Sue Brunning

The ‘Living’ Sword in Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia, c. 500-1100

My research explores the relationship between two-edged swords and their wielders in Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavian between ca. 500 and 1100. It is particularly concerned with the perception of these weapons as ‘living’ artefacts. Two interlinked avenues of ‘life’ are considered:

(1) The notion that, and means by which, swords might acquire biographies, personalities and other anthropomorphic qualities;

(2) The nature of the relationship between swords and warriors, as opposed to other social groups including women. Swords provided their wielders with an almost unique proximity to bloodshed by comparison with other weapons, and this is considered an overlooked factor in the personification and symbolic potency of swords in early medieval society. 

Evidence from Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia is compared in order to identify similarities and differences between these two cultures, which are commonly merged together in warrior culture studies. The long time-span was chosen to explore how perceptions of swords developed over time in accordance with key social and religious changes, including the decline of furnished burial in England, the influence of Christianity and conversion, and the period of Viking expansion.

My approach is interdisciplinary, discussing archaeological, iconographic and textual evidence within a carefully-constructed methodological framework informed. The archaeological section focuses upon instances of wear, repair and modification on metal sword-fittings, and the positioning of swords relative to other weapons in graves. The iconographic section analyses the depiction of swords in Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian art. The textual section considers the presentation of swords in early medieval poetry.


 Educational background

  • BA, History, University of Kent, 2002
  • MA by research, Early Medieval History, University of Kent, 2005

Conference presentations:

Early Medieval Archaeology Student Symposium, held at Sheffield University, May 2009

War and Medieval Communities 2009, held at the University of Glasgow, 3-5 September 2009

  • At Gamla Uppsala in Sweden, on a research trip to study the swords from Valsgärde
  • Examining a Kentish sword for signs of wear

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