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type X viking swords missing lower crossguard mystery


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I am trying to help solve a mystery about a type X viking sword unearthed fairly recently and in possession of a fellow just down the road from me. It was found in situ with the remnants of the scabbard and belt and the bronze and iron are all that was left when excavated. The brazil nut pommel is firmly in place, but there was no sign of the lower crossguard. In doing some research, I have found several other type X viking swords from the late viking period which are also missing their lower cross guards, but which have the brazil nut pommel firmly in place. When I had originally seen those swords, I had assumed that they probably had a bronze cross guard that broke off at some point in its past, but with this sword having been discovered with even the very thin bronze chape of the scabard intact (albiet in 2 pieces) it's fairly certain that this is not the case.

 

I'm wondering if anyone had any insight.

 

Here's the sword, only the two largest pieces have been stabilized with electrolysis, as my friend who is doing the conservation work on it fears to do anything with the smaller shards from further down the blade because nothing would probably come out of the tank at all.

 

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Here are two swords catalogued in Dr. Alfred Geibig's 1991 book on 8th to 12th century swords

 

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pic_geibig19.jpg

 

So it's apparently something common enough for there to be several good examples completely missing the cross guard, even in very good states of preservation. Right now I am just at a loss as to the why, was it an organic crossguard that didn't survive? perhaps bone or antler? I dont know that I've ever seen a brazil-nut pommel viking era sword with one though.

 

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In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to talk the current owner of this sword into selling it to me, but have not yet broached that subject with them as of yet.

 

 

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There are swords with organic hilt components from the viking period and the transitional period right after.
I have never seen a blade mounted with a brazil nut pommel having a guard of antler or walrus ivory, but such guards were made and used in the 10th and 11th centuries.
-A possibility?

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Thanks for chiming in Peter. The organic cross guard possibility is the only thing that I can think of currently, especially because the above pictured sword was found with all the belt components around it. I believe the owner has some photos of everything in place from during the excavation, but I have not seen them, but I didn't hear anything about any organic remnants being preserved in the soil where it was found, not even bits of leather preserved by the copper salts from the bronze pinched on both sides.

 

I guess that's the best possibility to think about for the time being.

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Another possibility is that, if a cross was heavily ornamented with gold, the piece might have been cut off to salvage the metal. Europe went through a big gold shortage at one point.

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Possible, but in this case with the blade being found with the belt and scabbard, it seems much less likely.

 

I've dug through several different catelogs of viking era swords now, from Geibig, to Androshchuk, the Ian Pierce book, Oakeshott's records, and others, plus journals from the excavations in Riga, Birka, and several photo catalogs from museums. I'm wondering if there is something that was semi-common to the type X swords, specifically Wheeler type VIII, because of blades found intact with pommel, very few were missing their crossguard, however when it comes to type X brazil-nut pommeled swords, many in excellent condition, fully 1 in 8 was missing the lower crossguard. 6 out of 44 brazil nut type X [7 out of 45 including the one I started this thread about], vs less than 5 in over 1000 for all other types combined that I was able to find full photos of.

 

The sample size is not the greatest, and I'd love to find more books like Geibig's sword morphology book, or Androschuck's viking sword book with extensive catalogs of swords with plates to expand upon the size, but from being about half a percent incident across all non wheeler type VIII pommeled swords of the viking age, to being over 10% of the type VIII that I found photos of... it cant be mere coincidence.

 

I'll keep digging into this. I specifically leaned heavily on Geibig (1991) and Androschuck (2014) for my tally, because their catalogs take into account even the 'not sexy' very decayed and almost completely destroyed blades, where many others seem to dismiss them as far less interesting than the wholly preserved specimines.

Edited by Justin Mercier
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After one reenactment battle, the sword guard on one gaddhjalt sword was bent after receiving quite a blow. Perhaps, when we take into account the unhomogenous nature of period wrought iron and the sublte proporitons of the guard, it may be possible that sometimes it broke?

Also, the guard made of horn would be a cool idea :D

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You know, the type X swords were the first to start to get the longer thin crossguards that actually protected the hand, rather than the small oval close to the blade crossguards that were used on just about every viking sword style of earlier manufacture. Your theory may have good merit. Perhaps the reason for the high incidence of missing crossguards on type X is the fact that they were more prone to being broken off in the first place. Perhaps the artifact record is indicative of a flaw in the design, as the material technology was not yet at the level needed to support stopping blades with the crossguard yet, but was on the way towards being able to.

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That's another possibility. I bought some nice chunks of wrought from a blacksmith specialising in art pieces, who can't stand the stuff because of its split-prone nature when making thin, delicate shapes. He sold me everything he had left.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Been messing around and this thread inspired me! Made a gaurd outta some Oak with a pine handle, pommels not exactly the same style but the idea is a wooden gaurd does not feel outta place on this blade. and the Oak is hard and thick enough I feel it would stop a blade sliding off your own blade. Now a full power swing you might be in trouble but I'm sure you'd wanna avoid those even with steel. With a large solid pommel the blade still balances out with needing the weight in the gaurd there.

 

 

 

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