In the 10th and 11th centuries, at the height of their reign, the Vikings often claimed that their swords were indestructible, and could cut a man in half in a single swing. Yet there is a mystery surrounding Viking swords that has been confounding historians for hundreds of years. For despite their oft-quoted claim to be indestructible, Viking swords are often found broken.
The Museum of Berlin contains an ancient sword that became the centerpiece that unraveled the mystery of why Viking swords are frequently found in pieces, despite their claim to be indestructible. The unbroken sword contained an eight-letter word that was eventually the key to solving the mystery: “Ulfberht”.
A team of historians did some research and discovered that Ulfberht was the name of a Viking foundry – in other words, it was essentially an ancient factory that produced metal castings used to create objects such as swords, axes, war hammers, and armor. The name of ‘Ulfberht’ was legendary among Viking warriors, and was well-known for producing the sharpest, strongest, and most versatile – and expensive – swords.
As it turned out, many lesser-known foundries attempted to pass off their poor quality – but less costly – swords as Ulfberht weapons by inscribing the name of Ulfberht onto their products. Unfortunate swordsmen then paid the ultimate price for their cheapness when they discovered too late in the heat of battle that their swords were prone to shattering upon impact. [x]