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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Is the Honey Lane seax a weapon, hunting knife, or tool? Reply to topic
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Nov, 2020 7:43 am    Post subject: Is the Honey Lane seax a weapon, hunting knife, or tool?         Reply with quote

I really don't know how to link or post up a picture of this iconic seax but hopefully folks know of it.

It's a late period broken-back seax (1000 c.e. or so) with a heavy spine and approximately 12 inch blade. It has simple copper or latten inlay. It's found in the British Museum.

I am interested in what folks think this type of seax would have been used for.

If someone can link up a picture that would be great as well.
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Nov, 2020 8:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Jeremy and folks,

The Honey Lane seax is object number 1881,0623.1 in the British Museum's collection.

Unless I've found the wrong object, it has quite elaborate silver, niello, copper, and latten (the museum's object description says "brass" but the materials list says "copper alloy") inlay, including lettering and geometric, zoomorphic, and foliate decorations in the Trewhiddle style.

The overall length is 32.1 cm (12 5/8 in.). The description doesn't give blade and tang lengths, but the photos suggest that the tang may be about 2/7 and the blade 5/7 of the total length, which would give lengths of about 9 cm (3.5 in.) for the tang and 23 cm (9 in.) for the blade.

It's unquestionably a high-status item, so I'd imagine it's not a tool. Other than certain arrowheads, I'm not sure how much early-medieval European societies distinguished between combat weapons and hunting weapons. In the sense of a hunting knife as butchering tool, however, again I'd have to say it's too high-status an object for that to seem likely.

I hope this proves helpful.

Best,

Mark Millman
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Nov, 2020 9:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Mark,

Oh I must be confused! I have seen the seax you link to but I didn't know that was the Honey Lane example. I have seen another broken back example with a simple copper line design outlining the blade.
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Nov, 2020 1:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Jeremy,

No, the mistake is mine, and I apologize for it. Although the museum's search function doesn't turn up any other objects with the key words "Honey Lane" and "seax", the one to which I linked is in fact the Sittingbourne seax, and the one from Honey Lane is only mentioned in the curator's-comments section of the catalogue listing. In order to find the Honey Lane example I had to search on "sax" and not "seax". Consistency.

So to correct what I wrote earlier, the Honey Lane sax is object number 1856,0701.1413 in the British Museum's collection. Regrettably, there's only one photo, so only one side is shown. But the description says:

Quote:
The front face of the blade is ornamented with three inlaid lines of alternating copper alloy and copper wire, set in a herring-bone pattern, running parallel with the back of the blade. Towards the point the three lines merge into a triangle filled with a copper alloy and copper zig-zag pattern. The other face of the blade is inlaid with a single straight band of copper wire, which runs parallel with the back of the blade to the highest point, where it is crossed by another short inlaid line.

I note that the photo's resolution is not high enough to give a clear view of the herringbone inlay, so it's hard to tell what's copper and what's copper alloy. The proportions look similar to the Sittingbourne seax above, although the Honey Lane example is slightly longer at 32.7 cm (12 7/8 in.); the difference looks to me to be mostly in the tang, but because of its significant angle to the blade I'm not sure, and the description gives only an overall length.

There's also a 2007 thread started by Nathan, Seaxes found at the British Museum, that shows it. It's the second object shown in the thread, after the Battersea seax, and the display label lists it as being from Honey Lane, London, and uses the spelling "seax". Nathan's photos again show only one side, as the display has it mounted against a panel. His pictures were taken slightly closer to the sax than the museum's photos, and I think I can see the joints between the inlaid metals in his when I enlarge them; but the metal colors are so similar that I can't tell which is copper and which is alloy.

Finally, the Honey Lane sax is shown next to the Sittingbourne seax in the feature article "The Anglo Saxon Broken Back Seax" by Frank Docherty, but the two images are not at the same scale; the photo of the Honey Lane sax, which is the longer object, is smaller than that of the Sittingbourne seax. Once again, it shows the same side of the Honey Lane sax as the other photos I've found.

I still think this is a high-status item--although not so much so as the Sittingbourne seax--and unlikely to be a tool. I might expect engraved decoration on a tool; some of the British museum's other saxes apparently have engraved lines that seem never to have been inlaid. I wouldn't expect to find inlay on a tool.

I apologize for my earlier error, and I hope this proves more helpful.

Best,

Mark
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Nov, 2020 2:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

They didn't carry three different seaxes. The same blade was used for everything - even the more elaborate ones. It is irrelevant whether it was carried by a high or low class person, he would have used the same blade as a weapon, tool, and hunting knife. If he was given a new pretty seax as a gift, he would have kept this and given his old one away to someone else. And that recipient would have kept this blade and passed his old one on to someone else. They did not accumulate wealth in the same way that we do today. Wealth was meant to be conspicuously displayed and used up, not hoarded. All of the above-mentioned seaxes would have been used every day for eating, hunting, carving, fighting, and so on, no matter how heavily decorated they were.
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Last edited by Dan Howard on Sun 29 Nov, 2020 2:44 pm; edited 1 time in total
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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Sun 29 Nov, 2020 2:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's worth remembering that activities like hunting don't have to be just "one hunter, out to feed their family". Hunts can be a very social and political activity, particularly when it comes to what's being hunted and how the game is shared out. Naomi Sykes suggests in her paper Deer, Land, Knive and Halls that a likely role of large decorated knives & seaxes could have been delivering the finishing blow and dividing the catch. It's a short but well sourced paper and makes a reasonably compelling argument.

Naomi Sykes (2010). Deer, Land, Knives and Halls: Social Change in Early Medieval England. The Antiquaries Journal, 90, pp 175-193 doi:10.1017/S0003581510000132

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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Sun 29 Nov, 2020 3:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Dan,

I was insufficiently specific in my reply, for which I apologize. I think that these two seaxes are not tools in the sense that they wouldn't have been used for work, because a person of sufficiently high status to have owned one would not have worked. He would have spent his time fighting, hunting, and (perhaps, depending on his specific responsibilities) supervising his social inferiors--Second Estate, you know; or if you prefer, gentry rather than commonalty. Would he have used it for whatever activity needed doing? Yes. Would that activity have been considered work? No, because members of the Second Estate (or, again, gentlemen) don't work. And tools likewise are implements of work.

Best,

Mark Millman
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 30 Nov, 2020 12:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even a noble would have used it for eating, fighting, and dispatching game, which makes it a utensil, a weapon, and a hunting blade.
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Mon 30 Nov, 2020 5:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Dan,

As I say above, I'm not arguing with that. I'm arguing that it's not a "tool" in the sense of "an implement used for 'work' (perhaps 'labor' would be more clear) as the culture defines it". It's in the same cognitive category as a spear or a sword, and is specifically excluded from the category that contains hoes and shovels.

Best,

Mark
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2020 9:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As an aside, I find it a bit shocking that both of those beautiful saxes' location is listed as "not on display" Eek!

Back to topic, I asked the same question in a more general sense here:
http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=38744

Specifically to the topic of saxes, I know more about the continental practice than about the Anglo-Saxon one, if there is a difference. On the continent at least the following seems to be the general picture in Germanic lands at that time (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France etc.):

- In the migration age, Germanic society consisted of three classes: nobles, free men and slaves. The division between nobles and free men was more fluid than in the middle ages. Where the division was is not entirely clear to me, but it seems to have been based on wealth but it seems many nobles were also wealthy farmers. They had slaves so how much manual labour they did is anybody's guess.

- Iron was generally expensive and iron weapons / tools not plentiful.

- Many graves have saxes. I'm not fully sure if we can say that the majority of male graves have saxes, but there are a lot of them. This shows that it was a very common weapon for presumably free (but not necessarily noble) men. Presumably slaves weren't buried with weapons.

- If a man could afford to do so, he'd carry both a spatha and a sax. If a man could not afford this, then he'd have only a sax but not a spatha.

- All free men would also own one or more spears, which was the main weapon, to be backed up by spatha which was in turn backed up by a sax.

- Charlemagne is known (I think it's in the Einhardi Vita Karoli Magni) to have had two (sets of?) swords: one plain for everyday carry and one lavishly decorated for state functions. I suppose that Charlemagne could do this because of his extreme wealth and that this was not the norm for lower nobles.

For these nicely decorated saxes, I'd assume that the owners were fairly wealthy and therefore likely also possessed a spatha. It's all speculation but I suppose that this increases the chance of it being used for more practical purposes, as it would have been the backup of the backup weapon. But I would say that "practical purposes" would mean non-taxing everyday tasks. Like a modern EDC knife rather than as a modern bushcraft knife.

For the lower classes, I suppose it would matter what kind of aternative they had to use as a tool. I'd assume all farmers would have had some kind of axe, even if he'd not be buried with it, and use that for construction work rather than his sax.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Dec, 2020 10:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I got Sue Brunning's book "The Sword in Early Medieval Northern Europe" for our annual Saint Nicholas celebration.

I only skimmed through it so far, but what I did note was her chapter on pommel wear pattern of early medieval swords. Roland Warzecha also has some interesting video's on that subject on Youtube.

Interestingly, also the Sutton Hoo sword had those wear patterns, so that means that the Sutton Hoo sword was not a show piece, but did see as much use as less decorated swords.
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