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Viking Warfare

valkyrie-Haarby-Odense-Bys-Museer Medieval Histories

This summer “VIKING 2013” presents us with four angles on the Vikings. The second one is about War and Plunder…

viking sword © National Museum of Copenhagen

One of the more intriguing facts about the Vikings in Norway, Sweden and Denmark is the different types and numbers of swords found in graves. In Norway more than 3000 swords have been found, while only a tenth has been found in Denmark, where most graves did not contain weapons; and if they did, then only one of each.

Another characteristic feature are the diverging types of swords. While swords in Norway were both single- and double-edged, the Danish swords were primarily double-edged and the blades were often of Carolingian manufacture, some of which had a welded signature: Ulfberht (or fakes thereof made to look a-like). These high-end blades are believed to have been made of ingots with a very high content of carbon, which were imported from the Middle or Far East.

Highly sought after , these blades are believed to have been made by one or several Frankish blacksmiths from the Lower Rhine Area. After having been acquired – probably through looting and ransoming – they were fitted locally with handles, which thus came to witness to local or regional tastes in the different power spheres.

The exhibition shows a fine selection of all sorts of weapons or parts of them – swords, axes, shields, stirrups. Another fascinating part are the small figurines (bring a magnifying glass) showing mounted Vikings on horses or gripping their shields with their teeth. (Yes, some of the Lewis chessmen are indeed temporarily guesting Copenhagen.) Most interesting, however, is a tiny silver figurine of a so-called Valkyrie – literally a “chooser of the slain”. According to myths she was a companion of Odin, sent to battlefields in order to select among the warriors those who had died as brave men and deserved to be brought to Valhalla. Until very recently such females were only known from a handful of brooches and in 2D. In 2012 the small figurine from the 9th century was found. No more than 3.4 cm the figurine depicts a woman wearing a long, patterned dress, with hair tied in a knot at the back of her head and sporting both a sword and a shield. At the back of her head the hair forms a loop. Maybe she was worn as a pendant around the neck of a mighty warrior. Now she is for the first time exhibited shedding light on the Cult of the Viking warriors.

 

Read the general presentation and review of the exhibition Viking 2013

Read about the different sections of the exhibition here:

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