Much of the fanfare and love for the popular show Vikings stems from its gorgeous yet historically accurate aesthetic.
Academics, historians, and writers at Viking-related websites have been scribbling away for years, trying to chip away at Viking stereotypes like horned helmets.
However, it was not until the brilliant series Vikings first premiered almost a decade ago, in 2014, that the wider public began to dispel these false depictions of everyone's favorite early medieval warriors.
What sets Vikings apart is its absolute focus on being as historically accurate as possible – for a show that is, after all, fictional.
Whilst the plotlines and the dialogue are plucked straight from a Hollywood writer's imagination, the rest of Vikings is very much historically accurate, from some of the characters (like Rollo and Æthelstan) to the beautiful wardrobe and props.
The gritty and realistic depictions of the Vikings characters help give us moderns a flavor of what it could have been like to go on a raid, participate in a bloody battle, or even participate in a heated communal discussion at the local Thing.
Whoever oversaw sourcing and creating the costumes and props deserves much credit, as they no doubt scoured the history books and consulted with academics to give the show its realistic and gritty flavor.
One of these props is the "Sword of Kings," a ceremonial sword of the ruler of the great (but fictional) Kingdom of Kattegat.
In season 2 of Vikings, the Sword of Kings first appears with King Horik, who hints at its long history and significance as a symbol of kingship during a discussion with his son. Photo: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)
Hold the sword, hold power
The "Sword of Kings" is one of the most important pieces of weaponry in the show Vikings. Its origin lies deep in the past, before the exploits and adventures of Ragnar, as depicted from the first series onwards.
This long sword features a brown-colored handle and is adorned with precious jewels. Its distinctive blade, which separates it from other swords that the cast of Vikings handle, is polished so fine that it is like a mirror.
However, runestones are etched onto its polished surface, revealing its true purpose – for it is the "Sword of Kings."
Throughout each season of the show, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kattegat holds this sword as a symbol of their power and authority.
Our first glimpse of this sword is with Horik, who, showing it to his son, says that if the gods will it, he will hold it one day, along with the Kingdom of Kattegat.
Following Horik's demise at the hands of Ragnar, everyone's favorite Viking holds it as he ascends to the ultimate source of power and influence in Kattegat.
One of the last times we see this "Sword of Kings" is when Björn holds it aloft to signal an attack against the Rus in the Battle of Vestfold.
This dramatic finale befits a sword that has been at the heart of so much political intrigue, power, and drama throughout the entire series.
Although widely used by Vikings, Ulfberht swords were likely produced in the Frankish Empire, renowned for their superior quality and the enigmatic "Ulfberht" signature on the blade. Photo: Wolfgang Sauber / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Does history back it up?
Whilst the sword itself is a product of the nifty artistry of a Hollywood props department and is thus entirely fictional, the "Sword of Kings" concept bears an element of historical accuracy.
In Viking societies, only kings or members of the political and military elite could afford to acquire a sword.
During the early medieval period, crafting a sword represented a significant investment for both its maker and buyer.
In this pre-industrial age, fashioning and forging a sword could take up to a month or sometimes even longer.
To redeem the time and labor spent, the creator, often a metalworker or blacksmith, charged such a high price that only the financial elite in a community could afford to buy one.
Historians have argued that the loot secured from an average Viking raid, when divided amongst the warriors, was enough to purchase a single sword.
Due to its prohibitive cost, a sword became a symbol of economic and, thus, political power.
Owning a sword meant that you may have gone on a Viking raid and thus should be feared as a warrior.
This combination of fear and respect was the source of local rulers' authority and influence throughout Viking societies.
Due to their high price and influence, swords were a popular target for Viking raids. While everything that glittered was quickly carried off onto a longship, swords were also highly sought after.
Blacksmiths in the Frankish realms were highly prized for their metalworking skill and artistry, so much so that a steady flow of swords went northward, much to the detriment of this realm's defense.
The situation became so dire that an export ban was slapped on Frankish swords during the 10th century.
One of the most renowned swordsmiths, known as Ulfberth, forged these deadly weapons for Vikings. More than 100 of his swords – known to be his because he inscribed his name on them - have been dug up and discovered in what were the Viking homelands of Scandinavia.
In a climactic moment, Björn raises the Sword of Kings to signal an attack in the Battle of Vestfold against the Rus, marking one of the most dramatic displays of the sword's role in the series' saga. Photo: HISTORY Channel, screenshot (Copyright, fair use)
Sword of a ruler
The "Sword of Kings" in Vikings served both as a practical and symbolic weapon, symbolizing the power and authority of the ruler. It represented power, strength, and the ability of whoever wielded it to protect the inhabitants of Kattegat.
Passing through the hands of beloved characters in the show, and notably within the bloodline of Ragnar Lothbrok, the sword stands out as one of the more authentic depictions of early medieval swords to grace our screens.
The sword's perfect fusion of Norse inscriptions and a Carolingian design is a nod to how treasured Frankish swords were by Vikings.
Whilst this sword was not plucked out of an archeological dig, the admirable historical accuracy behind its design shows the level of detail to which the creators of Vikings went.
This attention to detail is precisely why the show has remained popular for over a decade.
The Daily Mail has more information on real-life "magical" Viking swords, available here.
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