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Viking era sword inscriptions/inlays and 'sword beads'


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I've been teaching myself wire inlay and I'm itching to put it to use on my current sword project. I've been looking through Peirce's book and most of the inscriptions are related to the Ulfbert and other Germanic sourced blades. Then it struck me... I haven't seen any examples at all of runic inscriptions on any swords.. Only on knives, axes, combs (my favorite: 'this is a comb'), etc.

 

Do people have any examples interesting inlays or inscriptions on Scandinavian linked sword blades from the viking era? I did find one that bears a circle of gold inlay that has runes in the circle. I'm on my ipad right now but I can link that picture here tomorrow.

 

I'm not just interested in runes or maker signatures.. But any kind of touch mark, geometries, talismans, charms. Were sword kennings placed on blades?

 

 

The other thing I'm dabbling with are viking era beads. I've discovered that a bladesmith shop is actually set up pretty well for glass bead making. The thing I'm interested in are the bigger ones found with swords in graves: 'Sword beads'. I've only seen second hand references and am impatient for a book that I just ordered to arrive to learn more... From Archaeologica titled something like 'Sword rings and beads'. Sounds relevant. :-) There has been a few statements indicating that they were on scabbards.. But... I can't find a solid reference.

 

Anybody have info on these?

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Thanks guys.. I will check out that book.

 

Here is the link to the blade that has the circle inscription. But I'm using the wire inlay on the cross guard as inspiration for my current hilt. This same sword has a wire inlay pattern in the cross guard that I will be using:


282673d1332349194-gold-silver-decorated-

 

And then I found the Thurmuth 'Rune Sword'...

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One thing I'm realizing that I do when it comes to a lot of the art and styling for work in this genre is confuse 'anglo-saxon' styling with 'viking'. Obviously there is a strong heritage link between the two. But I need to be more careful making the distinction.


Fore example.. the above sword. It comes from the Viking era.. but was excavated in Hungary and dated 950-1050. The person who bought this blade through an auction states that is 'viking'... but is it? Here is the link: http://www.treasurenet.com/forums/my-best-finds/122408-gold-silver-decorated-viking-sword.html

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So what really makes a 'viking sword' a 'viking sword' then? The hilt is a recognizable type.. type 1 or 2???.. so on that basis it could be 'viking'... at least according to Pierce. Vikings themselves were viking it all over the place. And swords from outside of Scandinavia were being used by Norse folk. Does it come down to only classifying something as a 'viking sword' if it actually comes from a norseman's grave??? Or if you can with certainty attribute it's making to a Norse smith?

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Trouble with the definition of Viking swords is that most are Viking period swords, and therefore just called Viking swords for short. A lot of types weren't limited to just Vikings. There was so much influence in design back and forwards that there are identical types throughout northern Europe. N.b. I've seen a pre-Viking sword with runes on the cross-guard. Oh, and actually looking for that online, guess what I found :)

 

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saebo_sword_blade_inscription.jpg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saebo_sword_Bergen_Museum.jpg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thurmuth_Rune_Sword_Inscription.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:B1622_Lorange_1889_Tab_IV.jpg

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Thank you Jeroen... I've got a similar discussion going in my Shieldstone living history group and what you are saying is what is starting to sink in for me. Nothing is ever black and white is it?

 

And yes.. I mentioed that sword in one of my posts above. The 'rune sword'.. that is the only one that came up for me too other than that auction piece I showed.

 

I think what would be useful for me would be to get a better feel for what decorative elements are distinctly Scandinavian. I feel like Peirce's book has too limited of a sample in that regard.

 

Along these lines... I think it would be useful for me to find an English translation of Geibig's sword typology paper. Does anybody no where I can find this? I found the myArmoury article... but it is devoid of the details that I want. I want further explanation of these data:

 

Supplemental Material

Geibig's chronology of blade construction and decoration:


Pattern-welded blades: pre-7th to late 9th century

Geometric forms in pattern-welded blades: mid-to-late 8th century

Geometric forms in non-pattern-welded blades: late 8th to mid 10th century, early 12th to mid 13th

Ulfberht inlays: early 9th to mid 10th century

Iron spiral designs: mid 9th to mid 10th century

Large letter sequences: late 8th century

Ingelrii / Ingerit inlays: mid 10th to mid 11th century

Single iron characters: mid 10th to early 13th century

Iron cross-potent: mid 10th to early 13th century

"[name] Me Fecit" inlays: mid 10th to mid 11th, late 11th to mid 12th century

Unknown inscriptions, small characters: mid 11th to late 12th century

Groups of iron bars: mid 9th to early 13th century

Religious symbols: late 11th to early 13th century

Non-ferrous cross-potent: mid 11th to early 13th century

Iron anagrams: mid 11th to mid 12th century

Non-ferrous anagrams: mid 11th to early 13th century

Non-ferrous inscription fragments: mid 11th to early 13th century

Non-ferrous name inscriptions: late 10th to mid 11th century

Vertical groups of non-ferrous bars: late 11th to early 13th century

Non-ferrous groups of letters: late 12th–13th century

Figure representations: late 12th–13th century

Long invocations: late 12th–13th century

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I don't want to rain on your parade, but two possibly unwelcome points;



First, I'm not sure if Jeff's wink smiley-face was in reference to this, but I wouldn't be surprised if that sword on the website was a counterfeit.



Second, pertaining to the Thormud sword, I'm seeing a photograph and a Lorange illustration from 1889 that add up to a pretty illegible inscription (with the understanding that the people who made these inlays sometimes had fairly liberal approaches to orthography), and a very clear inscription in an illustration from 1884. Now I understand that it's possible that regrettable conservation or "enhancement" methods were used back then, and may have resulted in serious damage to the blade between 1884 and 1889, but could the latter illustration also perhaps be more interpretation than observation?




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Dan I'm not sure how you are raining on my parade.. I was just using that auction sword as an example of one I found with runes. But I'm curious... On what basis do you think that it is a counterfeit?

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Scott, I didn't want you to feel I was raining on your parade because al I had to say was negative.


But, to elaborate; A few years ago there was floods of stuff coming out of Central Europe, well made, but not quite right, often with spookily uniform corrosion.


The artifact in question has a particular mixture of pizzazz (gold wire), and un-pizzazz (sparse and uninspired and slightly wonky designs), which seems odd, and speaks of artifice.


The blade is also corroded in an odd way, very uniform, and from what is revealed in the structure it seems to be made of a single piece of wrought, when one would expect rather more directional striations from the denser piling that would be more in keeping with the technology of the time.




Edited by Dan P.
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Interesting Dan.... I'm a bit naive and never would have suspected that somebody would go through that much effort to counterfeit....

 

But I'm also a bit confused about criticism of the 'rune' sword. Looking at the picture with the original material... it seems like you can make out that they are actually runes. So you are simply criticising their interpretation of the meaning itself?

Edited by Scott A. Roush
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ha!.... I was just taking a closer look and saw another clue that this is a counterfeit. The pommel. It shows rivets as if it's a two piece construction. But there isn't any evidence at all that this was a two piece pommel! You can't even make the argument that they fused.

 

Well I feel like a greenhorn idiot. Especially since I had started to use those inlays as an inspiration for my current project (so I think 'wonky' and 'uninspired' hurt more than the fact that it was a counterfeit). But you didn't know that. So now worries. :-) Being new to wire inlay it seemed like an opportunity to do a design that was actually used on Viking era sword .as well as take on a design that was easier as a stepping stone.

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Scott, if the sword is indeed a knockoff, it was made with the intention to deceive, so don't feel bad about that! It might not be a knockoff after all?

Concerning inlaid wire, I think overlay was more common in Viking era swords.

As to the Thormud sword, I am not criticising it at all, I am just noting that I, for one, cannot make out any figure that is definitively a rune (or definitely not a rune) in three of the images. The remaining image, on the other hand, is very clear, but does not look like the other three. It just made me wonder why that was.

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I think the pommel gives it away though. Most of the two piece pommels that have fused show some sign of being two piece (at least in pictures). Although.. I was recently reading about false rivets in other one piece pommels... hmmm.. where was that? Maybe they were examining counterfeits! :lol:

 

As to wire... My impression is that the wire is hammered into grooves thus (by Jeff Pringle too!): http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manufacturing/text/viking_sword_hilt_inlay.htm I'm basically using that technique.. although I'm not laying out wire closely together in the typical viking way. I think the impression is that it is overlaid due to how close the wire is crammed together?

Edited by Scott A. Roush
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Whatever the case, it's up to the likes of us to put some {^*-ing Runes on that $(^| anyway.

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Whatever the case, it's up to the likes of us to put some {^*-ing Runes on that $(^| anyway.

Damn ^&*$ing skippy!

 

Scott, thanks for the link, very interesting.

Edited by Dan P.
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Hey Scott, regarding the beads. If memory serves me right, they are more a Migration thing than a Viking Age thing. But there is a reference in Kormak's Saga (set in the 10th century) to a sword named Hviting that has a life stone, so they may well have survived into later periods. The belief was that these were healing stones, useful magic to have around in combat. Like Petr said, The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England has some relevant info.

Also check out Patrick Barta's Blucina sword (http://www.templ.net/english/weapons-antiquity_and_early_middle_age.php#117-germanic_gold_hilt_spatha) Barta states:
"Between the scabbard runners on a snake with garnet eyes there hangs a sword bead - a strange, probably a magic symbol originated from East Europe that can be found at swords from Britain to Poland in the period form 5th to 7th century A.D. The one from Blučina had been made of white chalcedony or agate"

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Thanks for that Myles. I've since learned that what you say is true. It's funny.. the first reference I've seen to 'sword beads' was a Viking thing.. but I've since found nothing. I just got a paper regarding some Anglo Saxon sword beads and it is very interesting. I'm definitely going to be working on a saxon spatha in the near future and try to play with some larger bead making. I've made some really cool ones in my forge.. but I'm having a hard time getting the annealing right. The little suckers practically explode just touching them. I've been trying to anneal them in perlite.. but it isn't working. And I hate to fire up a 50" electric kiln just anneal a few beads. But it may be necessary.

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