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Viking Axe

Viking Axe

Above: Front of the specimen card

More than 1200 years ago the Vikings left the fjords of modern Scandinavia and set out sea. Today, nearly every country in Europe has a story to tell of the Viking expansion, and a complex history of their many societies is slowly being rediscovered.

Originally, part of the Third Edition collection, we are happy to offer the Viking Axe as a single specimen.

Above: An example of a Classic Riker Box Specimen

Viking Axe Specimens

  • Classic Riker Box Specimen - Similar to the specimens in the Third Edition Mini Museum Collection, these specimens are fragments of a viking axe head dating to 900 CE. The axe head was restored in the 1960s using the techniques of the time, which tended to focus on the beauty of the finished object as opposed to stabilizing and preserving the material. We worked closely with blacksmith Kerry Stagmer and the smiths of Baltimore Knife & Sword to prepare the material for inclusion by removing modern weld material so that only the original metal remained. The visual appearance of a tiny axe head is the result of many hours of work at MMHQ. Each fragment is enclosed in an acrylic specimen jar held within a handsome, glass-topped riker box case measuring 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". A small information card is also included, which also serves as the certificate of authenticity.
  • Showcase Specimens - Singular axe heads, priced and sold individually. As with the classic riker box material. They were restored in the 1960s and have modern weld material integrated into the structure. Classification is based on the classic Wheeler's 1927 guide to Viking axes.

Please Note: The Classic Riker Box Specimens are all unique as we crafted each one here from the original material salvaged from the axes. The pictures below provide examples of the type of specimen you can expect.

Caution: You should still use caution when handling these specimens. Edges can be sharp and the material may flake.

About the Viking Expansion and Viking Axes

Above: "Funeral of a Viking" by Frank Bernard Dicksee (1853–1928). This presentation is perhaps a bit dramatic, but thoroughly enjoyable.

"Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race ... The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets." ~ Alcuin of York, on the first Viking raids of 793

The spectacular entry of the Vikings into history is usually pinned to a raid on an isolated monastery off the northeast coast of England in 793 CE. The raid received wide attention in Western Europe due to the writings of a prominent scholar named Alcuin of York. A native to this region of England, Alcuin was serving in the court of Charlemagne when he received word of the raid. Yet, Alcuin's rather graphic description is complicated by the times in which it was crafted. The growing empire of Charlemagne had come into contact with the Danes to the north and there are some scholars who suggest that the raid on Lindisfarne monastery, and many of the others which followed, were in direct response to the threat the Norsemen felt along their own borders.

Above:  From the codex of Cotton Tiberius B. V, Part 1, f.40v (c. 1300)

Regardless, the expansion of the Norsemen continued, and their travels were widespread. They scouted and raided the entire coast of Europe and all of the major rivers of the continent. During their time in southern and eastern Europe, Norsemen served as mercenaries for the Byzantine Empire and enforcers of the peace in slavic lands. They expanded far to the East, establishing colonies in today's Russia. The Kievan Rus as they were known also traded with the Islamic world. Rare evidence of this extensive trade network was discovered in the 19th century when a ring bearing Arabic script was uncovered in the 9th century grave of a woman on the Swedish island of Björkö.

In the north Atlantic, Norsemen discovered the island of Iceland, the archipelago of Svalbard, and the micro-continent Greenland. They also made several attempts to colonize a land further west which they called Vinland and which we call North America.

Records of these adventures and Norse society were often kept in literary form known as a Saga. When we hear the word saga today, we often think of the "Prose Edda" which contains many of the mythological stories we associate with the notion of the Vikings. However, the saga was really more of a broad term used to describe nearly any narrative.

In addition to the adventures, family histories, mythology, and tales of political intrigue, the sagas also describe the weapons of the Vikings and their manufacture. Next to the knives, the machete-like sax, and the swords of the wealthy, we also learn more about the various types of axes that were so prominent in the lives of the Norsemen.

Unlike the popular image of a giant Viking axe, the reality is quite different. Smaller blades were more effective in close combat not to mention much cheaper. So, while the largest axes like the crescent-shaped Breiðøx, or broad axe, might have a cutting edge up to 18" (45cm), the iconic "bearded axe," or Skegøx, might only reach 6" (15cm).

The bearded axe was a versatile tool and common across the Viking world. In combat, the "beard" could be used used to hook an opponent and even helped scale wooden fortifications. The style was also very common in woodworking tools as well.

Above: A Wheeler Type III Bearded Axe Head, showing clear signs of restoration using the techniques prevalent in the 1960s. Modern weld is apparent along the cutting edge and poll.

With a properly sharpened carving axe, a skilled craftsman can quickly turn out many useful implements including mallets, bowls, and even spoons. Combined with the adze, the gouge, and the drawknife, it is possible to create incredibly ornate carvings including the famous dragon heads which adorned the prows of many Norse sailing ships.

Above: A Wheeler Type I, likely a woodland axe. Clear modern weld near the lower half of the cutting edge. This style was in use around 1000 CE.

Further Reading

Pye, Michael. The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are. Penguin UK, 2014.

Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. Penguin Group USA, 1995.

Cf. Sedov, B.B. Finno-Ugri i Balti v Epokhi Srednevekovija, Moscow, 1987

Cooper, Tracey-Anne. Reconstructing a deconstructed manuscript, community and culture: London, BL MS Cotton Tiberius A. III. Boston College, 2005.

Above: Back of the specimen card.

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