“And the similitude of two serpents was upon the sword in gold. And when the sword was drawn from its scabbard, it seemed as if two flames of fire burst forth from the jaws of the serpents, and then, so wonderful was the sword, that it was hard for any one to look upon it.” from The Dream of Rhonabwy (translation by Lady Charlotte Guest)
Designing Excalibur from the oldest surviving description is no easy task. The legend of King Arthur has been so romanticised and the idea that most people have is one of a Medieval knight in shining armour. One only has to look at the illustrations and paintings of Beadsley, Rackham and Waterhouse to see that. Non-romantic legend says that Arthur was the son of one of the Roman Briton leaders and lived in Britain around the 5th Century. For those with a sketchy idea of chronology – that would be in the Dark Ages.
Whatever the case may be, I have to explore idea for design. If Excalibur was forged in post- Roman Britain, it certainly wasn’t the huge broadsword so often depicted in pictures. It would have been a shorter Roman style sword or “gladius”. Click here to see some pretty good replicas. Yes, I guess there are people in the world that do Roman battle re-enactments.
The gladius designs I have looked at are not particularly flashy as the description implies, so the design would have to have a bit more Dark Ages bling to it.
Research into serpent images of the day lead me to Sutton Hoo. Sutton WHO? is the site of one of the most important archeological find in Britain. It consists of a series of burial mounds which were excavated in the 1930’s and revealed a boat burial site which is believed to be that of an Anglo-Saxon King who lived in that area. His sword is a bit more elaborate than the Roman ones and his shield has a depiction of a dragon on it. Hang on – a dragon isn’t a serpent! Actually, in those days the terms were interchangeable and many dragon legends from around the world describe them as looking like serpents. A beautiful gold buckle found in the grave has some truly elaborate knotwork on it and has given me some inspiration for the design of our Excalibur, which will feature prominently on the cover of the second book in the Chronicles of the Stone: The Search for the Stone of Excalibur.