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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


Kotô (old swords)

Kotō (old swords) describes the swords made in Japan from the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185) to the end of the Momoyama period (1573-1600). Kotō blades are generally slender and more elegantly proportioned than later swords, often with a deeper curve. During the kotō era, output was concentrated in areas where there was a supply of iron ore or in regions under the control of powerful military clans. Five main traditions are recognized, centring on Bizen Province (Kyoto), Yamato Province (Nara and environs), Sōshū (Sagami Province, present-day Kanagawa Prefecture, around Kamakura), Mino Province (present-day Gifu Prefecture) and Yamashiro (Kyoto).

This wakizashi (companion sword) blade was made by the swordsmith Osafune Norimitsu in Bizen Province, home to a particularly strong sword-making tradition. It was made during the Muromachi period (1392-1573) at a time when many swords were being produced for the armies who fought in the continuous civil wars. The blade has a deep curve and an undulating hamon (crystalline structure of the blade edge). The mounting is decorated with gold leaf. Its fine quality indicates that it was commissioned by a ruling clan for use in court ceremonies.