A year without Codex Manesse… shame on me I guess… Anyway the theme of this modest update is – a sword. Not as a tool of war, but as a symbol of status. Browsing Codex Manesse miniatures you may notice that many images depicting knights during very “civilian” activities like reading a letter or contemplating a poem there is often a sword around hanging on the wall or simply standing somewhere (see Emperor Heinrich).From narrative point of view the sword adds nothing to the image and the narrator could just omit this detail (wchich he often does), however the presence of a sword underlines high status of the man depicted.
For a medieval man sword was not only a tool of murder or a portable shrine making an impromptu cross when stuck in the ground. A sword was a powerful symbol – it denoted knighthood, justice, virtue, authority, Christendom and possibly had many other now not entirely clear meanings.
Anyway a curious thing is that with exceptions of evident martial or traveling context swords in Codex Manesse (and many other manuscripts from XIII-XIV century) sword is not carried fastened to the side hanging on a belt (or other device) but rather carried in hand. There could have been many reasons for this, but for me two most obvious and plausible ones are:
- Practical – having something heavy (ok i know that original swords where not that heavy but still) and cumbersome dangling around your leg for a better part of a day could be annoying. There are accounts of II WW officers complaining on the weight and discomfort of carrying their sidearms on their hip – it could be the same with the sword.
- Informational/Symbolic. – When carried by the side, a sword is not always in sight, especially when the bearer was wearing a cloak. However it is hard to miss when guy you’re looking at carries it in hand or resting on his shoulder and regardless of many romantic or chivalric, symbolical meanings of a sword the most obvious one was – power. When a sword was in sight all people around immediately knew things just got more serious.