The Mystery Behind The Legendary Viking Ulfberht Swords

The Mystery Behind The Legendary Viking Ulfberht Swords
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  • Small number of ‘superstrong’ Viking swords have been revealed
  • Made of metal so pure forged to make it hat not been thought to exist
  • All of the mysterious weapons are inscribed with a single word – ‘Ulfberht
a single word - 'Ulfberht' - on the blade of a Viking sword. Experts believe a German monastry may have been responsible for the product of the superstrong weapons.
A single word – ‘Ulfberht’ – on the blade of a Viking sword. Experts believe a German monastry may have been responsible for the product of the superstrong weapons.

It was the sword of choice for the discerning Viking – superstrong, and almost unbeatable in battle.

However mystery surrounds a small number of Viking swords researchers have uncovered.

They are all inscribed with a single word – ‘Ulfberht‘, which experts believe may reveal their maker.

According to Ancient Origins, specialists are now closing in on the mysterious maker.

‘New research brings us closer to the source of the swords, to the kiln in which these legendary weapons were forged,’ it claims.

About 170 Ulfberhts have been discovered, dating from 800 to 1,000 A.D. 

They are made of metal so pure it baffled archaeologists, who thought the technology to forge such metal was not invented for another 800 or more years, amid the Industrial Revolution.

Alan Williams of the Wallace Collection in London has studied the blades, and trusts the maker is unique.

‘It’s much like putting the ‘Apple’ name on a computer,’ he said.

They were extremely rare and important, and would have been prized possessions of the most elite Vikings. 

Robert Lehmann, a chemist at the Institute for Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Hannover, studied an Ulfberht sword found in 2012 on a pile of gravel excavated from the Weser River, which flows through Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany. 

This sword’s blade has a high manganese content, which signalled to Lehmann that it did not originate from the East. 

The guard was made of iron with a high arsenic content, which suggests a European deposit. 

He traced the lead to a site in the Taunus region, just north of Frankfurt, Germany – where he believes it might have been made. 

While some monasteries in the Taunus region are known to have made weapons at that time, the name of Ulfberht has not been found in their records. 

The manufacturing process used has also baffled researchers.

In the process of forging iron, the ore must be heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit to liquify, allowing the blacksmith to expel the impurities, known as ‘slag’

Carbon is also blended in to make the brittle iron stronger. 

Medieval technology did not allow iron to be heated to such a high temperature, so slag was removed by pounding it out, a far less effective method.

The Ulfberht, however, has almost no slag, and it has a carbon content multiple times that of other metals from the time. 

It was made of a metal called ‘crucible steel.’

It was thought that the furnaces invented amid the industrial revolution were the first tools for heating iron to this extent. 

Modern blacksmith Richard Furrer of Wisconsin spoke to NOVA about the difficulties of making such a sword.

‘To do it right, it is the most complicated thing I know how to make,’ he said.

Experts have even tried to recreate the construction methods of the swords to work out how they were made.
Experts have even tried to recreate the construction methods of the swords to work out how they were made.

 

About 170 Ulfberhts have been found, dating from 800 to 1,000 A.D. They are made of metal so pure it baffled archaeologists, who thought the technology to forge such metal was not invented for another 800 or more years, during the Industrial Revolution.
About 170 Ulfberhts have been found, dating from 800 to 1,000 A.D. They are made of metal so pure it baffled archaeologists, who thought the technology to forge such metal was not invented for another 800 or more years, during the Industrial Revolution.

 

 


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Jessica Saraceni has been a part of Histecho Since 2018, drawn to the site for its quirky character and through Articles about the Mysteries of earth and human behavior. previously, she was an assistant editor and Research fellow at Archaeology magazine, where she gained an appreciation for the field work. A master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental science from the Center for Archaeological Research, the University of Texas at San Antonio. She enjoys all forms of exercise; reading works by her favorite author, Haruki Murakami; and playing with her sons.