Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

Another of the “Lost Secrets” school of stories:

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The “Ulfberht” swords:

Ignoring the guy they have chopping away in the opener (his technique is terrible, no way I’d let him play with any of my swords), there is a lot of blather in this, right down to saying the guy they found to make the sword is, “one of the few people on the planet who has the skills to unravel the mystery of how the Ulfbehrt was made”.  It’s bullshit. Lots of people know how it was made.  They talk to several.

The question isn’t how it was done.  I can tell you the basics.  The question is where it was done, how the steel made it to Scandanavia, why it stopped coming, etc.  That the smith they got to take part is good is obvious, but there are a lot of people who could do what he did: sure, in relation to some 6 billion people on the planet, there are only minuscule number who can do it, probably between 20-100,000.  I have a knife worked by a guy in Ukraine which, were you to give him the same sort of steel, I’ll wager he could work up as well (into a knife, I doubt he has a market for swords, and so hasn’t bothered to learn the specifics).

If you look at the documentary, the things they make such a big deal of: how to make steel, mumbo-jumbo about, “the bones of one’s ancestors, burnt to char and used to turn iron to steel…” is rubbish.  The steel came from elsewhere (perhaps from the same area the swordsmiths of Damascus were getting theirs) and when the supply dried up, the blades stopped being that good.

There is no mystical magical “Steel of Ulfberht”, there is just steel, and it got made into a style of (really solid) sword.


One thought on “Another of the “Lost Secrets” school of stories:

  1. It may even be that the Ulfberht mark isn’t from the smith. Dating is tricky, they span some 200 years, but all that means is that some very old swords may have been used as grave goods and the like. A lot have been found in Viking territory because that is what they did, and the Christians didn’t. One theory I have seen is that they were made at a monastery, possibly part of a feudal rent.

    There are around 170 of them known, some with variant marks. Some have had detailed examination, yet i doubt anyone really knows the metallurgical quality of some. Variations in the marking suggest some are fakes.

    One recently discovered blade may have been made as the Abbey at Fulda, and it’s a plausible story that the feudal rent included a certain number of the best swords every year, but the only guarantee the overlord had was that name-mark. The smiths, and the manager of the forge, changed, but they were stuck with the name.

    When Wikipedia tags something as “dubious”, all it really means is that some modern experts say one thing, some another. We’re talking history; that far back it’s all about putting fragments together and making a plausible story.

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