sword, sarawak, malaysia, honour, valour, moesgaard, museum, collection

For valour and victory: The magnificence of swords

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Asia, Europe

This last month, the view from Moesgaard Museum has looked somewhat different than usual. The sweeping vista of green fields and tall trees has been interrupted by a stage in the shape of a massive Viking ship lying on its side, and a stand seating about 3.500 people. And every night, as the sun slowly sets, an adventure plays out on the stage, and on the roof of the museum. Battles are fought, honour is won, and mead is drunk as brave and fool hearty men and women strive to win riches, valour, and love in the Viking Age. In the play Røde Orm, or The Red Serpent, based on the novels by Frans G. Bengtsson, we have followed Røde Orm, a cocky young Viking chieftain as he goes raiding to win his fortune and the heart of the beautiful Ylva, daughter of Harald Bluetooth. With his magnificent sword Blåtunge, Blue Tongue, in hand, he sails out to seek his fortune.

Røde orm, sword, det kongelige teater, vikings, collections,

Røde Orm at Moesgaard Museum. Photo: Sophie Seebach

What is it about swords that capture our imagination? They seem to have a life of their own and to carry in them much more significance and might than other weapons. They become imbued with the power of their previous owners, and as they pass from warrior to warrior, they bring with them this power, to strengthen the hand of their new owners. Think of Excalibur from the Arthurian legends and Andúril from The Lord of the Rings… In the magnificent Staffordshire Hoard, the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold and silver metalwork found to date, were almost 90 sword pommels, some of them already a few hundred years old, when they were buried in the 7th century. And on the pommels you can see the wear of generations of owners, who have rested their palms of their beautiful swords, and caressed them with their thumbs. Were they imagining how they would follow in the footsteps of the previous owners of the swords? How they too would be sure to be worthy to own such a glorious weapon?

In the ethnographic collections at Moesgaard Museum, we have plenty of swords. Have they also been passed from hand to hand, through the generations? What strength did they pass on to their owners? What deeds of valour did they achieve? Or were they used for horrific crimes? Sadly, we rarely know. The sword above was collected in Sarawak in Malaysia in 1973, and aside from the fact that it is quite beautiful, we know little about it.

But still, like Excalibur, Andúril, and Røde Orm’s Blåtunge, it seems to have a presence and a personality all of its own.

//Sophie Seebach

If you want to see Røde Orm wield Blåtunge in person, you must hurry! The play will end on the 1st of July and there are not many tickets left. See https://kglteater.dk/calendar/?f-title=27315 for more.

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