Did medieval swords have jeweled hilts?

Popular culture is awash in images of medieval swords covered in jewels, but was this actually a thing that happened?  Today we examine the question and take a close look at four swords and daggers from the Oakeshott Institute collection that feature shiny decorations.

While some swords from the so-called Dark Ages (more properly known as the Migration Period) did indeed have jeweled hilts, by the medieval period this was much less common.  As culture changed over this thousand year period aesthetics and style also changed.  Whereas earlier pre-viking swords were sometimes inlaid with semi-precious stones, like the cut garnet in the hilt of the Sutton Hoo sword, medieval swords were much more stark, embracing a style that was rather minimalist.  

hilt Sutton hoo

Hilt elements of the 6th century Sutton Hoo sword from the British Museum

12th century sword

Contrast the earlier piece with this 12th century sword from Arms and Armor that has the classic, relatively unadorned cruciform style.

Check out the video below!

Sword border

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985

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