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Review of Siddon, J. Kim. "Sword." In Viking Weapons & Warfare. Charleston: Tempus Publishing Limited Inc., 2000.

This chapter didn't have a defined research question in the tradition sense. The goal of this chapter was to inform the reader about Viking swords; to show what swords meant to the Viking people, the styles used, process of their manufacture and what makes a good sword. The chapter was broken up into six sections: Saga Information (65), Beginnings (74), The Hilt (75), The Blade (76), Other Traditions (77) and the Work of the Smith (78). It should also be noted that much of the information in this chapter is based on the experiences of the author using accurate Viking sword recreations from archaeological data. The author himself is the founder of Regia Anglorum, a United Kingdom based historical re-creation society. Thus Siddon brings a unique angle to the study of Viking swords.

The range of this chapter is board, dealing with the swords used by the Scandinavian peoples during the entire Viking Age, with references to characters in several Viking sagas. The countries included in the chapter's discussion are those in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Continental Europe such as Francia and Scandinavia. Comparisons are also made with other sword traditions from around the world during the same time period.

The author makes use of several medieval sources both written and artifactual. The first source is textual and is the Norse version of the Welend Tales about Vollund the Smith who sets out to make the perfect sword (68). In his quest the smith grinds down a sword twice, feeding it to his chickens to rid the iron of impurities. When the iron was free of the impurities he shaped it into a sharp blade. Once this was done he created one of the finest swords in the world according to the tale. The next written source was the Myth of Skofnung (68). Skofnung was reputed to be the finest blade that came from the North. The original owner was King Hrolf Krafi of Denmark who had the sword buried with him. Two hundred years later Skeggi of Vlidfirtlz took the sword from the grave and used it in his adventures before lending it to Kormak and before eventually giving it to his son, Eid. The sword makes its way to Gellir who had it buried with him. Other sources are artifactual in nature, mainly unspecified royal graves. However, the Balnakiel Viking grave in Northern Scotland was listed as an example (76). These graves had swords included in the grave goods of the deceased and were used in reconstructions.

The author's methodology is simple. The introduction/saga information section introduces the reader to the Viking sword tradition and the sagas where swords play an important role. This is the place where the examples of Vollund the Smith and The Myth of Skofnung are used to illustrate the point. They also show that the Viking were aware that the iron had to be properly smelted and formed to be an effective weapon. The Beginnings section, focusses on the tradition the Viking sword emerged from, namely the Roman styles. The sections dealing with parts of a sword discuss the various forms of the piece has taken, along with the pros and cons of the each style. The archaeological evidence from the graves is used in these sections, showing the various styles of swords found in the Viking graves. The author is careful to acknowledge that not all Viking swords have preserved nor all the parts of the sword, so some inaccuracies are inevitable. The final sections discuss other sword making traditions, like that of Spain where their swords did not hold up well in the cold weather of the north (79). The final section is about the blacksmith who creates the sword and the process and time involved. In short, the methodology used in the chapter ensured that all the important aspects of the swords were discussed.

The author concludes from the evidence and his own experiences what a good Viking sword would need. The sword would need to be well balanced, meaning the blade equals the weight of the pommel, cross guard and handle. The ideal hilt should be wooden for a better grip and it should also be wrapped with a wool strip to absorb any sweat and blood and improve the grip (this is based on evidence from the Viking graves). This strip is more readily replaced then a sword hilt. The sword itself is a board sword with pattern welding (steel and iron welded together) because it holds an edge and is flexible to avoid breaking. An iron sword was either too brittle and will break after several strikes which is not good in a battle. Or it will be too soft and will bend after hitting the target and have to be bent back into place.

This is an excellent source for my research paper. The Viking were clearly trying to make the best sword possible; they were using their battle experience to guide them, knowing that a good sword must be flexible and hold an edge. With the knowledge of how the Vikings manufactured their swords I can compare it to the swords used by the other peoples in the area and see if they are superior. If that is the case this might explain the success of the Viking raids.

      Updated: 4 Dec, 2007
Text © Christena Hurley, 2007   Copyright details
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