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Living by the SwordWeapons and Material Culture in France and Britain, 600-1600$
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Kristen B. Neuschel

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501753336

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501753336.001.0001

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Swords and Oral Culture in the Early Middle Ages

Swords and Oral Culture in the Early Middle Ages

(p.24) Chapter 1 Swords and Oral Culture in the Early Middle Ages
(p.iii) Living by the Sword

Kristen B. Neuschel

Cornell University Press

This chapter discusses the relationship between swords and oral culture in the early Middle Ages. It sketches the history of the manufacture of early medieval swords, then looks at evidence of those swords' symbolic lives revealed by archaeological finds, namely grave goods and the reconstruction of rituals that accompanied their deposit. The chapter then considers written evidence of swords, particularly in early wills that record both the bequeathing but also the prior circulation of a sword among allies and kin. Finally, it turns to literature, to Beowulf and its near-contemporary, The Battle of Maldon, to explore the roles those poems ascribe to warriors' (and monsters') swords. Early medieval literature is filled with references to the aesthetic qualities and the mysterious origin of swords and their constituent parts, as well as to their power to strike fear, to wound, and to kill.

Keywords:   swords, oral culture, early Middle Ages, early medieval swords, grave goods, rituals, Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon, warriors, early medieval literature

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