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Michael Pikula
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Location: Madison, WI
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Oct, 2010 3:46 pm    Post subject: Thoughts on seax fittings...         Reply with quote

I was having a thought and wanted to bounce it off everyone and hear some thoughts.

I know that in the Asian culture, the swords were made to be easily broken down, and fittings swapped depending on if the blades were being stored, worn on special occasions, or into battle.

I don't know of any factual or direct evidence to support this thought, other then ornate hilts with no blades being found in hoards, but is it possible that seaxes and swords in the viking age may have been subjected to a similar practice? In times of war hilts would be swapped for equally functional, but less ornate, so to prevent damage. Then in times of "peace" or not high conflict they would be rehilted with ornate fittings to show off wealth and status...

Just a passing thought I thought I would share and get feedback on.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Oct, 2010 4:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not an expert, but I don't think so. In the dark ages going to war looking good was very important. If you have valuable fittings, you are rich, and you are probably rich because you are a successful warrior. So if you have valuable fittings on your weapon on the battlefield, people are afraid of you and that's very useful.
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Bryce Felperin




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Oct, 2010 4:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would have to say that this question is close to some thoughts I myself have had over making new sheaths/scabbards for various knives or swords I purchase. When I go to Ren faires I noticed that my nice kit items tend to get scratched and dinged up a bit over time. Just walking around seems to bang it all up. So I have been thinking more of maybe getting less fine looking kit for walking around and getting decorated and beautiful stuff for display only for now on.

Do you go for the ornate beautiful/drool worthy scabbard/sheath or do you go for the more utilitarian plain version that I won't mind getting scratched or scuffed with normal wear? In the historical period did they always go for the most ornate fittings that they could afford, or did they go with what they needed only. Did they instead do both; have a nice decorated scabbard and a duller "campaign" style plain but rugged one for use in the field? Perhaps they couldn't carry a lot of items around and got the best they could for what they could carry?

The question though is did they have both ornate and ordinary versions of the same item historically, or did they not care if their decorative items got dinged up on everyday carry. After all they could get cheap labor to fix things better than we can these days.

I know that in later periods they did have "court" swords and parade armor. However that was at a time where the items went beyond simple gold and gem embellishments and ornamentation for fittings and moved on to purpose built art. A fully gold and decorated sword for court would cost a lot more than an ordinary sword, and so would be better tucked away in a trunk for that trip to the king's court rather than being carried on campaign in the rain and mud.

For what I know, most European weapons were not made to be easily taken apart. Of course some clever weapon maker might come up with a good way to make interchangeable parts for a weapon if paid enough to do so. The question is would the weapon buyer at the time of gone for it or been interested in it.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Oct, 2010 5:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well for a modern interpretation of a seax you could make the handle dismountable using the Japanese method or some other method of your choice or invention but the market for these would be more the modern knife collectors market although some of us enjoy both great historical authenticity but also modern design inspired by history or completely original ( Well completely original is almost impossible like re-inventing the wheel ..... Wink Laughing Out Loud ).
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Oct, 2010 10:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is getting a little off topic, but, .... I thought the take down feature on prized Asian items like katanas was to improve repair and maintainability. Not to change level of ornament. In Europe, the theory that I have seen more often is that re-hilting of older blades seems to have been done in order to adapt them to new styles.

I don't know what the cultural attitude of preserving versus "use or smelt/ sell for treasure" of Asian counterparts was like. My suspicion is that there could be some significant differences though.

During seax + ritual burial era in Europe (5th to 6th century mainland, later Viking era graves), Western European warriors seemed to be buried with gear equal to the best known quality. There is a big difference in quantity of objects between graves judged as royalty (Sutton Hoo Royal Burial Mound versus mounds just adjacent), but the lesser graves seem to at least show that some fancy dress accoutrements, a vessel or object or two, and a pretty nice weapon as being taken to the grave. Until you posted this, I never thought of them as leaving the good one at home and going off to be killed and buried with a plain weapon. (There are a couple of stories of legendary figures' corpses being transported long distances back to home for burial. I would not think that to be the common practice though.)

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Thu 07 Oct, 2010 11:36 pm    Post subject: Re: Thoughts on seax fittings...         Reply with quote

Hilts on saxes and swords were permanently fixed and not meant to be taken apart. They were either peened at the pommel, or in the case of a lot of saxes, the tangs glued into the hilts. That doesn't mean that hilts did not get replaced for repair or modification from time to time, but this was not the intent of the maker.

Regarding the sheats, so far all sax sheats that I know are either decorated all over (including the back side that was not shown) in a fairly simple design, to incredibly complex and detailed embossings on the leather. The great majority are pretty elaborate in their decoration. Sheats on small knives were generally undecorated, unlike in the late medieval period, where saxes had disappeared and all of the decorative efforts were put into the sheats of small (eating) knives. Considering that from the 9th-11th century, pretty much all known seax scabbards are just the leather that was found in dumps, it seems to be that the leather on the scabbards was probably replaced when worn, and the fittings reused (or scrapped and recycled). Regarding the decoration on the leather, decorating by incising and punching is not much work. Applying the decoration is about as much work as drawing it out on paper. So what may seem like a very elaborate decoration can have been done pretty quickly, especially by someone who does nothing else then making these all day.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Oct, 2010 9:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would agree with Luka in saying that there would be big advantages in taking decorated items to a battlefield.

Some archaeologists are still not convinced though...
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Craig Shackleton




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Oct, 2010 5:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A more plausible explanation to me would be that the expensive hilt furniture would be used for important events like going to war, and the plain furniture for everyday use where it doesn't matter. However, I always thought that the hilts were "permanently" attached, only being replaced as a major repair.
Ottawa Swordplay
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