|Swords and Scabbards|
British Iron Age Swords and Scabbards I M Stead (British Museum Press 2006) ISBN 0714123234**
Iron Age Cemeteries in East Yorkshire - Dr Ian Stead, British Museum Press
The Celtic Sword - Radomir Pleiner
Greece and Rome at War - Peter Connolly
British Museum guide to early iron age antiquities 1925 - RA Smith
Classification of pre-Viking Irish Iron Swords - E. Rynne
to Paul Browne for some of the pictures.
How common are swords ?
It's assumed, apart from extraordinary events (such as Boudicca's rebellion or in defence of their homes), that the majority of warfare was carried out by a relatively small warrior elite within any given tribe. This warrior elite would, both by necessity and due to the fact that they are as likely more wealthy, be well equipped for war.
Basic equipment would be the shield and spear, with more prestige items of armour (helmets, mail), weaponry (swords) and such things as horses and chariots being added. However, as we possess a very small fraction, in actual finds, of weapons that existed and we don't know how many warriors there were then we have no real way of knowing how common swords would have been among the British warrior community.
However, looking at similar later period warrior societies, then swords are costly status items as well as tools of war.
There is no doubt that some weapons are very highly decorated, something that happens in later periods too (such as Saxon and Viking swords) , but many would appear to be pretty basic. Radomir Pleiner, in his book on the Celtic Sword, notes that the quality of the blade may vary considerably probably depending on the materials used (which vary by region) and the maker themselves.
How did they use swords ?
Swords are always single hand weapons, used in conjunction with your shield.
The quality of blades in this period varies enormously. The raw
material itself is a problem, in addition to an efficient smelting process and
the ability of the weapon-smith themselves. Blades could easily be soft and
liable to bend, brittle enough to break and definitely chip when struck against
The best way to illustrate the diversity is to show you a few
Cotterdale Sword (British Museum).
Compare this to the Asby Scar sword above ..
Hod Hill Sword (British Museum)
The fittings would have been wrapped around wooden cores (now rotted)
See a possible construction by Al-Hamdd Trading Post
First of all, the Hollywood image of warriors sticking (sharp) swords through their belts or carrying them round in their hands all the time are not correct. Many swords are a costly status items and care would be shown in how they are maintained and transported. An expensive sword would be merit an expensive scabbard.
Many swords are found without any scabbard at all, even in graves, which would indicate either that the sword was deposited without one (which is less likely in a grave) or that the scabbard was made from an organic material that has rotted away (such as wood, leather or cloth).
Some swords are found with traces of wood around the blade indicating that wooden scabbards (without any metal fittings) were used. In addition, some have all metal scabbards, which survive very well.
The method of scabbard suspension on metal scabbards that survive is a loop or runner that is riveted directly to the scabbard itself. The sword belt or baldric would then pass through this loop. It is likely that simpler wooden scabbards would have utilised a similar method with organic components.
Additional information on belts and baldrics is covered in the Sword Belts article.
Cotterdale scabbard ( which goes with the cotterdale sword above)
Isleham Scabbard (top).
British scabbards are invariably constructed in two parts. One half of the scabbard is bent around the edges of the sword blade and the the other half is a simple plate the slides down (fairly tightly it must be said). The mouthpiece, chape (the piece on the bottom end of the scabbard) and ny extra bands then hold the two plate securely.
Some scabbards of Indian manufacture are WELDED, which is wrong.
Isleham Scabbard (bottom)
Stanwick Scabbard (top).
This one is unusual in that it uses strips that are held together with copper alloy bands.
Stanwick Scabbard (bottom)
All swords should come with an appropriate scabbard. Leather, cloth, wood and two piece metal scabbards are all acceptable.
Matt in the group has made several swords that are fantastic representations .
Swords to avoid
There are no good quality, accurate weapons available "off the
You can avoid, with almost 100% certainty, any weapon advertised as a "Celtic sword". Most of them look this one, below:
This weapon has too many faults to list and there are no parts on it that are recoverable.
Deepeeka make a "celtic sword" that from the picture looks ok (right)
When we first started out, as a group, we were supplied this as "accurate" and "usable". We now know better (and no longer deal with the chap that told us that).
Now, it is possible to do a hefty amount of work and make something from this sword but it's probably as quick to make one that is right from scratch.
|More information on making swords and suchlike: