The +ULFBERH+T inlay in a sword from the early 9th century
|Place of origin||Scandinavia|
|In service||Approximately 800–1000 AD|
|Designed||Early 800s AD|
|No. built||171 found|
|Mass||avg. 1.2 kg (2.7 lb)|
|Length||avg. 91 cm (36 in)|
|Width||5 cm (2 in)|
Ulfberht is a name given to unique Viking swords used in Scandinavia in the 1000s. The unique, high-quality steel they incorporated remained unparalleled until the Industrial Revolution. 171 such swords have been found so far, but only a few of these have been proven to be authentic Ulfberht swords. The earliest Ulfberhts date from circa 850.
Little information is available about the fabrication of the Ulfberht sword. However, modern tests reveal that genuine Ulfberht swords were forged from steel sourced from India. Crucible steel is the purest form of steel; Damascus steel is a second tier of crucible steel. While most medieval weapons were made of soft iron with little carbon, the steel used to fabricate an Ulfberht had a much higher level of carbon and less slag. This made the weapon stronger, more flexible, and therefore less likely to break and easier to remove from enemy shields. The technology was likely acquired by Vikings who traveled to Central Asia. Using speculative techniques, modern-day blacksmith Richard Furrer made a replica of an Ulfberht.
The Ulfberht gave its user a significant advantage and was probably carried only by elite warriors and chieftains. Although of similar size and shape to a common Viking sword, the Ulfberht was far more durable and penetrated armor more easily. The characteristic identifying mark is the metallic inlay "+VLFBERH+T" on the flat of the blade close to the hilt. (The variation "+VLFBERHT+" was inlaid in swords made from lower-quality steel.) The sword's primary purpose was to break through an enemy's shield and chain mail armor; an Ulfberht's blade was very flexible compared to other weapons of the time and would not break or hang up as easily when penetrating wood or steel, thus giving the swordsman opportunity to move on quickly after cutting down a foe.
"Ulfberht" is a Frankish word whose meaning is not known. The inscription "+VLFBERH+T" used Latin letters. The most common hypotheses are that it was the name of a swordsmith who passed his craft on to apprentices or family members, or that it was the name of a group of craftsmen. The word is possibly a compound of the the elements Ulfr 'wolf' (old Norse) and beraht 'light, bright, shining' (old high German, old Saxon).
- Nova, Season 40, episode 1 – "Secrets of the Viking sword".
- Peirce, Ian, G. (2002) Ulfberht swords at Google Books Retrieved 27 September 2013.
- Kennedy, Maev. "1,000 years on, perils of fake Viking swords are revealed", The Guardian, London, 26 December 2008. Retrieved on 2013-10-21.
- "NOVA". Doorcountyforgeworks.com. 2012-10-10. Retrieved 2013-11-05.
Media related to Ulfberht swords at Wikimedia Commons