The Flasby Sword

An Iron Age sword and scabbard discovered in 1848 at Flasby Hall, near Skipton. This object dates back to the 1st Century A.D.

The Flasby Sword is an example of the weaponry made and used by the Brigante who were the main tribe in North Eastern England at that time. It can help us to learn more about the occupation of the area, as well as about craftsmanship and changing technology.

Use

An iron sword inside a wood lined bronze scabbard such as this would likely have been owned by a chief or leader of an army. Swords were generally thought to be aristocratic items, due to their expense and craftsmanship. The basic equipment of the Iron Age would have consisted of a spear, often with an iron tip, and a shield. Swords were reserved for those of a higher position and wealth. The use of bronze as opposed to iron for the scabbard is again representative of a high status item.

It is also possible that weaponry, such as swords, were used as gifts to the gods and spirits. This has been argued due to the number of swords and spears discovered when dredging rivers, as rivers were thought to be connected to the spirit world. This could suggest that the items were placed there deliberately by the owners.

The Flasby scabbard shows signs that it underwent repair at some point in its ancient past. On the sheath’s lower plate two sections of the side binding have been replaced. This replacement section was then attached by a domed rivet. This repair work again indicates the level of value this item held for its owners.

Style and Material

There are several features of the sword and scabbard which indicate that it was of British rather than continental origin. Swords from this period were uniformly made of iron, whereas scabbards made from bronze were a particularly British choice. The scabbards would often have some form of decoration incised along the length. Another British feature was the decrease in the width of the sword, while the importance of the chape, the metal tip, developed. This was seen through the increasingly elaborate forms they took, such as the fish tail shape of the Flasby scabbard.

The sword and scabbard would have been made by different craftsmen, as they would require different skills. The sword itself is 50cm long and is of a cocked-hat hilt type. This arched hilt would then mirror the arched mouth of the scabbard. Iron swords required considerable time and skill to make.

Scabbards are particularly useful for historians to study. While swords can be more uniform in their construction and style, particular characteristics of scabbards are more easily recognised through study of their form and manufacture.

The scabbard has a suspension loop attached to the centre. The loop was made from a bronze strip, attached to the body of the scabbard with the use of rivets. The central placement of the loop would have affected the way in which the sword was worn on the body. A central loop meant that the sheath would have been worn positioned at the hip and probably hung from a belt. The identification of such a placement and positioning is another feature used to help classify Iron Age scabbard, and therefore help date this find to the early 1st century AD.

The scabbard also has a decorative strip. This was originally attached by the use of four large domed rivets and three smaller rivets. However, there are only two rivets which now remain. This decoration is only faintly incised.

Preservation

The study of the sword was initially problematic due to initial concerns regarding its condition. Preservation was also considered difficult due to the use of two different types of metal; iron for the sword and bronze for the scabbard. However, the correct preservation was crucial in order to maintain the item, as well as to allow more detailed study of both the sword and the scabbard. Due to these concerns it was decided by the conservator when the sword was sent to the British Museum in the early 1960s, that it would not be possible to separate the two. This decision was largely a result of the levels of ‘weeping’ or corrosion, meaning that the sword was at risk of deteriorating. This active corrosion had caused the sword to become welded to the scabbard. Although the sword could not be removed from the scabbard, it was possible to clean the scabbard and any parts of the blade that were visible.

Information compiled by Elizabeth Faley

The Front View of the Flasby Sword

The Front View of the Flasby Sword

The Back View of the Flasby Sword

The Back View of the Flasby Sword

An Illustration of the Flasby Sword

An Illustration of the Flasby Sword

A Labelled Diagram of the parts of a Sword and Scabbard

A Labelled Diagram of the parts of a Sword and Scabbard