Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Ulfberht: The Masterwork Viking Sword

So, for her Christmas present, I got the wife Netflix. Actually, I got the wife a Bluray player with WiFi AND Netflix. I'm a nice husband.
Anyway, I of course will benefit from the purchase because, you know, I live with her ;-)
Last night I decided to see if the History Channel's Vikings series was available. No dice. Boo!
However, my search for the word "vikings" yielded an unexpected result: a Nova special that discusses a rare type of Viking-era sword called the "Ulfberht." This type of sword is renowned for it's very un-Medieval level of craftsmanship, in that the steel that was used for the Ulfberht swords was very free of impurities. So whereas most Viking-era swords would break due to the poor steel, the Ulfberht was infinitely stronger and more flexible.
About the name: it's speculated that the name "Ulfberht" might be the name of a smith who created the first such sword.
This whole thing made me think of the "masterwork" version of weapons you find in D&D, which invariably cost more and, sometimes, might even grant a bonus to hit due to their quality. I also found it fascinating to think that, according to one comment in the Nova special, a sword that could bend and not break would have seemed magical to the majority of people in that age. Pretty cool.
The other cool thing is that the steel the Viking smiths used to make the Ulfberht was probably from the Middle East. That means they made the trek the entire way by river to get the good steel. Even more coolness right there.
You can watch the whole Nova special online here. I suggest you take a look!


  1. You can also see it on the PBS website for NOVA.

    Secrets of the Viking Sword

    ... which might be more stable than the YouTube link, plus it gives you related links to stuff that wasn't included in the episode. Also, links to many other NOVA episodes, which might also be useful. They seem to have about four years worth of NOVA episodes online.

  2. Ulf is norsk for wolf. I don't recognize berht, wiktionary makes it a proto-germanic cognate of 'bright'. So 'Bright Wolf', sounds like a cool name for a sword of legend.

  3. Yeah but that's the thing: they've apparently found over 100 swords with the word Ulfberht inscribed on their blades. So it wasn't a single sword with a unique name. Its almost like a brand name!