XVa: A Cut and Thrust Sword from the Castillon Find

Find place  Dordogne River upstream from Castillon-la Battaille
Collection Private 
 Date 1410 to 1453 AD
 Condition Excavated, overall with mild to very focally moderate pitting; the blade solid and straight.
Literature Oakeshott (1984, 1993)

This sword is typical of Oakeshott's type XVa, which is the longer hand-and-a-half variant of type XV, adapted for thrusting coincident with the development of plate armour. Types XV and XVa may be found throughout Europe in contexts from as early as the late 13th century through to the middle of the 16th century. Characteristic of this type are blade edges tapering symmetrically as relatively straight lines from the crossguard to the tip and a flattened diamond cross-section with a well-defined central ridge running down the center of each face. In this example, the four blade facets (two to each side) are quite flat; others of type XVa may be mildly concave (or hollow ground).

The long iron pommel is of fish-tail form fanning out towards its end and narrowing towards the blade to merge with the grip. Such pommels, we learn from Oakeshott (1993, p. 12) are commonly observed in Italian and Flemish paintings from the 1420's through to the end of the 15th Century and in English effigies of the 1440's as well. The twine wrapped grip in the photograph above is a modern reconstruction; the naked tang may be viewed in an illustration in Oakeshott (1984, p. 9). The iron crossguard widens over and towards the tip of the blade and terminates in bulbous tips.

Latten (brass) inlays are present on each face of the blade several inches from the hilt; the illustrations above are oriented with the hilt toward's the viewer's right. Upon one face is a "running wolf" of Passau or Solingen (for a chart of the evolution of these marks see Wagner, 1967, pl. 81, p. 109) as well as a smaller adjacent mark of three lines more towards the hilt. On the opposite face is an inlay interpreted as representing a bishop's crosier.

Six swords sold in Geneva, Switzerland at Christie's in 1977 were the first public clue of the then recent discovery of a large find of excavated medieval swords. Additional swords of similar types were also being sold privately, and a succession of them later turned up in sale after sale at Christie's in London. Understandably, the finder was very secretive about such a find, but details have slowly leaked out over the ensuring two decades and the significance of this group of swords is now fairly well established. Ewart Oakeshott has published a series of articles in which speculations rise and fall with further information. Those in search of an enjoyable mental exercise should avoid the next paragraph of this page and instead read the following four references in chronological order: 1. Oakeshott, Ewart. "A River-Find of 15th Century Swords," in Stuber, Karl and Wetter, eds., Blankwaffen: Festschrift Hugo Schneider zu seinem 65 Geburtstag, Zurich, 1982, p. 17 - 32. 2. Oakeshott (1984)  3. Oakeshott (Records, 1991, p. 11) and  4. Oakeshott (1993).

This sword is one of the best preserved from a find of 15th century swords from the Bordeaux region of France in the mid-1970's. Initially, details about the find-place and number of swords were tightly held secrets. Eventually, over the years, it has been ultimately disclosed that eighty swords were found together in two casks associated with a sunken barge in the Dordogne River, upstream from Castillon-la-Battaille, and about half-way from that town to the site of the last battle of the Hundred Years' War which took place on July 18, 1453. Oakshott's ultimate conclusion is that this group of swords most likely represents spoils collected from the battlefield just after that battle and lost in shipment.

The swords in the group fall into three basic types, with a few exceptions as must be expected with any handmade artifacts. Swords of "Group A" generally have heavy wheel pommels with a central recess on each face, a single-handed grip, and a crossguard with tips gently downcurved towards the blade. The blades will generally be of types XV or XVIII and have a flattened diamond cross-section with a variable degree of concavity (hollow-grind) upon the blade facets. See Oakeshott Records (1991), examples XV.5, XV.8, XV.11, XVIII.6. Swords of "Group B" are like the present example, with "fish-tail" pommel, hand-and-a-half grip length, a crossguard with bulbous ends and a longer blade, and generally will be of type XVa or XVIIIa. See Oakeshott Records (1991), examples XV.2, XVa.3, XVa.4, XVa.5. "Group 3" swords are few in number and of type XX. See Oakeshott Records (1991), example XXa.2.

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Version 1.01 ~ 25 Dec 1999 ~ Copyright © 1999 by Lee A. Jones