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The Seax of Beagnoth, an Enchanted Blade

Updated on December 11, 2015
Pollyanna Jones profile image

Pollyanna writes about folklore, magic, history and legends, focussing on British, Irish, Germanic, and Celtic cultures.

Detail of the blade, showing the full Anglo-Saxon Futhorc runic alphabet.
Detail of the blade, showing the full Anglo-Saxon Futhorc runic alphabet. | Source

A Lucky Find

In 1857, Henry J. Briggs, was milling about on the banks of the Thames at Battersea in London, when he found something lying in the mud. A labourer by trade, he pulled the metal item out of the sticky brown river sediment and wiped it clean. He realised that it was a treasure at once, and took it to the British Museum who bought it off the man. Henry had stumbled across one of the most important Anglo-Saxon relics ever discovered.

It is hard to imagine this beautiful blade lying in the muddy banks of the Thames at Battersea, London.
It is hard to imagine this beautiful blade lying in the muddy banks of the Thames at Battersea, London. | Source

The blade at first was wrongly described by Augustus Woollaston Franks, who worked in the Antiquities Department as a "scramasax, in the style of the Franks". We know now that it is an Anglo-Saxon blade from the 10th Century, in a style known as a long seax.

Made from iron, this wicked looking weapon was embellished with golden runes and decorations along one edge on both sides of the blade. Further study has shown that these decorations were fused in to the blade, with copper, silver, and brass wire delicately placed into grooves cut out into the iron. Lozenges of these precious metals were also worked into the edge, making it a valuable and special thing indeed.

But the most valuable attribute of this blade is that it shows the only example of the full Kentish Anglo-Saxon Futhorc runic alphabet ever found, along with the name, "Beagnoth".

The Thames Scramasax
The Thames Scramasax | Source
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc and Beagnoth's name marked on the blade.
Anglo-Saxon Futhorc and Beagnoth's name marked on the blade. | Source

Why the Runes?

Inscribing the entire alphabet onto one's weapon is not something that we would consider doing in this day and age. But to the Anglo-Saxons, and people of the Norse communities, runes could imbue power.

The Old English epic, Beowulf, features a few lines on how runes would be used to mark the name of the sword's owner on the hilt:

"Swā wæs on ðǣm scennum   scīran goldes
þurh rūn‐stafas   rihte gemearcod,
geseted and gesǣd,   hwām þæt sweord geworht,
īrena cyst   ǣrest wǣre,
wreoþen‐hilt ond wyrm‐fāh."

"On clear gold labels let into the cross-piece
it was rightly told in runic letters,
set down and sealed, for whose sake it was
that the sword was first forged, that finest of iron,
spiral-hilted, serpent-bladed". [1]

The Codex Regius offers more clues into this practice. An Icelandic tome that records many old stories of the Norse, it contained this extract in the story known as Sigrdrífumál, meaning "Sayings of the Victory-Bringer":

"Sigrúnar þú skalt kunna,
ef þú vilt sigr hafa,
ok rísta á hialti hiǫrs,
sumar á véttrimum,
sumar á valbǫstum,
ok nefna tysvar Tý"

"Victory runes you must know
if you will have victory,
and carve them on the sword's hilt,
some on the grasp
and some on the inlay,
and name Tyr twice."
[2]

These accounts have helped add weight to the debate that runes were used in a magical manner, as well as being letters in a runic alphabet. Some people think that the runes marked on this long seax were intended to make the blade powerful as they harnessed the energies of all of the known runes.

How an Anglo-Saxon warrior may have looked.
How an Anglo-Saxon warrior may have looked. | Source

Who was Beagnoth?

We can't assume that Beagnoth was the owner of the blade. He might have the person that forged and decorated the long seax, or the rune-master that wrote out the futhorc. Some believe that the name could have been that of a person who had the blade commissioned as a gift. It might even been the name of the blade itself. If we think of modern comparisons, Beagnoth might have been a heroic character after which the blade was named.

The answer sadly, is that we will never know.

Detail of the decoration on the Thames Scramasax, with Beagnoth's name on the right.
Detail of the decoration on the Thames Scramasax, with Beagnoth's name on the right. | Source

So is it an Enchanted Blade?

Lying for hundreds of years in the stinking silt of the River Thames, we can only wonder how it got there, and what might have happened to the rest of the weapon. It is a miracle that it had not been washed out to sea, to be lost forever.

Marked with decorative patterns and runes, it certainly has a special energy about it, and is a prize treasure of the British Museum.

Whether it served a magical purpose or not, the fact that this blade has been found and holds such a precious record of a lost language of England, makes it magical enough for me.

Over to You!

Do you think the runes added power to the blade?

See results

Sources

[1] Michael Alexander, Beowulf: A Verse Translation - ISBN 978-0140449310

[2] Sven Birger Fredrik Jansson, Runes in Sweden - ISBN 978-9178440672

© 2015 Pollyanna Jones

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    • profile image

      Wendlewulf 2 years ago

      I have 3 x seax. My eating blade is based on the one found in the River Wandle at Wandsworth; my hand seax is based on the one from the River Medway; my lang seax is based on the Battersea one. All have Runes inscribed on them. I am from Wandsworth, my parents from Battersea and my wife is a Kentish Maid.

    • Pollyanna Jones profile image
      Author

      Pollyanna Jones 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks Randy, it's such an incredible item isn't it.

    • Randy Horizon profile image

      Randy Hirneisen 2 years ago from Philadelphia

      Great story! A beautiful relic blade with runes. Well researched and well written. Thanks for sharing.

    • Pollyanna Jones profile image
      Author

      Pollyanna Jones 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Such a lucky find, and so important to improve our understanding of their alphabet.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      Very interesting. It is amazing to find something that has been lost for so long