- Museum number
Iron seax, with a straight cutting edge and sharply angled back, the tang offset from the blade. One face of the blade was inset with eight decorative panels, but two are now missing. They are separated from each other by short, vertical strips of twisted silver and copper wire. The panels are inlaid with silver and niello, except for one, which is inlaid with brass. The triangular panel at the angle of the back contains a winged creature, the wing terminating in an acanthus leaf, and the body decorated with double nicks. Next to it is an oblong field with a symmetrical acanthus plant. The panels to the right of this are arranged in two rows of three narrow rectangular fields, but only one survives in the top row. It contains an undulating foliate scroll. The first panel of the second row is inscribed in Old English; the second, inlaid with brass. The last field is very worn, and contains an S-shaped animal, its body pierced by a strand. The panels are set above a long narrow strip with pendent silver triangles, which runs along the centre of the blade. It is composed of alternate rectangular panels of silver and brass, bordered by lengths of twisted copper and silver wire. The other face of the blade has a similar median strip, but here the rectangular panels are far more regular, creating a chequered effect. A second strip, also bordered by twisted polychrome wires, runs along the back of the blade. It is linked to the one below by two short lengths of twisted silver and copper wire. The panel thus created contains another Old English inscription, in letters of silver wire facing the back of the blade. The spine of the blade was also inlaid with twisted silver and copper wires, alternate silver and brass rectangular panels, and a triangular terminal of silver and copper wires at the angle of the blade. Much of this decoration is now missing.
- Production date
Length: 32.10 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Webster et al 1984
The Sittingbourne seax shares many decorative features with one from Battersea (1857,0623.1), such as billeted lines, polychrome twisted wire, and pendent triangles, but it belongs to a larger group of seaxes of slightly later date. These include six other examples with simple inlaid designs listed by Evison (1964; 30-4), such as the seax from Honey Lane, London, reputedly associated with coins of Æthelred II dated c.1003, and one from the River Cam at Chesterton, Cambridgeshire (Copenhagen, Aarhus and York 1981-2, ‘The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland’, no. D4). To these should be added several more recent finds from excavated contexts such as the inlaid knife from Wicken Bonhunt, Essex (Musty, J., Wade, K. and Rogerson, A. 1973, A Viking pin and an inlaid knife from Wicken Bonhunt Farm, Wicken Bonhunt, Essex, ‘Antiquaries Journal’, 53, 287, PL. LVIII:b), which has similar pendent triangles, and a seax from the royal palace at Cheddar, Somerset, dated by the excavators to before 930 (Rahtz, R. 1979, ‘The Saxon and Medieval Palaces at Cheddar’ (‘British Archaeological Reports’ BS 65), Oxford, 264, fig. 90, no. 31). However, the most striking parallel to the Sittingbourne find is an inlaid knife bearing the personal name 'Osmund' found on the Thames foreshore near Putney in 1977 (Clark 1980, 348, PL. LXVIa). The prominence given to the makers' names on these seaxes reflects the importance and prestige of the weapon-smith in late Anglo-Saxon England, but we know very little about individual smiths during this period, apart from casual references in contemporary sources, such as the Wulfric who made a sword with a silver hilt mentioned in the will of the Ætheling Æthelstan (British Library, Stowe Charter 37).
An early tenth-century date for the Sittingbourne seax is supported by the decoration on the blade, which demonstrates the manner in which art of the period was constantly evolving, retaining elements of the ninth-century Trewhiddle style, while absorbing new influences from the Continent. The use of small panels of ornament containing a single motif, the double nicks and contours and the niello inlay all occur in the late ninth century, but here they are combined with acanthus leaves in the tongue and wing of the creature in the first panel, which may be compared to the bird on the guard of the Abingdon sword (14) and which exhibits the same fusion of stylistic traits. The acanthus panel on the seax is very close to the interspacing ornament which appears on the St Cuthbert stole probably dated to 909-16 by its inscription. The juxtaposition of Continental acanthus ornament and native animal art seen on the Sittingbourne seax illustrates an important link between late ninth-century metalwork and the fully-developed Winchester style which appears later in the tenth century.
Provenance: Sittingbourne, Kent; found while digging foundations near the Daily Chronicle paper mills.
Exhibitions: Hamburg, Helms-Museum 1978-9, ‘Sachsen und Angelsachsen’, no. 426.
Bibliography: Evison, V. 1964, A decorated seax from the Thames at Keen Edge Ferry, ‘Berkshire Archaeological Journal’, 61, 34, fig. 2d, PL. II c-d; Wilson, D.M. 1964, ‘Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork 700-1100 in the British Museum, Catalogue of Antiquities of the Later Saxon Period’, I, London, no. 80 and refs, PL. xxx; Okasha, E. 1971, ‘A Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions’, Cambridge, no. 109 and refs; Hinton, D.A. 1974, ‘A Catalogue of the Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork in the Department of Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum’, Oxford, 39; Wilson, D.M. 1976, ‘The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England’, London, 15; Hinton, D.A. 1978, Late Saxon Treasure and Bullion in ‘Ethelred the Unready’, ed. D. Hill (‘British Archaeological Reports’, BS 59), Oxford, 154-5, fig. 7:2 , no. 15; Clark, J. 1908, A Saxon knife and a shield mount from the Thames foreshore, ‘Antiquaries Journal’ 60, 348; Dodwell, C.R. 1982, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective’, Manchester, 47, 258 n. 33; Okasha, E. 1983, A Supplement to Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions, ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ 11, 118 and refs; Wilson, D.M. 1984, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art’, London, 14, 146, 158, PL. 197.
Found while digging the foundations of a house, belonging to the donor, near the Daily Chronicle paper mills at Sittingbourne (according to Jessup (1930)). The address of the donor was the Daily Chronicle Office, Fleet Street, and this would seem to bear out Mr. Jessup's contention.
The Inscriptions can be translated 'Geberht owns me'; 'Biorthelm made me'. The meaning of the initial letter S is unclear.
See pp. 25, 38-43, 60, 72, 75, 80, 85, 86, 87 and pl. XXX.
Bibliography: Stephens, G. (1866-1901): The Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England . . ., London/København, iii, 160; Evans, J. (1873): 'Note on an Anglo-Saxon knife found in Kent, bearing an inscription', Archaeologia, xliv, 331-4 and pl. xii; Payne, G. (1893): Collectanea Cantiana, London, 111-12 and pl. xxiv; 'Victoria History of the Counties of England: Kent', i, 282-2; 'British Museum: A Guide to Anglo-Saxon . . . Antiquities . . .', London, 1923, 95 f. and fig. 116; Brøndsted, J. (1924) 'Early English Ornament', London/Copenhagen, 129 and fig. 106; Kendrick, T. D. (1934): 'Some types of orna¬mentation on Late Saxon and Viking Period Weapons in England', Eurasia Septentrionalis Antiqua, ix, 398 and fig. 3, A & B; Jessup, R. (F.) (1930): The Archaeology of Kent, London, 237 and fig. 33, top; Leclerq, H. (1930): 'Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de litergie' (ed. Cabrol/Leclerq), ix, 2éme partie, Paris, 2403-4 and fig. 7191, 5; Himsworth, J. B. (1953): The Story of Cutlery, London, 42 and fig. 12; Waterman, D. M. (1953): 'Notes on two early medieval swords found in Ulster', Ulster Journal of Archaeology, xvi, 60; Wilson, D. M. (1960a): The Anglo-Saxons, London, 112, 216 and pl. 26.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017 December – April 2018, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Designing English: Early Literature on the Page.
1978-1979 17 Nov-1 Apr, Germany, Hamburg, Helms Museum-Hamburgisches Museum fur Vor-und Fruhgeschichte, Sachsen und Angelsachsen
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number