The Vikings were a group of basically Nomads who came down from Norway and Sweden, pillaged the European coasts, and eventually settled in France, Germany, and the British isles. By the late Romans, they were considered “barbarians”; they did not have fighting formations, did not regulate order as much, and mostly focused on the might of the individual warrior, as opposed to the Roman focus on the entire Legion. According to the Vikings, the better you were in battle, the better you were in society. This is why weaponry, armor, and equipment varied so much in the Viking ranks; you used what you could afford. If you could afford it, the most prized weapon was the sword.
Viking sword fighting is not the same you see in movies- slow, twirly-wirly sword fighting with plenty of parrying and cool moves. The Vikings would rather bash you over with the shield, avoiding your sword, and hack you to pieces in about a dozen strokes. This sword fighting, if one-on-one, would normally start with a slow standoff, both warriors examining the enemy and waiting for an opening, then once one of them sees one, bashes in and hacks at the enemy whilst warding off with the shield. Very. Very close quarters. Once you’re that close, it’s either kill or be killed. This is why the Vikings needed a sword that was light enough to deliver blow after blow in quick succession, be heavy enough to actually inflict damage, and yet still be pointed enough to pierce chain mail, the main armor at the time.
The sword had great religious importance to the Vikings as well; after defeating an enemy, the victor would ceremoniously destroy his opponent’s sword, so that the enemy would not bother him in the afterlife. The sword was literally to them, the soul of the warrior.
The smith who made these swords was thought of as a powerful being, to be able to make these swords. This smith was no barbarian. Using superior smelting techniques and a process called making “crucible steel” created a steel that was decades, even hundreds of years ahead of its time, and was borrowed from techniques used by smiths in the near-east. The best of these swords, only about 40 have been found to date, were inlaid with the name “Ulfberht”. The swords that were inscribed with this name have been studied, and shown to be far superior to the swords that were not inlaid as such.
This video is an excellent example of how fighting really looked like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFiIDl_mt2c