Viking Sword

Artifacts November/December 2015

(Ellen C. Holthe, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)
SHARE:
What is it?

Sword

Culture

Viking

Date

First half of the 11th century A.D.

Material

Iron, silver, gold, silver thread, copper alloy thread

Found

Langeid, Setesdal Valley, southern Norway

Dimensions

3.08 feet long

At first the grave’s contents seemed poorer than might be expected, given that it was the largest excavated burial in the Langeid cemetery. When archaeologists dug into the coffin, they found just two fragments of silver coins, one from northern Europe, and a penny minted under the Anglo-Saxon king Æthelred II (Æthelred the Unready) in England. Yet the four postholes at the grave’s corners made it clear that it had once been roofed, a sign of the deceased’s high status. Outside the coffin, however, they soon saw something that, says excavation leader Camilla Cecilie Wenn, “made our eyes really pop” when the dirt began to fall away. On one side of the coffin was a large battle-ax, and on the other, the hilt of a three-foot-long sword that once belonged to a Viking, one whose identity might even be known.

The Viking king Canute invaded England at the beginning of the eleventh century and became king of England in A.D. 1016 when Æthelred’s sons fled. According to twelfth-century Danish chronicler Sven Aggesen, the elite force of 3,000 warriors serving under the king carried axes and swords with gilded heads and hilts, similar to the ax and sword found at Langeid. This type of weaponry is known to have been made in the British Isles, and an inscribed runestone found not far from Langeid indicates that men from this region fought with Canute, probably in the English campaigns of A.D. 1013–1014. “We believe it’s probable that the owner of the sword and the ax was a warrior in King Canute’s army who may have acquired the sword in England,” says Wenn. “The link to the British Isles is also well supported by the grave’s Anglo-Saxon coin, which is the only one unearthed in the cemetery.”

MORE TO DISCOVER

Letter from Nigeria

July/August 2024

A West African Kingdom's Roots

Excavations in Benin City reveal a renowned realm’s deep history

Artifacts July/August 2024

Etruscan Oil Lamp

Read Article
Etruscan Hanging Oil Lamp
(Courtesy Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona; © DeA Picture Library/Art Resource, NY)

Around the World July/August 2024

TONGA

Read Article
(Phillip Parton/ANU)

Digs & Discoveries July/August 2024

Bronze Age Beads Go Abroad

Read Article

Features July/August 2024

The Assyrian Renaissance

Archaeologists return to Nineveh in northern Iraq, one of the ancient world’s grandest imperial capitals

Read Article
(Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project)