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Kevin Williamson
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As has been argued by John Worley and Thomas Wagner, in their 2013 paper, the interpretation of sword inscriptions like this requires one to reconstruct the context within which it has been produced and used. So what is this context? Much of this is constructed by Worley and Wagner’s inter-disciplinary team in another paper. Both of these papers are linked to on this webpage. In brief, similar sword inscriptions can be found on medieval swords from 11th Century to the 13th Century. In particular, steel swords with the same sort of gold inscription exist from the period of the late 12th Century to the mid-13th Century. The Fyris sword recovered in Sweden in 1896, and held by the Uppsala University Museum, is an example. The source of manufacture of these swords is Germany. They have been found throughout Europe. Almost invariably these inscriptions take the form of a religious invocation in Latin. The inscription of religious invocations on fighting weapons follows a Germanic tradition which goes back to magical runic inscriptions on fighting axes of the Germanic tribes. This is most evident for a number of the swords studied by Worley’s and Wagner’s team. So it’s likely to be the case for this Witham sword. A number of the letter patterns in the inscription occur on other sword inscriptions. Some of these have been set out in other posts and are included in the above mentioned papers. The W appears to be a problem for Latin, as it doesn’t occur in the Classical Latin alphabet as suggested in a previous post. However, it does occur in Medieval Latin in Britain and Germany to deal with Germanic names in particular. Additional context for the Witham sword is provided by its find-location. It raises a question about the dating of the sword though. The sword is similar to the Fyris sword. So why 1300? Why not late 12th Century to early 13th Century like the Fyris sword? Lincoln was the find-location and the Battle of Lincoln of 1217 was one of the major battles of the Medieval period. The sword is that of a knight. Over 400 knights took part together with an army of crossbowmen led by William Marshall the 70 years old regent to the 10 year old Henry III. William Marshall’s success in this battle secured Henry’s rule over England at a time of insurgent barons acting with the French Prince Louis’s army that was seeking to claim the English throne for Louis. The war in which this battle took place is called the ‘First Baron’s War’ after the death of King John. William Marshall was a great Medieval warrior who participated in the Crusades. He became one of the richest knights in England with lands and castles in Ireland, Wales, Normandy and large parts of England. He was eventually buried as a member of the Knights Templar and entombed in the Templar Church in London, his sarcophagus displaying a representation of his sword that uncannily looks like the Witham sword. Could the curious W on the inscription refer to William? Could the Witham sword be one of William Marshall’s swords? The likely religious inscription on the sword indeed suggests it to be a crusader’s sword. So what of the inscription? An interpretation might be based on the following partition of the inscription: +(I)NDXOXS HW DRCH DXO RVI+ Worley and Wagner suggest that an implicit ‘I’ in front of ND standing for ‘In’ is found on other swords. So here’s a suggestion, based on all of the above considerations: In Nomine Domine Xristus Omnipotens Xristus Sanctus, Hic Willelmus, Deo Regant Confidit Hic, Deo Xristus Omnipotens, Regant Vim Invictus. This roughly translates to: In the Name of the Almighty Christ, O Lord, the Holy One , This William, He trusts God's rules, Christ God Almighty, They govern undefeated.
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Aug 8, 2015