ASsworddrawingAnatomy of an Anglo-Saxon Sword

Anglo-Saxon swords had straight, double-edged blades, averaging about 33″ long. The blades tapered but slightly and had somewhat rounded points – a weapon used for hacking and slicing, not piercing. A shallow indentation, the fuller, ran along the centre of the blade upon both sides and served to lighten the weight of the weapon. The hilt was often of wood or horn, oftentimes enriched with copper, silver, or gold wire or plates. The security of the hilt was of vital importance; a hilt that loosened or broke during battle could quickly prove lethal to its owner as the uncovered continuation of the blade itself, the tang, offered no purchase for a warrior’s grip.

The guard is very short on Anglo-Saxon swords, just enough to keep the hand from sliding down upon the sharp blade. The pommel is the knob or termination at the end of the hilt, and could be highly ornamented. Some early 7th century Kentish swords, and later Scandinavian ones, have been found with metal rings in their hilts – perhaps to help to secure the weapon to the warrior’s hand via a leather thong, or of magical significance, or perhaps to mark that the sword was a gift from one warrior to another: ‘sword brothers’.

Throughout most of the Anglo-Saxon period (450 CE to 1100) the sword was worn not at the waist but high on the chest in a shoulder-slung leather baldric which held the wooden scabbard. Indeed, in poetic kennings the sword has been referred to as a “shoulder companion”. The compound term is illustrative not only of the physical position of the weapon over a man’s heart but its nature as a warrior’s boon friend. Riddle 79 from the Exeter Book (written in about 975 CE) begins:

I am the shoulder-companion (eaxlgestealla) of the prince, the warrior’s comrade, the associate of a king, dear to my lord. Sometimes a fair-haired lady, and earl’s daughter, noble as she is, lays her hand upon me….
translation by H.R. Ellis Davidson The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England

For more about swords, see my essay Pattern Welded Swords. For sword names, see my Giving Voice.

The English Warrior from Earliest Times to 1066 by Stephen Pollington (1996 Anglo-Saxon Books) is a treasure trove of information about the men and their weapons.

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