Cutting edge in the Middle Ages

German and Austrian media report of an unusual case of possible trade mark infringement dating back to the age of the Vikings and concerning high quality swords that bore the inscription Ulfberht.

According to the news reports British scientists have analysed the contents of Viking swords and found that some of the best Viking smiths may have had their work imitated and copied. Dr Alan Williams, an Archaeometallurgist at the Wallace Collection in London is cited as saying that the best Vikings swords bore the inscription Ulfberht (+VLFBERH+T). The original Ulfberht swords were completely made of high carbon steel, which ensured a long lasting and strong blade, whereas cheaper imitations only had a outer layer of steel with a core that was made of simple -- and much softer -- iron. Interestingly enough both type of swords, the original Ulfberht and the alleged copies, bore the same inscription Ulfberht, which appeared to indicate trade origin. Whether a Viking had purchased a genuine Ulfberht could be checked when sharpening the sword and hitting the softer iron layers of the imitation. Unfortunately, the inferior quality might in many cases only have been revealed during battle - with potentially deadly consequences for its owner.

Above, a photo taken by Alan Williams, showing a genuine Ulfberht sword from the Wuerttembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart, Germany bearing the inscription +VLFBERH+T

Most Ulfberht swords have been found in Scandinavia and near the coast of the Baltic Sea. However, confusingly during medieval time the name Ulfberht was not a Viking name but a name that was common in the German region of Franconia, today a part of Bavaria in Southern Germany. Alan Williams suggests that the Ulfberht may have a been an invented brand name, just like Kodak. May this have been a a very early form of certification (or collective) mark, the IPKat wonders...?
Related information on how "UK scientists help museum curators to determine Viking trade routes by the metal in their swords" can be found on the National Physical Laboratory's website and here.
Cutting edge in the Middle Ages Cutting edge in the Middle Ages Reviewed by Birgit Clark on Tuesday, February 17, 2009 Rating: 5


  1. Funny that the UK media do not report about this. I mean this is about English research results. They should be proud of their academics conducting such worthwhile research.

  2. They did:


All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here:

Powered by Blogger.