Although Vikings were famous for their swords and axes, when it comes to weapons and similar objects, Viking knives deserve a special mention as tools used both in everyday life and in warfare.
Along with axes, Viking knives were of great importance in everyday life. Vikings lived on farms and had plenty of situations during their typical day when they needed good and sharp knives.
One of the typical kinds of Viking knives was called the seax. It was used in everyday life in a number of situations – from peeling off the skin of animals to digging and cutting up turnips and other vegetables from the ground.
On the other hand, the seax was a very handy weapon that was also used as a weapon in warfare when the situation called for it.
There were different blade lengths, so some of those Viking knives looked like smaller swords. They had to be precise, robust, and had to be able to be adapted to all the demands of Viking life.
Some of these Viking knives, like the broken-back-seax, are very popular in the revival of the Viking culture and are often shown in different TV series and films depicting Vikings and their way of life. This type of Viking knife was a bit heavier and was used as a weapon more often.
How were Viking knives made?
The seax knife was one of the most popular and typical Viking knives, and the word “seax” means “knife” in the language used by the Saxon tribes, who were famous for their knives.
However, there were also other, smaller types of Viking knives. This type of knife was (and still is) known as “knifr.”
According to historical sources, Viking knives were made by forming a stack of up to nine layers of iron plates of different carbon content. These layers would be welded together; more layers would allow a better result in the end.
Also, in some cases, the rods formed in this process would be forged in different directions to create a decorative pattern on the knife. This was the basic production process which was then slightly refined or changed throughout the time.
The end result of this process created two basic types of Viking knives – the seax, which was used more by Viking men, as it was (also) used as a weapon, and the “everyday” sort of Viking knife, the knifr, which was generally used more as a tool, both by Viking women and men. Also, everyone was allowed to have, carry around, and use a knifr – even slaves were allowed to use them.
While knives were regularly used in battle, they were also considered an essential utility tool during Viking campaigns, whether on land or at sea. Source: Marcelo Leal / Unsplash
Viking knives in battles
As previously mentioned, Viking knives were generally used as tools, and they were used both by women and men, regardless of age and social ranking.
Items found in graves throughout the Scandinavian countries show that the seax style Viking knives were more commonly used in and for male burials, as this type of knife was used in battles.
However, this is not a very clear distinction and should not be taken as such, as the Viking society didn’t have strict gender roles and could be seen as egalitarian to an extent.
As the size of the seax was generally larger than of a common Viking knife used in everyday life, the seax was used as a mini sword, in a way. Having a sword was a matter of prestige, and it wasn’t something every Viking could have, so the seax would serve the purpose when swords were unavailable.
Being lighter, somewhat smaller, and thus easier to handle, this type of Viking knives were also used as an additional weapon in close contact combat with the enemy or when there was a situation that couldn’t have been predicted and quick action was needed. Swift responses were definitely more manageable with a seax than with a big heavy sword.
Wealthier members of Viking society would use both the sword and the seax.
As time passed, the general trend was that the seax knives became heavier and longer. The seax knives made by the end of the 7th century AD were the longest but somewhat lighter. According to some sources, this type of Viking knife appeared in Scandinavia from the 4th century AD.
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