Monday, February 19, 2007

Norse Weapons - who has what?

(once again modified from a post to Norsefolk)

When you look at the artifacts from the Viking Age, there are quite noticeable differences in terms of 'national preference' against weapon type as found in burials. Viewed as a very rough overall picture (only!)

Norway - swords
Sweden - spears
Denmark - axes

In terms of more of one type that dominates inside the area. All types are of course found, so its not as simple as 'I'm a Swede - so I should use a spear'.

As you might of guessed from the recent series of articles, there are wealth and status considerations to make related to a specific historic character and what weapon to carry. I have not specifically seen any data on the relative frequency of swords in burials overall. Just about everyone had a small tool knife, but my quick gut reaction is to say swords were like modern Rolex watches in terms of distribution through the population.

Generally swords / axes / spears are found only in male burials.
One real big problem with that generalization is the 'male dominant' angle . If there is a weapon found the sex is automaticly determined as male - without further examination into possible gender (converse is glass beads and female). Skeletons are only rarely sexed using methods OTHER than object generalizations as it turns out. There are some obviously female burials which are found with 'male' objects, particularly swords. Are these intended as working tools - or are they instead statements of status (which is more likely)? As I remember , axes are almost never found in female burials for example.

Swords specifically are high cost, special function, tools. Remember than few individuals in Norse society were full time wariors. If you are primarily a farmer who goes on raids a couple of times over your life span, then investing in an axe makes a lot more sense. This would be a tool axe as well - which explains why there are so many more small, multi function head sizes found.

Swords are also herloom objects. So there is scope there to interpet older blades which have been re-hilted. Stories collected on family blades. High quality swords might easily have a larger reputation than the person holding it.

I personally have a real interest in how simple technical factors can combine or interact inside a culture to create the tradtitions and customs that define a people. I think we are seeing how the metalworking problems are shaping the Norse.

(cross posted on the DARC blog)


STAG said...

How much iron was made in industrial centres with power equipment? I mean, it doesn't take more than half a day for the novelty of pounding on a steel bar to wear off, and make one think about that windmill (or waterwheel) up the road could be made into a treadle hammer. What did such machinery look like, and is there any of it left? Can we tell the size of hammer used to make a "currency" bar? Were swords and axes made mostly at the foundry and merely hammer-sharpened or straightened in the local forge? How did the Viking founder control the amount of carbon in his iron? Was a swordmaker a specialist, or something a guy did when there were no horseshoes or nails to be made?
And where did all this iron come from? Surely it wasnt ALL reworked from Roman sources,did they keep the iron mines running in Angle land, or Geat land or Dane Mark? (Come to think of it, ARE there iron mines in Dane Mark?)

These are all questions my students have asked me, and as good at bull-shirting I am, I admit to not knowing the answers. I hope I can pick up some answers to these and many others on these pages.

Oh, and thanks for making the distinction between wrought and bloomery iron.

Randwulf atte Cynlauden said...

I know that the Saxons controlled the amount of carbon indirectly when making blades. They did this by using a technique called "pattern welding" in which they would essentially weld a number of iron rods together while twisting them and eventually pounding them into one flat bar which gave more overall surface area for the carbon to penetrate from the charcoal they used. I hope this helps, you may also want to look into historical reenactment groups such as the Soceity for Creative Anachronism or Anglo-reglorium as there are many folks looking into these things there. Hope this helps.


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