Ulfberht Viking Sword: German Monks May Have Forged Superstrong Weapons

Dustin Wicksell - Author

Dec. 18 2014, Updated 5:32 a.m. ET

Archaeologists have uncovered a small number of “Ulfberht” Viking swords, superstong weapons forged from a metal so pure it had been thought not to exist at the time, and now researchers are closing in on the German monks that may have fashioned the near-mythical blades.

The history of the Ulfberht sword is shrouded in mystery. Only 170 of the weapons have been found, all of which were emblazoned with the name Ulfberht along the blade. Experts believe this may identify the blacksmiths who forged the unusual swords, which were considered almost unbeatable in battle, as KPBS notes.

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Researchers are now closing in on the weapons’ maker, according to News.Com.Au, examining the metal of the Ulfberht swords in an effort to identify the kilns in which they were forged. Previously, it was believed that the swords may have originated from the Middle East or Asia, though new research reveals that the Ulfberht blades may have been created much closer to where they were discovered.

Robert Lehmann, a chemist at the Institute for Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Hannover, studied an Ulfberht that was discovered in 2012 at Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany, and discovered a high manganese content in the blade, which signaled to him that it originated from the West. Arsenic and a tin-lead alloy in the pommel and guard revealed that those components came from the Taunus region, just north of Frankfurt, Germany, where it is now believed the sword was assembled, if not forged.

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Further study revealed that two monasteries in the region, at Lorsch and Fulda, had a history of sword-making. Researchers are now attempting to link the name to one of the monasteries, in an effort to discover the forge in which the blades may have been fashioned. So far, the name Ulfberht has yet to be found in records at either site.

Earlier this year, a number of Viking artifacts were discovered in a field in southwest Scotland. As the Inquisitr previously reported, the discovery represented a significant range of materials from multiple countries and cultures.

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The swords were believed to originate from the Middle East primarily because weapons made of “Damascus steel” were appearing in the region around the same time. Ulfberht swords were constructed of “crucible steel,” which is chemically related to Damascus steel, possessing a similar carbon content.

Carbon is an essential element in a blade, used to strengthen a sword when just the right amount is added. Both the Ulfberht swords and those made from Damascus steel contain about three times as much carbon as other swords of the time, making them incredibly strong, flexible, and lightweight. Iron must be heated to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit in order for this to be accomplished, and prior to the discovery of the Viking’s Ulfberht swords, it was believed that such temperatures only became achievable during the Industrial Revolution.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]


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