British Collection Highlights:

Late Anglo-Saxon Sword from Abingdon, Oxfordshire

An iron sword fragment and hilt were found near Abingdon in Oxfordshire in 1874. The decoration on the sword hilt indicates this was a high status weapon dating from around AD 875. The style of the guards and pommel (Peterson style L) also suggest the sword dates from the late ninth to tenth century.

The sword hilt forms one of the most important examples of the late Anglo-Saxon silversmith's art. The hilt is decorated with six silver engraved mounts; the engraved ornament on the mounts is in the Trewhiddle style - named after finds made at Trewhiddle, Cornwall. This style combines engraving and inlay with niello (black sulphide of silver).

The upper and lower guards are curved and contain various interlaced designs, including birds, animal and human figures, and foliate patterns. The figures on the upper guard have been identified as the four symbols of the evangelists. The style of leaf used next to the figure of the eagle on the upper guard has also been identified on early tenth century embroideries from Durham, on the back of the Alfred Jewel and a number of other objects dating to this period. The pommel incorporates two outward-looking animal heads, with protruding ears and round eyes and nostrils, now fragmentary.

The lower portion of the iron blade is missing, however X-rays of the sword show that the blade is pattern welded.

The sword was acquired by Sir John Evans and presented to the Ashmolean in 1890. It is on display in the ‘England 400-1600’ gallery on the second floor.

Click to enlarge

Anglo-Saxon Sword from Abingdon (Click to enlarge)

Abingdon Sword (AN1980.14)

Upper Guard of Abingdon Sword

Upper guard of the Abingdon sword, on which figures of a man and eagle are used to represent the evangelists, Matthew and Mark. The feaf decoration next to the eagle has links with other late Anglo-Saxon objects, including the Alfred Jewel. (AN1890.14)

Upper guard of the Abingdon Sword

Upper guard of the Abingdon sword. This side has representations of the evangelists, Luke, as a bull or ox (on the right hand side) and Mark, who is usually represented by a lion. (AN1890.14)

Further Information

Wilson, D. M., Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork, (London: British Museum, 1964), 38.

Hinton, D. A., A catalogue of the Anglo-Saxon ornamental metalwork, 700-1100 in the Department of Antiquities (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1974).

Hinton, D.A., "Two Late Saxon Swords", Oxoniensia, 35, (1970), 1-5. (Available online from the Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society)

Find out more about:

Sarah Glover
Februrary 2012