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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Iron seax, with a straight cutting edge running parallel to the back, which is angled towards the point. The broad tang is offset from the blade, which is decorated on both faces with linear ornament formed by hammering polychrome wires into the surface of the metal. Along the back of the blade on each face is a narrow rectangular panel bordered by two lines composed of strips of twisted copper and brass wire. Below this panel, and running parallel to it, is a deep median groove flanked by a similar inlaid line with pendent brass triangles. On one face the rectangular panel is inscribed with two texts. They are separated by a herringbone design in silver and brass, and a fragment of a running lozenge pattern in silver and copper, and silver and brass twisted wires, each lozenge containing a copper or silver billet. The first inscription is a twenty-eight letter ‘futhorc' or runic alphabet. The second inscription, also in runic characters is an old English personal name, presumably the owner or maker of the seax. On the other face the panel is filled with a running lozenge pattern, similar to that on the front, but the lozenges only contain silver billets, and the triangular fields between every lozenge have an inward-facing copper triangle. The spine of the seax is inlaid with nine groups of short transverse lines in silver and brass twisted wire. There is a vertical cut at the end of the panel where it narrows towards the point, and beyond it some of the decoration is missing, but the cross-hatched keying for the inlay still remains.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 10thC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 721 millimetres (overrall)
    • Length: 170 millimetres (handle)
    • Length: 551 millimetres (blade)
    • Thickness: 8.2 millimetres (thickest point)
    • Width: 38.7 millimetres (widest point)
    • Weight: 985 grammes
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Language

        Old English
      • Inscription Transliteration

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Language

        Old English
      • Inscription Transliteration

        f u þ o r c g w h n i j 3 p x ʃ t b e ŋ d l m œ a æ y êa.
      • Inscription Comment

  • Curator's comments

    Webster et al 1984
    'Seax' is the generic Old English word for knife, but is used by archaeologists to describe the larger iron single-edged knives which first appear in Anglo-Saxon graves of the seventh century. Later examples tend to be isolated finds, often from rivers, devoid of any associated material, and not susceptible to close dating. They were used both as hunting and as fighting weapons. The later seaxes can be divided into two main types: one group, to which this seax (Battersea) belongs, has a long narrow blade with the cutting edge almost parallel to the back; the other, represented by a seax found in Sittingbourne, Kent (reg. no. 1881,0623.1), has a shorter, broader blade with a sharply angled back. The two types may well have been contemporary, but there is some evidence that the second group is slightly later in date.
    Several undecorated seaxes of the Battersea type are known, including three from London, and one from Suffolk (Evison 1964, 30-3). Similar inlaid examples come from Hurbuck, Co. Durham (Wilson 1964, no. 22), and from Keen Edge Ferry in Berkshire (Evison 1964), the latter so close to the Battersea seax in its basic shape, method of construction and inlaid ornament that they may have been products of the same workshop.
    The Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet, known as a ‘futhorc’ from its first six letters, had thirty-one characters. Numerous runic inscriptions have been found in this country, ranging in date from the fifth to eleventh centuries. Some are carved in wood or on memorial stones, to which they are ideally suited as all the letters are composed of vertical and diagonal lines; others occur on coins, weapons and jewellery. The runic alphabet on the Battersea blade is the only epigraphical ‘futhorc’ to survive in England, although numerous examples are known from Scandinavia. It may have had a magical or protective function, the significance of which is now lost. Certain aspects of the inscription (Page 1973, 114-15), such as the order and form of the letters, indicate that it was probably incompetently copied from a manuscript ‘futhorc’ and is a later survival, produced in southern England at a time when knowledge of runes was fading and imperfectly understood.

    Provenance: London, from the river Thames at Battersea; purchased from H.J. Briggsin 1857.

    Bibliography: Evison, V. 1964, A decorated seax from the Thames at Keen Edge Ferry, ‘Berkshire Archaeological Journal’, 61, 33, PL. 2a-b; Page, R.I. 1964, Anglo-Saxon Runes and Magic, ‘Journal of the British Archaeological Association’, 3rd ser. 27, 28; 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. 36 and refs PL. XXII; Page, R.I. 1970, ‘Life in Anglo-Saxon England’, London, 169-70; 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; Page, R.I. 1973, ‘An Introduction to English Runes’, London, 61-2, 114-17 and passim; Wilson, D.M. 1976, ‘The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England’, London, 15, PL.4a.Wilson 1964
    From the River Thames.
    The purchase included a number of other iron weapons of Anglo-Saxon date found in the Thames at Battersea.

    Late ninth-century.

    See pp. 38, 60, 69ff. and pl. XII.

    Bibliography: 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London', iv (1857), 83; Haigh, D. H. (1861): 'The Conquest of Britain by the Saxons', London, 46; Stephens, G. (1866-1901): The Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England . . ., London/København, i, xxxiii, 361 f. and iii, 159 and passim.; Haigh, D. H. (1870): 'The Runic Monuments of Northumbria', Proceedings of the Geological and Polytechnical Society of the West Riding of Yorkshire, 182; Haigh, D. H. (1872): 'Notes in illustration of the Runic Monuments of Kent', Archaeologia Cantiana, viii, 235-6; Evans, J. (1873): 'Note on an Anglo-Saxon knife found in Kent, bearing an inscription', Archaeologia, xliv, 333; Haigh, D. H. (1873): 'Yorkshire Runic Monuments', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, ii, 252 and 285; Wimmer, L. F. A. (1874): 'Runeskriftens Oprindelse og Udvikling i Norden', Aarbøger for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie, 72, 76-7 and pl. iii, 3; King, R. J. (1876): 'Runes and Runic Stones', Fraser's Magazine, new series, xiii, 750; Taylor, I. (1879): Greeks and Goths. A Study on the Runes, London, 5; 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London', series 2, x (1883), 18; Stephens, G. (1884): Handbook of the Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England, London/Copenhagen, 111; Sweet, H. (1885): The Oldest English Texts, London (Early English Text Society, 83), 129; Wimmer, L. F. A. (1887): Die Runenschrift, Berlin, 82 f., 383 f. and p;. iii; Chaillu, P. B. du (1889): The Viking Age, i, London, 160; Baye, J. de (1889): Industrie anglo-saxonne , Paris, 31; Taylor, I. (1890): 'The Order of the Letters in the Runic Futhork', Academy, xxxviii, 505; Bugge, S. and Olsen, M. (1891-1924): Norges Indskrifter med de ældre Runer, Christiania, i. 147; Baye, J. de (1893): The Industrial Arts of the Anglo-Saxons, London, 28; Stephens, G. (1894): The Runes, whence came they, London/København, 22; Sephton, J. (1895/6): 'On some Runic Remains', Proceedings of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, 186 and pl. i, fig. 2; Sievers, E. (1896-1901): Runen und Runeninschriften, 2nd ed., Strassburg, 255; Grienberger, T. v. (1898): 'Beiträge zur Runenlehre', Arkiv för nordisk filologi, xiv, 115 and 117; Müller, S. (1898): Nordische Altertumskunde, ii, Strassburg, 99; Hempl, G. (1903-4): 'Hickes's Additions to the Runic Poem', Modern Philology, i, 136; Ålund, E. (1904): Runorna i Norden, Stockholm, 12, 13 and 17; Shore, T. W. (1906): Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race, London, 41 and 43-4; Kermode, P. M. C. (1907): Manx Crosses, London, 83 and fig. 44; Paues, A. C. (1907): 'Runes and Manuscripts', Cambridge History of English Literature, i, 10-11; 'Victoria History of the Counties of England: London', i, 152 and fig. 7; Paues, A. C. (1911): 'The Name of the Letter 3', Modern Language Review, vi, 450; Gosse, E. (1911): 'Runes, Runic Language and Inscriptions', Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. xxiii, 852-3; Forbes, M. D. and Dickins, B. (1914): 'The Inscriptions on the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses and the Bridekirk Font', The Burlington Magazine, 25; Baldwin Brown, G. (1903-37): The Arts in Early England, London, iii, 230; Friesen, O. v. (1918/19): 'Runenschrift', Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, iv (ed. J. Hoops), Strassburg, 22, 24 and pl. 3; 'La grande encyclopédie', 28, 1140 f. and fig. 1, b; Buck, C. D. (1919-20): 'An ABC inscribed in Old English Runes', Modern Philology, xvii, 219, 221; 'Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments (Scotland): Seventh Report', Edinburgh 1920, 238 and 274; 'British Museum: A Guide to Anglo-Saxon . . . Antiquities . . .', London, 1923, 96 and fig. 117; Schönaich-Carolath, I. v. (1924): Runeudenkmäler, Mülhausen (Thüringen), 6, 8 and pl. 3; Agrell, S. (1927): Runornas talmystik och des antika förebild, Lund, 155 f., 208; Weigall, A. (1927): Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain, London, 175; Bork, F. (1929): 'Runenstudien', Archiv für Schreib- und Buchwesen, iii, 69; Friesen, O. v. (1929): 'Runes', Encyclopcedia Britannica, 14th ed., vol. xix, 659; Gorsleben, R. J. (1930): Hoch-Zeit der Mensch-heit, Leipzig, 623-5; Hammarström, M. (1930): 'Om runskriftens härkomst', Studier i nordisk filologi, xx, part 1, 42 and fig. 7; Leclerq, H. (1930): 'Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de litergie' (ed. Cabrol/Leclerq), ix, 2éme partie, Paris, 2403-4 and fig. 7191, 4; ; Shetelig, H. (1930): ' Runeskriftens Kilder. En orientering i de nyere synsmåter', Bergens Museums Årbok, 6; Vulliamy, C. E. (1930): The Archaeology of Middlesex and London, London, 236, 258 and fig. 36D; Agrell, S. (1931): Senantik mysteriereligion och nordisk runmagi, Stockholm, 246-8 and figs; Agrell, S. (1931/2): 'Die spätantike Alphabetmystik und die Runenreihe', K. Humanistiska Vetenskap Samfundets i Lund, Arsberättelse, ? [209-10]; Brodeur, A. G. (1932): The Riddle of the Runes, Berkeley, 6; Dickins, B. (1932): 'A System of Transliteration for Old English Runic Inscriptions', Leeds Studies in English, i, 19; Kummer, S. A. (1932): Heilige Runenmacht, Hamburg, 21; Vigfusson and Powell (1879), 444; Kendrick, T. D. (1934): 'Some types of ornamentation on Late Saxon and Viking Period Weapons in England', Eurasia Septentrionalis Antiqua, ix, 398 and fig. 3, c; Arntz, H. (1935): Handbuch der Runenkunde, Halle/Saale (Sammlung kurzer Grammatiken germanischer Dialekte, B, 3), 67, passim and pl. viii; Harder, H. (1935): 'Beiträge zur Schriftgestalt in lateinischen Inschriften der Germanenreiche', Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen, clxviii, 21-2; Friesen, O. v. (1936): 'Rune', Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome, xxx, 241 and fig. 4; Jungandreas, W. (1936): 'Zur Runenreihe', Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie, lxi, 231; Reichardt, K. (1936): Runenkunde, Jena, 10 and fig. 11; Reiss, B. (1936): Runenkunde, Leipzig, 7 and 59; Pfeilstücker, S. (1936): Spätantikes und Germanisches Kunstgut in der Frühangelsächsischen Kunst, Berlin, 208-9; Krause, W. (1937): Runeninschriften im älteren Futhark, Halle/Saale, 438-40; Shetelig, H. and Falk, H. (1937): Scandinavian Archaeology, Oxford, 215; Arntz, H. (1938): Die Runenschrift, ihre Ge¬schichte und ihre Denkmäler, Halle, 76; Dickins, B. (1938): 'The Sandwich Runic Inscription Rœhœbul', Beiträge zur Runenkunde und nordischen Sprachwissenschaft. Gustav Neckel zum 60. Geburtstag (ed. K. H. Schlottig), Leipzig, 83; Harder, H. (1938): 'Die Formverschiebung der Runen', Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen, clxxiii, 146-8; Reichardt, K. (1938): 'Schrift', Germanische Altertumskunde (ed. H. Schneider, München), 433 and fig. 4; Neckel, G. (1938): 'Die Runen', Acta Philologica Scandinavica, xii, 105; Arntz, H. and Zeiss, H. (1939): Die einheimischen Runendenkmäler des Festlandes, Leipzig, passim; Daunt, M. (1939): 'Old English Sound-Changes reconsidered in relation to Scribal Tradition and Practice', Transactions of the Philological Society, 120; Sierke, S. (1939): Kannten die vorchristlichen Germanen Runenzauber? Königsberg/Berlin, 72; Baesecke, G. (1940): Vor- und Frühgeschichte des deutschen Schrifttums, i, Halle, 124; Weber, E. (1941): Kleine Runenkunde, Berlin, 20-1; Baeksted, A. (1943): Runerne, deres Historie og Brug, København, 44; Krause, W. (1943): Was man in Runen ritzte, 2nd ed., Halle/Saale, 9; Arntz, H. (1944b): 'Runen und Runennamen', Anglia, lxviii, 176 f. and 249; Altheim, F. (1948): Literatur und Gesellschaft im ausgehenden Altertum, i, Halle, 234-5; Oakeshott, R. E. (1951): 'An "Ingelri" sword in the British Museum', The Antiquaries Journal, xxxi, 70; Basksted, A. (1952): Mälruner og Troldruner. Runemagiske studier, København, 120 et passim; Brade-Birks, S. G. (1953): Teach Yourself Archaeology, London, 175; Derolez, R. (1954): Runica manuscripta: the English Tradition (Rijksuniversiteit te Gent Werken uitgegeven door de Faculteit van de Wijsbegeerte en Letteren, cxviii), passim; Blair, P. H. (1956): An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England, Cambridge, 309; Elliott, R. W. V. (1957): 'Runes, Yews, and Magic', Speculum, xxxii, 251; Schramm, G. (1957): 'Namenschatz und Dichtersprache', Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschungen, Ergänzungshefte, nr. 15, passim; Elliott (1958), passim. Nerman, B. (1959): 'The dating of the runic-inscribed scramasax from the Thames', The Antiquaries Journal, xxxix, 289-90.


  • Bibliography

    • Wilson 1964 36 bibliographic details
    • Webster et al 1984 94 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G41/dc3/sA

  • Exhibition history

    1999-2000 08 Sep-09 Jan, London, Museum of London, 'Alfred the Great 849-899: London's forgotten King'

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


COMPASS Title: Seax of Beagnoth;Seax of Beagnoth;Seax of Beagnoth

COMPASS Title: Seax of Beagnoth;Seax of Beagnoth;Seax of Beagnoth

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