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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 23 Nov, 2011 11:54 pm    Post subject: The Christian Cross on Medieval Swords         Reply with quote

I have done an investigation into the frequency of various forms of Christian cross on swords found in Ewart Oakeshott’s Records of the Medieval Swords; this post will be my preliminary results, along with my observations about the presence of crosses from the sampling present in Records.

First and foremost, it must be emphasized that these figures are rough estimations. The presence of numbers in my “data”- if it can even be called “data”- lends the illusion of precision and accuracy. Instead of being lulled into a false sense of concrete, certain knowledge, the reader must be aware that everything I have written here is a largely inaccurate, albeit somewhat useful, approximation of the usage of crosses in medieval swords. The reader is best guided in the advice to consider what I’ve written to be approximate, ballpark figures that give some sense of the phenomenon of crosses on swords.

In another post, I gave a count of approximately 230 different swords in Records of the Medieval Sword. As anyone knows who has attempted, it is difficult to count the number of swords in Records, in part because doing so requires judgment calls. Oakeshott, for instance, not infrequently includes photos of similar swords to the ones he focuses on in Records- are these to be included? Or not? What about a line drawing of a blade inscription from a sword that does not otherwise appear in the book- should these be counted? Even more problematic, if the focus is upon medieval swords, what constitutes “medieval”? What dates will form the arbitrary dividing line between medieval and “not-medieval”? As you can see, there are a host of difficulties even in accurately counting the swords in Records, which will inevitably lead to some disagreements.

I used several criteria to exclude swords. Those that appeared in the “Precursors” section were not counted. Nor were those that appeared under the heading of “Complex Hilts”. I excluded, perhaps arbitrarily, the very short swords which Oakeshott claims are boy’s swords. I included any swords in photographs that were accompanying other swords features in the book which Oakeshott used for the purpose of showing similarities. I did not count line-drawings of sword blades from swords otherwise not found in the book; however, I included line drawings when they were for a numbered sword that is part of the official “roster” of swords in Records.

Coming up with somewhat accurate figures for the number of crosses found on swords proved to be problematic. The most important thing, which I must stress, is that my numbers are too low. There are more swords which had crosses on them in Records that the actual number I have counted. The reasons for this are several. First, in more than a few cases, the inlay is very faint or else entirely illegible, meaning that if the sword had a cross inlaid upon it, we now cannot tell. Secondly, while Oakeshott is good about commenting on blade inlay and designs, he does not always remark about every sword, meaning that undoubtedly, some swords with crosses on them were missed. Thirdly, I know that I have missed some crosses myself. I did not count any diagonal crosses save for those Oakeshott mentions in the text, but I am quite certain that I saw a few examples on the photographs of blades. Thus, my count will be too low as well.

As a final consideration, it is important to note that I will have made errors in identifying some of the crosses. In the case of some swords, it is difficult to tell what sort of cross appears on them; in one case, the blade appears to have some sort of cross inlaid in it, but the photo makes it difficult to tell if it is a diagonal cross or a poorly executed swastika. On a different note, it seems difficult to distinguish between a Cross Forché and the Maltese Cross, and I think that the one is just a variation or even a synonym for the other. Thus, the decision to label a cross as Forché or Maltese seemed to be somewhat arbitrary. Finally, my primary reference for the different types of cross can be found here: http://www.freecrosses.com/types_1.gif. I am certain that there are other resources which may be better; nevertheless, this was the one I used.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 23 Nov, 2011 11:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Of the swords listed in Records of the Medieval Sword, at least 35 of them had crosses on some part of the weapon. This works out to being approximately 15% of the 230 swords counted. As this figure is undoubtedly too low, let me suggest that it seems most likely that between 15% to 20% of all medieval swords featured crosses on them. I found that crosses were most commonly inlaid upon blades, constituting 26 swords, or approximately 11% of the swords found in Records.

The majority of swords containing crosses seem to date prior to 1300, which means that they fall into the period coinciding with the Crusades. This is perhaps unsurprising, but it is interesting to see that the religious fervor of the Crusades, and the increasing role of the institutional Church in medieval society is reflected in the designs and motifs of the swords from this era. The vast majority of swords in this time period have crosses inlaid on the blade; the only exceptions to this date, as I expected, to the latter half of the 13th Century, with one possible exception, namely XI.4 or the Sword of St. Maurice of Vienna. Thus, the crusading sword reproduction should have an inlaid cross, unless one wants a sword for the Seventh to Ninth Crusade, in which case, crosses on the pommel are also appropriate.

Late medieval swords (after c. 1300) more typically had crosses on the pommel. It seems that the inlaying of designs on blades becomes much less common by the close of the 13th Century, and that after this date, the number of crosses on pommels versus blades increases significantly. That having been said, swords with crosses on the hilt do not seem to have been particularly common, constituting something in the range of 4% of all the swords in Records.

As far as the types of crosses seen on medieval swords, Greek Crosses and Cross Potent are by far the most common forms, with Cross Forché (which seem to be a variant of the Maltese Cross) and Cross Patée being distant third and fourth place holders. However, it must be kept in mind that for several of the swords, the types of cross are of an indeterminate form. This usually occurs when Oakeshott transcribes an inscription with the crosses that accompany it, but neglects to mention what type of cross is illustrated. Still, there are at least 9 swords with Greek Crosses in Records, and Oakeshott mentions these are most commonly found on swords from circa 750 to 1100. I counted some 10 swords with Crosses Potent, although some of the crosses had stylistic designs that meant they did not fit nicely into a particular category of cross. There were around 6 Cross Forché/Maltese Crosses and 4 Cross Patée. Other types of cross seemed to be quite rare. As previously stated though, there are undoubtedly greater numbers of Diagonal Crosses than I actually counted.

In terms of placement on blades, there are a few notable patterns. First, crosses most commonly seem to precede inlaid text, follow after the termination of inlaid text, and sometimes they can be found between words or phrases. In many cases, two crosses are found on the blade; one at the beginning and a second at the end of the text; this is particularly noticeable on the INNOMINEDOMINI swords. In other cases, when there is inlaid text on two sides of the sword, there may be four crosses found, beginning and closing the text on both sides of the blade. Yet in other cases still, there will be but a single cross found somewhere on the blade, and in a very small minority of weapons, there will be multiple inlaid crosses- sometimes as many as 17.

I hope this brief treatment of crosses on swords will prove useful to those who are interested in the subject. I certainly learned a few things along the way, and I have a better understanding of the role of this important Christian symbol as a form of adornment for medieval swords.


Last edited by Craig Peters on Thu 24 Nov, 2011 4:58 am; edited 2 times in total
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 3:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for summarizing your research Craig. Question - the hilt of most medieval swords is cruciform and already a powerful symbol of Christianity, so inlaying a small cross somwhere on the sword was perhaps overkill. Did you notice if additional cross inlays were more common on swords that did not have the classic straight cross (guard) / cruciform hilt?
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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 4:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you look at the Peter Johnsson dagger in Nathan's collection here (and the picture of the original at the bottom of the page);

http://www.myArmoury.com/dagg_pj_dagger.html

you can see the small cross on the pommel. I'm guessing the original is mid 13th century? Hopefully Peter can chime in and give his opinion on the topic.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 4:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the page, it states: Original: Late 13th century, found in Sweden.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 8:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
Thanks for summarizing your research Craig. Question - the hilt of most medieval swords is cruciform and already a powerful symbol of Christianity, so inlaying a small cross somwhere on the sword was perhaps overkill. Did you notice if additional cross inlays were more common on swords that did not have the classic straight cross (guard) / cruciform hilt?


J.D., I had a look, and there appears to be no relationship between a cruciform hilt and the number of crosses. There are examples of cruciform hilts with only one cross, several with two, a few with three and four, and the rare one with more than has more than that. Similarly, non-cruciform hilts might have one crosses, or two, or more.

The two swords with the greatest number of inlaid crosses in Records, XII.14 and XXa.1 have 14 and 19 (possibly more) crosses, respectively. XII.14 as I am sure you know is definitely a non-cruciform hilt, but Oakeshott identifies the hilt on XXa.1 as being Type 1. In the photo, it looks to me actually like the sword has a Style 10 guard that is more "flattened out" and cruciform than typical.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 8:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for checking Craig. So the question is, do these cross inlays simply represent personal taste, or affiliation with a particular organization like the military orders? That's implicit in all those 'crusader sword' wall hangers one sees.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 10:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
Thanks for summarizing your research Craig. Question - the hilt of most medieval swords is cruciform and already a powerful symbol of Christianity, so inlaying a small cross somwhere on the sword was perhaps overkill. Did you notice if additional cross inlays were more common on swords that did not have the classic straight cross (guard) / cruciform hilt?


I, however, question whether the shape of cruciform swords were identified with the Christian cross in period. Certainly, this seems obvious to us but do we have reason to believe that historical contemporaries made this comparision?
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 10:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeremy,

I don't know of hard evidence. I have read descriptions of knighting ceremonies that described the use of the sword hilt as a symbol of the cross, but I do not know how accurate they are.

However, I believe that medieval warriors were well aware of this symbolism because it seems too great a coincidence that the use of a cruciform hilt spread (replacing Viking forms) in parallel with the spread of Christian knighthood and crusading fervor in Europe. It also declined to some extent at the end of the peak crusading period, with less uniform hilt styles becoming more and more common in the late medieval period. Its not for functional reasons alone - others (I don't recall who) have pointed out that most cultures have swords, but only in Christian Medieval Europe was there such a predominance of cruciform hilt styles.

At a more intuitive level - how could a culture obsessed with Christianity miss such an obvious symbol? For us, it would be like putting up a giant yellow rounded 'M' and not noticing it looks like the McDonald's symbol (sad but true). Or looking at a sheet with red and white stripes and blue corner, and not thinking 'USA'.

That's not evidence, I know, but seems like common sense to me.

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 1:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Taylor Ellis wrote:
If you look at the Peter Johnsson dagger in Nathan's collection here (and the picture of the original at the bottom of the page);

http://www.myArmoury.com/dagg_pj_dagger.html

you can see the small cross on the pommel. I'm guessing the original is mid 13th century? Hopefully Peter can chime in and give his opinion on the topic.


I state this on that page: "Original: Late 13th century, found in Sweden."

I hope I'm correct. Happy

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Jean-Carle Hudon




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 2:40 pm    Post subject: crescent pommel         Reply with quote

Hi J.D,
I never bought into the idea that the hilt held any symbolism of a religious nature. When I see your avatar and its' crescent shaped pommel, I don't jump to the conclusion that this is a closet muslim sympathiser's sword. Just a really nicely shaped pommel.
Also, during the wars of religion, reformation and counter reformation, the appropriation of symbols would have had some significance in a good guy vs bad guy way, but by then we had swept hilts, basket hilts, you name it, and I have never seen the slightest reference to anyone making a case for the retention of a cruciform hilt for religious reasons.
Finally, where images or symbols were mentionned as a clear sign of religious devotion, as in Arthur beating back the pagan saxons, he has an image on his shield, Constantine sees a sign in the sky, and so on. Had it been so universally accepted that a cruciform hilt was a mark of faith, the very religious authors in those days would probably have used this distinction to underline the triumph of their champion over pagans or infidels.
On the other hand, the inscriptions and decorations added to blades and pommels do make it clear that they knew how to make their beliefs known when they wanted to. In another thread there is mention of beads and amulets, which would serve a similar function. Maybe the ring hilts of the Migration period should also be considered as expressions of a value system of some kind, though not necessarily of a supernatural mystical type.

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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 4:55 pm    Post subject: Re: crescent pommel         Reply with quote

Jean-Carle Hudon wrote:
Hi J.D,
I never bought into the idea that the hilt held any symbolism of a religious nature. When I see your avatar and its' crescent shaped pommel, I don't jump to the conclusion that this is a closet muslim sympathiser's sword. Just a really nicely shaped pommel.


Ah, but there's the rub in retroactive interpretation. Today the crescent is a symbol of Islam. In medieval times it was also used a symbol of the Virgin Mary. See this thread: http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=21804

But Craig was talking about inscriptions. Perhaps symbolism should be a new thread (I've been thinking about that for some time).
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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Thu 24 Nov, 2011 6:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan Robinson wrote:
Taylor Ellis wrote:
If you look at the Peter Johnsson dagger in Nathan's collection here (and the picture of the original at the bottom of the page);

http://www.myArmoury.com/dagg_pj_dagger.html

you can see the small cross on the pommel. I'm guessing the original is mid 13th century? Hopefully Peter can chime in and give his opinion on the topic.


I state this on that page: "Original: Late 13th century, found in Sweden."

I hope I'm correct. Happy


ha, should have looked closer. Peter has done a couple of daggers from that collection, with different styled crosses too. I wonder how contemporary they are?
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Fabrice Cognot
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PostPosted: Fri 25 Nov, 2011 12:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi all

I too can't really buy into this cross/Cross (note the capital letter) symbolism. And several things can argue against that.

Quote:
the use of a cruciform hilt spread (replacing Viking forms) in parallel with the spread of Christian knighthood and crusading fervor in Europe. It also declined to some extent at the end of the peak crusading period,


Christianity was well implanted in Europe well before the crusades - we're talking centuries there. Yet still, the Cruciform cross didn't develop 'back then'. The 'fervor' attached to the crusades can't be denied, but the extant to which it affected visibly the ways to shape arms and armour in Western Europe is hard to tell...so hard, in fact, that it can quite well be insignificant. And swords with curved crosses are known in Western Europe from quite an early age and keep existing all through the crusading era.

Besides, the straight cross isn't purely Christian. At the time, the Muslims also used straight-bladed, straight-crossed swords, and the crusaders didn't get too angry seeing that - one could well imagine how pissed they might have been if the sword/cross relationship was *this* important to them.

I also believe that if this importance had been real, contemporary Muslim authors would also have mentionned it...which they didn't.


Ad I have yet to see a frequent example of the sword being identified with the Holy Cross in medieval artwork (especially during the crusading era) or even litterature. This, maybe more than anything else, is quite significant.



Quote:
with less uniform hilt styles becoming more and more common in the late medieval period. Its not for functional reasons alone - others (I don't recall who) have pointed out that most cultures have swords, but only in Christian Medieval Europe was there such a predominance of cruciform hilt styles.


..and only in Crhistian Medieval Europe was there such a predominance of such fighting styles that would rely on a developped cross.

For there lies IMHO the reason, the origin of the developped cross in western Europe. To make a long story short : while comparing to what happens at the same time to the defensive equipment, and clues you can find in contemporary litterature, it seems likely that while the shield drew closer to the body, the sword moved forward to become a key defensive element in the fight - what they called eskremie (or fencing, if you prefer). An elongated cross really helps for such purposes. Even beter when the quillons curve forward or at least form an angle of sorts with the blade.


Quote:
At a more intuitive level - how could a culture obsessed with Christianity miss such an obvious symbol?


They didn't. But not as frequently as one might think. In fact, I recall one mention of the sword being regarded that way, but can't find any reference right now, sorry...(and as to wether they were obsessed by Christianity is another topic..)


This shouldn't diminish the symbolic importance of the sword, however. It's simply that it's not what might seem obvious to us. The symbolic and mythic aspects of the sword are well worth a lengthy discussion, and the reality of them will at best barely be scratched by us.

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Matt Corbin




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Dec, 2011 6:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just to add to the discussion. A migration period sword with a ring hilt and a cross.

This picture was taken at the Cluny Museum in Paris during their "L'Epée. Usages, mythes et symboles" exhibit. I don't know any more about the sword. If anyone knows the find location, date etc. I'd love to hear it.



More pictures can be found here: http://www.vikverir.no/ressurser/usages_mythe...amp;page=2

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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Fri 30 Dec, 2011 12:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A cross is a just cross..just because it's on an early pommel doesn't make it a *christian* cross..any more than a swastika on an ancient item mean that it's got anything to do with german politics in the 1930-40's
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PostPosted: Fri 30 Dec, 2011 7:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maybe true. However, the swastika goes back to about 4000BC. The Nazis didn't co-opt it till the 1930s. The christian use of the cross goes back to, well, Christ. Here we have a sword from around the 7th century with what looks for all the world to be a variant of the Maltese cross.



It certainly might not be a christian symbol. But I would be curious to know what it does symbolize then.

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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Mon 02 Jan, 2012 6:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ralph Grinly wrote:
A cross is a just cross..just because it's on an early pommel doesn't make it a *christian* cross..


Actually the period in which pommels of that style were popular, Christianity was very much rising among the Germanics.

Especially spangenhelms were often decorated with Christian motives. Here's the spangenhelm from Planig, for example:

You can clearly see the cross, but also the vines around the rim are an early Christian symbol.

All does not conclusively prove that the owner of the Planig helmet or of this sword were Christian, but I think that such decoration is Christian symbolism, not just "decoration" for the sake of decoration.
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PostPosted: Mon 02 Jan, 2012 5:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt Corbin wrote:
Just to add to the discussion. A migration period sword with a ring hilt and a cross.

This picture was taken at the Cluny Museum in Paris during their "L'Epée. Usages, mythes et symboles" exhibit. I don't know any more about the sword. If anyone knows the find location, date etc. I'd love to hear it.


More pictures can be found here: http://www.vikverir.no/ressurser/usages_mythe...amp;page=2


That's pretty cool!!!
I was thinking that the ring hilts went away after Christianity became the prevalent religion among the Germanic peoples, although that might just be coincidental (probably more likely)... not saying that cross means what we think it means, but it is interesting to conjecture....

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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Jan, 2012 6:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David Wilson wrote:
I was thinking that the ring hilts went away after Christianity became the prevalent religion among the Germanic peoples


Don't forget that there was a lot of syncretism in the Migration Age. A person might call himself Christian, but still hold a lot of beliefs, superstitions and traditions of Pagan origin.

For instance take a look at the evangelical writings of the Migration Age: Heliand, The Dream of the Rood etc. All testament to an interesting mingling of Christian and Germanic beliefs. Christ is portrayed as a brave and noble warrior who in the end makes the ultimate sacrifice for his Lord. A very Germanic thing to do, and close enough to the original Gospel to be supported by the Church.
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