Skip to main content

Object Title

Sword - 'Viking' sword

Sword - 'Viking' sword

Date

875-1030

Object Number

IX.5610

Provenance

Purchased at auction, Fine Antique Arms and Armour (Sale No. 7231) at Christie's, 8 King Street, St James's, London, SW1Y 6QT, Wednesday 24 May 2006, Lot 68. Previously in a private collection: Colin Fox of Nice. He had bought it from another collector in France to whom the sword had been sold to initially by the equivalent of an English 'Mudlark' who confirmed the provenance of it having been found in the river Seine near Rouen, France, some 5 years previously. N.B. Regarding why perhaps such an interesting sword, such as this one, should have been able to leave France it should be noted that In France it is the value of the object (over 50,000 Euros when the sword was acquired) rather than the find-site or age of an object that is important in deciding whether it can legally be exported or not.

Physical Description

The hilt has a pommel of strongly pronounced 'brazil-nut' form, and its underside is recessed to recieve the tang. The narrow tang sits in a wide tang slot which narrows as it runs up through the pommel. The cross is of a Viking type known as a 'gaddhjalt' ('spikehilt').
The narrow blade is double-edged and slightly tapers towards a short rounded point. The blade still retains large amounts of its original wooden scabbard together with what, in some places, may be traces of its leather covering.
The sword also retains its original copper alloy shield- shaped scabbard chape, pierced in the shape of a 'Romanesque' bird, sometimes known as the 'Birka Bird' or 'Falcon' (not a 'slotted fleur-de-lys' as stated in the Christie's catalogue entry). The chape is complete apart from lacking the top of the frame along the 'back' top.
The whole sword is in 'excavated condition' commensurate with its find-site in a river.

Featured in

Techniques

Handmade

Dimensions

BladeLength630 mm
OverallLength750 mm
OverallWeight675 g

Inscriptions and Marks

None

Associations

Bibliographic References

'Fine Antique Arms and Armour', Christie's,London, Wednesday 14 May, 2006, p. 35 (illus.)

C. Paggiarino, The Royal Armouries, masterpieces of medieval and renaissance arms and armour, Milan, 2011, volume 1

Notes

The general outline of the hilt is comparable to a number of other 'Viking' swords, including one held by the Musee del'arme, Paris (Reg. no. JPO 2241) (See Pierce: 131). The sword, however, is for an adult, it having an overall length of 102.7 cm.
This sword would appear to be the earliest recorded example of of a sword intended for use by a child.
Swords of small size are often said to have been made for boys. This is not always the case as some may have been made as short 'riding' swords. 'There are a very few small swords, clearly of types dating between c.1300 and 1500, which cannot be other than boys' weapons or miniatures, for their proportions are precisely those of full-sized swords, yet the hilts are much too small for the average adult hand.' (Oakeshott 1982: 26) - of then as well as now.
That young boys were encouraged to play and practice with specially made weapons is illustrated by King Henry VI who received eight swords in 1430,
'some greater and some smaller, for to learn the king to play in his tender age'. (Clifford & Watts: 6)
'Boys would have smaller versions of adult swords, and it is often only the size that distinguishes them. One of the military training books popular in the 12th century was .. Epitoma Rei Militari..used throughout the middle ages as a manual for young knights. Vegetius suggests that for sword practice the trainee should attack 6ft posts set into the ground.' (Clifford & Watts: 8).By 16, if not earlier (Edward III was only 14 years old when he commanded his first expedition against the Scots in 1327), the training was complete.
As to sword finds in the river Seine 'a number of 9th century Viking swords were found in the Seine at Paris, lost in the great assaults by the Vikings in 885-6 (Oakeshott 1984: 11).
Other Medieval children's swords survive, such as those to be found in the collections of the Royal Armouries (IX. 1115, which has an overall length of 56.1 cm, an English or French example ( IX.2225), blade length 62.cm; an English example of about 1475-80 (IX. 5427) which has an overall length of 62 cm and possible another English example of the 14th century (IX.5501), which has an overall length of 80 cm) and one of 1300-1350, English, which has an overall length of 59.2 cm, Glasgow Museums (A.1964.9.a).
There are also later children's swords in the collection such as a series of smallswords from the 18th century and children's versions of 19th century military and court swords.
Clifford B & K Watts, 'An Introduction to Princely Armours and Weapons of Childhood', Royal Armouries, Leeds, 2003
Oakeshott E, 'A River-Find of 15th Century Swords', in Blankwaffen, eds. K Stuber and H Wetter, Zurich,1982, pp. 17-32
Oakeshott E, 'Further notes on a River-Find of 15th Century Swords', First Park Lane Arms Fair, London, 1984
Pierce IG, 'Swords of the Viking Age', The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2002
It is suggested that the sword be X-rayed to see if the structue of the blade can be revealed and also how the tang of the blade fits in the pommel.It is also suggested, if possible, that a piece of what appears to be the wood of the scabbard be removed for scientific analysis (i.e. identifyig of wood type and (carbon?) dating).

Another very similar chape is known to have been found in France, from Brittany, in L’Ile de Groix (see , accessed 12/12/12/2019, which is taken from du Chatellier, P. and L. Le Pontois, 'La Sépulture Scandinave à Barque de L'Ile de Groix'. Bulletin de la Société archéologique du Finistère, Vol.35, 1908, pp. 137-232 ), which is also mentioned by Hedenstierna-Jonson (2006, p. 173-4).

Although originally dated by the museum to the mid-10th -12th century (and indeed to the11th century in the sales catalogue) it would appear that the sword is probably earlier and so the current dating now reflects this (see: Mäder, Stefan ‘Challenging Typologies: Swords in the Utrecht Psalter’, in Deutscher, L, Kaiser, M and Wetzler S (eds.), 'The Sword: Form and Thought', Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2019, pp. 12-23 [ pp. 15-16 in particular], Androshchuk, Fedir,' Viking Swords. Swords and Social Aspects of Weaponry in Viking Age Societies', The National Historical Museum, Stockholm. Studies, Vol. 23, 2014 , Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson (2006) and Paulsen, Peter, 'Schwertortbänder der Wikingerzeit ein Beitrag zur Frühge schichte Osteuropas, Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1953, for example).

Thumbnail image of Sword - 'Viking' sword For a child
Thumbnail image of Sword - 'Viking' sword For a child
Thumbnail image of Sword - 'Viking' sword For a child
Thumbnail image of Sword - 'Viking' sword For a child
Thumbnail image of Sword - 'Viking' sword For a child
Thumbnail image of Sword - 'Viking' sword For a child
Thumbnail image of Sword - 'Viking' sword For a child
Thumbnail image of Sword - 'Viking' sword For a child