Viking Age Arms and Armor Originating in the Frankish Kingdom

Viking Age Arms and Armor Originating in the Frankish Kingdom

By Valerie Dawn Hampton

The Hilltop Review: A Journal of Western Michigan University Graduate Student Research, Vol.4:2 (2011)

Introduction: The export of Carolingian arms and armor to Northern regions outside the Frankish Empire from the 9th and early 10th century is a subject which has seen a gradual increase of interest among archaeologists and historians alike. Recent research has shown that the Vikings of this period bore Frankish arms, particularly swords, received either through trade or by spolia that is plunder. In the examination of material remains, illustrations, and capitularies, the reason why Carolingian arms and armor were prized amongst the Viking nations can be ascertained and evidence found as to how the Vikings came to possess such valued items.

The material remains come from a variety of archaeological sites, which have yielded arms and sometimes even well preserved armor. These artifacts are usually found in three types of sites. Bog deposits have the best-preserved weapons and armor because of the protective peat surrounding the object. Many solitary items, in various conditions, have been discovered in rivers. Most of the material remains, however, have been found in gravesites.

Literary records verify that swords and other weapons and arms passed to neighboring regions through gift-exchange. The Frankish Royal Annals show such gift giving relations between the Anglo-Saxons and the Franks. In the Annals, Charlemagne gave King Offa an Avar sword. Notice that the Franks gave away not their own prized swords, but foreign ones, which were acquired by Charlemagne‘s son, Carloman, from the Avars. These exotic swords were depicted only as ceremonial or show pieces, hence they were not held in as high a regard by the Carolingians as were their own swords. The Gesta Karoli Magni mentions that Frankish arms and armor were exported widely. Evidence found in the Baltic region and beyond indicates such exports in the mid-ninth century. The monk of St Gall mentions the appearance of Vikings intending to purchase superior swords at the court of Louis the German, which denotes a peaceful trade system.

Restrictions on trade became authorized in many Frankish capitularies. Carolingian rulers fashioned these laws to stem the flow of arms, especially swords, to outside regions by condemning their export. The situation had not improved; therefore, in 864 A.D, Charles the Bald threatened death to anyone caught supplying Vikings with arms.8 A passage in the Annales Bertiniani in 869 A.D. asserts that the Saracens demanded one hundred and fifty Carolingian swords as part of the ransom for Archbishop Rotland of Arles; apparently, the Saracens recognized the quality of these swords and could not obtain them as a consequence of the increasingly enforced Frankish laws.

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