Our list of the top 10 swords – real and fictional – from the Middle Ages
In the Arthurian Legends there are two versions of how King Arthur received this sword. In the first version, he obtained his throne by pulling this sword from a huge stone.
In the other version, it was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake and that, when the king lay mortally wounded after his last battle, he ordered one of his knights to throw back into the lake. Chretien de Troyes described this sword, which was also know as Caledfwlch or Caliburn, as “the finest sword that there was, which sliced through iron as through wood.”
This is the traditional sword of Charlemagne and by the 13th century was used as the official sword for the coronation of the Kings of France. The Song of Roland describes how by Charlemagne’s “side hung Joyeuse, and never was there a sword to match it; its colour changed thirty times a day.”
The sword now can be seen in The Louvre, and scientific tests show that its parts date from different times: the pommel to the 10th to 11th centuries, the crossguard to the 12th and the grip to the 13th century. However the blade itself dates from either the 9th or 10th century, so that part could be the same one used by the Carolingian emperor.
Hanging at the National Wallace Monument near the Scottish town of Stirling, this sword was said to belong to William Wallace. Reaching 5 feet 4 inches in length, the weapon’s blade might date to 13th century, but most historians believe that most of it was made in later centuries.
The Sword of Mercy (Curtana)
One of the ceremonial swords used in the coronation of the British monarchs, this weapon dates back to the 11th century and was said to belong to Edward the Confessor. The end of it has been broken off, and the legends surrounding the sword say that the blunt edge was meant to represent mercy.
The name of the sword belonging to Magnus III ‘Barelegs’, King of Norway from 1093 to 1103. According to the Fagrskinna, the “hand-guards, cross-bar and pommel were of walrus ivory with gold around the haft, and it was the sharpest of all swords.” However, it also helped his enemies recognize Magnus during a battle in Ireland, where the king was killed.
Colada and Tizona
These two swords were wielded by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid, the semi-legendary Spanish military leader. They are noted in the Song of El Cid, in which the weapons have the power to strike fear into opponents.
In one scene from the poem, Rodrigo has given the Colada to Martín Antolínez and he uses it in the duel against the infante Diego González: “When precious Colada has struck this blow,Diego González saw that he would not escape with his soul, he turned his horse to face his opponent. At that moment Martín Antolínez hit him with his sword, he struck him broadside, with the cutting edge he did not hit him. Diego González has sword in hand, but he does not use it, at that moment the infante began to shout, ‘Help me, God, glorious Lord, and protect me from this sword!’ ” A museum in Burgos, Spain claims that it has the Tizona in its collection.
One of the most famous swords in Icelandic literature, Skofnung first belonged to legendary Danish king Hrólf Kraki. The magical weapon got its power from the spirits of the king’s 12 berserker bodyguards. After it was buried with Hrólf Kraki, the weapon was removed by a plunderer and had further adventures. According to the Laxdœla saga, the sword is not to be drawn in the presence of women, and that the sun must never shine on the sword’s hilt.
Hrunting and Nægling
The two swords given to Beowulf. According to the Old English poem, both weapons had great powers, but both fail the hero – Hrunting proves to be ineffective against Grendel’s mother and he discards it, while Nægling breaks in half in Beowulf’s hands when he is fighting the dragon.
The legendary sword belonging to Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and Caliph from 656 to 661. It is often depicted in art as a scissor-like double bladed sword.
According to the Song of Roland, this legendary sword was first given to Charlemagne by an angel. It contained one tooth of Saint Peter, blood of Saint Basil, hair of Saint Denis, and a piece of the raiment of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was supposedly the sharpest sword in all existence.
In the story of the Song of Roland, the weapon is given to Roland, and he uses it to defend himself singlehandedly against thousands of Muslim attackers. According to one 12th century legend from the French town of Rocamadour, Roland threw the sword into a cliffside. You can still see the sword embedded into the cliff-face.
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