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Myles Mulkey





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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 1:12 pm    Post subject: Seaxes from 400-450 CE?         Reply with quote

I was wondering what the seaxes/war knives of the Germanic peoples were like before 450. I am aware of the Vimose knives/choppers, but I don't think war knives of that type were still hanging around by the early 5th century. The nearest thing I've seen in age is the Pouan narrowseax, which is dated to the second half of the 5th century if I'm not mistaken. Were narrowseaxes around earlier in the 5th Century?

So, to pose my question a different way, what types of seaxes were the Goths and others swinging against the Huns under Attila?
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 3:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That early there were no saxes around yet, as far as I understand.
The broad single edged germanic choppers as you call them have gone out of fashion. In some pockets they persisted into the second century AD, but those places were back waters. In other areas germanic warriors had adopted roman style swords since long ago (first local versions of the short Gladius and later imported Spathae blades with local hilts) and even before that were using germanic versions of the long La Téne III swords (up to early 1st centry AD). War knives were used: they looked like larger versions of the small personal knives carried. From the danish bog finds we learn that it was common to carry two knives. One small one for personal peaceful everyday use (carried by the belt under the tunic) and one large for combat (carried on the outside of the tunic).

Some say that the seax may even be a weapon that was adapted by the germanic tribes *after* contact with the Huns: that originally is a steppe people short sword. There may be some merit to that theory. I am not sure.

The first seaxes were the long narrow seaxes. As I understand they were around from about 450 - 520 AD. They were then replaces by the short sax (520-570 AD) and later the narrow sax (570-600AD). Only later developed the forms that are familiar in popular publications: the broad sax, the long sax and the broken back seax.



 Attachment: 19.73 KB
IMG_3823_2.jpg
A combat knife from the Illerup-Ĺdal find. Blade is some 20 cm long.
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Myles Mulkey





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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 4:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Peter, I was hoping you'd chime in. I am familiar with the Illerup knives, and I've got Ilkjaer's "Illerup Ĺdal: Archaeology as a Magic Mirror" as a good resource. And I believe that Christian Bohling has shown a reproduction here before... I'll have to find that.

The reason I ask this question is that I'm an amateur blacksmith. I'm most interested in Migration Period and Viking Age stuff. And unfortunately I tend to research and plan more projects than I ever get the time to work on. But I've really wanted to make a seax for a while and thought it would be cool to make a seax that Sigurd Fáfnisbana might have carried (forgetting the fact he was probably partly or entirely an invented character, with no historical figure behind his legend). Since Atli (Attila) is also in the Völsungasaga, I thought something of his period would be most appropriate.

So, I guess my options are either an Illerup knife or a Hunnish sword... and if my memory serves me right, Hunnish swords are the type pictured in this topic:http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=19729
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Len Parker





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PostPosted: Tue 06 Dec, 2011 9:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There has to be 5th century saxes. What's Prince Dietrich without his Ecke-sax?

"By Wieland, the wonder smith, was it fashioned," Ecke said; "nor can thy blade Naglering cleave it. Bright and sharp is mine own sword Ecke-sax. 'Twas forged by him who made Naglering; of gold is the hilt, and it is inlaid with gold. Of fine gold is my girdle also. Much booty will be thine if thou canst overcome me." http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/tml/tml43.htm
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 10:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter, what about those "straightened falcatas" sometimes referred to as seaxes or proto-seaxes? One was found in Odensjö, Sweden (find report says 300-500 AD) and others in Germany that I don't know the exact dating on.
Perhaps these should really be called something else, but they have been referred to as seaxes in find reports and such.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Dec, 2011 1:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There the theory that the Pouan find is actually the grave of Theodoric, King of the Visigoths from 418 to 451. Or at any case that the Pouan find is otherwise related to the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. If either is true, then that sax is contemporary with Attila and therefore (? Wink) also with Siegfried. Personally I find it likely that the Pouan spatha was deposited around 450-460, which makes it logical to assume it was made a few decades earlier.

But the Huns had their own long war knives, which seem to have been similar to the slightly later saxes. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture handy...

Len Parker wrote:
There has to be 5th century saxes. What's Prince Dietrich without his Ecke-sax?

As for the Eckenlied, the surviving form is medieval. So that it contains the word "sax" does not automatically mean that the weapon was actually a sax as we know it.

Johan Gemvik wrote:
Peter, what about those "straightened falcatas" sometimes referred to as seaxes or proto-seaxes?.
Aren't you referring to the Vimose "saxes"? Such as Albion's Cherusker?
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Dec, 2011 3:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
Aren't you referring to the Vimose "saxes"? Such as Albion's Cherusker?


Yes. The find report from the one found in Sweden says the crbon dating shows it to be from 300-500 AD, but it's also compared to germanic finds dated to around 500+. I'm not so sure it's really a true seax though but something else, since it's so different in blade and especially handle shape.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 3:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting to see that they were apparently around so late. I didn't know that...

But anyway they are completely different weapons from the later saxes. They are wider, thinner and have the tang extending from the back of the blade rather than in the middle. All in all, I'd consider them an uncle of the sax rather than the father.
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 4:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Johnsson wrote:
That early there were no saxes around yet, as far as I understand.
The broad single edged germanic choppers as you call them have gone out of fashion. In some pockets they persisted into the second century AD, but those places were back waters. In other areas germanic warriors had adopted roman style swords since long ago (first local versions of the short Gladius and later imported Spathae blades with local hilts) and even before that were using germanic versions of the long La Téne III swords (up to early 1st centry AD). War knives were used: they looked like larger versions of the small personal knives carried. From the danish bog finds we learn that it was common to carry two knives. One small one for personal peaceful everyday use (carried by the belt under the tunic) and one large for combat (carried on the outside of the tunic).

Some say that the seax may even be a weapon that was adapted by the germanic tribes *after* contact with the Huns: that originally is a steppe people short sword. There may be some merit to that theory. I am not sure.

The first seaxes were the long narrow seaxes. As I understand they were around from about 450 - 520 AD. They were then replaces by the short sax (520-570 AD) and later the narrow sax (570-600AD). Only later developed the forms that are familiar in popular publications: the broad sax, the long sax and the broken back seax.


Exactly. I don't actually think there is a relation between those early 5th century narrow longsaxes and the later short and narrow saxes.

However, there's some knives from graves around Krefeld, Germany, which could be early forerunners of short saxes. F.e. these are 4th-early 5th century:





And these are possibly mid 5th century, though I don't have direct information on the dating:


Jeroen Zuiderwijk
- Bronze age living history in the Netherlands
- Barbarian metalworking
- Museum photos
- Zip-file with information about saxes
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Fri 09 Dec, 2011 4:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Johan Gemvik wrote:
Paul Hansen wrote:
Aren't you referring to the Vimose "saxes"? Such as Albion's Cherusker?


Yes. The find report from the one found in Sweden says the crbon dating shows it to be from 300-500 AD, but it's also compared to germanic finds dated to around 500+. I'm not so sure it's really a true seax though but something else, since it's so different in blade and especially handle shape.
I'm not aware of any of these large germanic war knives going much past 200AD. They seem to pretty much vanish after that time at least from what I know. So I'd expect that either the dating is off, or it's something else. They were certainly long gone at the end of the Roman period.
Jeroen Zuiderwijk
- Bronze age living history in the Netherlands
- Barbarian metalworking
- Museum photos
- Zip-file with information about saxes
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