Jump to content

Viking vs. Samurai sword condition


Ben Potter

Recommended Posts

I undersatnd (theoreticly) why there are so many well preserved japanese swords in existance, and was I was wondering if any one knew of any viking swords that were in 'good' condition, I mean in the kind of shape that you could (God forbid) take out and use? All the pictures I have seen of swords are of the ones that have sat in rivers or bogs for the last 1000 odd years,

and are not exactly in mint condition.

 

As a side note I have a Koto period(at least that is what the appraiser said) wakizashi, let me know if anyone would like to see pics of it, or know more about it, not that I know much about it.

Thanks,

Ben

Ben Potter Bladesmith

 

 

It's not that I would trade my lot

Or any other man's,

Nor that I will be ashamed

Of my work torn hands-

 

For I have chosen the path I tread

Knowing it would be steep,

And I will take the joys thereof

And the consequences reap.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I undersatnd (theoreticly) why there are so many well preserved japanese swords in existance, and was I was wondering if any one knew of any viking swords that were in 'good' condition, I mean in the kind of shape that you could (God forbid) take out and use? All the pictures I have seen of swords are of the ones that have sat in rivers or bogs for the last 1000 odd years,

and are not exactly in mint condition.

 

As a side note I have a Koto period(at least that is what the appraiser said) wakizashi, let me know if anyone would like to see pics of it, or know more about it, not that I know much about it.

Thanks,

Ben

 

 

Hi Ben

 

Unfortunately there are no known swords of the Viking age in useable condition, here is a link of the best book in English on the subject. The cover pic shows one of the better preserved examples.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Swords-Viking-Age-Ia...e/dp/0851159141

 

Also note that Viking is a verb, meaning to go raiding, Northmen was the English term that roughly covered raiders from Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

 

I would be interested in seeing your Koto Wakizashi piece.

 

Cheers

 

 

 

 

Jason

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Swords of the Viking Age is discussed in the books/movies threads and is definitely worth the price of admission. It was quite the sensation around here when it was finally published.

 

EDIT: deleted to remove erroneous info.

Edited by Kristopher Skelton

Kristopher Skelton, M.A.

"There was never a good knife made from bad steel"

A quiet person will perish ~ Basotho Proverb

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Don't know that much about the Viking age but...

 

If we stick with katana, I'd almost agree with you. However there are several examples of tachi (predecessor of the katana) from ~9th - ~12th centuries (Heian period) in good condition. One of which is currently in the Tokyo National Museum, called the Dojigiri, a National Treasure made in approximately 1050. Another is the Kogarasumaru, also in the same museum. There are also still-extant examples of chokuto (tachi's predecessor) from the Nara period (710 - 794) in a state of semi-polish (the hamon is still quite visible). There are actually many examples of Kamakura period (1185 - 1333) blades in good polish, in fact this is said to be the time period in which the best Japanese swords were made and there are quite a few National Treasures from this period, some of which are known to have been used in battle, so these weren't just art objects.

 

Sorry if I sound too argumentative. I really don't mean to, but for some reason it always seems to come out that way when I write.

 

I'd love to see pics of your koto wakizashi, Ben.

 

Dojigiri and Kogarasumaru:

dojigiri__Custom_.JPG

KogarasuMaru__Custom_.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not argumentative at all. I wasn't aware that pieces that old were extant in as good condition as you described. I'll have to see if there's a museum website. Norsemen still interred weapons with their dead, right :blink::unsure::lol:

Kristopher Skelton, M.A.

"There was never a good knife made from bad steel"

A quiet person will perish ~ Basotho Proverb

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Also samurai didn't start thinking of the sword as his "soul" until the Tokugawa era. They were weapons, tools. Did they prize them? Well yes the same many people today prize that great deer rifle. Were the Japanese swords thought of as art? Well kinda of. If you were rich and could buy lots of swords with all the pretty shiny things then absolutely it is a piece of art, but to the poor swordsman it was a weapon. Could the plain sword be beautiful? Yes but that was not the intention.

Edited by Mike Sheffield

My life is like shaving with a razor sharp machete. It's a bit awkward and I feel a sting every now and then, but in the end I'm happy with the results.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll post the pics in the History forum under "old wak"

Hope uyou like it

Ben

Ben Potter Bladesmith

 

 

It's not that I would trade my lot

Or any other man's,

Nor that I will be ashamed

Of my work torn hands-

 

For I have chosen the path I tread

Knowing it would be steep,

And I will take the joys thereof

And the consequences reap.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is going to depend on what you meand by "good" condition but Ian Pierce in his book "Swords of the Viking Age" does show blades in "good" condition, even "ready to rock and roll". Page 52 features a 9th century sword with a blade in very good condition with some areas in pristine condition from Musee de l'Armee in Paris. Page 56 shows another 9th century blade still sharp enough to be used. A third 9th century blade is found on page 72 form the University of Oldsaksamling, Oslo, Norway which has two slight bends in it but still looks battle ready. A sword from the 10th century is found on page 77. This blade is in the British Museum, London. An 10-11th century sword from the University of Oldsaksamling is featured on page 108. Again this sword appears battle ready. Granted, the organic portions, such as handle wrappings and scales, are gone and they may have a coating of geothite or some other patination from age but are other wise in very good condition. I'll have to allow that these specimens are much the exception rather than the rule, however. There is another sorce of good Viking age swords and those are the ones which have been recycled. I don't have many references to them, as a matter of fact, I only have one. Ewart Oakeshott mentioned in at least one of his books, I think it is "The Archiology of Weapons", a 9th century pattern welded blade that had been rehilted in the 15th century and turned into a katsbalger. This weapon resides in a museum in Swithserland.

 

Doug Lester

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that a lot of it has to do with what is seen as acceptable conservation work between euro and jap blades. With Japanese, it seems as though it is perfectly acceptable to have an old blade polished, whereas that would likely not be done to a euro blade dating to the viking age. There seem to be several viking age blades in usable condition if they were restored, but that would entail restoration and not conservation from the western point of view.

 

To put it in a nutshell, if you have an old tachi with some rust on it, it will have more value if you have it polished, whereas if you found a viking age sword in a bog, tomb, ect, polishing it to bare metal would almost certainly make it lose most of it's value(but it would still be neat)

Rósta að, maðr!

 

http://jfmetalsmith.com/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don´t think I´ve ever seen a viking blade that has original surface intact. The best you can hope for is that it has been preserved in such conditions that the oxide is uniform in a way that it has kept most of the character.

In many cases swords were sacrificially "killed" by (being put on the funerary pyre?) heating/annealing. In some cases this has produce a nice black oxide surface that has counteracted much further degeneration of the blade. Nothing is then left of original temper, of course.

 

One of the best exapmles I´ve run across is a sword found in Fullerö, a village a few kilometes north of Uppsala where I live.

It is a nice patternwelded sword with a type H hilt.

What is unusual with this sword is that the black oxide has preserved not only the original surface, but also provides some hints of color differences between the layers in the steel edge and the pattern welded core.

The etching (?) is slightly topographic and you can make out how much the edges were forged to shape, by looking at how the density of the layers of the steel increase closer to the edge (gradually grinding trough more layers as the edge geometry is shaped with file and stone).

 

In parts rust has created craters and the blade is bent. I still get goosebumps when I hold this sword! It is magnificent and really provides an insight to what these weapons might have looked like when new.

Viking.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow, that pattern is absolutely insane. I would love to be able to study that sword in person... but not everyone that wants to can :(

Bob O

 

"When I raise my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance upon mine enemies, and I will repay those who haze me. Oh, Lord, raise me to Thy right hand and count me among Thy saints."

 

My Website

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Norsk:

Yes this is a sword I documented a few years back. It was actually one of the first swords I ever documented. This was even before I considered starting out as a swordsmith. I was studying to become an illustrator at the time (some 20 years ago!). I might have made it sound I get to see this sword often. Sorry If I made than impression. I have seen it a couple of times over the years when I have visited the store room of the National Museum of Antiquieties in Stockholm. One of the best viking swords they have there, to my mind. I don´t think it is on display in their new exhibition of the viking age. Perhaps because of the bend in the blade?

 

Alan:

Thank you!

It is indeed a very well made blade. What is striking is how well the central patternwelded panels align to the fuller (or how well the fuller aligns to the forged structure, if you like). The contrast between the crisp patterned panels and the subtle layering of the edge is a thing of understated beauty.

 

Jeff:

Yes, the edges are just about pristine in places. You can feel the will to bite even through your cotton gloves as you hold the blade. The cross section of the edges remind very much of that of a Katana. The same graceful arc down to sharpness with no secondary bevel. The final angle is quite acute. If I remember correctly, I think the total angle of the sharpness is about 22 - 25 degrees.

 

Bob:

If you happen to travel to Sweden, write me a line and I will see if I can arrange a visit to the store room.

It is a tremedous rush to see these blades in person. Most are of course far gone in rust, but it is still possible to learn a lot from them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is a beautiful blade. Do you have any more pictures of it?

My life is like shaving with a razor sharp machete. It's a bit awkward and I feel a sting every now and then, but in the end I'm happy with the results.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a smith, I can only look at the perfection of the technique in the pattern-welding and bow in envy and awe.

As a side note, Peter, are you trying out much pattern-welding these days? And it's only a guess but from the pattern I think much of the core was ground into when the fuller was made, rather that being largely forged in. It would be fascinating to know the types of tools used. I'm of the belief that a full-time bladesmithing operation in the Rhineland a thousand years ago might well have had a selection of speciality tools that, apart from the lack of electricity, would make a modern bladesmith drop his jaw.

Edited by Al Massey
Link to comment
Share on other sites

That would be very cool to see.

My life is like shaving with a razor sharp machete. It's a bit awkward and I feel a sting every now and then, but in the end I'm happy with the results.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hopefully I will be lucky enough to travel there some day Peter. If I do you can be sure I'll write you. Besides the awesome swords, it's always cool to meet people in person that you met online.

Bob O

 

"When I raise my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance upon mine enemies, and I will repay those who haze me. Oh, Lord, raise me to Thy right hand and count me among Thy saints."

 

My Website

Link to comment
Share on other sites

WOW nice. I would have loved to see that sword in its hey day.

My life is like shaving with a razor sharp machete. It's a bit awkward and I feel a sting every now and then, but in the end I'm happy with the results.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a smith, I can only look at the perfection of the technique in the pattern-welding and bow in envy and awe.

As a side note, Peter, are you trying out much pattern-welding these days? And it's only a guess but from the pattern I think much of the core was ground into when the fuller was made, rather that being largely forged in. It would be fascinating to know the types of tools used. I'm of the belief that a full-time bladesmithing operation in the Rhineland a thousand years ago might well have had a selection of speciality tools that, apart from the lack of electricity, would make a modern bladesmith drop his jaw.

 

 

Hey Al!

I think you are right. I am convinced the blade smiths at a very early date had specialized workshops. We can see traces of this already in the celtic fortified villages (oppida) where specialist craft was plied. A blade smiths´ tools would have been diferent from the village blacksmiths´. Swages, drifts and fullering tools as well as a set up that made the best use of forge helpers. The filework, grinding and polishing involved also put blade making apart from what the typical blacksmith would have been familiar with. It is most certainly not a matter of "primitive techniques".

I keep sending hopes and prayers that someone will find the remains of a weapon smiths workshop with remaining tools. Unfortunately the prospect of that are probably pretty bleak.

 

The fuller of the Fullerö sword has seen at least some amount of grinding/stock removal. I think however that the patterned core is made up of two pairs of rods on each side. Both sides seem to show almost the middle of the rods. I cannot say if the rods were first cut in two or simply ground or filed down. The pattern show no distortion from cutting/cleaving as far as I can tell.

In many cases there is proof of more or less grinding involved for the fuller.

 

Al, I have not done much patterwelding up till now, but I hope to do more now when I now get to start working again. We shall see.

;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The fuller of the Fullerö sword has seen at least some amount of grinding/stock removal. I think however that the patterned core is made up of two pairs of rods on each side. Both sides seem to show almost the middle of the rods. I cannot say if the rods were first cut in two or simply ground or filed down. The pattern show no distortion from cutting/cleaving as far as I can tell.

In many cases there is proof of more or less grinding involved for the fuller.

And just the other day I was thinking of doing the same thing; slicing twisted rods in half and then using them back to back to get a star pattern with minimal stock removal.... seems they may have beat me to it by 1300 years.

 

One of these days, I'm gonna make one of those.

 

There is a sword attributed to Charlamange (misspelled, spent a long night trying to see if beer makes for better forging), that the experts seem to really disagree about but it seems to be a re-hilted migration era blade, and still shiny. There's another, attributed to a saint and stored at a church that dates way back, the blade is still bright. The fittings are bone (including the guard) and seem to date the blade to 1100 or so. I'm not sure if either of these blades has visable pattern-welding, but both appear to be quite functional.

 

It bugs me too there are not more of these blades in better condition.

George Ezell, bladesmith

" How much useful knowledge is lost by the scattered forms in which it is ushered to the world! How many solitary students spend half their lives in making discoveries which had been perfected a century before their time, for want of a condensed exhibition of what is known."
Buffon


view some of my work

RelicForge on facebook
Link to comment
Share on other sites

There's another, attributed to a saint and stored at a church that dates way back, the blade is still bright. The fittings are bone (including the guard) and seem to date the blade to 1100 or so. I'm not sure if either of these blades has visable pattern-welding, but both appear to be quite functional.

 

It bugs me too there are not more of these blades in better condition.

 

I agree that it would indeed be nice if there were more European blades in better condition. As has been previously mentioned, I believe it boils down to the different cultural traditions involved. While blades were considered very important to cultures all over the world, differences in funerary rights and other local traditions have been the major contributors to the current state of ancient/antique blades. The Japanese tradition of polishing and caring for the blade (which directly relates to other Japanese cultural peculiarities), as well as the common/prevalent method of assembly (which allowed for regular cleaning and re-polishing), has allowed these old blades to keep their looks, as it were.

 

One other difference that comes to mind that is a direct contributor to the current state of affairs is the difference in what constitutes restoration in Japan vs. the West. While it is perfectly acceptable to completely re-polish a 700+ year old Japanese blade, European historians and museum curators would be absolutely horrified if you attempted the same with a migration era blade.

 

Of course, this is all in my own opinion. Others are more than welcome to disagree.

 

BTW, great pics of a truly beautiful blade, Peter. Thanks for showing.

 

/steve

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that you make a good point, Steve. I've read Oakeshott and a couple of other writers where they mention how horrible it was that someone ruined the value of a blade by polishing the geothite or other patina off. It's like when a bunch of art experts wailed and wrung their hands when the Catholic Church decided to clean centuries of candle smoke and crud off the cealing of the Cistine Chapel. They were certain that Michaelangelo's work was being damaged beyond repair. Personally, if I had an old sword that was not some historic treasure, I'd be sorely tempeted to do a complete restoration on it. Of course it would have to be in good enough condition to make the restoration worth while.

 

Doug Lester

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...