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Extract from Records of the Medieval Sword by Ewart Oakeshott
This is one of the most difficult sword-types to identify, because so many swords which might seem (perhaps by the forms of their hilts) to be of the type are in fact Xs, or even XVIs. In isolating the type, I laid down two totally arbitrary criteria: (1) that the blade should have noticeable taper, and an acute point, and the grip should be quite short, never of hand-and-a-half length, and (2) that the fuller should not extend beyond two-thirds of the length of the blade. This is all very well where these features are obvious; identification is easy enough as the illustrations below will show, but there are so many examples where the fuller is nearly(or quite) three-quarter length, making it nearly an X, or where there is no, as in No. XII. 16 below, or where the hilt is of a clearly early form, as in XII. 2 below, or where the taper is very slight and the point rounded, or when the grip is longer than the ‘standard’ 4″ to 4&1/2″ single-hand length. So many swords have one or other, or even all, of these difficult characteristics that one has difficulty in pinning them down to any of the types.
I mentioned the ‘early form’ of the hilt of XII.2. I must reiterate my firm belief that you cannot date a sword by its type, for most of the types – not all, as you will see – can span the whole of the medieval period. Nor can you use the forms of cross and pommel to date a sword – hardly ever. There are a few, mostly in use in the 15th century, which are dateable to a few decades, and can be identified with a region; but most of the pommel-types and cross-styles span the whole period; besides, within those types and styles there must be an infinity of variation – personal, regional and in some cases plain careless on the part of the cutler who made them. A sword’s cross is a most difficult object to make by forging, and distortion is difficult to avoid.
2. Type: XII
Collection: Schweizerrishes National Museum, Zurich, LM15672
Blade-length: 30″ (76.1cms)
Cross-style: Unclassified, Viking. (Petersen’s Type X)
Condition: Excavated, but good except for a very pitted surface.
Find-place: River Great Ouse, Stretham, NR Ely
Collection: Museum of Archaelogy and Ethnology, Downing COllege, Cambridge
Blade-Length: 36′ (91.4cms)
Date: c. 1150-1250
Condition: River-found, very good. Considerable pitting, especially the last 15″ or so towards the point.
Puublication: Oakeshott, SAC
Considering this sword’s find-place, in the Great Ouse about four miles away to the south of Ely, it could be tempting to think of it as a relic of the fighting around Ely in 1070 when the Conqueror finally took teh Isle by crossing the Marsh over causeway from Stuntney, one-and-a-half miles to the east of the city; but as far as is known it is unlikely that any knight of that army would have been four miles off across the swampy fen to lose his sword at the point, where it was found. It is much more probably one of the (so far, in 1988) seven swords from this river, in a twelve or so mile stretch between Southery to the north of Ely and Upware to the south which )vary in date from c.950-1400) were thrown in deliberately as ‘sacrifices’.
It is very difficult ot date this rather important sword; its blade is almost, if not quite of Xa form, yet I have categorised it as a XII because of it [sic] rather long grip. Taking only the form of blade and cross, one would date it, via Leppaaho’s finds, at c.1100, yet the form of the pommel is generally between c.1260 and 1320. Therefore it can only be suggested that it could be dated, because we don’t yet know of a reliably dated example of the pommel form as early as 1100, to a period of usage somewhere between 1250 and 1350.
Find-place: A town in N. Italy
Collection: Private, USA
Blade-length: 29&1/2″ (75cms)
Cross-style: 5 – or a variant of it
Date: c. 1250 -1300
Condition: good. This was found with two other swords in a a house being demolished in an Italian town. The swords were hidden between two walls, so had been preserved in dry conditions. The gilt-bronze pommel and cross have been severely cleaned, but are in very good condition, the iron under the gilding not having corroded at all. The blade and tang are covered in a rather thick brown patina – though to call it a patina when it is more in the nature of the thick brown deposit is perhaps too polite to it. Beneath this crust, however, the blade seems to be perfectly preserved.
It is difficult to to categories this sword with certainty, for there is no clearly defined fuller in the blade, and its grip is is rather long for a Type XII, thw whole thing being in the proportions of a Type XIII. Compare it, for instance with the No. XIII. 1 in this sequence. However the taper of the blade and the acuteness of the point is more in the nature of a XII, so I have put it under that type. It is a good example of one of the many cases where it seems quite impossible to put certain swords into a typological straight-jacket. The cross is unusual, too, rather heavy, made (like the pommel) of bronze gilded. It has been bent, and though it shows a strong transverse ridge along the middle of both arms on the ‘outside’, on the reverse it is quite plain and flat. This feautre of half-decorated cross is very common, particularly in 15th century hilts.
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