A medieval sword has gone on display at the British Library as part of an exhibit on the Magna Carta, and researchers are reaching out to the public for help deciphering the mysterious letters inlaid across its blade.
The sword was found in the River Witham in Lincolnshire in 1825, according to LiveScience, but it dates to the 13th century. Measuring 38 inches long and sporting a cross-shaped hilt, the sword seems unremarkable at first glance, until one realizes that a series of strange letters have been inlaid across its blade with gold wire. Gracing just one side of the sword, the inscription has so far stumped researchers.
— GalleyCat (@GalleyCat) August 11, 2015
A variety of explanations for the sword’s inscription have been advanced, but no one can decipher it for certain. Since the sword has recently been put on display by the library (though it belongs to the British Museum), the institution has placed pictures of the weapon online, asking commenters to hazard a guess as to the inscription’s meaning, as the Huffington Post notes.
— British Museum (@britishmuseum) August 11, 2015
One of those who viewed the sword was Marc van Hasselt, a graduate student of medieval studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands who has previously studied other swords with similar inscriptions. According to him, the weapons were extremely popular during the 13th century, and similar blades have been found all across Europe.
Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden began the Fyris Swords Project in 2006 with the express intention of deciphering swords like the one found at River Witham. In 2009, they published a paper which asserted that pre-Christian Germanic tribesmen inlaid inscriptions into their swords as part of an effort to endow them with magical abilities (they did the same with their armor, the researchers noted). The team observed that it was entirely possible that the tradition carried over into Christian times, meaning the sword’s inscription could be intended to invoke the name of God for protection in battle.
— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) August 11, 2015
Though some observers speculated the weapon could be of Viking origin, the River Witham sword was forged in Germany, a country which was at one time the blade-making capital of Europe, as the Inquisitr previously reported. Researchers believe that the inscription upon the sword could represent a short-form of Latin, one of the primary international languages of the period. Since a wide variety of inscriptions have been found on swords from that time, they note that the unique combination of letters may be something self-evident to their owners, who were likely wealthy individuals or knights. Due to their age, however, it remains unlikely that anyone will ever be able to deduce with certainty the true meaning behind the inscriptions on these medieval swords.
[Image: The British Museum, via LiveScience]