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The King's whetstone

  • Jacqueline Simpson

One question fundamental to the interpretation of the elaborate sceptre found at Sutton Hoo is why whetstone should have been chosen as its material. Too heavy for convenience, yet neither rare nor intrinsically beautiful, why was this substance thought appropriate for such an important item of regalia? The interpretation so far has been that it symbolized the king as war-leader, ‘the forger, giver and master of the swords of his followers’. While this is undoubtedly an attractive and appropriate interpretation, it lacks literary confinnation; I would therefore like to put forward an alternative (or supplementary) hypothesis based on the evidence of certain passages in Old Icelandic writings where whetstones are mentioned in a mythical context, or are described as being used in non-realistic circumstances suggestive of ritual. Despite their late date, Icelandic sources have often cast valuable light on Germanic religion.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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