Swords

Niels Anker Lund's Holmgangen på Samsø (1872), and a Viking-Age sword from Kaldárhöfði 

This painting by Niels Anker Lund, titled Holmgangen på Samsø (Duel on Samsø), produced in 1872, on display at the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle, depicts a duel related in Saxo Grammaticus's Gesta Danorum and the legendary saga Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise). A hólmganga ('island going') was a type of duel in which aggrieved parties took to an island, beyond the reach of meddling onlookers, to settle a dispute through combat. The hólmganga epitomises the sagas' revelling in feud and violence, honour and law, and was a subject appealing to both saga audiences and ninteenth-century artists. 

Niels Anker Lund's 'Holmgangen på Samsø' (1872)

Niels Anker Lund, Holmgangen på Samsø, 1872. The Museum of National History, Frederiksborg Castle.

He drew his sword and went forward to meet him. Each showed the other the way to Valhöll; and now Hjálmar and Angantýr turned on each other, and wasted little time between the great strokes they gave.

The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise, chapter 3.

Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks traces the bloody history of the magic sword Tyrfingr. Forged and enchanted by the storied dwarves Dvalinn and Durinn, this remarkable sword never misses a stroke, and can cut through rock and iron as though it were cloth. But it also carries a terrible curse. Once drawn, it cannot be returned to its scabbard without drawing blood, and, ominously, the dwarves proclaim that it will be the cause of three great evils. The sword comes into the possession of the berserk Angantýr, who is slain, along with his eleven brothers, in a hólmganga on Samsø by the Swedish champion Hjálmar. In Lund's painting the sword - still dangerous - lies on the ground, pointing threateningly towards the duelists.

Viking-Age sword from Kaldárhöfði

Viking-Age sword (91 cm) found in a boat grave belonging to a man at Kaldárhöfði in Iceland. The National Museum of Iceland, Þjms. 13535/1946-43-1.

The cursed sword accompanies Angantýr in his barrow, resembling many other weapons committed to the grave with their former masters. This Viking-Age sword was recovered from a boat grave belonging to an adult male and a young child at Kaldárhöfði near Þingvallavatn in Iceland. The man was laid to rest with an impressive array of weaponry, including a spear, axes, shields, and a bow with arrows. The deceased man may have been a warrior or person of high status, but what the items furnising a grave (what archaeologists call 'grave goods') say about the deceased person is a matter for interpretation. The dead do not bury themselves, and the items laid in graves tell us as much about the communities mourning them as about the dead themselves. In Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, the berserk's daughter, Hervor, breaks the barrow to reclaim her father's cursed sword, and with it pursue her inheritance.