Unlike the other Anglo-Saxon weapons (spears, axes, knives, and bows and arrows), swords were the only weapons of the period used exclusively for warfare. As a result, swords were expensive and very prestigious.
Facts About Anglo-Saxon Swords
- Because swords were such prestigious weapons, historians believe that swords were passed down from generation to generation as family heirlooms.
- When archaeologists have found the remains of swords in Anglo-Saxon burials, they have often been located very close to the body, sometimes cradled in the dead warrior’s arms. This is believed to show how important swords were to their owners.
- The Anglo-Saxon swords recovered from archaeological digs seem to show lots of signs of wear. Many of the pommels are worn on one side, and this indicates that when the weapons were worn high up on the chest in scabbards attached to shoulder-slung leather baldrics, the warriors tended to rest their hands on the pommels.
- Many of the Anglo-Saxon swords also show mismatched decorations, as if the sword has been owned by numerous warriors during its lifetime, all of whom have made their own changes and modifications.
- Some swords have been found with interlock ring decorations attached to the pommels. Some historians believe that these signify the oaths sworn by the sword’s owner.
- Little effort appears to have been made by Anglo-Saxon warriors to hide their swords’ signs of wear and tear. This might indicate that the Anglo-Saxon’s celebrated experience. A well-used weapon was likely to be wielded by a battle-tested warrior.
- Runic characters and inscriptions have been found on the pommels of Anglo-Saxon swords.
- Made from iron, Anglo-Saxon swords were approximately 5 cm to 6.5 cm in width, and 85 cm to 100 cm in length. Although most of the designs were fairly similar, a few historians believe that there were two distinct types of Anglo-Saxon swords. The mece, longer slimmer swords for thrusting at enemies, and the sweord, thicker and heavier for hacking and slashing.
- The blades were straight and double-edged, often with a fuller (a shallow groove) running down the center to make the weapon lighter.
- The hilts of Anglo-Saxon swords were made from wood or horn, and they were often decorated with copper, silver or gold.
- Anglo-Saxon swords typically had short guards and richly-decorated pommels.
- Anglo-Saxon warriors sometimes named their swords. These were sometimes inscribed on the hilt or the sword’s blade. The names of the owner and maker were often added too.
- Anglo-Saxon swords were manufactured using a technique called pattern-welding. Rods of iron, twisted together and then forged, formed the sword’s core. Cutting edges were then attached. This method produced blades with intricate herringbone or snakeskin markings.
The Sutton Hoo Sword
- The sword found at the Sutton Hoo ship burial was made of pattern-welded iron and fitted with a hilt decorated in gold. Its pommel is made from gold inlaid with garnets.
- The sword’s scabbard was made from leather-bound wood, and it was lined with oiled sheep’s wool to keep the sword blade in good condition. The scabbard was also decorated with gold and garnets.
- It measures approximately 85 cm in length and is about 6.4 cm wide.
- It is believed that the sword might have been wielded by King Raedwald of East Anglia.
- The sword’s lower guard is made from gold.
- From the wear pattern on the sword’s pattern and the sword’s position in relation to the body in the ship burial, historians have suggested that the sword’s owner was left-handed. This might have been an advantage in battle as most warriors would have been used to fighting right-handed opponents.
Learn more about Anglo-Saxon weapons or visit our Anglo-Saxon resources page.