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The Volga Trade Route

  • Posted 02.07.13
  • NOVA

The Vikings didn’t invent crucible steel, so where did it come from? Many experts believe that the Volga trade route supplied Vikings with prized crucible steel from the Middle East, where people were more practiced in the art of forging it.

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Launch Video Running Time: 02:59

Transcript

Secrets of the Viking Sword

PBS Airdate: October 10, 2012

NARRATOR: The Vikings didn't invent crucible steel. In fact, there's no evidence that anyone in Europe knew how to make it until the industrial revolution in the 18th century. But for more than 500 years before the Ulfberht, warriors elsewhere had been fighting with crucible steel weapons.

Swordsmiths across Central Asia produced some of the greatest swords of all time, known as Damascus steel blades. Curiously, they were made from material similar to the Ulfberht.

ALAN WILLIAMS: Damascus steel is a separate class of crucible steel, which is similar in chemical composition, but the crucible steel was cooled very slowly, so the iron formed large crystals. And with careful forging these large crystals form a surface pattern on the blade.

NARRATOR: These unusual swords exhibited many of the same superior qualities as the Ulfberht, but if the Vikings didn't know how to make crucible steel, then where did they get it?

Clues can be found in artifacts excavated from Viking graves, in Scandinavia, as early as the eighth century.

GUNNAR ANDERSSON: The Buddha was found on an island west of modern-day Stockholm. It originates from India, northeast India. And it tells us, of course, that trades with the Far East existed. The ring is the same thing, there. It's this written inscription that says "Allah."

NARRATOR: Thousands of artifacts from the east have been uncovered from Viking graves. Islamic coins were even commonly traded in Scandinavia.

FREDRIK CHARPENTIER LJUNGQVIST: You could go, mostly by river and lakes, all the way from Lake Mälaren, here in Sweden, to northern Iran. The route was known as the Volga trade route.

The interesting thing is that the most Ulfbehrt swords are dated from exactly the same time when the Volga trade route was open, that is from the early 800s to the mid-1,000s.

I think it's very likely that the steel that you find in the Ulfberht swords originated from Iran. I would guess that you bought it from friendly trading connections in Iran, paid with furs and other Nordic commodities, and took it back on your small ships that you used on the rivers.

Credits

Secrets Of The Viking Sword

PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
Peter Yost
ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
Frauke Levin
EDITED BY
Anna Auster
CAMERA
Mark Knobil
NARRATED BY
Jay O. Sanders
HIGH SPEED CAMERA
Evan McIntosh
ADDITIONAL CAMERA
Christine Nesheimer
ADDITIONAL EDITING
Jared Dubrino
ANIMATION
Jung Yuen Shin
PRODUCTION MANAGER
Edna Alburquerque
ASSISTANT EDITOR
Mara Auster
ONLINE EDITOR
Jared Dubrino
COLORIST
Björn Bellenbaum
AUDIO MIX
Patrick Donahue
SOUND DESIGN
Brian Bracken
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS
Ankur Agrawal
Sarah Ashey
Amy Augustino
Cassie Gomez
Joseph Ettinger
Gianna Keiko Rankart
LOCATION PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS
Mandy Johnston
(US)
Pablo Antonio Labañino
(Sweden)
Alexander Leise-Hansen
(Denmark)
John Nolen
(US)
Magnus Roekenes
(Norway)
Dominik Zalewski
(Poland)
HISTORICAL REENACTMENT
Slavs and Viking Festival at the Open Air Museum, Wolin, Poland
VIKING FIGHT SCENES
The Jomsvikings/ Phil Burthem
Silverwolf Viking Group/ Maxim Makarov
ARMS AND ARMOR REPLICAS
Albion Swords
CAS Hanwai
Crescent Moon Armoury
Kult of Athena
ARCHIVAL MATERIAL
Prof. Ulrich Dilthey and his Simulation Research Group at ISF - Welding and Joining Institute of RWTH - Aachen University, Germany
NASA's Earth Observatory
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The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen
Sankt Cyriakus, Gernrode, Germany
Robert C. Cammarata
Alban Depper
Dermix
Ann Feuerbach
Alfred Geibig
Martin Glicksman
Craig Johnson
Peter Johnsson
Lee Jones
Anna Kjellström
Agnieszka Klosowska
Kram Janettee
Marena Wellness and Spa, Międzywodzie, Poland
Robert "Joey" Marmorato Jr.
Cain Maxwell
Graham McCartney
Mikkel Pauli Mønsted
Michael Notis
Jeffrey Pringle
Neil Price
Elena Ryabova
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William R. Short
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A Production of NOVA and National Geographic Television in association with Pangloss Films, LLC.

© 2012 NGHT, LLC and WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved

Image

(map of trade route)
© WGBH Educational Foundation

Participants

Gunnar Andersson
National Historical Museum, Sweden
Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist
University of Stockholm
Alan Williams
The Wallace Collection, London

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