Sosnowski (2022 Congress)

Miłosz Sosnowski
(Department of History,
Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

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the Iconography and Inscriptions
on the Polish Coronation Sword

Abstract of Paper
56th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Online, 2022)

Session on
“The Iconography of Medieval Magic:
Texts and Images”

Co-sponsored by
the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
and the Societas Magica

Organized by Vajra Regan

2022 International Congress on Medieval Studies Program



The Polish coronation sword, Szczerbiec (“the notched sword”), preserved at Wawel Royal Castle (inv. 137), has been used in the coronation ceremonies of successive Polish kings since the early 14th century. An accompanying contemporary legend connected the sword with the first Polish king, Bolesław the Brave (died 1025), receiving it from an angel and winning all subsequent battles. A cherished national and political relic already in the late Middle Ages, “Szczerbiec” became an object of hotly contested scholarly research in the early 19th century.

Trying to understand the sword’s history, inscriptions, and iconographic program, those early researchers developed the largely-prevailing understanding of “Szczerbiec”, described variously as a ceremonial sword or a sword of justice, and perhaps Templar in origin, among the Teutonic Knights. What was missed almost altogether both by the early and by subsequent research are the numerous analogies for the sword’s inscriptions and iconography which place “Szczerbiec” directly among other magical objects. Those analogies are visual (mainly found in manuscript evidence for medieval image magic and its uses), as well as textual (Ars notoria, Liber iuratus Honorii, etc.).

After briefly introducing the sword and its complicated history, I will

1) discuss the newly-found analogies,
2) examine what they tell us about the original owner of the sword and his intentions; and
3) try to answer to what extent was the “magical” content of “Szczerbiec” understood in medieval and early-modern Poland.

Throughout the talk, I will give other examples of manuscript magic, both visual and textual, as reflected on physical objects, including medieval swords.