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Viking Sword

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Why are the Vikings’ mighty swords found broken?

And why are so many inscribed with the word “Uflberht”

The Vikings claimed that their swords were indestructible.  That’s probably a bit of a stretch.  But they must have been nearly indestructible to allow the Vikings to wreak so much havoc and destruction.

And yet… there is a mystery about Viking swords that confounds historians. Those that have come down to us are often broken.  If they were so mighty, why did so many break?

The museum’s Viking sword (an unbroken one) may harbor a clue.   There is an 8 letter word welded to the blade:  “Ulfberht.”  It turns out Ulfberht is the name of an ancient foundry.

Did the Ulfberht foundry make swords that were prone to shatter?  Or is there a deeper secret to the broken Viking swords?


All is revealed in Museum Secrets: Inside the Berlin Islands Museums.

Further Questions

Historians are divided over the location of the Ulberht foundry.  But many suspect it was in the German town of Solingen.

Solingen has been a center for blade making since medieval times.  And even today, some venerable brands like Henckel and Boker still have foundries in the town.   Currently, these companies make kitchen knives but less than a century ago, they provided daggers for the Third Reich.  You can often find such weapons (with brand names clearly visible) for sale on eBay.

It would be nice to report that Solingen’s Nazi connection ended with close of World War Two.  But sadly, in the 1990s, the town of Solingen became known as a hotbed of neo-Nazi violence.  To find out what happened, we invite you to read this New York Times opinion piece The Solingen Tragedy.


Al M • #17 • 2018-03-25 10:30:53
There\'s been a lot of research done on the Ulfberht swords. Pity more of it wasn\'t taken into account. These swords, unlike what is shown in the episode, were NOT pattern-welded, but rather the next generation- high-quality homogenous steel, appare

Museum Secrets • #19 • 2018-03-25 10:30:53
@ #17: \nThanks for your comment. The information may have been simplified for the time available in the show... I will pass your comment along to our researchers. It\'s too late to change this episode, but we hope you still enjoyed the show.

Ri Furrer • #21 • 2018-03-25 10:30:53
@ #19: I was consulted about this show and Dr. Alan Williams\' research that the +ULFBERH+T blades being crucible steel and the \"T+\" being bloomery steel. They chose not to include me or those points in this project.\n\nRic Furrer\nBlacksmith

Bryan Cass • #25 • 2018-03-25 10:30:53
Ric, I saw the PBS show where you created the Ulfberht sword. It was fascinating, and when polished, I think the steel was beautiful and the inlay was awesome. Did you ever finish the sword with a pommel and grip? What do you do with the sword now

Tina Boomerina • #26 • 2018-03-25 10:30:52
I am in the middle of watching the PBS show online right now. As a female, I have an unusual fascination with things from the middle ages and weaponry, but just from a pure design / coolness standpoint. Even though I haven\'t finished the show - the

Tina Boomerina • #27 • 2018-03-25 10:30:52
I had a hunch that the vikings got the steel during trading and had some Germans make the swords. That makes intuitive sense. Krauts excel at design & manufacturing. I\'m German American.

Tina Boomerina • #28 • 2018-03-25 10:30:52
ps I have a feeling that there must have been some kinship through marriage or something that united the vikings with the Ulfberht foundry. I\'ll bet it was deeper than just commerce. It\'s more mythical.

Luke • #51 • 2018-03-25 10:30:52
@ #17: The info about the sword is very interesting. Have anyone consider the \'Varangian\' Guards who came back being the ones who own the ULFBERHT sword.

Arktosos • #61 • 2018-03-25 10:30:52
@ #19: Fascinating show, in fact I couldn\'t stop searching for the answer to your enigma and \nTonight I found the answer to +ULFBERHT+... \nI can tell you that is not a foundry name and that the original had to be as above...\nThe word has a much d

Guest • #62 • 2018-03-25 10:30:52
I just watched a show saying the swords were unmatched in strength. The real +ULFBERH+T . So why is this saying the swords were brittle? Seems like a joke to me.