Swords were very expensive to make, and a sign of high status. They were rarely used and some swords found in tombs were probably not strong enough for battle or raids, and were probably decorative objects instead. Like the Roman spathes, they were worn in leather-bound wooden sheaths suspended from a strap on the right shoulder. The early sheets were pattern welded, a technique in which strips of wrought iron and mild steel were twisted and forged together, with the addition of a hardened edge. Homogeneous steel backsheets, probably imported from the Rhineland, many bear marks and inscriptions from inlay manufacturers, such as INGELRII or VLFBERHT. Local artisans often added their own carefully decorated hilts, and many swords were given names, such as the leg bite and the gold hilt. The sword hilt was usually made of an organic material, such as wood, horn, or antlers (which often does not survive archaeological discovery), and may well have been wrapped with textiles.
Owning a sword was a matter of great honor. People of status may possess swords ornamented with silver ornaments and inlays. Most Viking warriors would possess a sword, as one raid was usually enough to afford a good sword. Most freemen would possess a sword with goðar, jarls, and sometimes richer freemen possessing much more ornate swords. Poor farmers would use an ax or spear instead, but after a couple of forays they would have enough to buy a sword. A sword mentioned in the Laxdæla saga was valued at half a crown, which would correspond to the value of 16 dairy cows. The construction of such weapons was a highly specialized endeavor and many sword blades were imported from foreign lands, such as the Rhineland. Swords could take up to a month to forge and were so valuable that they were passed from generation to generation. Often times, the older the sword, the more valuable it becomes.
A distinct class of single-edged swords was known in eastern Norway at that time. These had the same grips as double-edged swords and blades of comparable length. The blades ranged from long and thin, like the more common double-edged swords, to somewhat heavy, giving the weapon a more blade-like balance. Confusingly, the same findings are sometimes classified as "sabers" or "seaxes" in the English literature.
As mentioned above, a sword was so valued in Norse society that good swords were prized by successive generations of warriors. There is even some evidence from Viking burials for the deliberate and possibly ritualistic "slaughter" of swords, which involved the blade being bent so that it could not be used. Because Vikings were often buried with their weapons, the "death" of swords may have served two functions. A ritual function in the removal of a weapon with a warrior, and a practical function to deter any grave robber from disturbing the burial in order to obtain one of these expensive weapons. In fact, archaeological finds of bent and brittle pieces of metal sword remains attest to the regular burial of Vikings with weapons, as well as the usual "killing" of swords.