Part III: Ulferht Swords
Vikings were fierce warriors, highly skilled navigators and traders. The Viking warriors’ ultimate goal is to go a special place called Valhalla. In Valhalla, they would feasted and fighting in a warrior paradise. The only way to go to Valhalla is to become a warrior and die in a battle with your sword in your hand.
A select few elite Viking warriors carried the ultimate weapon, a sword nearly a thousand years ahead of its time. The sword was inscribed with a mysterious word “Ulferht”. Hence it was known as the Ulfberht Sword. Strength, flexibility, weight, and shape determine how well a blade meets the combat challenges and its superiority. Ulfberht Sword was consider the prize weapon in medieval time. The sword was constructed by crucible steel which required melting iron in high temperature. The swords were unusually flexible and not brittle as their counterpart, the medieval swords. However, the technology was not available in Europe that time not until 18th century. The history of its creation has been lost. So how did the Vikings have the raw material for these superior swords?
First of all, how does a black smith harden the iron? He would use charcoal on the raw iron and hardened the iron into steel. In addition, the black smith would add extra carbon by burning bones. Historians assume the Vikings used burnt bones came from their ancestors or the bears. They believe that the Vikings’ belief by using these bones, they hammered in the power of the animals or their ancestors into the weapon, together with charcoal, they made a perfect steep blade. Thus, some of these swords had names connected to a bear or a wolf because they were incorporated the strength of these animals into the swords.
The trade with the East, traders might travel through the Volga trade route from Lake Malaren in Sweden to northern Iran. The route was open from early 800s to mid-1000s and historian found that the blades were dated around the same period.
During that period of time, warriors in central Asia had been fighting with swords made of crucible steel, known as Damascus steel blades, another class of Ulfberht. They had the same composition but the crucible steel was cooled very slowly and iron formed large crystal.
When the Volga trade route closed in 11 century, the manufacture of the Ulfberht stopped. So it is very possible the Ulfberht swords originated from Iran or they used the raw materials imported from central Asia.
- NOVA Geographic Presentation