The Viking Age sword (also Viking sword) or Carolingian sword is the type of sword prevalent in Western and Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages.
The Viking Age or Carolingian-era developed in the 8th century from the Merovingian sword (more specifically, the Frankish production of swords in the 6th to 7th century, itself derived from the Roman spatha) and during the 11th to 12th century in turn gave rise to the knightly sword of the Romanesque period.
Although popularly called "Viking sword", this type of sword was produced in the Frankish Empire during the Carolingian era. The association of the name "Viking" with these swords is due to the disappearance of grave goods in Christian Francia in the 8th century, due to which the bulk of sword blades of Frankish manufacture of this period were found in pagan burials of Viking Age Scandinavia, imported by trade, ransom payment or looting, while continental European finds are mostly limited to stray finds in riverbeds.
Swords of the 8th to 10th centuries are also termed "Carolingian swords", while swords of the late Viking Age and the beginning High Middle Ages (late 10th to early 12th centuries) blend into the category of Norman swords or the early development of the knightly sword.
Depiction of a Carolingian sword with scabbard (donor portrait in the St. Benedikt in Mals, South Tyrol, early 9th century)
During the reign of Charlemagne, the price of a sword (a spata, or longsword) with scabbard was set at seven solidi (Lex Ribuaria). Swords were still comparatively costly weapons, although not as exclusive as during the Merovingian period, and in Charlemagne's capitularies, only members of the cavalry, who could afford to own and maintain a warhorse, were required to be equipped with swords. Regino's Chronicle suggests that by the end of the 9th century, the sword was seen as the principal weapon of the cavalry.
The sword gradually replaced the sax during the late 8th to early 9th century. Because grave goods were no longer deposited in Francia in the 8th century, continental finds are mostly limited to stray finds in riverbeds (where anaerobic conditions favoured the preservation of the steel), and most extant examples of Carolingian swords are from graves from northern or eastern cultures where pagan burial customs were still in effect.
Pattern welding fell out of use in the 9th century, as higher quality steel became available. Better steel also allowed the production of narrower blades, and the swords of the 9th century have more pronounced tapering than their 8th-century predecessors, shifting the point of balance towards the hilt. Coupland (1990) proposes that this development may have accelerated the disappearance of the sax, as the sword was now available for swift striking, while the migration-period spatha was mostly used to deliver heavy blows aimed at damaging shields or armour. The improved morphology combined maneuverability and weight in a single weapon, rendering the sax redundant.
The Frankish swords often had pommels shaped in a series of three or five rounded lobes. This was a native Frankish development which did not exist prior to the 8th century, and the design is frequently represented in the pictorial art of the period, e.g. in the Stuttgart Psalter, Utrecht Psalter, Lothar Gospels and Bern Psychomachia manuscripts, as well as in the wall frescoes in the church in Mals, South Tyrol. Likewise, the custom of inlaid inscriptions in the blades is Frankish innovation dating to the reign of Charlemagne, notably in the Ulfberht group of blades, but continued into the high medieval period and peaking in popularity in the 12th century. While blade inscriptions become more common over the Viking Age, the custom of hilt decorations in precious metals, inherited from the Merovingian sword and widespread during the 8th and 9th centuries, is in decline over the course of the 10th century. Most swords made in the later 10th century in what was now the Holy Roman Empire, while still conforming to the "Viking sword" type morphologically, have plain steel hilts.
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