1,000-Year-Old Sword with Potential Viking Link Recovered From Polish River

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A highly contested find has been recovered from the bottom of a river in Poland. The sword is believed to be around 1,000 years in age, with some touting a potential connection to the Vikings that only thorough examination will confirm. The medieval sword, sports “a mysterious inscription”, and is one of just eight weapons of its kind discovered in Poland so far. This one was a lucky find from the silt of the Vistula River, pulled out by workers while dredging the port at Włocławek.

Origins In the Formation of the First Polish State?

The Włocławek municipal sport and leisure center who were responsible for the find, recently revealed images of the artifact. According to their statementOlaf Popkiewicz, an archaeologist and weapons specialist, was consulted, and he tentatively dated the sword to the 9th century—a period predating the establishment of the Polish state.

Preliminary dating of the sword shown here on the bank of the Vistula River is 9th-10th century. (Ośrodek Sportu i Rekreacji Włocławek)

Preliminary dating of the sword shown here on the bank of the Vistula River is 9th-10th century. (Sports and Recreation Center Włocławek)

Initial examinations of the weapon, standing strong despite centuries of corrosion, have pinpointed its origin to over 1,000 years ago, according to statements from the culture office. This era holds particular significance for Poland, as it marks the emergence of the House of Piast, the earliest recorded dynasty that established itself in the region during that century. In their official announcement, authorities pondered whether the sword might have silently observed the genesis of Polish statehood.

Weapons of this type, characterized by a straightforward blade symmetrically extending from the base, are typically associated by historians with roots in northwestern Europe. Their connections to Scandinavian and Franconian cultures (a region in what is now Germany that took shape during the Middle Ages) contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the evolution of Poland as a distinct entity, reports CBS.

While medieval Scandinavian influences are believed to have left an imprint on Poland, the exact nature of the relationship between the Scandinavian Vikings and the contemporary region of Poland remains somewhat ambiguous, historically.

The sword, in remarkable condition after 1000 years on the riverbed.  (Włocławek Sports and Recreation Center)

The sword, in remarkable condition after 1000 years on the riverbed. (Sports and Recreation Center Włocławek)

A Telltale Ulfberht Inscription

Upon closer inspection, the sword unearthed in Włocławek underwent scrutiny under an X-ray scanner, unveiling an inscription concealed beneath layers of corrosion. The inscription, reading “U[V]LFBERTH,” appears akin to “Ulfberht,” a marking found on approximately 170 medieval swords predominantly discovered in northern Europe.

The same was confirmed by Sambor Gawiński, representing the Provincial Conservator of Monuments:

“About 170 Ulfberht swords have been found in Europe so far,” with the majority unearthed in regions around the Baltic Sea and Scandinavia.

He emphasized the distinctive quality of these swords, pointing out a precisely defined carbon admixture in the steel used during their production. According to the provincial conservator of monuments, this specific carbon composition bestowed the weapon with the ideal combination of strength, flexibility, and durability.

The famous Ulfberht inscription on a different sword found in the Rhine river, displayed at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany. (Martin Kraft/CC BY-SA 3.0)

The famous Ulfberht inscription on a different sword found in the Rhine river, displayed at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany. (Martin Kraft/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dating back to the 9th, 10th, or 11th centuries, these swords have sparked speculation, with some experts proposing “Ulfberht” as a potential Frankish personal name, hinting at the weapons’ origins. Nevertheless, numerous uncertainties persist regarding the weapons’ provenance, and not everyone is convinced that the sword was once connected to the Vikings.

Skepticism: A Carolingian Sword From the Rhine Territorial Area

However, skepticism has been voiced by an expert in the field. “I don’t know where the idea that the sword belonged to a Viking comes from,” Robert Grochowski shared. “Without detailed research, this is completely unjustified. It is difficult to say anything more than the fact that it is an early medieval sword.”

The specialist clarified that swords of this type were previously often labeled as “Viking swords” but are now categorized as Carolingian swords, originating around the Rhine in territories now part of Germany, reports Notes From Poland.

Rhineland swords were extensively traded and might have made their way to Central Europe, including Poland, possibly through connections with Scandinavia. The expert’s insights underscore the need for thorough research to establish the accurate historical context of the discovered sword.

Researchers intend to persist in their study of the ancient sword at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Ultimately, the artifact is slated for preservation and exhibition at a history museum in Włocławek.

Top image: The medieval sword after it was dredged out of the Vistula River at Włocławekport, Poland. Source: Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments In Torun

By Sahir Pandey

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