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LOT 0472

GBP (£) 2,500 - 3,500
EUR (€) 2,920 - 4,080
USD ($) 3,220 - 4,510

Bid History: 1   |   Current bid: £2,500
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German Executioner's Sword of Justice

Late 17th century AD

A long Western two-handed executioner sword of German making; the pear-shaped pommel is mounted on the original still preserved wooden grip; the cross guard is straight, ending with straight quillons; the double edged blade is broad and flat, without fullers, having a round tip and a three holes for the blood at the point; the sword is marked on both sides: on one side there is a circle inside which a Christian monogram (chi-ro) cross is inscribed, supported by a short staff; on the other side there is the image of a gallows, both inlaid in copper. 2 kg, 1.12cm (44 1/4"). Fine condition. Very rare.

From an important private family collection of arms and armour; acquired on the European art market in the 1980s, and thence by descent; believed originally from Liege, Belgium; accompanied by an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.

See Fischer, Kunst und Antiquitätenauktion antike Waffen und militaria, Montag, 30. August, bis Montag, 6. September 2004, Luzern, 2004; Niţoi A., Posea R., 'Spade de execuţie ale oraşuluj Braşov ȋn perioada medievalã şi modernã', in Relaţii Interetnice în Transilvania, Militaria Mediaevalia în Europa centralã si de sud-est, Sibiu, 2018, pp.113-126.

This "Sword of Justice" was employed for capital executions. The executioner sword was a symbolic and ‘facilitator’ of judicial law. Many courtrooms displayed executioner swords on their walls. Specimens similar to the sword here published are well known in public and private European collections (Fischer, 2004, cat.99 and 126). The marks impressed on the blade are identical to a sample published by Fischer in the auction of 2004, having, like our specimen, a wide, flat, double-edged blade, marks, brass-plated wheel and gallows, with the adding of engraved scrolls and floral decor. A further similar model survives in the Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum) in Germany. Such swords come at the tail end of the period in which swords were used in Europe for executions (a period from the 16th century to the 1720s. They feature similar characteristics: a long, heavy blade that ended not in a point but with a distinctive flat edge. The blades of the executioner’s swords were often decorated, and while in some cases the sword would be inscribed with the executioner’s name in other cases were put inscriptions like "I spare no one" – a brutal message for criminals (or poor victims or the state's reason) facing this sword’s edge. Sometimes the messages were more merciful, like in the case of a blade recently published by the Museum of the Artifacts, made in Germany in about 1600 AD: the inscriptions is saying: "when I raise this sword, so i wish that this poor sinner will receive eternal life".

The blades of executioner's swords were often decorated also with symbolic designs, showing instruments of execution or torture, or the Crucifixion of Christ (like in our specimen) combined with the moralistic inscriptions over mentioned. When no longer used for executions, an executioner's sword sometimes continued to be used as a ceremonial sword of justice, a symbol of judicial power. Recently, important samples of executioner's swords from Transilvania have been published by Anca Nitoi and Rozalinda Posea. Along with Sibiu and Cluj, the city of Brasov holds spectacular items with regards to late and early modern time executioner's swords. The three swords published by the Rumenian archaelogists ranges from the 16th to the XVIII century. The first two had a hilt very similar to the specimen here represented, and are considered by the authors as belonging to the Oakeshott sub-type XVIIIb of his sword's classification. Interesting are the three inscriptions on the blade of one of the XVI century sword: JESVS DIR LEB ICH, JESVS DIR STIRB ICH, DEIN BIN ICH TOT UND LEBENDING (Jesus for You I live; Jesus for You I die; I am Yours in life and in death). The inscription confirms that in any case a sense of mercy was given to the condemned, letting him to repent of his sins until the end, even with a sort of blessing left on the blade destined to put end to his life.

Most probably our specimen is coming from a palace as it is in such excellent condition. Executioners’ swords were more common in continental Europe from the 1400s, particularly Germany, with England still preferring the axe. The sword hilt was normally of conventional cruciform shape with a large counter-balancing pommel. It was very well constructed, with high-quality steel used for the manufacture of the blade. The blade edge was extremely sharp and it was a requirement of the executioner to keep it well honed so that the head of the victim could be severed in one mighty blow. Blades were broad and flat backed, with a rounded tip. These swords were intended for two-handed use, but were lacking a point, so that their overall length was typically that of a single-handed sword (ca. 80–90 cm (31–35 in)). The quillons were quite short, and mainly straight, and the pommel was often pear-shaped (like in our specimen) or faceted. The sword was designed for cutting rather than thrusting, so a pointed tip (as in the case of military blades) was unnecessary. Differently from the arming sword and the double handed "bastard sword" of the late Renaissance and Baroque Age the tool of the executioner's sword was not designed for combat, instead being intended for the quick death – usually through decapitation – of the condemned. This weapon would not need to be combat worthy, but would still be capable of fulfilling its intended purpose. By the early 1700s swords were no longer used in Europe for executions, but they still functioned as symbols of power. However, the last executions by sword in Europe were carried out in Switzerland in 1867 and 1868, when Niklaus Emmenegger in Lucerne and Héli Freymond in Moudon were beheaded for murder. Swords are still used to carry out executions in Saudi Arabia.

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Bid History: 1   |   Current bid: £2,500

Lot No. 0472

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Viewing from noon Monday 25th November 2019
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