Herdebreid

Real or not: the famous viking women knife

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Hi,

 

I'm trying my luck here and asking for your help, if possible . I'm part of a viking reenactment group and there a heated discussion concerning this type of knife.

 

Mistress_knife_Female_sword_womens_Finla

 

They're those who argue that there historicly accurate and other who say they are not. For my part I long believe because they are easy to make and where, supposedly, found before the viking age, they were still possibly found in this time periode. My research found me wrong, now it's my job to explaine that to the rest of my group. 

 

What I'm trying to find out is when and where was that type of knife use. Where there only use before the viking age or did they come back afterward. Where they use un more recent time.

Also there a rumor sayinf that those type of knife are a more recent invention, like in the past 30 year. Here the quote from a different website. : "The story I've been told behind that knife (though a much more elegant version) is that it was designed by a famous dutch smith some 30 years ago, who has been selling them at Viking markets since. It proved very popular, so as it happens a lot at these markets, everybody else started copying it ".   Is there someone else whom heard something in in that direction.

 

I would be very gratefull for any information concerning those knife and thank you for your time.

 

 

 

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I am by no means a historian, but my understanding is that infact it was by no means a common design simply buy the fact that it took about a third more iron to make, and at that time iron was very expensive. A simple hiden tang was the animal because it conserved material.

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Note I'm searching more than just the viking era to try to find examples:  ISTR seeing a roman example, trying to remember if it was at the Museum in Bath or at the Deutsches Klingen Museum or ???.  Also this is a fast leaf through books to hand not definitive!

 

Not in:

"The Viking"  Bertil Almgren

"The Mastermyr Find" Greta Arwidsson, Gosta Berg

"Knives and Scabbards, Museum of London"

"Das Welt von Byzanz"

"Iron and Brass Implements of the English House"

"The Celtic Sword"  Radomir Pleiner

"The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England"

"Cathedral Forge and Waterwheel"

"Egyptian Metalworking and Tools"

"The Byzantine Collection" Dumbarton Oaks

 

Not even started good but I have to do other stuff now; hope to get back to this over the weekend unfortunately most of the medieval library is 3 hours away and most of my smithing books are down here...

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I remember having seen one in a grave excavation in germany (not personnely but in picture) that date around the V or VI century but that about it as far as archeological find that I remember. I also wasn't able to find a lot of documentation concerning those knife in any historical sourcess.

I will keep looking. If any of you have more info please let me know. Thanks

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I searched for several hours and found nothing but modern representations.  Nothing in the archeological record at all.  Every reference to Viking knives were two types.  The Seax and the Puko.   

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I'd definitely focus on the knife part and skip the viking part as many archeological reports will not use that term as it's a job description.

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Looking at it from the standpoint of an experimental anthropologist hobbyist, everything about that design screams modernity.

 

Primitive cultures were very practical as a matter of course.  While we have lots of examples of highly decorated pieces, those were a sign of wealth and not generally everyday items.  Who would want to use a gem-encrusted knife to process meats and risk losing a few of those gems in the gut pile?

 

From a manufacturing perspective, it uses more metal, fuel and time to produce than a stick-tang knife.  Primitive cultures just wouldn't have done that.  Good iron was expensive stuff and spending all that time drawing the tang out an extra few inches so you could curl it around just isn't something that they would have considered.

 

As an end user, those knives are absolutely horrible to use for any length of time.  They dig into the hand, produce hot spots and blisters, and for what?  They aren't any lighter than a wood-handled knife.  They aren't easier to make.  They aren't cheaper to produce.  They aren't more attractive than an engraved/encrusted knife.

 

So, you're left with a knife that doesn't meet any of the standards of the day.  You couldn't work all day with this knife unless you wrap the handle with something to make it more comfortable..... and then you might as well have made a standard knife.  You wouldn't impress the neighbors with a "fancy" knife because they've got copper/brass/silver inlays, etc.  You didn't save any time/energy/money by not making a wooden handle because the iron handle is more expensive.

 

Heck, I'm not even finding examples of such knives in 1800's America and the Fur Trade Era.  Even then, with mass-production and relatively cheap iron, they were making wood-handled knives for trade with the indians.

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If somebody can read danish here a article concerning those type of knife. But from what I understand the one they found date back to 2000 years ago.

 

http://www.ingruna.dinstudio.se/filearea_22.html

 

Beside one or 2 other mention of those knife in history (from memory, I wasn't able to refind the sources) it seem that the knife wasn't use in the viking ages (before, at least for a long time and after) or anywhere else for that matter. 

 

There also a pretty good conversation on this type of knife and it's place in history on Myarmoury.com (the link for the danish article comme from there) : 

 

http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=21112&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0

 

Thank every one for your input and your time, now I have enough backing/ammo to try to change the way people see those knife (at least in my small part of the world). Of course if people find more info please post it.

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I like and make a variation of this knife. I do not however give them any historical designation. They are easier to make than a handled knife and the handle never gets loose. Of course, the larger the knife the more material involved but for small table sized knives they don't take much material at all. I wish there was historical provenance for them but I guess you can't have everything.

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They were likely more common in a bronze form than an iron or steel form. With that said, I enjoy making them and giving them away. They're fast, simple and with a few twists here and there can have a primitive beauty to them. 

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The problem with asking here:  None of us are archaeologists in that field.  Asking here is a lot like asking advise at Jiffy Lube for NASCAR engine design.  Most of us don't have access to the rarefied knowledge base that full time researchers have.  What books we do have, are dismissively referred to as books for the populist by the academic world.  If you're really interested in learning, a trip to your university library is your best bet.  It's someones thesis you're looking for, good luck.

In the meantime, here's an article I found interesting.

 

http://nordiskaknivar.wordpress.com/tag/finish-womans-knife/

 

http://nordiskaknivar.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/emannanveitsi-part-two/


 

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The slide showing the drawings from Danish burial sites would tend to dispel any doubt in my mind. I wonder if they wrapped the plain tangs in leather for comfort in the hand?

(Dang it, why did I go and bring up another question for more speculation!).

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I've been searching off and on, but thus far (including in Scabbards and Knives, which just arrived) I haven't seen any historical evidence for the loop-handled knife. I feel like I've seen them before, but now I'm doubting my memory. Based on the high quality of finish of the medieval knives, I'm guessing the loop handle must have originated fairly early in blacksmithing history. Do any of you have references for archaeological evidence for the loop-handled knife?

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Like you I've not seen any historical relics of this style.  I think the reason is there is none.  For most of history steel was rare and expensive, for too valuable to waste drawing out into a handle or making a full tang when a narrow tang with a wooden handle was much simpler and far cheaper.   Maybe some one here can provide evidence that they were made, I'd like to see them.

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As I recall I have seen a roman version; trying to remember if it was at the Deutches Klingen Museum at Solingen; it was a kitchen knife.  Iron was not quite as valuable in roman times as in early medieval times.

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Owen Bush mentions a Danish bog find. From his page of Viking Blacksmith knives for sale:
 

I have based the design of these blades upon some iron age bog find knives from Denmark, having altered the shape a little from the original to make them more ergonomic and feel good in the hand.

JM, I started doubting myself for precisely that reason: iron must have been comparatively hard to come by in medieval times, and too precious to waste on an extravagant tang which offers dubious utility when compared with a regular wooden/bone/antler handle.

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This is a contentious issue in the living history/re-enactentment worlds. There are an incredibly small amount of these knives found scattered across history; Iron Age/Roman, they are not the ubiquitous "woman's knife" of the Viking period some traders would have you believe. Personally I think they are a waste of metal and at various times in history good iron has been worth more than gold. I will try to find the few finds I know of, there is one in Denmark and a couple in the Roman Empire IIRC other than that they start appearing in large numbers in the 1960s

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Caveat Emptor is not a new concept, people selling stuff are notorious for slanting the truth. Most folks don't do their own research and "trust" as fact information that may have been stated as a guess.

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There is a book - I think it is the 'british museum book of roman finds' a fairly old book but lots of info. There is a loop handled knife in that, I will dig it out and find the picture.

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Ok, So I checked my copy of Catalogue of Romano British ironwork by the British Museum.
And I was mistaken about the loop handled knife but there are others that you may find interesting

post-360-0-24998400-1423168635_thumb.jpg
post-360-0-94540900-1423168597_thumb.jpg

post-360-39507_thumb.jpg

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The first knife is 19.4cm long The second knife is 15 cm long The third is 14.5 cm long

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You might be breaking a myth, it seems.

I'm having no luck going trough the Norwegian online services. To be fair, I don't know where and how to access the advanced databases, and there might be oodles of finds that aren't photographed, it seems it might be more prudent to make direct contact with conservators.

However in the Swedish History Museum I sifted thru a few pages out of several hundreds, and this came up:
http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/fid.asp?fid=371926&page=2&in=1

It might make sense as a sewing knife, as it could conceivably hang unsheathed from a belt since the tip is so blunt?

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Most interesting, thanks for the photos Wayne! Based on what I've been able to find (ie, nothing), and the apparent rarity of the loop handle in antiquity, I'll call it a basically modern invention and move on. I agree with the assessment that it uses too much iron and energy compared to (for instance) a wooden handle on a whittle tang, although on my first knife project (a loop-handled knife), the handle was ridiculously easy to make compared to even a whittle-tang handle. I can't imagine the iron handle would be comfortable to use as I made it, though Owen Bush's flattened design looks quite comfortable. I still really like the loop-handle look, I'll just stop thinking of it as a historical design. ;)

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