A 1,200-year-old Viking sword emerges from an English river

A magnet fisher was astonished to find a rare Viking sword dating back to the 9th or 10th century in the River Cherwell in Oxfordshire. The corroded weapon, which was confirmed by experts as a genuine artifact from the Viking Age, sheds light on the history of conflict and culture in medieval England.

The discovery of the sword

Trevor Penny, a member of the Thame Magnet Fishing group, was searching for lost and discarded objects in the river near Enslow in November 2023. He had only found scaffolding poles that day, until he pulled out something that looked like a sword. He was not sure what it was at first, but his friend recognized it as a very old weapon.

“I wasn’t entirely sure what it was at first. Others confirmed it was certainly very old,” Penny said. He uploaded images of the sword to Google and found out that it resembled a Viking sword. He contacted the Oxfordshire county liaison officer responsible for recording archaeological finds and took the sword to be examined by experts.

The sword, which was only provisionally dated until now, has been authenticated as Viking and estimated to date as far back as 1,200 years ago. It is one of the few intact swords from that period that have been found in England.

The significance of the sword

The sword represents a period of turmoil and transformation in medieval England, when the Vikings, who were originally pagans from Scandinavia, raided, conquered and traded with the ruling Saxons. The Vikings set foot on British soil in the 8th century, having attacked a monastery on Lindisfarne, an island off Britain’s northeast coast, in 793. Similar raids in Britain occurred for several centuries and escalated after 835, when larger Viking fleets started arriving and fighting royal armies.

A 1,200-year-old Viking sword emerges

British kings gradually reconquered territory seized by the Vikings throughout the 10th century and unified what was a patchwork of kingdoms into a new realm called Englalond. Viking incursions and periods of rule continued until the 11th century, but the Viking Age ended following the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, with the defeat of the king of Norway, Harald III Sigurdsson, by the Saxons.

The sword hails from a time when England was divided, and skirmishes between the two factions were common. Historical records reveal that in 851, Danish Vikings landed near Plymouth and plundered Canterbury and London before being repelled by Anglo-Saxon forces led by King Ethelwulf of Wessex.

The sword is also a testament to the craftsmanship and culture of the Vikings, who were known for their metalworking skills and artistic designs. The sword has a double-edged blade and a cross-shaped hilt, which may have been influenced by Christian symbols. The sword is heavily corroded, but traces of decoration may still be visible.

The fate of the sword

The sword is currently in the care of Oxford museum services and may eventually be put on display. Penny expressed pride in his contribution to uncovering and preserving a piece of history: “It was a proud moment to find it.”

However, Penny also faced some challenges regarding ownership and legalities. Magnet fishing, a hobby that involves searching for metal objects in bodies of water using powerful magnets, requires permission, and any discoveries belong to the landowner. In this case, there was a dispute with the landowner and the rivers trust. However, after receiving a legal document from the trust, which stipulated that the sword must be passed to a museum, Penny ensured its transfer.

The significance of the discovery resonated with archaeological experts, who underscored the rarity of finding intact swords and treasures from the Viking Age. They also praised Penny for reporting his find and cooperating with the authorities.

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