Ring-swords in norse poetic tradition?
In Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, one of the heroic "Helgi" lays found in Codex Regius, there is an interesting part where a Valkyrie describes the whereabouts and properties of a certain sword:

Valkyrja kvað:

"Sverð veit ek liggja
í Sigarsholmi
fjórum færi
en fimm tögu;
eitt er þeira
öllum betra
vígnesta böl
ok varit gulli.

Hringr er í hjalti,
hugr er í miðju,
ógn er í oddi

þeim er eiga getr;
liggr með eggju
ormr dreyrfáiðr,
en á valböstu
verpr naðr hala."

Of particular interest is how she desbribes the different parts of the sword (in bold letters above):
A ring is in the hilt,
*bravery in the blade,
woe in the cutting edge

*hugr is ambiguous, as it may also mean soul, thought or will. But stating the context, bravery seems a reasonable translation.

So, what is a ring on a hilt? Intuitively, it is not reasonable to assume it is meant as a physical attribute, given the fact that the other properties are of an abstract, poetic nature. Still, Fritzner's Old Norse dictionary does not do anything but cite hringr as, well- a ring in shape or substance.
This poem belongs, as mentioned, in Codex Regius which was written in 1270. It is however widely accepted that much, or at least parts of the material is much older- and some of the eddic poems found in it, such as Grímnismál, are accepted to have been composed in a recongnisable form some time in the mid-to-late 900's.

Some of these poems are rather heroic in nature, and take on probably very old material related to germanic myth and culture. A lot of which is centered around Atilla the Hun and the Goths. Some of the viking age runic material suggests an oral tradition related to this was alive and well during the viking age, in one form or another, though of course long since fallen into a mythical past. But it is not entirely likely that they had much insight into the material culture of the sixth and seventh centuries.
Hallvard Lie notes that hringr (ring) is sometimes used as a skaldic heiti (poetic synonym) for a sword. I have not really followed up his sources on this, but i will check it out. If this is true, people at some point in time must have seen some connection between a sword and rings. Otherwise such a heiti would not make any sense. Surely, we should be able to trust contemporary norse sources, at least to some extent? Still, material culture has it otherwise, and the thought of ring-swords in the viking age seems completely anachronistic.

My thoughts on the matter are as follows: Could ring-swords (or rather, the sword's ring?) have become a poetic cliché in pre-viking times, to such an extent that swords could be refered to simply by this physical trait even after they vanished?
I don't think this sounds completely insane, if we consider the life-span of traditions and conservatism in such an oral poetic society (like they were still talking about Theoderic and Atilla the Hun in the ninth and tenth centuries). Not to mention that in the light some etymologists believe the term "viking" itself is a ghost from before the discovery of sails?
And lo and behold, here's at least a couple sword kennings with hring- in them:

Edit: Though most seemingly late... Would be more satisfying had we found them common in very early skaldic poems.

The question still stands though. What makes ring sensible as a euphemism for a sword?
Not given this a thought at all but I came to think of the medieval Swedish song "Herr Mannelig". One of the verses goes like this:

"Eder vill jag gifva ett förgyllande svärd
Som klingar utaf femton guldringar
Och strida huru I strida vill
Stridsplatsen skolen i väl vinna"

Eeeengleesh version (bork bork):
"To you I'll give a gilded sword
That jingles from fifteen gold rings
And fight as much as you will,
on the battlefield you shall conquer"

Yet another reference to swords and gold rings. The plot thickens ...
"Herr Mannelig" refers to the mad Prince Magnus, son of king Gustav Vasa and Duke of Östergötland who lived 1542-1595. It is of course possible and even likely that most elements from the ballad are much older, but still it is interesting to note that there are references to ring swords in Scandinavian song tradition as late as the 16th century or even 19th century when the ballad was recorded by folklorists.
Perhaps this is the answer to your question:


more pictures here: http://www.suednorwegen.org/index.php?option=...Itemid=362

It seems there were indeed swords with a ring in the grip. Some archaeologists believe they were oath-rings.
Maybe worth to inquire about those swords. One should be in the care of the oslo museum. This one dates from the 6. century.

Have fun and remember: google is your friend!
Ring Pommels
Thomas is on the right track here, as one of the clearer answers to the ring references are the surviving dark age swords with attached rings and or ring shaped structures (being more durable and becoming part of the pommel itself). These may or may not be related to the beads that are found with swords and seem in a few instances to have been attached by a cord or lanyard of some sort. Whether this was to tie the sword to your arm or was a talisman is not clear.

I think I have an article covering these some where I will try to dig around and see if I can find it.

If oaths were taken on swords, the ring might represent odin's ring draupnir. Sort of a portable holy relic that warriors would swear loyalty to the king on.

I've also read about peace strings holding the sword in it's scabbard.
Oaths are usually taken on weapons, as weapons are considered sacred (in a sense). This would make it much more likely (and logical) for an oath to be taken on a symbol representing Gungnir (for someone with an affinity for Odin) or Mjölnir (for someone with an affinity for Thor) than Draupnir, which was basically just a self-replicating arm-ring.

That said, oaths were also sworn on the oath-ring of the King/Chief as a symbol of loyalty. So, in that sense, it's much more likely for the ring on the hilt of the sword to represent the gold arm-ring of one's sworn leader, which, in turn, represents (in theory) the sacred oath-rings in temples of Thor.

Taking this thread further (let it be known that I have no evidence for this, and there likely exists no evidence for this; just a thought experiment of sorts on my part), it could be that the fifteen gold rings on the sword of Prince Magnus represent the oath-rings of the chieftains that serve under him. Under the Anglo-Saxons and regular Saxons, at least, the implication of an oath of fealty actually put some responsibility on the one the oath was being sworn to, as the man swearing the oath was effectively putting his life in the hands of his liege. In the early days of the conquest of England, the leader of a war-band was fully expected to provide income to his soldiers in the form of loot from their victory, for example, and if this was not provided then his men would mutiny because he broke his side of the deal. This was, in fact, the entire basis on which their military structure was founded. So, for a prince to have many oath-rings on his sword would make sense in this context. Just as those under him swore their loyalty to him, he also has a duty to provide for them in turn.
Evan, draupnir being self-replicating might be the very reason for using it. It wouldn't be hard to conjure up a story where the ring had been found and identified as a sacred ring from oden. What gives relics there power is that there suposed to be real. A king couldn't claim that his spear or hammer actually belonged to the gods.
I think it's not so unlikely that the saga's refer to the actual ring-pommeled swords of the late migration age.

There are also references in the saga's to pattern welded blades, which are likewise outdated by the time they were written down.
The idea of oath rings is indeed interesting, but perhaps a little beside the point in what we could call norse era (c. 750-1350) material culture.
Still, both rings and swords were obviously still important symbols of the aristocracy, even though such may be said for many other things as well. It is perhaps fair to assume rings and swords still belonged to the same paradigm of martial aristocracic symbolism? Perhaps in the same way one might argue that the chieftain and his hall in an extended sense belong to the same entity (like instances where they have made mounds over burned halls, as if to bury it like an aristocrat).

Thomas R. wrote:
Perhaps this is the answer to your question:


more pictures here: http://www.suednorwegen.org/index.php?option=...Itemid=362

It seems there were indeed swords with a ring in the grip. Some archaeologists believe they were oath-rings.
Maybe worth to inquire about those swords. One should be in the care of the oslo museum. This one dates from the 6. century.

Have fun and remember: google is your friend!

I am aware that there are examples of swords with attached rings on the hilt and pommel. The problem is that these were way outdated by the viking age, which is probably the earliest date scholars are willing to place these poems.
I don't find it particularly likely myself that people were aware of ring swords, say, 5-600 years after they fell out of fashion. This thread is more about speculation as to why rings and swords were seen in poetic connection centuries after ring-swords disappeared.
i know that this is mainly about norse poetry, but didn't gawain also have a 3 ringed sword that gave his sword arm attributes of speed? i know that there is also a great chance that before the legends of gawain got mingled with the arthurian legends that it may have been part of it's own oral tradition. but again his story is handed down and his sword goes unchanged not reflecting a weapon of the time when the arthur legends became popular but something much older.

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