Feb 27, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Longsword and Seaxe of the Norsemen

Despite some artists’ vision, the Norsemen did not wield giant swords. Those heavy Claymores were more popular among the Scotts across the sea. In fact, the Norseman rarely used a sword, since it was very expensive and difficult to forge. Most Norse, who did carry a sword, had to find a proper blacksmith to have their weapon created. Not all blacksmiths had learned the art of sword making. Making a blade in the times of the Norsemen Age was a long process that could take around a month and cost a lot of money, more than the common Norseman could afford.

Norsemen considered the sword a sign of wealth and success, or a descendant of someone wealthy or powerful. This is one of the few weapons that were handed down from generation to generation. An inherited sword was not always an immediately useable gift as it might have been well used already and required some repair. If the blade was recovered from a battlefield or duel it was most likely damaged. Those in power were often challenged by others who wanted their position in society, and a duel was often an answer to such a challenge. 

The Norse respected strength and skill in combat above all. So winning a duel was an acceptable way of working out an agreement. This carried over into more petty things such as who had the right to marry a certain woman or if a man wanted to cut a tree on his land, but his neighbor claimed it was his tree. Nothing is more final than a fight to the death. That may sound extreme, but keep in mind, most Norsemen wanted to die fighting so they could go to Valhalla. Dying of old age was considered an embarrassment.

There were two swords used by the Norsemen. The most common sword was the double edged longsword, which had a thin triangle shaped blade that was around 3 feet in length. It was most often used with a round wooden shield. Most swords in Europe in this age did not have a cross guard to protect the hand from enemy blades sliding down on the fingers.

Many of the swords made in the later ages of the Norse were marked on the blade. A change in the types of steel and iron used allowed for this that the previous metals did not. The older versions included iron with the steel which was twisted together at very high temperatures and then flattened and sharpened. The newer metal was stronger steel, so that marking into the metal did not weaken the blade as it would have with previous designs. Norse spent a lot of time crafting the elaborate hilts and often named the sword once it was complete.

The Seaxe is equally as long, but generally has a thicker blade and is only sharp on one side. The exact thickness varied and the Seaxe resembled anything from a long machete to a cleaver. The Seaxe was more common on the longships because they made excellent blades for cutting ropes as well as removing an enemy’s limbs in combat. All practical warriors enjoy multipurpose tools. 

Modi, was the Norsemen God of Rage and was often envisioned with a sword. One of the reasons Norsemen were called savage barbarians by outsiders was the seemingly fearless rage that some of these warriors seem to present on the battlefield. There were myths and legends of these Berserkers. There is no shortage of stories about a warrior who would charge into the enemy line with the strength of ten men and swing his weapons wildly. He could ignore all injuries that were inflicted upon him until he was dead, or everyone else was. 

In reality, this berserker rage is just a legend. It is not unlikely that a few of the Norsemen would throw themselves onto an enemy line and swing their sword like a crazed madman, but that reflects their religious beliefs more than some mysterious rage induced berserk. However, most legends and myths have some basis to something that was real. With one of the members of their pantheon being a God of Rage, it is likely that some Norsemen pushed their adrenaline and rage over the top and went mad in battle as a tribute to their God. I’m not an expert on that matter, but it sounds like a possibility.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. "The Seaxe was more common on the longships because they made excellent blades for cutting ropes as well as removing an enemy’s limbs in combat. All practical warriors enjoy multipurpose tools."

    I saw the picture and was thinking I could take care of my invasive blackberry bushes with that sucker. :D

  2. You know? I bet it could do the trick. Might scare the neighbors though. ;-)

  3. Lindsay beat me to this quote, but "All practical warriors enjoy multipurpose tools" totally cracked me up after the bit about removing an enemy's limbs. HAHAHAHA! Awesome. :-)

    I used to love it in D&D when someone went berserk. Man, I miss RPGs. Thanks for the memories and the awesome Norse info.

    1. Lol, ah D&D. I've been planning a campaign after some world building for my fantasy series. I've missed RPG's too.

  4. if you could, i would like to see an article about the turko-mongolian saber,the kilij, and or the naginata.

    1. I'll be sure to add those to my list. Thanks for the recommendations.