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A sister sword to the River Witham sword
I just found this gem in a recent Christie's catalogue (December 2008). All text and photos are copyrighted by them.


In excavated condition, with broad tapering double-edged blade with evidence of pattern-welding, cut with a broad shallow fuller over the greater part of its length on both sides, and the outer face with the abbreviated Latin inscription'+ SIGVNIS+' cut in characteristically bold letters perhaps intended for contrasting inlay, down-curved guard of rectangular section tapering to form pointed tips, both sides decorated with a lozenge pattern inlaid in yellow gold, and lobated pommel of two-part construction, the lower part encircled by lozenges of white gold; sold together with copies of relevant correspondance between the present owner and Barry Ager, Curator of The Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum.

30 1/4m (76.5 cm) blade

GBP: 12,000-15,000

The blade inscription is a slightly shorter version of 'SIGVINAIS', which has been interpreted as S(alvator) I(esu) G(enitrix) V(irgo). I(esus). N(omine) A(Itissimi) I(esu). S(alvator). See D. A. Drboglav Zagadki Latinskikh Kleim na Mechakh IX-XIV vekov, 1984, p.118.

This sword, the hilt decoration in particular, compares closely with the so-called 'River Witham' sword in the British Museum (1848,10-211), dating from the late 9th century and classified as Petersen type L variant. Further comparison identifies the present sword as an example of the 'Wallingford Bridge' type dating from the 10th -11th century, a further variant of the Petersen type L.

It is suggested that the hilt fittings were probably made in a Southern English, late Saxon, workshop.

See Ian Peirce, Swords of the Viking Age, Woodbridge 2002, pp.77-79.

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Great find! I love the wide blade, makes it look like a real shieldbreaker!
Absolutely breathtaking. Chad, thank you for this incredible find. For me, at least, that is one of the most incredible swords I can remember seeing.
It definetly looks as if it could have been assembled in the same shop with the Witham sword. Perhaps made for the same customer or in the same batch? Maybe this style of embellishment was what "All the boys are wearing this season." If only they could talk to us, what stories they could tell.
Thanks for posting this. I echo the same thoughts as Patrick, as it is all together very similar, enough so that the same person or shop made it. It would be really nice to have too :cool:
I had this one filed under "dubious," due to overall feel and subtle geometric stuff; to me it looks more like a slightly off copy of the Leutlrit than a sword from the same workshop ;)
Thank you for posting this Chad. No matter the provenance this is a really good looking sword. The shape of the blade looks like it would have made a great shieldbreaker sa Tim said.

Jeff Pringle wrote:
I had this one filed under "dubious," due to overall feel and subtle geometric stuff; to me it looks more like a slightly off copy of the Leutlrit than a sword from the same workshop ;)

What strikes you as "dubious"?
Hello everybody!!!!!!.....Yes i´ts a nice piece.......but...I do agree with Jeff.....there´s something wrong with this sword......and i ask for permission to express my point of view....... First, i find strange the defect on the hilt...( larger in the left side )....second, the hilt of a sword is usually more corroded than the blade ( because it´s not hardened ...like the blade is )....and in this case we can see the borders of the hilt ,in perfect shape....that´s very strange.... let me tell you i´ve seen some falsifications before....and many of them were so good, that only with quimical tests you can find i´ts a fake... I hope it´s not the case...more information about were she was found and in what condittions maybe bring ligth to this subject....i´m not saying it´s a falsification!!!!!...... just expressing my doubt´s.....Cheers everybody!!!
It is an accumulation of small details, any one of which would not be significant but together they may be – of course one cannot truly judge the authenticity of an artifact by looking at low-resolution photos on a computer screen, unless it is a fairly bad attempt (see, for example, the last few Hermann Historica Viking items :D ;) ).
There are some things that don’t seem right by direct comparison to the Leutlrit sword:
The internal proportions of the pommel and the asymmetry of the curves in the pommel and cross ‘look’ wrong. The ends of the cross are wrong. The old swords have a casual grace to the shaping of the hilt components, and this either has not enough grace or too much casual.
The tang is too similar to the Leutlrit, with the rest of the blade so different.

Details that jump out on their own merits:
Abbreviated Latin inscriptions were typically not done in that style, are later and executed differently.
Note that in the description, Christie’s is putting forth a ninth century hilt reference with a tenth or eleventh century hilt/blade reference, when have you seen an older hilt paired with a younger blade? It is supposed to go the other way, older swords get re-hilted, not older hilts get re-sworded. This resonates with the Latin inscription issue, the blade is trying to be newer than the hilt.
The corrosion of the crossguard is worrisome, the way the iron has been eaten away makes it look like the gold (another alarm, the River Witham sword did not use gold) was sweat-soldered on and then later incised in a couple areas to make it look like proper inlay. I have never seen a ‘real’ sword with selective corrosion like that.

It could add up to nothing, or it could be significant. Hard to say without a look at the sword, but something does not ‘feel’ right from the photos.
I am with Jeff on this one.
There is something odd looking about it.

Some elements are so close as to be like attempts to duplicate details of the Witham sword, without quite getting it right. The shape of the tang is one such thing: the Witham sword has a tang that is forged narrow as it enters the pommel. This is something you see on some swords: an adjustment of the tang of a blade done by the man who made the hilt. In some cases it is very obvious, as the re-forging resulted in a folding over of the edges of the tang (and sometimes a pinching of the fuller): a very natural thing as the smith probably wanted to forge at a very low temperature not to jeopardize the temper of the blade. When iron and steel is forged (too) cold, you cannot really work through the shape, but instead you upset the edges, mushrooming them. This often results in visible folds and pinching when the whole is forged flat.
With the Witham sword this is not too bad, but it is very evident if you look for it: a secondary adjustment of a tang that was broader to begin with showing a slight "T-back" close to the pommel on one side.

The sword in this thread also has a drastic or sudden narrowing of the tang towards the pommel, but it looks like it was done at the same time as the rest of the tang was shaped: intentionally to mimic the shape of the tang of the Witham sword. There are no traces, nothing saying it was reforged to fit the pommel. The tang is uniform and flat from guard to pommel. But it still has a "bottle" shaped outline. This is not typical for tangs on viking age swords. In general they have straight sides with less difference in width from base to top.

Another thing that activate my alarm bells is how both pommel and guard are so close in type, shape and form, but still rather clumsily made. The original is not at all symmetrical, but it is very masterfully made. There is elegance in every line and volume. This hilt comes across to me as rather crude.
It is also strange how some elements of shape of the Witham sword are repeated, like the uneven curve of the guard, but without any of the grace that the Witham sword has.
A sword from the same workshop of the Witham sword would most probably look more or less different in shape and design, but share the same "energy" of form and line.
This sword is close in shape without sharing any of the energy of the Witham sword

There is also something with the blade that is strange. I am not sure if it is the surface or the shape, or both in combination.
The remains of the inlay does not look all that convincing either. It is almost like the letters were cut but not inlayed as to look like iron inlay that has rusted away. Very difficult to tell just from a photograph, but this is what it looks like to me from what I can tell from the screen of my computer.

I have held the Witham sword in my hand: it is such a tremendous weapon. Very organic and alive. Something strong and organic about it.
The sword in this thread comes across to me as tired and faded in comparison. Again, this is just from seeing photographs, but having held the Witham sword, I do not at all get the same feel from seeing this one.

I cannot say it is a fake, of course.
I will only say that I would be more surprised if it was indeed genuine, than if it was proven to be modern.
Then the question arises : who made it ;) ?

As Jeff and Peter also said or suggested, there could be other tiny details not very much visible on the pics above that would infirm/confirm the doubts expressed, or add this sword as a new and interesting sample in our knowledge database(s) - I suppose Peter and Jeff could easily hint at some of them, so I'll leave it there (but things like other details in the shape of the tang or the construction of the pommel - and other views of the guard could also give good clues)
But the non-consistancy of the corrosion could indeed be seen as a serious indicator - especially wiht the doubts expressed about the inlay and all.

Which makes me wonder wether it's a good thing that European arms and armour are seen (rightfully) as items of high value....for, reminding also conversations I had vith various curators, a side-effect of this all is an increased paranoia on their behalf, which doesn't really help serious students of the sword in approaching the originals...ah well...


Peter and Jeff,

Thanks for the insight. I but glanced at the photo before, but now after reading your comments and taking a second look I see what you mean. Either way it's an interesting antique or an elaborate attempt at forgery.
Fabrice Cognot wrote:
Then the question arises : who made it ;) ?

Well, it could have been someone who did not fully understand that you can’t make a thousand year old sword with modern eyes, blinded by the industrial revolution & cookie-cutter culture we’ve been immersed in for the last century or two…or someone who did realize that the intervening shift from iron age expensive materials & cheap labor to modern cheap materials & expensive labor means an accurate copy would be too expensive to produce, and that Christie’s A&A department is not as knowledgeable as they once were with regards to the old swords…then again, maybe Ceolwald was having a bad week down at “Gripan Si Us” due to his arthritis, and now some very unusual corrosion has us pegging his work as fake, the poor guy! :D
this sword just looks wrong, theres no way that its real. you dont see too many swords that date from that time that have that lettering engraved onto them. it almost looks like someone got a sword from next gen and chemically aged it.. in fact i wouldn't be surprised if that's exactly what was done to this sword to make it look this old.
Hmmm. As Patrick said "I see what you mean." It does look a bit suspect, and a latin inscription on a sword like this...?

It brings a question to mind that I hope isn't too off topic; how do fakes get into major auction houses like Christie's? Isn't it in their best interest to have experts who recognize the things Peter and Jeff recognized or to perform some scientic testing to know whether they are selling fakes? I imagine a (genuine) sword such as this would sell for many, many thousands of dollars....
Not that anyone is infallible, but the folks at Christie's thought it was genuine (i.e. it was not listed as "in the style of.."). Also, there was correspondance to be included with the sword between the previous owner and Barry Ager, Curator of The Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum. One would assume the point of that correspondence would be to help affirm the sword's veracity.

It could be a fake, of course, but that would mean it fooled the people at Christie's and a Curator from the British Museum. Certainly possible. The buyer who paid £32,450 for it must have been convinced. :)

I'm not saying it is or isn't fake, but if it is fake, it obviously fooled some people who should have known better.
One thing I find...off...on this sword is the inlay. In general the numerous originals I have seen show a precise, and beautiful inlay. The inlay has been worn and may be falling apart but the lines retain that precision, the inlay on this sword is ugly, it is misshapen, but it looks as if it was made that way. Dubious, in my opinion.
The thing that I find scary is the fact that it shows signs of pattern-welding. In general the fakes I have seen skip this step for ease of manufacture. It means that the fakes are really improving.
I have seen even well respected curators make mistakes and purchase or authenticate fakes. Recently in Ireland I was shown a fake that a museum had purchased. The curator showed me the sword, and the first thing I said was that it was a fake. The curator was suprised and asked me how I knew, I began showing him various flaws in the blade and obvious machining in the hilt components. The curator then explained that they had recently done some further analysis on the blade proving it was a fake. The sword however had past the auction house's examination as well as the curator's and proven to be a fake. Everyone makes mistakes. It is quite possible the sword is original, it just has some very dubious signs that show it is very likely a fake.
Best regards,
Yes, the inlay is very dubious, but to be charitable it could be the result of some ham-fisted conservation attempt making it look bad.
I’m sure if there was something in the correspondence that affirmed or bolstered the authenticity it would have been trotted out in the description, though I expect a museum curator would be impossible to pin down on something like this. I’m enjoying the idea of a couple emails – “yes, we have a sword like that in our museum” and “No, I cannot tell if yours is authentic from a couple low-resolution photos, you’ll have to bring it down for a proper inspection” :)
Hadrian Coffin wrote:
In general the numerous originals I have seen show a precise, and beautiful inlay.

...and I have seen ugly inlays in authentic swords too...just my 2 cents ;)
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