Iron was one of the most important commodities in the Viking Age. However, it was in modern terms nearly as expensive as silver is today. Not that this prevented all families however poor, from owning a few items made from iron. These would have been knives for everyday uses, some tools, and another key piece, an axe. Without these, an early medieval family could not have operated. These things would not necessarily have been new or recent either. Many items would have been resurrected by reforging, or converting old and truly past their best hand-me-downs.
There were those who were not above using iron to flaunt their status and wealth. Folding stools as an example, made entirely of iron and expensive fabric and leather were not too uncommon. A folding chair such as this could just as easily have been made from wood, and wouldn't have been any heavier or cumbersome to use.
One quality of iron that is overlooked is it's ability to withstand corrosion. Today we are constantly worried about things going rusty, and that is because the steel that we use instead of wrought iron rusts quite readily. In fact, given just the wrong conditions, steel will keep on rusting until it holes and needs patching or discarding. Iron on the other hand, tends to create a corroded surface, that then actively prevents the oxidising process from getting any deeper beyond this boundary into the core of the iron. This is why we have so many artefacts from the period and earlier, despite being found in waterlogged conditions, and even in the sea. Salt Water damage is the worst, but many thousand year old tools, spears, locks etc; excavated from archaeological sites, and after a little conservation, give the impression that they could still be used today.
So Ulfbert would have been quite a popular man in Wichamstow, unless he charged too much for his time. He had to worry about the price that he had to pay for charcoal, the cost of the iron he was about to use and the time it took him to forge any given item, even if it was a revamp of an older piece. If a component was fairly large, he might have to modify his hearth to accommodate the work, and certainly needed to draft in help to control the hot metal on the anvil. Anchors from Hedeby and Ribe have been found that were 5 feet in length made entirely of iron. These were unlikely to have been owned by any individual, but were probably the property of the port. The suggestion is that they were rented out to passing traders to moor their ships to in deeper water. This does then beg how they made such huge pieces of ironwork. The hearth for such a piece must have been phenomenal, let alone the volume of raw wrought iron that had to be smelted. Casting iron had not then been invented, so forging was the only option. Another possibility is that the anchor was a reused Late Roman one, from a time when projects of this dimension weren't so extraordinary. Perhaps we are not being broad minded enough and underestimating what they could do when given the task.
Click here to return to the village.
Click here to return to the wood.