The soft nature of copper swords seemed disappointing that eventually led to bronze swords. Bronze was a better choice than copper at that time. So, bronze was adopted as a solid material as it was an alloy of tin and copper. Alloy refers to a mixture of a couple or more base elements for developing another metal with a few special properties. Bronze came up as a more appropriate choice for making of swords. It was far stronger than copper. Also, these swords were more flexible compared to copper swords. Copper swords did not stay sharp for a long time while the bronze swords had the capability to sustain their sharpness for a longer period of time.
The advent of iron replaced the bronze swords with more solid iron swords. In the ancient world, iron ore could be found very easily. It contained a combination of iron and oxygen. For developing iron from the iron ore, the makers of swords needed to eliminate oxygen for developing pure iron. A bloomery is the most primitive facility for refining iron from the iron ore.
In the bloomery, charcoal is burned with the iron ore along with a great supply of oxygen through a blower. Charcoal is in fact pure carbon, and it combines with the oxygen for developing carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. A great amount of heat is released in the process too. Carbon monoxide and carbon combine with the oxygen in iron core and take it away. This leaves a sponge-like, porous mass we know as a bloom.
The bloom is then hammered for removing the impurities. The metal resulted is the easy to work with. However, the iron-made swords were not that effective because they were slightly softer and did not feature an edge. However, iron forged a new empire and became a metal of choice for creating swords and other weapons. Those periods were called Bronze Age and Iron Age because these two metals were pretty common for establishing different weapons.
Steel was eventually discovered and considered useful for creating swords. Steel is an alloy of carbon and iron. Cementation was the original process that created steel. A few pieces of iron were placed in a container made using a high carbon substance. The container was then put in a furnace where it was kept at a very high temperature for a varying period of time, typically hours to days. Carbon migration tool place amid that time, and hence the iron absorbed some carbon from the container. The resulting mixture of carbon and iron was the steel.
Steel emerged as a preferred choice for making swords. It became increasingly popular material for constructing weapons because it has numerous benefits over bronze and iron. First of all, it was a hard material that assisted in creating powerful swords. It was heat-treated appropriately, so it made the swords a little more flexible. Also, it lasted longer and maintained its sharpness. It was easy to shape and work the steel swords. Also, it was more resistant to corrosion and rust as compared to iron and other metals. This is perhaps why we still manufacture steel swords, and these swords are the ones we call the Real Swords.
Construction of Swords During the Vikings Age
Many call vikings age as the steel age. It was the period when the steel was the dominant material for building swords. This is why we still know some incredible vikings swords, for example, the iconic Damascus Sword. At the beginning of this period, the double edged swords made a comeback that were last used in the late Iron Age. In the Viking age, single edged swords were never found. Rather, doubled edged swords were common. The ancient iron swords used to feature just a single edge. However, the double edged swords seemed more impressive and effective.
Even though steel was considered more solid material, iron did not yet lose its popularity. Iron was a material of numerous qualities during the early Viking age. It was more pure chemically, and included just a few containmentes, typically less than 1%. The only contaminants present were carbon and phosphorus.
However, the swordsmiths of that age were aware of exploiting those nuances. Cleaner iron was soft, an hence welded at a very low temperature. While, the phosphoric iron was etched to be a charming silver-like color, and the steel could be hardened. The Danish Viking Blacksmiths used iron containing 0.8% carbon and hardened it so it had the strength that the modern steel has. The major distinction among the steel and iron is the amount of carbon. Iron containing more than 0.3% carbon is not iron, but steel.
There was a completely different technique of developing the Viking sword. The iron used for the construction was also of a different quality, even the iron was the one produced locally and contained a great amount of oval slag. However, these swords were made using hardened steel. The Viking Blacksmiths adopted an advanced construction method. They combined pure iron for making the middle part of the blade and the steel for the edges.
The steel though contained some flat slag pieces, determining that it was worked over for greater time compared to pure iron. The craftsmen cared about a couple of things while making the swords, including the effectiveness of the blade in the battle and the overall appearance of the sword. The differences among the viking and iron age swords were not insignificant. A Viking sword was more effective in the battle, but an Iron Age sword could also serve stabbing and cutting.
The Vikings did not just make swords using steel and iron, they also used crucible steel. The swords made of crucible steel were called Ulfberts. However, these swords were made before the tenth century. We may not see crucible steel again until the industry is revolutionized. Crucible steel was tougher as well as springier compared to Damascus or other things during that time. Ulfberts were the most spectacular swords made until that time. They were equally as sharp as the Damascus swords were. But, let’s not count sharpness because many think that Damascus were the sharpest swords ever made.
Swords aren’t knives, so, you can put a limit to their sharpness. They have longer blades compared to knives, and hence they have a biochemical advantage over them as well. It does not matter whether the sword is made of crucible steel, Damascus or bronze once it is accelerated effortlessly and fastly to hit the unarmored flesh. It can inflict severe injury anyways!
However, crucible steel gave the swords the strength and durability that the warriors wanted in their weapons. These swords were handy in arms vs armor race in which stabbing was how you attack someone in plate. Damascus comes from the Middle East where this never happened. In this context, the swords made in Europe were ideal for European warfare while those made in Middle East and India were ideal for middle eastern and Indian warfare. So, the sword making also relied on the warfare styles that the warriors of different regions adopted.
Shift of Iron Age to Steel Age!
So, the technological shift between the Viking Age and the Iron Age never really applied to the swords which determines the high status of the owners. Even the knives found during the Viking age were forged with well worked steel between a couple pieces of iron, unlike the earlier Iron Age knives. This offers an optimal build which combines the flexibility of iron and strength of steel in one blade. The application of this construction methodology to crafting real swords enhanced their effectiveness in the battles.