Charisma, Violence and Weapons: The Broken Swords of the Vikings
By Hanne Lovise Aannestad
Charismatic Objects: From Roman Times to the Middle Ages, edited by Marianne Vedeler, Ingunn M. Røstad,Elna Siv Kristoffersen, Zanette T. Glørstad (CAPPELEN DAMM AS, 2018)
Abstract: There are few groups of prehistoric objects that have such allure as the Viking sword. In movies and literature, the Viking sword is described and depicted, drawing on both written sources and archaeological material. This contemporary fascination mirrors Early Medieval written sources in which swords are portrayed as the most important weapon.
Approximately 3500 swords dated to the Viking Age have been found in Norway, the majority in graves. A number of these swords were severely damaged and rendered unusable before deposition in the grave. The blades were beaten, bent or twisted, sometimes folded together in a way that needs preparation, expertise and equipment. The fact that these swords were subjected to special treatment, handled in a different manner than the rest of the grave goods, underscores the distinctive role of swords in Norse society. In this article I will discuss the deliberate destruction of swords and other weapons from a cultural historical point of view. The irregular treatment of these swords is embedded both in the cultural historical perception of swords and in funerary rituals. A survey of Early Medieval written sources and archaeological material is essential for a more profound understanding of the phenomenon.
This study shows that even if the idea of a biographical or animated presence in a certain sword demanded a ritual for ‘killing’ these powerful Objects during burial rituals, the bending, twisting and destruction of swords and other weapons must also be seen as an expression of a more general idea of swords, weapons and funerary rituals in Late Iron Age and Viking Age Scandinavia.
Top Image: A bent Viking sword – photo by astrid westvang / Flickr