Brunning Susan, The ‘living’ sword in early medieval northern Europe

Brunning Susan, The ‘living’ sword in early medieval northern Europe : an interdisciplinary study, Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2013, (dir. A. Reynolds, J. Tanner, C. Abram, University College London)

Résumé/abstract :
This thesis explores perceptions of two-edged swords as ‘living’ artefacts in Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia between c. 500 and 1100. Taking inspiration from recent anthropological and archaeological research into ‘artefact biography’, it considers two interlinked avenues of ‘life’: (1) the notion that swords could acquire life-histories, personalities and other person-like qualities; and (2) the nature of their relationship with warriors (as opposed to other members of society). The thesis compares Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia across a broad chronological period in order to identify how attitudes towards swords developed over time. The almost unique proximity to bloodshed which swords, by contrast with other weapons, provided for their wielders is considered key in fuelling perceptions of swords as ‘living’ artefacts, and strengthening the bond between warrior and weapon. This special connection between swords and violence is interpreted as contributing to the symbolic potency of swords in early medieval Northern Europe. This thesis adopts an interdisciplinary approach, discussing archaeological, pictorial and written evidence within a carefully-constructed methodological framework. The different sources are integrated in a discussion chapter which attempts to arrive at a holistic understanding of perceptions of ‘living’ swords in early medieval Northern Europe. Finally, the interdisciplinary method deployed in the thesis is assessed, and suggestions for future interdisciplinary research frameworks are made.

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