While significant, the Viking presence in Poland tends to be overlooked when discoveries of rare items are concerned. 

This all changed this month when a 1,000-year-old Viking sword was dredged up from the bottom of the Vistula River in Włocławek. It was in near-perfect condition. 

Discovery in Poland 

Mateusz Sosnowski, attached to the nearby Wda Landscape Park, explains to The Viking Herald the circumstances in which it was found – and provides his expert take on the historical context: 

"Friday, January 12, 2024, turned out to be a happy day for the company employees carrying out work related to the deepening of the marina basin of the Sports and Recreation Center in Włocławek." 

"Quite by accident, they made an incredible discovery related to the history of not only Włocławek but to the whole of Poland." 

"While transporting the spoils from the dredging of the marina by barge, Sławomir Mularski – the owner of the company carrying out the work – noticed a fully preserved early medieval sword on the mud heap that had just been thrown out by the excavator." 

"Without a moment's hesitation, he notified the Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments in Włocławek about his discovery, whose employees secured this valuable monument and submitted it for preliminary analysis." 

"This allowed us to conclude that the sword dates back to the tenth century, which means to the period when the state of the first Piast dynasty was formed, the first Polish form of statehood." 

The sword found in Poland, classified as a type S according to Petersen's Typology, is distinguished by its straight crossguard and three-part pommel cap, hinting at its Northwestern European origins. Photo: O. Popkiewicz

A type S Viking sword 

"Typologically, this sword can be classified as type S based on the design of its handle frame, as per Petersen's Typology."

"It is characterized by a straight crossguard that symmetrically widens towards the end and a pommel most often featuring a three-part pommel cap, with these swords being dated to the period between 900 and 1000."

"It is believed that the region of origin of this type of weapon should be considered as being from Northwestern Europe, so areas of Scandinavia or the Frankish state." 

"From there, they brought to the territory of today's Poland the Scandinavian influences which were very strong in the entire region of Central and Eastern Europe at that time." 

"To assess the state of preservation of the discovered sword, an X-ray was also taken, which allowed us to look under the layer of over 1,000 years of corrosion and discover further fascinating facts related to the construction of this unique artifact." 

"First of all, the inscription on the blade is clearly visible, so perhaps the sword from Włocławek can be classified as one of the famous swords signed with the mysterious inscription U[V]LFBERTH, one of the most famous and at the same time the best, in terms of quality, early medieval swords in Europe." 

"This is the eighth sword of this type discovered in today's Poland, but only after cleaning and conservation will it be possible to confirm such a hypothesis about the blade's origin." 

Found near Włocławek, the sword belongs to a landscape rich in archaeological finds, including a cemetery with Scandinavian artifacts, pointing to the area's role as a key trading and cultural hub in medieval Poland. Photo: O. Popkiewicz

Medieval Włocławek 

"The geographical and historical context in which this artifact was found is also interesting." 

"Based on previous archeological and historical research, we know that the history of Włocławek is very rich and goes back much further than the city's founding in 1255." 

"Probably in the tenth century, so in the period to which the discovered object is dated, there was a major stronghold in this place, connected with the ford on the Vistula, through which a trade route ran from Kujawy towards the lands of Dobrzyń and Chełmno, and further towards Prussia." 

"Perhaps due to its location on the Vistula, which must have been an important shipping route at that time, there was a harbor there, connecting this place with the waters and, therefore, with the long-distance routes of the Baltic towards Scandinavia." 

"It should be mentioned that this is not the first object of Scandinavian provenance discovered near Włocławek, dating back to the beginnings of Polish statehood." 

"In 2007, during works related to the construction of the A1 highway, bypassing Włocławek from the west, in the village of Bodzia, a cemetery dating back to the tenth and eleventh centuries was discovered." 

"During this research, numerous artifacts of Scandinavian origin were discovered, suggesting that the necropolis served as a burial site for individuals from Scandinavia." 

"These individuals might have been serving the first Piasts, who were establishing their state in this region during that period." 

"Looking for an analogy for the sword from Włocławek, we can point to two of this type S from Lutów (Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship) and Ciepłe (Pomeranian Voivodeship)." 

"This second item is particularly interesting because the Ciepłe sword was found in the context of an early medieval cemetery located on the edge of the Vistula Valley, near Gniew today." 

"The cemetery, like the one in Bodzia, dates back to the tenth and eleventh centuries and contained graves of people whose origins are related to arrivals from Scandinavia, just like in the case of the necropolis in Bodzia." 

The photo and X-ray image of the Włocławek sword show a clear inscription on the blade, indicating that it could be one of the famous Ulfberht swords, known for their superior quality in early medieval Europe. Photo: O. Ochotny

Research in Toruń 

"Perhaps the sword found in Włocławek belonged to one of the individuals who played a role in extending Piast dominion in the tenth century to regions beyond Greater Poland?" 

"However, we should leave all hypotheses to more extensive research, which, unfortunately, does not always bring the expected results." 

"Returning to the sword itself, it now faces an extensive process of conservation and scientific study, which may provide further revelations related to its construction and ornamentation, and therefore to its history." 

The sword was immediately sent to the Institute of Archaeology of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, where it will undergo conservation treatment. 

After completing all necessary conservation and research procedures, the sword, along with the research results, will be presented to the media again.

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