Were Ulfberht Swords made in Fulda?
More than 170 Early Medieval Swords have been found with the trade-mark: +Ulfberht+ (or +Ulfberh+t) engraved in the fine pattern-welded blade. Although some have been identified as sloppy counterfeits, the real thing was obviously a fabulous piece of work. They were stable, weightless and particularly lethal. Different specimens have been dated to a period covering more than 2 – 300 years. Although differing spellings have been recorded it was obviously a very powerful brand! But where were they made? One key to answering this conundrum is the cross, which frame the inscription of the name. Such crosses were generally only used in signatures belonging to abbots, bishops and other prelates governing specified jurisdictions. The most credible answer is that the crosses signified Ulfberht as a “sword master” belonging to a monastery, bishopry or other religious centre. A recent find of a 10th-century sword in the river Weser near Grossenwieden by the city of Hessich Oldendorf may bring us even closer.
A careful study by the chemist Robert Lehman of the lead in the handle of this sword points to the mines in the Taunus region between the Rhine, Lahn and Wetterau. This again points to the monastery of Fulda, where it is known there was a highly proficient smithy in the 9th and 10th century, producing arms for the local military contingents. Another possible production site may have been Lorsch. It has for some time been a hypothesis that the original Ulfberht swords with their Carolingian inscription of a Frankish name punctuated by crosses were made in one or more of these religious centres. Now, it seems, we are closer to pinpointing an origin of these swords, which have been found all over. The recently found sword from Weser is the first to be treated to a tomographic investigation, whereby a three-dimensional image of the sword’s body structure has been constructed by computer from a series of plane cross-sectional images. This has shown that the sword underneath the so-called blood fuller was only 3 mm. thick. The sword was made of iron approaching the high quality of modern steel, which has astounded scientists and archaeologists.
Recently National Geographic produced a documentary demonstrating the process. The point is that modern steel is produced by melting the iron at 1510 C, thus cleansing it for impurities. Afterwards it is fortified through adding carbon. In medieval smithies such high temperatures were not possible to get at. Hence the smith had to continuously pound the metal, which was preferably so-called “crucible steel” (wootz steel ) imported from India and Arabia.
The documentary, entitled “Secrets of the Viking Sword” interviews a modern blacksmith, Richard Furrer from Wisconsin. He is characterised as one of the few modern smiths who are able to make a sword approaching the quality of the medieval “ulfberht” swords. In the film it is demonstrated how Furrer spent several days forging a sword similar to Ulfberht with the use of the technology that the medieval blacksmith may have used. In the end he succeeded in recreating one of the legendary swords.
SEE THE VIDEO:
Herstellung und Verbreitung der Ulfberht-Schwertklingen. Eine Neubewertung.
By Anne Stalsberg
Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters 2008, Vol. 36, pp. 89 – 118
English version may be accessed here: The Vlfberht sword blades reevaluated. Mikko Moilanen, On the Manufacture of Iron Inlays in
Sword Blades: An Experimental Study.
Fennoscandia Archaeologica 2009, Vol. 26 pp. 2009, 23-28
Viking Age Arms and Armor Originating in the Frankish Kingdom
By Valerie Dawn Hampton, Western Michigan University
In: The Hilltop Review: Vol. 4: Iss. 2, Article 8
The ‘Living’ Sword in Early Medieval Northern Europe: An Interdisciplinary Study
By Susan Elaine Brunning Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). 2013
The Role and Status of the Smith in the Viking Age By Timothy Carlisle MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow. 2013