What is a Seax?

The Seax or Sax, and several variations, is an old English or Anglo Saxon word for knife. It has come to define several forms of related knives across northern Europe from the late Roman to early medieval period. These knives varied in size from a few inches in total length to forms that were sword length.  Although some examples were relatively utilitarian, many were highly decorative prestige pieces made with complex pattern welding, fullers, and inlays of silver, copper, or gold.  

Seax of Beagnoth

The Seax of Beagnoth at the British Museum, a Langseax of 72cm, highly decorated

Among the defining characteristics of these knives is a single cutting edge and a whittle or rat-tail tang, usually without a bolster or pommel (although there are examples with both).  

British Museum seax

A 10th Century Seax in the British Museum, highly decorated, overall length of 32cm

Most grips on Seax are made from organic materials and almost all were probably wood. In our reproductions we have had customers request other materials like bone and antler which may have been used in period but have left little evidence of definitive use in the archeological record.

hunting knife of Charlemagne

The so-called Hunting Knife of Charlemagne in the Aachen Cathedral Treasury.  Complete with wooden grip and sheath dating from the 8th century (though the sheath is probably later).

Arms & Armor has made these knives for many years on a custom basis, and we continue to take commissions for them. There are so many variations that most customers have one particular form in mind when ordering and this allows us to meet their expectations. The most popular style that we have been asked to make is the broke-back Seax, which is characterized by an otherwise unusual shape in which the cutting edge is relatively straight while the back edge plunges to the point at a sharp angel, usually a third to a quarter of the way from the tip, as seen below. The front and back edges of these knives are rarely parallel, and the knife often reaches its widest point immediately before the back edge angle shift.


 Broke back seax with ash grip and copper bolster.

Although the broken-backed variety is the most common that we reproduce, it is by no means the only, or even the most prevalent of the historical types, which are illustrated below, they are merely the most iconic.
  Diagram found in H. Westphal, 1991. "Untersuchungen an Saxklingen des sächsischen Stam-mesgebietes: Schmiedetechnik, Typologie, Dekoration. Studienzur Sachsenforschung 7, Hildesheim 1991, 2002"
Most Seax blades have a triangular cross section with the back edge being the widest, with a consistent taper to the cutting edge. Most period blades appear to have been made of a composite construction of pattern welded iron and steel, with fullers either symmetrical or asymmetrical as below.

Diagram from H. Westphal, 2002."Franken oder Sachsen? Untersuchungen an frühmit- telalterlichen Waffen. Studien zur Sachsenforschung 14, Olden- burg 2002."

Antler gripped Seax in hand

A broken back Seax with antler grip and bronze bolster. 


Custom Seax with scabbard

 Seax with walnut handle and leather and bronze sheath


Walnut gripped seax pair

A pair of Seax with and without fullers 


Seax pair with wooden grips and bronze fittings


Seax with black scabbard


Seax with brok back blade and brown scabbard.

Antler gripped Seax with bronze leather scabbard and bronze fittings

Five seax from Arms & Armor varying sizes

To discuss a custom order please contact us via this form

Finally, a great place to learn more about historical Seax is the Facebook group The Seax Files, which maintains a helpful library of publications and hosts lots of discussion of historical pieces and reproductions.  


divider swords

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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