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A 13th century, double-edged sword, possibly of German manufacture but discovered in England in the 19th century (British Museum 1858,1116.5)

The Encoded Crusader Sword: Can You Solve the Cryptic Code?

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Can you solve the cryptic code engraved into the blade of this 13th century sword? The curious inscription continues to baffle historians, cryptographers ad linguists and last year the British Library appealed to the public for help in cracking this 800 year old mystery.

As you read this article, you will notice that my personal research has turned a tiny, but significant key in this mystery, but maybe you can solve it once and for all?

The sword dates to between 1250 and 1330 and was discovered in the 19th century in the River Witham near Lincoln in northern England. Currently on display at the British Library in the Magna Carta exhibition its steel blade has a sharply honed edge which is unusual, having two fullers or grooves, running parallel down each side. Last year, a spokesperson for the British Museum in London stated: 

“A Viking origin has been suggested for the sword on the basis of the fullers, the pommel and the letter forms of the inscription. However, it is apparent that the pommel, inscription and the blade shape are more characteristic of Medieval European swords than those of Viking origin.”

The museum spokesperson went on to say that the blade is most probably German and the sword is English, and would have been fitted with a hilt. The cross-shaped hilt is characteristic of swords of this period and although a sword is a weapon of death, its shape and form were associated with the core symbol of Christianity.

From the magnificent 2007 Swedish movie ‘Arn, the Knight Templar’.

From the magnificent 2007 Swedish movie ‘Arn, the Knight Templar’.

A knight’s sword was a multi-tool. On one hand it was an effective butchering and stabbing tool and  on the other, when held with the blade pointing downwards, the cross-guards formed a cross. Therefore, a sword is both a device of murder and a mobile altar. Crusaders often etched small crosses into their sword handles and blades after they were knighted, and this occurred very often just before and after battle. As soon as a battle had ended, knights fell to their knees seeking redemption for the brutality they had just unleashed, and their swords, held like a crosses, were raised to the heavens.

The cryptic inscription running down the weapons blade is inlaid with fine gold wire, and it reads:

N D X O X C H W D R G H D X O R V I

The language in which the message was written is unknown, adding another degree of difficulty in cracking this code. Most scholars agree it's abbreviated Latin and Greek, possibly a feudal religious shorthand, and the original British Library blog was recently updated with additional information from Marc van Hasselt of Utrecht University who suggested this is one of several swords found across Europe that appear to originate from the same workshop.

A Crack in the Code

Last year, when this discovery first came across my desk, I made two quick observations and refused to spend any further time, whatsoever, on decoding this transcription.

1. The first R looks nothing like the second R and it is possible the first R, might actually be an N.

2. And the fourth letter is officially interpreted as a C, but it might be a G.

The 13th century, double-edged sword with a cryptic code.

The 13th century, double-edged sword with a cryptic code. Image: The British Museum.

So what is it with these two observations that turned me off?

Unless we travel back in time and ask the smith who engraved the letters what they meant, we can never be 100% sure as to the intended message. It will always be a point of conjecture. Why would I get involved in decoding a transcription if it was clear from the outset that the result will only ever be 50% accurate? However, I didn’t wholly disregard the sword. Symbols are my thing, and I spotted something of interest on the blade that apparently all the other tens of thousands of researchers had overlooked. Setting the transcription aside I focused my attention on the two crosses at each end of the series of letters. 

This line of enquiry yielded some fascinating facts about the origins and meaning of this particular type of cross, taking us closer to the mind of the person who once wielded this mysterious weapon.

The two crosses at each end of the series of letters. Image: The British Museum.

The two crosses at each end of the series of letters. Image: The British Museum.

1.This type of cross is known in heraldry as a ‘cross potent’ or a ‘crutch cross’. This name is derived from the crossbars, or crutches, at the ends of its four arms and the word ‘potent’, is used in heraldic terminology to describe T shapes.

The cross potent

The cross potent

2.The cross potent was believed to hold mystical Christian powers, and as such it was adopted by several crusading Orders in the 13th century. It is still used today in Roman Catholic logos and insignias for their Scouting and Guiding organizations.

Stylized cross-potents

Stylized cross-potents

3.This was a commonly used cross in Germany heraldry between the 12th and 14th century, where it was known as a Krückenkreuz (crutches cross). In the same landscape, over 900 years later, this type of cross became the prime symbol of Austrofascism.

The use of the cross potent in Germany. Fatherland Front rally.

The use of the cross potent in Germany. Fatherland Front rally.

  1. In Old Persian, this particular type of cross represented the word Wu or; magus, magi, magician. The direct interpretation of Wu is ' an able one; specialist in ritual'.  Recent linguistic evidence suggests that in Chinese, W u also meant shaman; witch, wizard or magician, both having come from a common Iranian word.

Old Persian/Chinese Wu or; magus, magi, magician.

Old Persian/Chinese Wu or; magus, magi, magician.

5.A large cross potent, surrounded by four smaller Greek crosses upon a silver field, was the Crusaders' cross, being the heraldic design in the coat of arms worn by Godfrey of Bouillon, the first king of Jerusalem, during the First Crusade. Now known as the Jerusalem cross, it remained in use as the coat of arms and flag of the Kingdom of Jerusalem through the 12th and 15th century.

Author with his prized wooden Jerusalem Bible box displaying the Jerusalem Cross.

Author with his prized wooden Jerusalem Bible box displaying the Jerusalem Cross.

The Multiplex of the Jerusalem Cross

Like with all symbols, the message received is dependant on the viewer’s life experience and knowledge. Thus, the symbolism of the five-fold Jerusalem cross was different to every Knight. To some it represented the Five Wounds of Christ and to others it was Christ and the four evangelists, or Christ at the center of the four corners of Earth. 

Any heraldry book will tell you what cross-potents represented, but to better understand what these two tiny etched crosses might have meant, to the swords owner, we must consciously resist making fleeting objective interpretations and attempt to understand the symbol’s emotional content. To us, the symbols are 'just crosses ’ but stepping outside of your box for a second, if the owner of this sword was a crusader, it might have meant something entirely deeper, something so personal and intense than we can’t really grasp this type emotion today. 

Try imagining yourself standing in a scorching hot desert, thousands of miles from home, facing 10'000 highly trained Saracen soldiers with their grotesque weapons glistening in the sun. You're dehydrated, exhausted and terrified. They charge. Your breath quickens and its sound rings around your sweaty steel helmet. Then a shadow, before a Saracen war-horse thumps you square on, its powerful breast bone smashing your nose across your face.

Then silence.

You are face down in the blistering hot desert. You spit out a violent mixture of sandy blood and parts of broken teeth. You are broken, and start to let go; “stay down ” your inner voice roars at you.

But then, through your black and blue swollen eyes you notice a tiny cross glinting on your sword's blade. You feel a spark of hope deep within your gut. You focus of life again, and your senses sharpen. You hear the metallic war tones of your brothers’ swords swooshing and clashing overhead, and the wrath of God rises inside you. Pushing yourself up you grind the last of your shattered teeth together and immerse yourself back into the chaotic, brutal, bloodbath. You survived. Again.

These tiny crosses may have once served as highly-sacred focal points, eminent centers, to the Knight who owned the sword. Beyond the crosses and the letters, we must treat this object with the utmost respect because although it is a historic treasure, it was most probably wetted with the blood of many Saracens who fell defending their home.

Conclusions

We will probably never know who the knight was that owned this sword because the transcription is so difficult to interpret without any points of reference or heritage. But I think we can be certain he was a crusader who served the Church and wielded this weapon as a Sword of God. If you have any ideas, observations or suggestions as to what the inscription might mean, no matter how left-field, please send me an email to [email protected].

Top image: A 13th century, double-edged sword, possibly of German manufacture but discovered in England in the 19th century (British Museum 1858,1116.5): Image: The British Museum.

Ashley Cowie is an author, researcher, explorer, film-maker and blogger about lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and arts, the origins of legends and myths, architecture, iconography, artefacts and treasures. Visit   https://ashleycowie.com

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Thanks Mike! I'll ck on them when I'm done sorting thru the extraneous 'stuff' ( lack of allowances for what it really is!). I may have seen them, but being on YouTube makes it nearly unlikely-if there's such a thing. I Near the end of week I'm going to call the AC..office there for help.(' I can't get decent copies of anything'-deal I talked about last). Thanks for taking the time from your work for your Reply, really appreciate it! All the best, Mike

Thanks Mike for the words. I wasn't concerned I had'nt heard 'immediately', as it were, I think everyone has a right to some variation in life; it'd be pretty monotonous otherwise! When the Chinon Parchment came out, in this form, there was a lot of hub-bub within Masonic circles- we were all very excited to see Truth brought forth, & by such an unexpected source-who would've even guessed?! I tried to get thru some of the available excerpts at that time, & was dismayed that I couldn't tell if the Knights were innocent, or guilty as charged, so I had to accept the lingo confusion as 'legal-ese' & then-contemporary language usages. Your inputs are valuable insights to the times that are murky, & again, I thank you for lifting the veil. I'll look fwd to any further of your appreciated knowledge. After 1304, there was a lot of action involving other Templars as many had fled to safety with allies in Scotland, a long tradition existed there between the two & this is one of the reasons that the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry exists. They came to the Scots aid in several instances. I'll research-again- what I have on hand & forward it via this manner. I'll say this; that when the main event occurred, the English were not quite expecting to be charged by professional men-at arms ( Knights ) and is a main reason the Scots won the day. Bannockburn was another day, and a terrible cost was given. It was after that battle that the Scot's power and challenge to the Crown, was broken. Tartans, cloaks, kilts & bagpipes were outlawed, as were songs of battle, and so forth. Proud to say that my clan, the MacLeods surreptiously maintained a piper's school on Raasay ( I think the name ), so the music survived & had students from France ( again with the French!) & other countries. To shorten up here, eventually the highlands began to be cleared of people in 1745. The Crown convinced the (as usual ) greedy Lairds that raising sheep was more profitable than supporting potato farmers. I'd like to copy all we've traded back and forth, but am having a hard time getting more than one page-nothing else. It won't do a progression of pages. Do you have any suggestions/ Should I call the office in Ireland for help / have you had similar occurrences? I should be more proficient than I am, but I'm prone to 'pickles' to put it nicely! Thanks again Mike, Will look fwd to reading more and I'll dig out my stuff too. I hope Crystal Kaulbars is still with us and finds this fascinating also (!)- (?) Take care!

dear Mike,Sorry I have not been able to write to you before now but my Apple has decided not to let me do anything and now using this new computer it has just wiped off everything that I wrote to you in the last 30 mins.
So now I will have to keep this short with a few further thoughts.

Some people seem to think the sword is related to the battle at Lincoln in the Baron´s War,1217.Apparently some of the French had piled into boats on the River Witham to
escape the wrath of William Marshall and the boat sank. I do not seriously think that
in such a battle that this sword would have come out unscathed. The sword is virgin
and it certainly would have shown signs of use,deep cuts in the blade.William de la More
would never have drawn this sword in anger as there were no more battles to be fought
after 1304.
Please let me know how the Lodge receives the latest theory. I have lost so much sleep
over this since I saw this article and I still think that it has not reached the end.
I find this most exciting and thanks for your comments and info. and I will try and follow
other leads.
The legal French you mention is known to me as I have a small collection of French documents
from 15 to 17 C and even the French cannot understand the language and the script is very hard to
read.
Ok Good Luck To you,
Mike Robinson

Sir Mike, you mentioned that you are a York Rite Freemason, to include the Templars. Which "faction" of Templars does the York Rite include? I am currently trying to join the Sovereign Militant Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, and I am curious as to whether or not the York Rite Freemasons include the SMOTJ in their ranks. I am knowledgeable in the history of the Medieval Templars, but as every historian, I am always learning something new every day. This 'mystery sword' piqued my curiosity as to the sword's origins and what the transcription meant on the blade of the ancient Templar sword. If it is alright with you and your commanderie of Freemasons, I would like to obtain a copy of the order of Clement V to apprehend Jaques de Molay and the French Templars on Friday, October 13, 1307 and study it to see if it can help me learn more about the Order that I am seeking admittance in. The Seneschal of the commanderie in Norfolk, VA for the SMOTJ has advised me to wait until I am more established in the U.S. Navy, and so I am taking his advise; however, it does not mean that I cannot start getting more knowledgeable about the Order. I would like to get as many texts as I can in regards to the Templars.

Good Lord Mike! That is amazing! I'm humbled! I felt there was a Templar connection, in 'me bones'. I've done a lot of reading on the subject of the Trials, as I am a York Rite Freemason,which includes the Templars. Naturally, I'm intrigued to see this history come alive. ( Thank you Sir, you are a credit to Study!). If you have time & a legal-ese capability, or interest of the Trial subject, you might get online with the Library of The Supreme Council, at the House of The Temple, as they've had, since Dec of 2008, copies in Italian & English, of the two volumes of 'Processus Contra Templarios' (Trial of The Templars). In some circles this is the Chinon Parchment & was written at Pope Clement's order at the time the Templars were arrested. ( You may know he was coerced by Phillip into permitting the seizure of them & their assets). The Chinon Parchment was found in 2001, having been 'filed' with like papers & books in the Vatican's Secret Archives since those days! When it was discovered, the Vatican authorized these volumes, done in a fantastic parchment-like material & expensive bindings. In 2008, they sold all the limited editions at $3,000 each (!). Pope Clement found no guilt in the Templars, in his separate investigations! Tho' I tried reading some of the testimonies & questionings, I had to throw up my hands as I couldn't make any progress into the dialogues. Not only is the language one for lawyers, it's also transcribed as written--in the 14th century, so many meanings are obscured. ( Maybe not for the lawyers among us ! ). The material above was obtained thru my issue of Scottish Rite Journal, November/December, 2008. In the article, it is said that the book(s) can be studied by making an appt with the Librarian, who I would suspect may be a different person now, after so many years. I am sure the Library will find any inquiry you make, a compliment to our studies also, & again, Thank you for 'Bringing More Light', as we say among ourselves! I will be sure to bring this story to Lodge on Wed. nite, the Brothers will be delighted. You've done us a service. God Bless ya! Mike McC.

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