Sword grip and pommel

Anglo-Saxon, late 8th century AD
From Fetter Lane, London, England

From a high status Late Saxon weapon

This elegant silver sword hilt was found in the nineteenth century during building-foundation work in the City of London. A workman bought the sword hilt for half a crown (12.5p). The hilt (the iron sword blade and grip are missing) eventually came into the possession of the great scholar and collector Sir Augustus Franks who gave it to The British Museum. How was such a fine piece lost or hidden in the Anglo-Saxon city?

The pommel (the top part of the hilt) is completely gilded and has a central arch at the centre decorated on both sides with scroll patterns. The plain gilded ribs of the pommel contrast with the dense swirling ornament engraved on the grip. This is inlaid with black niello, with the background of leaves picked out in gold. One side has a spiral of four snakes as the main design, the other a design based on a animal set in a spread-eagle style. The central spiral marks where the front legs and neck of the animal spring from the body; the gaping head is in the upper right corner.

Although linked to other designs of the later eighth century, this ornament is exceptional and the combined use of speckling and niello look forward to the Trewhiddle Style of the ninth. The hilt was made from several pieces of silver riveted onto a base; it is now mounted on a modern piece of wood. Heavier, iron hilts with solid fittings became popular in the next century, which confirms this relatively light composite pommel as late eighth century.

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More information

Bibliography

D.M. Wilson, Anglo-Saxon art (London, Thames and Hudson, 1984)

L. Webster and J. Backhouse, The making of England: Anglo-S, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

J. Campbell, The Anglo-Saxons (Penguin, 1982)

Dimensions

Length: 8.700 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1893,7-15,1

MCS8708

Bequeathed by Sir A.W. Franks

Location

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