The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Sword
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • France, probably
  • 9th century or 10th century
  • Iron or steel, silver-rich copper alloy
  • Length: 76.5 cm
    Width: 5.4 cm
    Weight: 1.14 kg
  • Incised mark: 'HLI'
  • A456
  • European Armoury I
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Sword, the hilt comprised of a pommel formed of two layers, the upper divided into five lobes, the underside of the lower part is pierced with two holes; short straight guard, roughly square in section and rounded at the ends; small holes are sunk at either end similar to those under the pommel. The sides of the guard are matted with fine close-set vertical incisions for taking overlaid silver-rich copper alloy decoration, some of which remains. Incised on the forward face of the guard are the letters HLI: the grip is now lost. The blade is broad, double-edged and has a shallow fuller running down the middle on both sides nearly to the point, and bears traces of ornament, or of an inscription, down the centre.
    Probay Frankish, 9th or 10th century.

    This sword is one of a group of five extant examples having inscribed guards, four of which were made the subject of a study by Dr. Adolph Mahr, Ein Wilkingerschwert mit deutschem Namen aus Irland in Mannus: Zeitschrift für Vorgeschicte. VI. Erganzungband, 1928, pp. 240-52. The other four examples are: (2) in the University Museum at Oslo, from Melhus, Norway, signed HLITER; (3) and (4) in the National Museum of Ireland; one of which comes from the Kilmainham and Islandbridge excavation and is signed HARTOLFR; the other was found in the crannog in Ballinderry Bog in 1928 and is inscribed HILTPREHT. Dr. Mahr refers to a fourth sword 'aus Frankreich' inscribed HLITR, but was unaware that it had long since passed into the Wallace Collection. His knowledge of its existence was derived from Petersen, De Norske Vikingesverd, 1919, pp. 109-10, who followed Lorange (1889), who in his turn only knew of it from the illustration in Viollet-le-Duc, when it was in the Nieuwerkerke Collection; (5) a fifth sword of this group has been described by F. Morawe in Mannus XI, 1929, pp.292 ff. It is inscribed HIFIIF REHT HILTIP REHT and was formerly in the Zeughaus at Berlin.
    The first three letters HLI on one side of the guard of A456 are quite distinct, the rest of the inscription, which may be as Mahr suggested similar to that on the Oslo sword is not clear.
    The sword belongs to the type classified by Petersen (op. cit.) under Type K, of which he lists thirteen examples, and attributes them to the early ninth century (Laking, European Armour I, pp. 14-15, 62, placed number A456 much too late when he described it as 9th century). Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who refers to this form of sword as Type IV in his London Museum pamphlet, London and the Vikings, 1927 put the date between 850-950 A.D.