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LOT 0460

GBP (£) 4,000 - 6,000
EUR (€) 4,650 - 6,970
USD ($) 5,130 - 7,690

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£4,000 (EUR 4,648; USD 5,128) (+bp*) Add to Watch list

Medieval Type XVII Sword with Latten Inlaid Pommel

Late 14th-early 15th century AD

A long Western European two-handed sword of German origin, the pommel, circular (type H1 or H2), is mounted on a guard and presents a latten inlaid cross within a circle, the cross guard style, curved, corresponding to type 1; the hilt is formed by a hand-and-a-half grip; the blade, tapering sharply, is of hexagonal section, well enough preserved beneath the smooth, richly dark patina of Goethite, with no significant pitting in any part, but the sides of the blade are showing strong corrosion and damage due to the actual use on the battlefield; the shallow fuller is running about one third of the length; beautifully balanced and ready in the hand. 1.8 kg, 1.33m (52 1/2"). Fine condition, repaired. 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; accompanied by an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.

See J. Oakeshott, R.E., The Archaeology of the weapons, London,1960; Oakeshott, E., Sword in hand, London, 2001; Oakeshott, E. Records of the Medieval Sword, Woodbridge, 1991.

This sword has good parallels in various similar specimens (Oakeshott, 2001, fig.106), ranging from the second half of 14th century to 1450 AD. The pommel recalls at least two swords preserved in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of them presenting also a similar but less curved crossguard (Oakeshott, 1991, pp.161-162). A third sword in the Philadelphia Museum shows instead a complete identical cross-guard (Oakeshott, 1991, p.164), but a completely different pommel. The blade is very similar to that of a specimen once in the Oakeshott collection, and now in the Nationalmuseet of Copenhagen (Oakeshott, 1991, p.160). Swords of this type all have the same bladeform, but considerably varied hilts, and examples have been found all over Europe. Many survive; perhaps the finest of them all is one which was found in the River Cam, preserved now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (Oakeshott, 1960, pl.16c). Another very important specimen, second only to the Cambridge example, with a similar blade but a totally different hilt was, at the times in which Oakeshott wrote his Archaeology of the Weapons, in a famous and very choice private collection in Denmark. This is one which was put in the Hall of Victories at Alexandria, presumably as a trophy, by the Mamluks. There are many such trophies, swords of Italian fashion and of fourteenth-century types, with Arabic inscriptions applied to their blades after being deposited in this Arsenal by the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt. Some were probably acquired as gifts from merchants or embassies from Genoa, Pisa or Venice, but others are undoubtedly the spoils of war, captured from Christian forces based on Cyprus. In 1365 one such force (under Peter of Lusignan, titular King of Jerusalem) made an attack upon Cairo. It was beaten off, and several swords bear witness to Peter's defeat.

Type XVII is characterised by being, in first instance, a big 'bastard' sword, with no samples of short-grips. It was a long 'Sword of War'. The flat round/oval pommel appears here as in the most part of the samples of such category (the 75%), and because the pommel shape and decoration, the sword can still be included in the chronological framework of the second half of XIV century, without excluding the first half of XV century. The noteworthy element of this sword is its pommel with the inlaid cross. The presence of the cross suggests the belonging of the weapon to some military order of Chivalry. Considering that the Templars were destroyed at the time in which our sword was made, the main candidates could be the Hospitallers or the Teutonic Knights. Or even, the sword could have belonged to some warrior who decided to take part to the crusade expeditions against the Turks.

Blade and handle is well preserved. Most probably our specimen is from a battlefield or a river find. The evolution of the armour, in the western Europe of 14th century, shows an ever-increasing amount of defensive pieces. With an increase in the effective use of archers and foot soldiers beginning early in the XIV century, the largely mail-clad mounted warrior began to show an unprecedented level of vulnerability. In response to this, quite logically, was to augment the typical defences of the early 14th century (a mail suit, iron helm, and early plate defences for the legs) with additional plates of iron on other parts of the body. These plates were strapped over the existing mail, adding protection, in varying amounts, to the upper extremities and the torso. While these changes may have added some level of protection against foot soldiers and arrows, they had the effect of rendering older-style cutting swords ineffective against anyone wealthy enough to afford one of these so-called "transitional" harnesses (the transition being between basically mail only and full plate harnesses). The difficulty encountered in wounding someone dressed like this led other weapons to rise in favour, most notably impact weapons like the mace, axe, and war-hammer. This comported in a parallel way the change in the making of the swords, creating types like the XVII, which ranged from 1350 to 1425-1450 circa, with some specimen reaching even the dawn of the 16th century. The sword had to change to retain its effectiveness on the battlefields. To combat the armour of the time, it was necessary to make greater use of the thrust to find vulnerable gaps and joints in an opponent's defences. The flat lenticular cross-sections so popular on earlier swords were not well-suited to the thrust, since they gave the blade a necessary measure of flexibility to aid the cut. The wide tip sections needed for heavy cleaving were also an impediment to thrusting. Different cross-sections and blade profiles, therefore, needed to be developed to give the stiffness and the proper tip shape required for thrusting. This was the combination which gave life to the swords of this typology: swords with a pronounced hexagonal section to add stiffness to the blade, of hand-and-a-half proportions, to take advantage of the extra power and manoeuvrability given by the addition of the second hand to the grip.

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