Indigenous and imported Viking Age weapons in Norway – a problem with European implications

Viking Sword collection at the Royal Ontario MuseumIndigenous and imported Viking Age weapons in Norway – a problem with European implications

By Irmelin Martens

Journal of Nordic Archaeological Science, Vol. 14 (2004)

Abstract: The numerous Viking Age swords and spearheads found in Norway are a mixture of indigenous and imported items, but sound criteria for distinguishing between the two origins are lacking. While Petersen’s and other sword typologies are based on the hilts, the debate has mostly been centred on whether Nordic blacksmiths mastered the pattern-welding technique. Spearheads have played a minor role, and scholars have accepted without further debate that the inlay decorations on sword hilts and spearhead sockets were indigenously made. Recent investigations into Norwegian spearheads point to marked technical differences between imported and indigenous specimens of Petersen’s types A–E. Future research will have to take both swords and spearheads into account, and it will be necessary to study the blade construction as a whole, including forging techniques and the the steel qualities used, by means of radiography and metallographic investigations. It will also be important to focus on indigenous societal premises for special weapon production.

The question of the origins of ancient weapons has interested Norwegian archaeologists for more than one hundred years, but the basic problems are still unsolved. There are several reasons for this, perhaps the most important of which is the lack of sound criteria on which to base a judgment.

Both swords and spearheads were imported into Norway, while other kinds of weapons, i.e. axes, umbones and arrowheads were indigenous products. The swords have always attracted more interest among scholars than the spearheads, and the two are rarely treated together, although to my mind it would seem necessary to take both into account, i.e. to look for similarities and differences in distribution and technical features. Solberg’s investigations into Norwegian spearheads have strongly emphasised this point.

I have not carried out any detailed studies of the weapons, and it is not my intention here to discuss all the relevant types, but rather to scrutinize the arguments used and look for others which I hope can carry the discussion forward.

Click here to read this article from the Journal of Nordic Archaeological Science

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine