A Little Swordplay, A Little Wordplay?

See if you can crack the code on these medieval swords

Photo Credit: Anonymous on The Commons

A magnificent sword is the subject of a public appeal.

In a recent exhibit called Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, the British Library has put a well-preserved double-edged sword on display. Found in the River Witham, Lincolnshire, in July 1825, it weighs nearly 3 pounds, and is 38 inches long. Apart from its condition, what is most striking about the sword is the mysterious inscription along the blade:

+NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI+

According to Marc van Hasselt, of the Utrecht University, Hastatus Heritage Consultancy, "Inscribed swords were all the rage in Europe around the year 1200. Dozens of them have been found, from England to Poland, from Sweden to France." He went on to say that several seem to share the same style of lettering, and some of the swords may come from the same forge. "A sword from Sweden might use the same slightly curved X as the River Witham sword. A sword currently in Berlin has an I-S contraction also used on a sword found in the Netherlands."

Scholars think the inscription might be in Latin, which would make sense, given the time period. But what the mysterious sequence of letters might mean is still an open question. That's why the Library has put out an appeal to help them decipher the code. Unlocking the meaning of one might help decipher others too. For example, a similar sword found in Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands, has the following on it:

+BENEDOXOFTISSCSDRRISCDICECMTINIUSCSDNI+

+DIOXMTINIUSESDIOMTINIUSCSDICCCMTDICIIZISI+

For more background on medieval inscribed swords, check out these two PDF papers: http://www.gustavianum.uu.se/digitalAssets/203/203037_3medieval-christian-invocation-inscriptions-on-sword-blades.pdf and http://www.gustavianum.uu.se/digitalAssets/196/196842_how-to-make-swords-talk---an-interdisciplinary-approach-to-understanding-medieval-swords-and-their-inscriptions.pdf. You can post your comments and read other comments about the sword's inscription on the blog post linked above.

Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can connect with her on Twitter @chandraclarke.