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Quality of Iron/Steel in Viking Age vs Later Middle Ages
Blake Davidson posted a topic in HistoryGreetings, everyone. This is my first post here. I joined because I'm a history major with a fascination with metalwork and because I plan on trying my hand at bladesmithing beginning around December/January. I'm also a little bit of a fanboy when it comes to some of the members here. I was inspired by a few of them. So I'm quite happy that I finally decided to join the forums. However, because I'm not even a beginner smith yet, I'll probably mostly be reading what the rest of you have to say and learning what I can for the time being. That said, I do have some questions on some of the historical aspects of bladesmithing. I did a number of searches on the forum to make sure this subject hasn't been covered too extensively. I only wanted to make a new thread as a last resort, but I feel it's necessary if I want my questions answered. My questions deal primarily with the quality of the iron and steel used in blades during the Viking Age as opposed to the later Middle Ages. I was considering covering this subject for senior seminar, as this is my last semester of college. But the few sources I was able to find in my university's library and online databases that mentioned the subject at all were written during a time in which the historical narrative was not quite as objective as it is today (though it's still not perfect or even consistent by any means). So I probably won't be covering that topic for my class, but it still interests me enough that I hope some of the members here who are knowledgeable on the subject might chime in with whatever information they can provide. So, something that piqued my curiosity was one of the constants I found in the aforementioned books as well as various places online that discuss older forms of weaponry. It was the idea that the iron and steel from blooms in the Viking Age, as well as construction methods, were somehow overwhelmingly inferior to those in the later Middle Ages. I think it's natural to assume that metallurgical knowledge would progress as time goes on, but I don't know if it really increased so greatly between these two time periods. As I currently understand it, smiths of the Viking Age were aware of the benefits of quench hardening and perhaps even tempering. If I'm correct, weapons in the later Viking Age also began to be made less from pattern-welded steel and more from a single type that would allow for more consistent and controllable production of weapons. This is where the whole "Superior/Inferior" thing starts to come into play. The ideas presented in those books and websites noted that a single type of steel yielded better weapons in the later Middle Ages as this type of weapon production replaced pattern-welding altogether. However, that doesn't seem to me like it would yield better weapons as much as something of a more consistent quality. I understand that swords of the Viking Age had a wide range of quality where construction and material was concerned. That makes it difficult to make any sort of generalization about them in that regard. But with one type of steel being used, it does seem that more control could be had over the production processes which could lead to a better understanding about that one type of steel. With that said, would I be somewhere MAYBE close to correct in saying that the quality of steel and iron used for weapons wasn't necessarily "better" in the later Middle Ages, but rather more consistent? I understand that what makes a quality sword or spear is more complicated than just the steel that goes into it. And I hope I don't come off as one of those people who argue that one type of sword is better than another for whatever reason. It's just something I'm very interested in. I apologize for the rather lengthy first post. This is just something I've been trying to get a better understanding of and I think many of the members here could chime in and help me understand this a little better. Especially those who have handled older weapons or have studied older methods of smelting ore and crafting weapons. I would also like to leave out too much discussion of Ulfberht blades and the Wootz that was used to create them if at all possible. I'm more concerned with the more common steels and irons used. I look forward to your posts and to a long, enjoyable experience here on the forums.