What is it about?

Miniature swords are some of the most interesting examples of small-scale paraphernalia from the Viking Age. This paper discusses their geographical distribution as well as their material and symbolic aspects. It is beyond doubt that of all tools of war known to Viking Age Scandinavians, swords were the most iconic and the most desired weapons. Old Norse literature is replete with stories about swords that were endowed with miraculous powers or swords that served as potent symbols of power and inheritance. The texts also speak of swords that were believed to have had their own personhood and agency: they were given names and could ‘bite’ like snakes or other wild animals. In view of the above, it does not come as a surprise that swords were also made by Viking Age craftspeople in miniature format to be worn as pendants or appliques on the body. Around fifty examples of such miniature swords are presently known from all around Scandinavia but also from Germany and Russia. Most of them have been cast in copper alloy and silver. Some examples are additionally gilded, suggesting that they were precious objects with special significance.

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Why is it important?

Several miniature swords closely resemble swords of type O and K in Jan Petersen’s sword typology. These swords originated from the Carolingian world and were often richly decorated, probably to manifest the status of their owners. We do not know why the designers of the miniatures made them look like those specific swords but we can speculate that they wanted to imitate weapons that brought forth ideas of prestige and to allude to objects from ‘a foreign world across the sea’. It is also noteworthy that, as in the case of other miniature weapon types, in funerary contexts miniature swords appear to accompany women, not men. This is yet another curious example of the special associations between women and weapons in the Viking world.

Perspectives

This is the first comprehensive publication which seeks to embrace the corpus of miniature swords from the entire Viking world, improving our knowledge of Viking Age miniature symbols and amulets.

Leszek Gardela
Nationalmuseet: National Museum of Denmark

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This page is a summary of: Miniature Swords in the Viking Age, Acta Archaeologica, December 2021, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/16000390-12340002.
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