The Reichsschwert - The sword of Saint Maurice
Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani
A Story of Reconstruction - Parts I and II
1. General Information About the Reichsschwert
The Reichsschwert, the sword of St. Maurice (see Oakshott, 1991:56), is kept in Weltliche Schatzkammer in Vienna, Austria. In German literature, this sword is known as the Reichsschwert (The Sword of Empire or, freely translated, the Coronation Sword) (see Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995; although it should be noted that Seitz, 1965:140-141 also calls this sword the sword of Saint Maurice). In the following article, I will adhere to the German term Reichsschwert and use it consistently. Oakshott (1991:56) classifies the Reichsschwert in his classification as Type XI with a pommel type B and a long, slender cross. Additionally, he adds that the blade is 95.3 cm and dates it to 1040-1120 A.D.
2. The Blade
The blade is made of steel, has a total length of 110 cm, and is 95.3 cm long. There are fullers on both sides of the blade. The length of the fullers on both sides is 69.8 cm and is 0.9 cm wide (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:19). Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:19) points out that the blade is a Type 12 (Klingentyp 12) blade based on Geibig’s classification. According to Geibig, this blade type appeared around the end of the 12th century. Geibig proved that similar, narrow fullers of 1 cm width appeared around the 12th century A.D. (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:19). This type of blade can be differentiated from older types of swords of the 11th and mid-12th century that had wider and flatter fullers, often decorated with inlaid inscriptions. Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:19) points out that the Reichsschwert has two silver-inlaid maker’s mark of a simple cross crosslet in a sunwheel (Krückenkreuz), one on each side in the fullers.
3. The Handle Type
Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:23) states that the handle design corresponds to the Construction Type III (Konstruktionstyp III) by Geibig. In the following based on Schultze-Dörrlamm, 1995), each part of the handle type will be described in detail.
The mushroom-shaped pommel is made of gilded silver with curved, lower edges (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:23). Contrary to the assumption of Oakshott (1991:56) and North (1994:37), the pommel and crossguard of this sword are not made of iron but of silver as Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:23) rightly states. Additionally, in an email to Mr. Würkner on July 8, 2003, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna confirmed that the pommel and the handguard were not attracted to a magnet, ruling out that they were made of iron. A close look at the ends of the crossguard shows the silver underneath as the gilding is worn off partially in some parts. It should be noted that the gilding is now very faint. However, a colored copperplate engraving, made in 1750 A.D. and published in 1790 A.D. (see Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995: plate 2), clearly shows a very strong gilded pommel and crossguard that have the same color as the golden panels of the scabbard. Unfortunately, in many books that depict Reichsschwert, either the pictures are black and white or the color pictures do not show the gilding very well (for examples, see the color depiction of Reichsschwert in North, 1994:37; for black-and-white pictures, see Seitz, 1965:140-141, and Oakshott, 1997: plate 5B; 1991:56). One exception is the color picture showed by Leimsidor (1999:268) in the book Les Grandes Trésors (the original title in Italian is I Grandi Tesori). There, the color picture clearly shows the gilding (see Leimsidor, 268). Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:23) points out that the shape of this type of pommel had been in use for a long time and even appeared in the 11th century. She further assumes that the early appearance of this type of pommel could be the reason for Oakshott’s assumption that Otto IV could have his coat of arms engraved on an older pommel. The engraved coat of arms (or personal arms) of Otto IV (1198-1218 A.D.) of a demi eagle and three leopards on one side is upside down, meaning that it would have been in the right position when the sword bearer carried the sword with its tip pointing up in front of the emperor. On the other hand, the other side with the engraved coat of arms of the Reichsadler (Eagle of the Empire) or Arms of the Empire was in the right direction when the sword was carried in its belt on the waist or when the point of the sword was pointing to the ground (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:25; see also Oakshott, 1991:56). The engraved inscriptions on the pommel on both sides are coronation liturgy and taken from Psalm 144 (Vulgate number 143) and read as the following (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:25):
BENEDICTVS . Do(minv)S . DE(v)S . QVI . DOCET . MANV(s) +
[Be] Praised [my] Lord [and] God, who teaches [my] hands [to fight]
Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:25) states that the inscriptions on the pommel and on the crossguard resemble each other and should have been produced at the same time. Further, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:26) explains that the slender crossguard is made of gilded silver, is 19.7 cm wide, and narrows slightly towards its ends. Following Schulze-Dörrlamm, in the first view, the crossguard alone cannot be used for dating purposes as this type of crossguard can be observed on many swords from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. However, as the crossguard extends 7.4 cm from the blade on each side, the crossguard should be from the late development stage of this typology and should have been made, at the earliest, during the 12th century. The upper side and the bottom side of the crossguard of the Reichsschwert are engraved with parallel lines close to the edges of the crossguard. Additionally, there are nielloed tendrillar ornamentations on the sides of the opening for the tang of the blade. Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:27) emphasizes that she has not seen similar ornamentations on the crossguard of other swords of the same type and adds that the research done by Geibig shows that the majority of crossguards and pommels of the swords from the 10th to the 12th centuries do not have any decorations. On the front and back of the crossguard of the Reichsschwert, there is an engraved verse of the lauds, the tripartite canticles, which were used to render homage to the newly crowned monarch. If one holds the Reichsschwert with its tip of the blade pointing up, the following inscription is visible on the back of the crossguard (note that there are periods between the words) (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:27):
+ CRISTVS . VINCIT . CRISTVS . REIGNAT . CRIST’(vs) : INPERAT
[Christus triumphs – Chrisus reigns – Christus rules].
Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:27) explains that the better theological translation
of the Latin lauds above would be the following: Christus the Victor, Christus the King, Christus the Ruler. If the tip of the Reichsschwert points to the ground, a shortened form of the lauds can be read on the front side of the crossguard (note that there are colons between the words). Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:27):
CRISTVS : VINCIT : CRISTVS : REINAT
[Christus triumphs – Chrisus reigns].
The handwriting on the handguard resembles the inscriptions on the pommel. herefore, both should have been
engraved in the same time period (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:27). The tripartite canticles for Christ on the sword that were also used for religious and secular leaders should have been created during
the second half of the 8th century in France, and they should have been used in coronation liturgy for the first time during Easter of 774 A.D. after
Charlemagne conquered the Empire of Lombards or Longobards (Latin Langobardi) (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:27).
Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:27) adds that this Frankish-Roman type of lauds remained in use in the coronation ceremonies of kings until 1209 A.D. Then, Pope Innocent III introduced another coronation
liturgy for the coronation of Otto IV. The coronation liturgy did not include the above-mentioned lauds anymore. Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:27) explains that the reasons for the engraving of the
coronation liturgy in the Reichsschwert could be to protect the king from harm and mischief as the liturgy includes a war cry against all evil powers in nature and the world. Schulze-Dörrlamm adds
that people in medieval times believed in the apotropaic effect of this “spell” as the same inscription was engraved on bells, coins, and weapons. Further, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:27) quotes von
Schlosser, who explains that the inscriptions on the crossguard with the words REINAT and REIGNAT are a linguistic peculiarity that points to the southern [European] origin of the weapon. Based on
this, Weixlgärtner concludes that the sword should have an Italian origin (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:27). However, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:28) points out that Professor Max Pfister, Professor in Ordinary
for Romance languages and literature in the University of Saarbrücken, explains that the way of writing distinguishes the way a Romance-speaking person from the north as well as the south of France
should have used Medieval Latin. The form REIGNAT and REINAT point out that the writer pronounced regnat in a Romance language as (renat) and writes the grapheme n once as ign and once as in
Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:28) quotes Spender, who, based on the shape of the letters and the whole appearance, dates the inscriptions on the crossguard to the 11th century. Spender bases his assumption on the similarity of the inscriptions on the crossguard of the Reichsschwert to the inscriptions on the Reichskreuz (Empire Cross) of Conrad II and the inscriptions on the silver sheet of the Holy Lance that were ordered to be engraved by Henry IV. On the other hand, Schulze-Dörrlamm states that Fillitz suggests that the split ends of the letters and the clear tendency towards broken forms (especially C, R, V, and E) justify a later dating to the era of Otto IV.
The handle of the Reichsschwert is wrapped with a twisted silver wire. At both extreme ends of the handle, an extra twisted, gilded silver wire is wrapped around the handle. Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:28) states that Fillitz and Schramm, and Mütherich suggested that the silver wrapping should have originated from the 16th or 17th century. However, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:28) explains that similar wire wrappings could be seen in many medieval swords, such as a sword that was excavated from the Rhein River in Mainz (see Geibig, 1991: plate 76), the swords excavated from two Hungarian warrior graves from Beszterec-Gyalaptana of the late 10th century, the sword of Saint Stephan kept in the Treasury of Cathedral of Prague, the Viking swords from the 10th century from locations in Busdorf, Vesterhaug, and London, or with the sword with a round pommel from the late 12th century in Musée de l’Armée in Paris (see Seitz, 1965: plate 133). Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:28) quotes Geibig, who is of the opinion that medieval swords with handles wrapped in silver wires were mainly used for ceremonial purposes. Schulze-Dörrlamm points out that possibly only an aristocrat could have afforded a sword with silver wire wrapping on the handle.
4. The Dating and Origin of the Sword
Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:28) states that a detailed analysis of Reichsschwert shows that all parts of this weapon were made at the same time, meaning the end of 12th century, and the assumption that a new handle was added to a sword from the 11th century is not correct. Schulze-Dörrlamm adds that the sword is a typical weapon from the 12th century that is surely dated with the coat of arms of Otto IV (1198-1218). Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:29) proposes that the Reichsschwert was possibly used in the coronation of Otto IV in place of the other coronation sword from the Salian period. The Reichsschwert belongs to the group of Combination Type 18 (see Geibig, 1991: Cat.10) that appeared during the 12th century and remained in use until the 13th century. Following Geibig, as far as today’s Germany is concerned, swords of this type were limited to the southern parts of the country; however, similar types were found in many other European countries (Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:29-30). Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:30) explains that the Reichsschwert, with its steel blade, gilded silver crossguard, and pommel with engraved inscriptions and nielloed tendrillar ornamentations, stands out when compared to other Romanesque swords from Southern Germany of Germany as the crossguard and the pommel of latter swords were at best decorated with silver and brass inlaying or covered with a silver plate as is the case with the sword from Sallentin, Kr. Pyritz (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:30, plate 9). However, it is surprising to see that the Reichsschwert that was used for coronations of German kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire is kept with simple ornamentation when compared to the coronation sword of the French kings (the so-called Joyeuse) that has a pommel, handle, and crossguard made of pure gold, decorated with elaborate and ornated reliefs (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:30). Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:30) explains that as no other swords with similar maker’s mark were found, the question of where the sword was made cannot be answered with certainty. However, the sword could not have been made in Saxony, the area of origin of Otto IV, as the Romanesque Middle Latin inscribed on the crossguard makes likely France as the country of origin. Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:30) stresses that it is important to take into consideration that Otto IV, who was born as the second son of Henry the Lion in 1177 A.D., spent his youth in the court of his uncle, the King of England, who had nominated Otto IV as the Earl of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine four years before he became the German king. Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:30) proposes the possibility that Otto IV could have brought the sword from France that was later used for his coronation in Aachen in 1198 A.D.
According to Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:35), the scabbards of medieval swords were mostly made of wood or leather, and, therefore, the majority of them are not
extant. There are, of course, some exceptions, such as the leather scabbard on the belt of Saint Hadrian from the 13th century that is kept in Historisches Museum in Bamberg. Schulze-Dörrlamm
(1995:35) adds that the scabbard of the Reichsschwert is another rare example that has survived. The scabbard of the Reichsschwert is one of the most beautiful works on sword scabbards. It is 101 cm
long, 6.7 cm wide close to the scabbard mouth, and 3 cm close to the chape, meaning that it tapers towards its end (Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:117). The wooden scabbard consists of two slats of hard
olivewood, and it is encased with gold panels. The edges/corners of the scabbard are covered with bands of gold plates from the scabbard mouth to the scabbard chape. In the middle of these bands are
garnet stones in bezel settings, encircled with ringed pearl wires. The outer edges of these bands are also decorated with pearl wires. The gold panels on
the front and back of the scabbard have fourteen rectangular figures of standing kings in repoussé work. The figures are placed in a way that they are right way up (in the right position) if one
sword with the tip showing upward. Oakshott (1991:56) deducts from this fact that the Reichsschwert’s scabbard was solely made for ceremonial purposes (such as coronation purposes). Further, Oakshott suggests that the scabbard and the sword itself were made in the second half of the 11th century. Between each pair of panels, there is enamelling work in the form of tiny squares of red, white, and blue that are set in a diaper pattern (see Oakshott, 1991:56). Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:38) explains that the decisive hint that the scabbard was made during the Salian period and not during the era of Otto IV is due to the number, sequence, and identity of fourteen monarchs. Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:38) does not agree with the assumptions by Haupt (1939), Kahsnitz (1979), and Scharmm (1983), who suggest that the number of monarchs is a symbolic sequence of fourteen (2 times 7) of anonymous rulers. Moreover, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:39) explains that this is a sequence of German kings and emperors from Charlemagne to Henry III and states that the most important evidence for this assumption is that next to the youngest ruler, namely Louis IV, the Child (900-911 A.D.), there is a carved inscription “L : REX” (King L.). Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:39) stresses that many researchers either
understood it as a late addition or misinterpreted its meaning. If one counts the rulers from the scabbard mouth to the scabbard chape consecutively, then this figure can be only identical to the young and beardless king number six, namely the last Carolingian Ludwig IV, the Infant. This German monarch ruled from 900 until 911 A.D. and was never enthroned as the emperor. Ludwig IV is the only monarch on the scabbard that is provided with this letter. This is due to the fact that only German kings and emperors are portrayed on the scabbards and not the kings of West Franks and Italian monarchs who were crowned, such as Emperor Charles the Bald (875-877 A.D.). Additionally, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:39) states that this inscription does not take the division of the Empire of 876 A.D. into consideration because from the three sons of Louis the German or Louis the Second (843-876 A.D.), namely Charles, the Fat (876-887 A.D.), Carloman (King of 876-887 A.D.), and Louis III, the Younger (King of 876-882 A.D.), only Charles the Fat (876-887 A.D.) is portrayed on the scabbard. The reason for this is because Charles the Fat was the only one who was not only a king but also an emperor and who reunified the whole Empire under his rule. Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:39) does not agree with Speneder (1929), who considered the end of the sequence of the fourteen rulers with the Salian Conrad II (1024-1039 A.D.). She stresses that the end of the sequence is with the son of Conrad II, namely Henry III (1039-1056 A.D.). It is important to take into consideration that some of the rulers’ faces in gold repousée are crushed and not easily recognizable. However, the copper-plate engraving of the scabbard of the Reichsschwert from 1751 A.D. shows the figures in perfect state. So a comparison and identification could be made (see Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:18-124).
Charlemagne (in German Karl der Große) (768-814 A.D.), King and Emperor
Louis, the Pious (in German Ludwig der Fromme) (814-840 A.D.), King and
Louis, the German, also known as Louis the Second or Louis the Bavarian (in
German, Ludwig der Deutsche) (843-876 A.D.),
King Charles, the Fat (in German, Karl III. der Dicke), (876-887 A.D.), King and
Arnulf von Carinthia (in German, Arnulf von Kärnten), (887-889 A.D.), King and Emperor
Louis IV, the Child (in German, Ludwig IV. das Kind), (900-911 A.D.), King
Conrad I, of Germany (in German, Konrad I. von Franken), (911-918 A.D.),
King Henry I, of Germany (in German, Heinrich I.) (919-936 A.D.),
King Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor (in German, Otto I. der Große) (936-973 A.D.),
King and Emperor Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor (in German, Otto II.) (973-983 A.D.),
King and Emperor Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor (in German, Otto III.) (983-1002 A.D.),
King and Emperor Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor (in German, Heinrich II) (1002-1024 A.D.),
King and Emperor Conrad II, Holy Roman Emperor (in German, Konrad II) (1024-1039),
King and Emperor Henry III, the Black or the Pious (in German, Heinrich III) (1039-1056),
King and Emperor Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:39) adds that the very fact that the Salian Heinrich III is portrayed as the fourteenth and last king on the scabbard does not mean that the scabbard was made for him. Moreover, Schulze-Dörrlamm suggests that his son Henry IV (1056-1106 A.D.) should have ordered the scabbard to be made. She adds that the reason that he was not portrayed could be due to Christian humility or because of keeping the symmetry of the figures. Additionally,
Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:41) argues that the engraved inscription “L:REX” proves that the scabbard of the Reichsschwert was not made during the reign of Otto IV(1198-1218 A.D.). If it had been the case, a symbolic number from 2 times 7 rulers (the Christian symbolism for the numbers 2 and 7) would have been chosen instead, and the nomination of the young king with the number six would have not made sense. Contrary to the assumption of Fillitz (1954), who considers the inscription “L:REX” as cursoriness in engraving, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:41) identifies them as Latin capital letters. She adds that similar letters were used often on engraved Romanesque bronze bowls in the second half of the 12th and the 13th centuries; however, they were also used often in Ottonian and Salian eras. As evidence, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995:41) provides the name inscriptions next to the reliefs of King Otto III and the Empress Theophanu on the front cover of Codex Aureus of Echternach (985-991 A.D.) as well as the engraved portrait of Saint Mauritius on the back cover of Mauritius-Evangeliars of Mainz from the middle of the 11th century as well as the inscriptions on the gravestone of Archbichop Liemar from Bremen (died in1101 A.D.) (for further evidence that the sword scabbard was made during the second half of the 11th century, see Schulze-Dörrlamm, 1995:41-43).
6. Reconstruction of the Reichsschwert
It is important to take into consideration that Reichsschwert was already copied and reconstructed by Paul Beumers in 1915. This copy exactly matches the original in all aspects, meaning the whole sword and its scabbard, and is kept in Krönungssaal des Rathauses in Aachen (see Lauer, 2000:317). By the end of 2001, a team of German experts was set up to reconstruct this sword again. It is important to take into consideration that the scabbard was not planned to be copied but only the Reichsschwert itself. Instead of replicating the original scabbard, the team decided to make a wooden scabbard covered with leather outside and filled with sheepskin inside. This model was based on other medieval swords so that after the blade was oiled it can have been preserved accordingly. The team was set up as the following:
a) Mr. Frank Johannes: bladesmith with years of experience in forging and making European medieval and Rennaissance swords. He was responsible for forging the blade, mounting the crossguard and the pommel made by Mr. Fritz and Alexander Rottler, mounting the twisted silver wrapping and gilded silver wrappings made by Mr. Würkner on the handle, and making the wooden handle.
c) Mr. Alexander Rottler: a goldsmith who was responsible for preparing wax models of the crossguard and the pommel for the lost-wax process, adding the finishing touches on the final cast parts, adding the finishing touches to the engravings, making adjustments to the tang; niello, and partial enamelling.
As is known, many books show only one side of the Reichsschwert, meaning the side that shows the engraved Arms of the Empire (Eagle of the Empire) (see North, 1994:37; Seitz, 1965:140-141, and Oakshott, 1997: plate 5B; 1991:56), whereas the side of the engraved personal arms of Otto IV (1198-1218 A.D.), a demi-eagle and three leopards, is normally not shown. However, Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995) provides detailed pictures and drawings of different parts of the sword. Leimsidor (1999:268) also provides excellent pictures of the other side of the pommel, namely the engraved personal arms of Otto IV, a demi-eagle and three leopards. Fortunately, as mentioned above, all pictures, drawings, and dimensions of the Reichsschwert can be found in the very well-researched book by Ms. Mechthild Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995), entitled Das Reichsschwert: Ein Herrschaftszeichen des Saliers Heinrich IV und des Welfen Otto IV This book is an excellent academic book and the best text published on this magnificent sword. Additionally, Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna kindly provided Mr. Würkner and Mr. Rotler with exact dimensions and extra pictures, among them a color picture, showing the gilded pommel and crossguard. The end result of the work of this team of professionals was truly amazing. Mr. Johannes forged the blade based on the exact dimensions of the original blade. It is important to note that Mr. Johannes signed the blade not in the fuller but with his own mark, namely a cross crosslet, on the right side of the fuller, close to the crossguard. This was done to make a difference between this sword and the original one. Additionally, Mr. Johannes engraved the year of forging the blade, 2002, on the tang of the blade. Then, he sent the blade to Mr. Firtz Rottler and Mr. Alexander Rottler. They made the pommel and the crossguard based on original crossguard and pommel. First, the pommel and the crossguard were made in wax. Next, through the lost wax process, the molten massive silver 925/000 was poured into the mold. After solidification, Mr. Alexander Rottler did the final touches to the engravings and partially nieolled and enameled the crossguard and the pommel. The attention to detail of these gentlemen was truly amazing. Then, the blade, the pommel, and the crossguard were sent to Mr. Johannes again. In the next step, Mr. Johannes assembled the crossguard, the handle, the pommel, and the twisted silver wires on the sword handle. Afterward, the sword was sent to Mr. Würkner, who made the wooden scabbard. The scabbard was made of two slats of hard olivewood that were fitted with sheepskin inside and glued to each other. Then, the scabbard was covered with claret-colored leather. The tip of the scabbard and the belt buckles were made of brass. The end result is truly amazing and beautiful.
7. Measurements of the Copy of the Sword
Total length:110 cm
Length of the blade:95.3 cm
Length of the fullers:69.8
Width of the fullers:0.9 cm
Width of the crossguard:19.7 cm
Width of the blade at the forte:4.5 cm
Point of balance:14 cm to the guard
Center of percussion:27 cm to the tip
The weight of the gilded silver crossguard and pommel:600 grams
Weight of the sword without scabbard:1380 grams
Weight of the sword with scabbard:2095 grams
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© M.Khorasani Consulting