart psalter:
http://digital.wlb-stuttgart.de/sammlungen/sa...Bpage%5D=1

The Bayeux tapestry:
http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/

Other than that it's just a matter of weeding through online scans and pictures of manuscripts and other art which is a batch of research I'm just getting started on myself.

In terms of sword suspension I prefer baldrics which seem to have been quite common during this period because I don't have hips like a woman and a simple sword belt with a heavy sword hanging form it with no shoulder support tends to slip downward when I run around the field. Having said that my second choice is the kind of belt arrangement you see on that German Reichsschwert reproduction I linked to:



It's simple, its easy to make, needs no metal parts other than a buckle and you can determine the angle at which the scabbard hangs by moving the loops at the end of the belt that wrap around the scabbard further apart. With this mounting the sword will sit tightly on your hip and the scabbard will not whip about a lot when you run which is the last thing you want. It is also appropriate to the Ottonian period you are thinking of. If you do have problems with the scabbard whipping about excessively (which I doubt, at least mine didn't when I tried this arrangement), you can simply add a thin (~1 cm wide) auxiliary strap that attaches to the scabbard about 1/3rd to 1/2 the way down the scabbard and attaches to the belt somewhere at your back.

You could also go for something like this:



...but I think this is (a) unnecessarily complicated and (b) only came into use at the end of the Viking/Ottonian period at the very earliest. Looks cool though...

Here is a take on how the Ballateare and Cronk Moar swords were mounted to a belt rather than a baldric. This suspension needs more metal fittings but would probably work OK too:



I'd still pick the Reichsschwert suspension since I like to keep things simple. There are also other options including ones involving scabbard sliders.

My advice is to get some cheap nylon ribbons like this:

https://www.amazon.com/HipGirl-Polypropylene-Polypro-Backpack-Webbing-Black/dp/B01FSQ9OFW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1479342273&sr=8-2&keywords=nylon+ribbon+sling

You can sometimes get them at those one dollar/pound/euro stores or just scavenge them off old nylon bags and try out different arrangements until you find something that works for you. I mocked up the Ballateare style baldric on my linen covered scabbard with plastic clothes line string something like three or four times until I had found the correct lengths for the different straps and everything balanced right both with the sword sheathed and unsheathed since the centre of gravity changes when you draw your sword and the scabbard hangs differently when it is empty.
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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
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PostPosted: Thu 17 Nov, 2016 6:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks guys. I have seen the website about British finds, and it has been quite helpful. I have also looked at doing various loops for scabbard suspension, but have ultimately opted for a hidden slider, based partly on their relative commonness in manuscripts of both the period and some years later. Mine is attached with epoxy and muslin soaked in wood glue. Next time, I'd pas pins up from inside the core and peen them over the slide, if I chose to have one. I don't think the woven suspension system was really in force yet, and as such have opted to pass it up.

I've included some pictures of my scabbard (second ever, so it's pretty rough) and belt, as well as some suspension methods. The belt end is tucked around the back of the grip, and the system is NOT a double belt rig, though it looks so. I am beginning to believe that the belt is too wide...



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"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Kristjan Runarsson





Joined: 07 Nov 2015

Posts: 109

PostPosted: Thu 17 Nov, 2016 11:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kai Lawson wrote:
Thanks guys. I have seen the website about British finds, and it has been quite helpful. I have also looked at doing various loops for scabbard suspension, but have ultimately opted for a hidden slider, based partly on their relative commonness in manuscripts of both the period and some years later. Mine is attached with epoxy and muslin soaked in wood glue. Next time, I'd pas pins up from inside the core and peen them over the slide, if I chose to have one. I don't think the woven suspension system was really in force yet, and as such have opted to pass it up.

I've included some pictures of my scabbard (second ever, so it's pretty rough) and belt, as well as some suspension methods. The belt end is tucked around the back of the grip, and the system is NOT a double belt rig, though it looks so. I am beginning to believe that the belt is too wide...


Like the way you mounted it. Sliders do seem to have been hidden for the most part during this period and they often seem to have been carved into the wood of the scabbard. I've only seen sliders on English scabbards and possibly one Norwegian example. Have you covered the scabbard yet? I was thinking about using a hidden slider on a scabbard for an Anglo Saxon sword I have, it must be a bit of a headache to fit the leather?
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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
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PostPosted: Thu 17 Nov, 2016 12:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I haven't covered it yet, no, but I have developed a tracing template for the leather using the slider mounted to the scabbard, and the extra tolerance isn't too much if the slider is lower profile. My plan is to put a leather or waxed linen patch below the slider void, to avoid exposing the wood, then skive the slit leather edges and wrap and glue them around the actual slide. I'll be using 1-1.5 mm pig skin for the whole scabbard, so it'll be thinner to begin with.

In regards to belts, are there stats or discussions anywhere concerning the prevalence of iron strap ends? I have seen some of bone, and some of copper alloy, but haven't seen much in regards to iron. I have some red bronze sheet, and could do a bronze strap end, but I would like to do a wrought iron or bone strap end--unless a good argument can be made for strap ends not being very common circa 1000 AD?

"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Alexander H




Location: Austria
Joined: 17 Apr 2016

Posts: 5

PostPosted: Fri 18 Nov, 2016 5:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kristjan Runarsson wrote:

Like the way you mounted it. Sliders do seem to have been hidden for the most part during this period and they often seem to have been carved into the wood of the scabbard. I've only seen sliders on English scabbards and possibly one Norwegian example. Have you covered the scabbard yet? I was thinking about using a hidden slider on a scabbard for an Anglo Saxon sword I have, it must be a bit of a headache to fit the leather?


It seems that hidden sliders were used in the Frankish Empire as well in the 9th century.

In the Stuttgarter Psalter you can see that alot, for example here (13r):

http://digital.wlb-stuttgart.de/sammlungen/sa...page%5D=29
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