For the first time since its discovery in 2011, this ornate 1,000-year-old Viking sword is being shown to the public. Dating back to the final days of the Vikings, it has been linked to battles in England.
The sword was found alongside a corpse in a Langeid grave in the Setesdal Valley four years ago. It’s now on display at the Museum of Cultural History in Norway as part of the “Take it Personally” exhibition.
The sword, which measures 37-inches (94 cm) long, features a rusted blade, but the handle is very well preserved. It’s wrapped with silver thread, and the hilt and pommel at the top are covered in silver with details in gold, edged with a copper alloy thread. Closer examination of the sword also revealed remnants of wood and leather on the blade — likely the remnants of a sheath that housed the sword. It also features decorations of large spirals and combinations of letters and cross-like ornamentation. The letters are probably Latin, but the meaning remains a mystery.
It’s very likely that this sword belonged to a wealthy man who lived in the late Viking Age. Charcoal dating from one of the site’s post holes places it to the year 1030, which matches well with an English coin found at the same site. A battle axe was also discovered, featuring a rare shaft coated in brass. Also, a runic stone found at a nearby site has an inscription in Old Norse that reads, “Arnstein raised this stone in memory of Bjor his son. He found death when Canute ‘went after’ England. God is one.”
Indeed, it was around this time that Viking king of Denmark Sweyn and his son Canute led their armies in a series of battles against King Ethelred II of England.
“It’s quite possible that the dead man was one of King Canute’s hand-picked men for the battles with King Ethelred of England.” noted lead researcher Zanette Glørstad of the Museum of Cultural History. “Seen in connection with the runic stone further down the valley, it is tempting to suggest that it is Bjor himself who was brought home and buried here.”
Another possibility is that his father, Arnstein, had his son’s magnificent weapons returned for precisely that reason, and decided to erect a runic stone for his dead son as a substitute for a grave.
“When Arnstein himself died, his son’s glorious weapons were laid in his grave,” says Glørstad. “The death of his son must have been very tough on an old man. Perhaps their relatives honoured both Arnstein and Bjor by letting Arnstein be buried with the weapons with such a heroic history.”
Contact the author at email@example.com and @dvorsky. Top image by Ellen C. Holthe, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo