The Staffordshire Hoard: Seax hilt plate
The Old English word seax is used to describe a wide variety of single-edged knives. These range from the small knives people wore at their belt and used for eating and other everyday purposes to long versions that were essentially short, single-edged swords.
Most seaxes had quite plain handles, but this hilt fitting from the Staffordshire Hoard must have belonged to a truly spectacular knife. It is made of solid gold and decorated with a beautifully worked pattern of interlaced animals. These are largely made up from very small pieces of garnet, but scientific analysis carried out on this object in Paris late last year revealed that the animals’ eyes are actually tiny little globules of red glass.
The sword hilt plate features style II zoomorphic decoration. The plate is lozenge shaped, with a central hole mirroring the cross section of the seax blade. A seax blade has one cutting edge and a flat back to the blade, rather like a modern carving knife.
At either edge of the hilt plate are two small holes originally for fixing the plate in place. Both are encircled by a fine beaded gold wire, which appears to have been laid over matching circles incised in the underlying gold sheet. One of the circles has been deformed by this line, which can be clearly seen.
The pin or rivets which originally held the plate in place using these holes are unfortunately missing.
The rest of the upper surface of the hilt plate is filled with a running pattern of interlinking animals, each holding the leg of the animal in front in its mouth. The animals are recorded as belonging to style II decoration.
There are four such animals to each side of the central blade hole and both sets of four are facing in the same direction, that is with heads pointed towards the cutting edge of the blade.
The edges and underside of the hilt plate are flat and undecorated.