A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
The Albion Mark Peter Johnsson Museum Collection
A hands-on review by Patrick Kelly
Weapons technology has always been a game of cat and mouse. As defensive equipment has increased its effectiveness, the weapons of the age have followed suite. These two opposing sides of the same coin have resulted in a continuing arms race that has lasted throughout the ages. For the student of the European sword no other period shows a more dizzying variety of development than that of the Middle Ages. During the early Middle Ages mail was the primary form of armor in use. As the period began, this usually took the form of a hauberk; however, as time passed this hauberk became more enveloping. Throughout the period both the sleeves and skirt of the hauberk were extended to increase the wearer's protection. Mail chausses, or leggings, were also developed as an added defense. The earlier conical helm evolved into the classic great helm that is so familiar to lovers of things medieval. All of these developments resulted in armor that was continually increasing in its effectiveness. Due to this evolution, swords also underwent developmental changes.
A later answer to this challenge was to increase the blade's taper, so as to provide for increased thrusting capability. However, an earlier attempt at superiority resulted in swords of truly impressive size and performance. In his typology of the medieval sword, the late Ewart Oakeshott classified this family of sword as the Type XIII. Mention of these swords can be found in literature and inventories of the time. They are often given names such as "Grete Swerde" or "Sword of War". These descriptors give a good indication of the types physical, as well as visual presence. The type is generally believed to have come into popular use during the mid-thirteenth century, although archeological evidence suggests that it may have been in use as much as a century earlier. The Type XIII family is broken into three variants: XIII, XIIIa, and XIIIb. The differences found in these sub-types deal mainly with hilt and blade length. Both Type XIII's and XIIIa's are hand-and-a-half designs, with the XIIIa being the somewhat larger of the two. The Type XIIIb is the single-handed variant of the type, although it still shares the same imposing blade design as its brothers. These swords were designed to deliver large shearing blows that could defeat the improving mail defenses of the period.
The Tritonia, as it was named due to its find place, was initially recreated by Swedish swordsmith Peter Johnsson. Peter was commissioned to replicate the sword as it appeared when new as part of a permanent display in the Museum of Medieval Stockholm. Peter is now working as a design consultant with Albion Armorers. One of their most exciting endeavors has been the development of the Peter Johnsson Museum Collection. The Tritonia is a sword with great physical presence. As such, it is fitting that it be the first sword introduced into this new line.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
Fit and Finish
A medieval craftsman who knew his work evidently made the original sword. The quality and execution of the design indicates that this was a sword belonging to more than just a simple man-at-arms. Today's collectors are fortunate to have a modern smith in the form of Peter Johnsson who is equal to the task set down by his ancient forbearer. The staff at Albion has, in turn, done an excellent job of bringing Peter's recreation to the production market.
The blade is considered to be the heart and soul of any sword, and this is doubly true of the Tritonia. This massive blade is a testament to both the skill of the ancient smiths as well as the abilities of the Albion staff in bringing it back to life. The blade begins with a subtle taper at the base that continues for the first few inches of the blade's length. Not only does this provide a nice aesthetic appeal but it also assists in the distribution of the blade's mass. After this initial taper, the blade maintains almost the same width for the remainder of its length. That this is a sword dedicated to the cut is very obvious to anyone handling it.
The Tritonia's guard is a variation of Oakeshott's Type 2. The guard is of a square cross-section, which flares at the tips. This style of guard was very popular with European swords of all types during the period. Its several variations can be widely observed in the artwork and sculpture of the time. The sword's pommel is of Oakeshott's Type R classification. While not widely popular during the period, it was rather common on Scandinavian swords of the age. This is a spherical design which is seemingly simply, yet quite interesting in design. When I first saw photographs of the Tritonia, the pommel was my least favorite aspect of this sword. It simply looked like a large ball bearing. Once I had the sword in hand, however, I found myself liking the pommel quite a bit. It does add a touch of individuality to an already unique design. A dished plate of rosette design over which the tang is hot peened finishes off the pommel. This is a very attractive detail that shows that the original maker wasn't above, or careless of, the fashions of the day. Both the guard and pommel are peened against the tang on their undersides. This firmly anchors both components in place, and prevents future loosening.
The last component to be put into place is the grip. The grip's core is fashioned from two halves made of stabilized birch. These halves are then hollowed out to accept the tang, and are then glued into place. The entire grip is then bound with a fine cord covering. Not only does this provide structural support to the grip, it also yields a nice firm gripping surface. Five risers made of cord are then positioned at equal lengths down the grip. This too aids in gripping while adding aesthetic detail. A covering of thin leather, which is glued into place, then finishes the grip. The leather's seam is skived and finished so as to be nearly undetectable.
The individual securement of the components of guard, grip, and pommel is very important. When assembled in this fashion, no single component bears the stress of maintaining the assembly. This adds greatly to the sword's long-term structural integrity. Securing the assembly with a threaded tang, a peened tang, or a combination of the two puts most modern European replicas together. This can cause undue stress and fatigue on the small area that is the tang's end. Many higher quality production, and even custom, designs are assembled in this fashion. While it can result in a successful product, there is little doubt that the method of individual component securement is superior.
All metal surfaces are finished with a very even and attractive burnished finish that is easily maintained during use.
The Albion staff proved that the Tritonia is a strong and capable design during their destructive testing of one of the prototype blades. The blade came through this severe bout of testing with flying colors. This testing can be viewed on the Web site for Albion Armorers. During a recent trip to Albion, I was able to examine this blade first hand. Seeing what kind of shape the blade was in after this abuse was an eye opener. Had I been a medieval knight in historic context, I wouldn't have hesitated in depending upon this sword.
All aspects of Tritonia's construction, from blade geometry to hilt design, lend themselves to the all-important feature of mass distribution. The subtle taper of the blade's base, the relationship of blade thickness and width, as well as things such as pommel size and grip length, all work in harmony. It is a testament to the smiths of old that these various qualities can all combined to produce a sword of such size that still exhibits excellent handling attributes. It is an equally valid testament to the staff at Albion Armorers that they have been able to faithfully bring this sword back to life in a modern production environment.
I find the Tritonia to be a fascinating sword. Discussing the sword's design with Peter Johnsson and the Albion staff was quite an educational experience for me. Any collector of modern-made European swords should be thrilled to have this sword in their collection. I know I would be.
About the Author
Patrick is a State Trooper serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. He has been fascinated with edged weapons, particularly the medieval sword, since early childhood. Not only is Patrick thankful for any opportunity to indulge in his favorite hobby, he is also blessed with a wife who tolerates a house full of sharp pointy things.
Photographer: Nathan Robinson