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Seax (also Hadseax, Sax, Seaxe, Scramaseax and Scramsax) in Old Saxon stands for knife or cutting tool.[1] In modern archeology (and further in this article), the term seax is used specifically for the typically large knives that were worn by men in the 5th to 11th century, in the region roughly enclosed by Ireland, Scandinavia and Northern Italy. In heraldry the seax is a charge consisting of a curved sword with a notched blade.[1]

Amongst the shape and construction of seaxes there is a lot of variation. The most frequent characteristics are:

In Germany, the following types are defined for seaxes between roughly 450 and 800 AD, in chronological order [2]:

The general trend, as one moves from the short to the broad seax, is that the blade becomes heavier, longer, broader and thicker. Long seaxes, which arrived at the end of the 7th century, were the longest of the seax. These were narrower and lighter than their predecessors. Initially, these weapons were found in combination with double-edged swords and were probably intended as side arm. From the 7th century onwards, seaxes became the main edged weapon (next to a francisca), sometimes in combination with small side-knives.[2]

The rest of Europe (except for parts of Scandinavia) followed a similar development, although some types may not be very common depending on location.

Another typical form of the seax is the so-called broken-back style seax. These seaxes have a sharp angled transition between the back section of the blade and the point, the latter generally forming 1/3rd to 3/5th of the blade length. These seaxes exist both in long seax variety (edge and back parallel) and in smaller blades of various lengths (blade expanding first, then narrowing towards the tip after the kink). They occurred mostly in the UK and Ireland, with some examples in Germany around 8-11th century AD. Some examples have patternwelded blades, while others have inlays of silver, copper, brass, etc.

A seax in modern times is often called scramasax or scramaseax. Scram or scran is a word for food in some English dialects and seax to a blade (so a possible translation is “food knife”). However, as the word ‘scramasaxi’ is only used once in early medieval literature (In Gregory of Tours ‘History of the Franks’)[3], the general use of the term when referring to all short knives of this type is erroneous.[4] The Saxons may have derived their name from seax (the implement for which they were known).[4] The seax has a lasting symbolic impact in the English counties of Essex and Middlesex, which both feature three seaxes in their ceremonial emblem.

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