The Kirkburn Sword

Kirkburn Sword 2
Image from the British Museum and protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

This summer, I read a few books about Iron Age Celts. These books touched on things from the fact that “Celts” is a broad and unspecific term, there isn’t enough evidence to really make a ton of claims about life back then, and Celtic art of the time is not what people tend to think of nowadays (such as Celtic knots-you can see some of the Kirkburn decoration in the image on the right).

I was reading the books mostly because it was the few remaining in my school’s library that had appeared in the search of the word “Celtic.” Iron Age information doesn’t help my studies in 6th-16th centuries, but I thought it might help give me a bit of a basis on the type of people that are some of the ancestors of those I will be studying.

One thing that appeared in multiple books is the Kirkburn sword. Some people were focused on how it was made, others on how it fit into the grand scheme of archaeological finds, and others on the art, because the sword is a lovely (albeit old and crusty) piece of work.

I’m not going to pretend to know a lot about how swords are made, but the sword and scabbard are made of copper alloy and iron with glass used in the decoration. The blade is almost two feet long with another 5+ inches for the handle. It’s estimated to have been made around 300-200 BC and was found in the 1980s in Kirkburn, East Yorkshire northern England buried with a young man in his 20s or 30s.

More information can be found from the British Museum, which is where the sword is displayed.

I think the most amazing thing about the Kirkburn sword is the artistry. It’s not something I can image being used in a battle, but more something I imagine used as a status symbol within a community.

Kirkburn Sword
Image from the British Museum and protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Try to picture it like one of those new, shiny swords and knives that can be found at craft fairs or Renaissance fairs or online. Imagine the power it would carry with it, the sense of victory within the curving decorations along the scabbard, the light glinting off the red glass in the handle, a very muscled young man strutting with it on his hip or swinging it in battle…

I imagine it could make anyone wielding it feel almost invincible. 

What do you think?

Your Bonnie Celtophile,



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