A Viking Super Sword?
The remains of this ULBERH+T sword were recovered from the River Elbe at Hamburg in 1957. It is now at the History Museum Hamburg, inventory number 1965:124. It was first described by R. Schindler, much more extensively by Michael Müller-Wille, Kiel, in ”Ein neues ULFBERHT-Schwert aus Hamburg" (5 Offa 27, S. 65 – 91).

The blade sports inlays of pattern-welded iron/steel: +ULFB..RH+T on one side and geometric patterns on the other.

If you look at the magnified close-up shot of the blade, you can see that it consists of typical fine layers which are the result of traditional blade-making, which consisted of repeated folding and forging of rods of high carbon steel and low carbon iron, intending to marry their respective qualities to create a hard yet flexible blade. Such layers do not not occur with crucible steel. So the popular thesis that ULFBERHT swords were made of crucible steel imported from India cannot be validated with this example.

The blade is extraordinarily hard according to archaeologist Ingo Petri’s recent examination, which is due to an unusually high carbon content. This would have made it an excellent cutter, keeping sharpness longer than softer blades, and cutting more easily through tissue and bone. However, at the same time this renders the blade more brittle and thus more liable to breakage.

If other ULFBERHT swords had similar characteristics, they would have been great for some actions, yet not up to the requirements of medieval blade-on-blade fencing. Accordingly, ULFBERHT swords can only be confirmed for a very short period. The rapid development of new shield shapes and armour, as well as advanced riding equipment during this particular period most likely reflects a response to novel combat requirements and thus according changes in fighting techniques, too, which ultimately also resulted in medieval swordsmanship that is based on blade binds. See a video on these exciting correlations here.

The ULFBERHT swords are weapons from exactly this transitional period, when swordmakers not only experimented with new hilt and blade shapes to meet new demands, but most likely also with new ore melting processes in order to gain better control of carbon content. When satisfying methods were developed and had spread by the 11th century, blades from good quality steel were produced almost all over Europe. The ULFBERHT swords may well have stood at the beginning of this process, having been the produce of some innovative and elite workshops, but as such they were as inferior in some regards as are all beta versions or prototypes, and by no means the super swords modern media has claimed they were.

Detailed stats and a photo set of 25 selected hi-res images of this weapon are available to $25+ patrons. A full scale scan of my tracing and drawings of this sword are available for $35+ patrons.

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