The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England, Hilda Ellis Davidson

The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England, Hilda Ellis Davidson

When this book was first published in 1962, it was one of the first serious studies of the early medieval sword. Despite now being over fifty years old, it is still a work of great value.

The book is split into two sections. The first examines the physical nature of the swords of this period, starting with the iron used to construct them, and working through construction methods, the various parts of the sword - the blade, pommel, hilt, grip and guard, the scabbard and other attachments. There are also chapters on inscribed blades and scabbards.

One of the most interesting sections is hidden away in an appendix, and is a detailed description of a series of experiments carried out to try and work out how these pattern welded blades were actually constructed. These ended with the successful production of a new pattern welded blade, and greatly enhanced our understanding of the construction process.

Part two looks at the written records - covering a wide range of sources, including Anglo-Saxon wills in which swords were often mentioned, extracts from the surviving poems (in particular from Beowulf, where there are many descriptions of the same blades, allowing us to understand how one blade could have many different attributes), and a look at Old Norse literature.

The illustrations are bunched at the end. The photographs aren't great, with most of the details hard to make out, but Ewart Oakeshott's numerous illustrations are much more useful, and really help explain the sections on the parts of the sword.

Although many more swords have been discovered in the intervening half century, the detailed descriptions of those that were known in 1962 is still of great value. Davidson also did a very good job of connection the written records to the physical remains, suggesting that the descriptions of swords in epics such as Beowulf did indeed reflect the reality of the blades. This connection between the archaeology and the written sources is one of the most valuable elements of this book.

Part I: The Making of the Sword
1 - Iron for the Blades
2 - Eastern Sword-blades
3 - Pattern-welded blades
4 - When and Where were they Made?
5 - The Teutonic Sword
6 - Inscribed Blades
7 - The Construction of the Hilt
8 - The Pommel
9 - The Grip
10 - The Guard
11 - The Decoration of the Hilt
12 - The Ring on the Hilt
13 - Inscribed Hilts
14 - Sword Attachments
15 - The Scabbard
16 - Scabbard Inscriptions

Part II: The Telling of the Sword
1 - Historical Records
2 - Anglo-Saxon Wills
3 - Some Sword Terms in Beowulf
4 - The Sword Hrunting
5 - The Sword from the Lake
6 - Other Swords in Anglo-Saxon Poetry
7 - Sword Riddles
8 - The Sword-blade in Old Norse Literature
9 - The Hilt in Old Norse Literature
10 - The Scabbard in Old Norse Literature

Part III: The Using of the Sword


Author: Hilda Ellis Davidson
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 286
Publisher: Boydell
Year: 1994 edition of 1962 original

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