Saint George Ascalon Sword
(About): The Triple-Fullered Sword of a Dragon Slaying Knight
The blade of our Saint George Ascalon Sword is made out of a modern recreation of the mysterious and cryptic material known as ‘Damascus steel’. This gorgeous metal is made by forge-welding 1095 carbon steel with 15N20 nickel-alloy steel, then twisting, stretching, folding, cutting and re-forging the resulting billets. This process is repeated over and over until the patternation of the two metals becomes more and more complex, with each repetition multiplying the number of layers in the pattern. The steel used in this magnificent dragon-slayer sword has been folded more than 400 times! The result is a blade which ripples with a water-like pattern. Each blade is wholly unique, like a fingerprint: no sword-smith, no matter how skilled, could ever precisely replicate it.
A Blade for the Rising Medieval Age
Our Saint George Ascalon Sword’s blade is an absolute classic of High Medieval knightly design. It conforms to Oakeshott Type XII, the type of arming sword which likely emerged in Europe during the early Crusader period. The swords of the late Viking Age were dedicated wholly to cutting at the expense of thrusting, with parallel or only subtly tapering edges and spatulate (rounded) points – the armor of the age consisted mostly of stout cloths, with the occasional suit of iron chainmail worn by elites and their households. These could be defeated with a well-made cutting weapon. However, as chainmail and armor in general began to improve in the High Medieval period, sword-makers began to improve on these earlier types by increasing the taper and lengthening the point of their blades. This created swords which were still focused on use primarily with their cutting edges, but were now much more effective at thrusting against more heavily armored opponents. Our Saint George sword blade reflects these medieval innovations, and is impressed with a distinctive triple-fuller, which is very occasionally seen on later medieval blades of this type.
The blade has been tempered to a hardness of 58-60 HRc, meaning that it is a hard-wearing blade that will stand up to the rigors of re-enactment and roleplay without damage.
A Hilt Replete with the Iconography of the Dragon Slayer
The hilt of our Saint George Ascalon Sword is a glorious tribute to the dragon-slayer sword of the Palestinian Saint himself. It is a richly embellished cruciform (cross-shape), taken from the opulent regalia swords created by European monarchs and nobles in the medieval period. The cross-guard is cast from solid metal, and features gold-painted Romanesque scrollwork which is cast in relief. The quillions terminate in a pair of orbs bound with gold crosses – this imagery echoes the medieval orb-surmounted-by-a-cross, known as the globus cruciger, which symbolised Christ’s dominion over the world. The handgrip is made from handsomely stained turned wood, with a decorated cast metal spacer in the centre – it provides an excellent surface for grip, whether in gloves, gauntlets or with bare hands. The pommel is a stunning openwork golden dragon within a ring frame that has been cast and hand-painted. This is a true dragon slayer sword – with it, you can follow in the footsteps of George of Lydda and vanquish your own dragons. It’d be a fantastic addition to a fantasy medieval-inspired roleplay outfit. The unique Damascus steel patternation would lend itself brilliantly to depicting a magic sword – might you be a brave dragon slayer, or a banished prince? This weapon will see off the fiercest of beasts!
(History): George of Lydda: Patron Saint of Europe
If one knows anything about St. George, it is, of course, his mortal struggle with the Dragon – and perhaps the Flag of St. George, the red cross on a white field. But St. George, or George of Lydda to give him his original name, is one the most widely venerated saints of the Christian canon, across both Eastern and Western traditions. He is the national patron saint of Portugal, England, Serbia & Montenegro, Ethiopia and Brazil. He is the patron saint of soldiers, the Scouts, and (unaccountably) those afflicted with skin diseases and syphilis. The veneration of St. George in the country of Georgia is so strong that, although its name in the native language is ‘Sakartvelo’, its name in English a direct back-formation from the name of the saint. But who was George of Lydda? Did he actually slay a dragon? And how did his veneration spread to encompass the whole known world, from the Syro-Malabar churches in Kerala, India, to the US Army’s Armor Division?
The Life of St. George
Unfortunately, the earliest sources we have for a historical St. George date to several centuries after his traditional date of martyrdom on 23rd April, 303 CE. Near-contemporary works, such as Eusebius’s Historia Ecclesiastica which dates from the first quarter of the 4th-century CE, omits any mention of George of Lydda. Pope Gelasius I, speaking in 494 CE, already said of George of Lydda that he was one of those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God”. Thus we have to talk of competing traditions, rather than an established historical narrative. Nevertheless, all sources agree that George was born in the Roman province of Cappadocia, central Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey. His parents were Christians at a time when Christianity was a dangerous faith to hold: although early Christians were not uniformly persecuted violently, Christianity as a new monotheistic religion (as opposed to established ones like Judaism or Zoroastrianism) was viewed as a superstitio. Whilst a ‘superstition’ might seem mild to us today, a superstitio to the Romans was a belief that was corrosive to a person in a civic sense, eroding their humanitas and their ability to perform their civic duties. Thus, they were viewed with suspicion, in between short but mercifully intermittent bouts of politically-motivated violent suppression. George’s parents were a Greek Cappadocian father, and a Palestinian mother. When George was a young teenager, his father passed away, and so he returned with his mother to her birthplace, the city of Lydda in Roman Syria Palaestina (the modern city of Lod in Israel-Palestine). Soon after, she passed away too, and lacking worldly connections he travelled to the Eastern Roman capital of Nicomedia, where he enlisted as a soldier. Traditions agree that he became an officer, and so had to have served for some years, but sources begin to diverge about what happened next, although all agree that George was persecuted and ultimately murdered for his Christian faith.
The Death of St. George
The Latin texts describe the evil Emperor of the Persians, Dacian, torturing George twenty times over a period of seven years, and George’s grace converted precisely 40,900 pagans, including the Empress of Alexandria. When George finally died, the Emperor Dacian is consumed in a whirlwind of fire. The early Greek texts name George’s tormentor as one Dadianus, although in later texts George’s persecution is placed within the purges of a figure we can actually verify historically: the Emperor Diocletian, in the year 303. This makes sense as a rationalisation, since Diocletian’s initial persecutions were directed towards military officials, producing a raft of what have become known as the ‘soldier saints’ – Christian Roman officers who were executed for their faith. Interestingly, George also appears in Islamic scripture. In one telling, he is a wealthy follower of Christ who opposes the erection of a statue to Apollo by King Dadan of Mosul (again, likely a cognate for ‘Dacian’ or ‘Dadianus’), being martyred by God when rains of destruction destroy the profane city.
Regardless of these tall tales, there is little reason to doubt that a George who was martyred at Lydda probably existed. A cult of worship around him began, which spread to the West – in 494 CE, Pope Gelasius I canonised him as a saint. The cult of St. George was well established in the Levant by the time Western Christians invaded the Holy Land in the late 1090s CE, where they rebuilt a basilica to St. George which had been destroyed by Muslims about 80 years before. It seems that the veneration of St. George by Western Christians in earnest, as a warrior-saint and patron of battle, was adopted (or at very least strongly cemented) through rediscovering his veneration in the East.
St. George and the Dragon
It should be obvious by now that our image of St. George on horseback, wielding his sword Ascalon to slay the dragon is a wholly medieval invention, largely unrelated to the historical mythology of St. George, transferred to him as a convenient martial figure. The most famous telling of this story is Jacobus da Varagine’s Legenda Aurea (‘The Golden Legend’) from the 1260s CE. In it, a terrible serpent is terrorising the Libyan city of Silene, demanding that the people keep it fed. Eventually, they ran out of food, and began to offer their children. The lot fell to the King’s daughter – but as she stood before the dragon, the valiant St. George (with armor, steed, pennants, etc) by chance arrived, and charged the dragon, wounding it with his lance. He took the beast back to the town, and promised to kill the dragon if the population would convert to Christianity. All 15,000 of them did so, and so he beheaded the beast with his sword, Ascalon.
(Curiosity): Steel Like Water: The Mystery of Damascus Steel
In the medieval period, a mysterious and deadly steel was reputed to be forged in the East. It was supernaturally sharp, cutting through swathes of foes at a stroke, could break other swords in half, and was itself unbreakable, never needing to be sharpened. Obviously such magic swords did not exist – but the legend was rooted in the very real superior steels of the Medieval period, known as ‘Damascus steel’. Damascus steel was likely an early type of cast steel, made by mixing small iron chips with carbon-rich charcoal, sealing it into a crucible to create an anoxic (air-free) environment, and baking it at extremely high temperatures (>1000°C / 1800°F). This melted the iron and infused it with carbon from the charcoal, resulting in a cast block of very high carbon steel (around 1.2-1.6% carbon). This has to be allowed to cool extremely slowly to preserve the unique characteristics of the steel, but when cool, swirling patterns of differentially carburised layers of steel could be discerned as if rippling like water. It used to be thought that such steels were only invented in the 18th-century, because the temperatures required were thought to be unachievable with pre-Industrial technology. However, Indian and Sri Lankan metallurgists clearly managed to achieve it, perhaps through the clever use of powered bellows or using the gale-force monsoon winds of the region, and were exporting the water-patterned steel they called ‘wootz’ to Europe in small quantities from the 1st-century BCE. The earliest swords made from wootz steel yet found date from around the 3rd– or 4th-century CE, so might it be possible that George of Lydda knew of, encountered, or perhaps even wielded one of these amazing weapons?
If you’re a Scottish Swords fan like ourselves you’re gonna want to check out this beauty!
Total length: 40 inches
Blade length: 30 ½ inches
Blade material: 1095 steel / 15N20 steel; 400+ layer Damascus
Guard and pommel material: Cast metal
Grip material: Wood