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Home > Auctions > 25th February 2020 > Medieval Italian Type XII Double-Edged Sword

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LOT 0488

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Medieval Italian Type XII Double-Edged Sword

Later 13th century AD

A double-edged iron longsword of Oakeshott's Type XII (Oakeshott, 1991, p.105), the broad, flat, evenly tapering blade is typical of specimens of its category, with the blade tending to widen below the hilt; the iron mouth of its original scabbard is present with an openwork flower; the fuller is well defined, extending from below the guard for a little more than half of the blade's length; with the blade's cross-section being of lenticular design and originally from thirty to thirty-two inches; the grip is a little longer than previous types XI; the style of guard is short and straight, with a flattened cross-section at the edges; the pommel is a thick spherical piece, slightly flattened at the centre. 915 grams, 74.5cm (29 1/4"). Fair condition. Rare.

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

See Oakeshott, J, R.E., The Archaeology of the weapons, London, 1960 (Woodbridge, 1999); Oakeshott, E. Records of the Medieval Sword, Woodbridge, 1991; Nicolle, D., Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era, 1050-1350, vol I,, London, 1999; Scalini, M., A bon droyt, spade di uomini liberi, cavalieri e santi, Milano, 2007.

Oakeshott considered this category of sword as one of the most difficult to interpret, because of the affinity of the hilt with the types X and XVI (Oakeshott, 1991, p.65). Characteristics are the noticeable taper blade, with acute point, and the grip quite short, never of hand-and-a-half length. The fuller is usually running for at least half of the length of the blade. The sword was the most typical chivalry weapon diffused in all the Europe, largely attested by archaeological finds and artefacts from historical collections. Among the most famous specimen of such sword we should remember the one of Sancho IV (El Bravo) of Castilla, died in 1295 AD, which show a slightly curved hilt, and a cross-guard also expanded at the edges (Nicolle, 1999, cat.391). Our sword finds a good parallel in a Venetian sword preserved in Padova Museum (inv. IG 321119, s. Scalini, 2007, pp.126-127, cat.19), realised by an unknown Italian craftsman. Many of these swords were taken as booty from the Muslims and preserved until recent times in the Arsenal of the Imperial Palace in Istanbul. Such weapons were mainly of Venetian origin, with slightly broader blades than our specimen. Scalini has suggested that such swords could have been employed during the XIII-XIV century by the Venetian infantry in the operations of the Aegean Sea against Muslims and Eastern Romans. If this is true, the importance of the weapon consists in its functional use, not only reserved to the knights, but also to the mass troops of the Venetian Republic. The early flat disc pommels appear in the Mediterranean Sea at the beginning of the 12th century (for similar pommels s. Oakeshott, 1991, p.69) and persist in use until the 15th century and even later, although with significant variations. In art and medieval iconography, the best samples of swords of XII types can be seen on the famous Bible of Maciejowski made in approximately 1250 (Nicolle, 1999, 49a-49 as). Many of the swords illustrated therein seem to indicate a full length fuller; this might seem to indicate a Type X. However, most of the illustrations feature far too much profile taper to be a true Type X. Given the period of the Bible's manufacture they are far more likely to indicate swords of Type XII design. There is also an Apocalypse in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge (Nicolle, 1999, 189a-b) that was made around twenty years earlier that features illustrations of the type. Many of the illustrations from the Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33 can be interpreted as being of type XII pattern. More specifically, the typology of our specimen is visible on the sculpture of a warrior in the Church of Saint Justyna in Padua, confirming again the Venetian origin of such swords.

Most probably our specimen is from a battlefield or, most probably, a river find. Type XII (Oakeshott, 1960 (1999) p.206), is generally dated between about 1180 and 1320, It has a large blade, very similar in shape to the Ulfberht ones but generally with a more acute point, and a well-marked and slightly narrower fuller starting in the tang and running about halfway along the blade; this occasionally is of two or more grooves. The pommel is generally in the form of a thick disc, sometimes with the edges bevelled off, sometimes of the so-called "wheel" form. Its cross is generally straight, circular in section and widening at the ends, but it may be of a square section; or it may be curved or have decorated terminals. Inscriptions on examples of these swords dating after about 1220 are slightly different again; the letters are closer together, often so dose that it is nearly impossible to make them out; and instead of the clearly legible religious phrase there is a jumble of repetitive letters which seems meaningless. Typical of the High Middle Ages, these swords begin to show greater tapering of the blade and a shortened fuller, features which improve thrusting capabilities while maintaining a good cut. The Cawood sword is an exceptionally well preserved type XII specimen, exemplifying a full-length taper and narrow fuller, which terminates two thirds down the blade. A large number of Medieval examples of this type survive. It certainly existed in the later 13th century, and perhaps considerably earlier, since the Swiss National Museum in Zurich possesses an example that has a Viking Age-type hilt but clearly a type XII blade.