Imperial sword

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Imperial sword and scabbard in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

As imperial sword in the German-speaking countries to be crown jewels of the Holy Roman kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire belonging sword called.

In general, this is the name of a particular sword that, as a state symbol of a monarchy, represents the power, strength and defensibility of an empire. For example, imperial swords exist or existed in England , Scotland , Prussia , Denmark , Norway , Hungary , the Netherlands , the West Frankish Empire and Japan .

However, the focus of this article is on a description of the Imperial Sword of the Holy Roman Empire, its history, appearance, and importance to the Empire.

Since the origin of this sword was ascribed to Saint Mauritius , it is also known as the Mauritius sword . The Pope presented the sword to the Roman-German Emperor at his coronation as a sign of the worldly power that he received from the hand of God. When the new emperor moved out of the church, the swordsman carried it with the point upwards as a symbol of worldly power and violence. It is exhibited today under the inventory number SchK XIII 17 in the secular treasury of the Vienna Hofburg .


The imperial sword from both sides, the ceremonial sword in the middle , colored copper engraving by Johann Adam Delsenbach from 1751

Blade, quillons, handle and pommel

Sword sweeper's mark

The sword has a total length of 110 cm and the 95.3 cm long blade is made of steel. The tapered blade has been sharpened several times and shows on each side a stamped Sword Sweeper's mark in the form of a circle in which a cross , i.e. a cross with a crossbar at the 4 ends, is inscribed. The quillons and the pommel are lightly gilded, and the hilt is wrapped with fragmented silver wire. This wire is probably a modern addition from the 16th or 17th century, but could also have been attached at the time of its creation.

The sword was intended to be carried solemnly with the point upwards, this can be clearly seen from the arrangement of the work on the scabbard. In addition, only in this position can one of the inscriptions engraved on both sides of the crossguard be read, with simple dots between the words:


"Christ wins - Christ rules - Christ commands"

When the sword is pointed downwards or hangs on the sword belt, the shorter inscription on the other side is legible. There are colons between the words:


"Christ wins - Christ rules"

The first inscription should actually read: "Christ vincit - Christ re g nat - Christ i m perat" (written in bold: the correct Latin spelling). Due to this linguistic peculiarity, the art historian Julius von Schlosser took the view in 1918 that this points to an origin of the sword from the Romance- speaking area, especially Sicily . According to today's researchers, this is the middle Latin of a scribe whose language can be northern or southern French, although the spelling of Latin has been adapted to the actual pronunciation there.

The inscription is the name of a three-part Christian hymn of praise, with which in the Middle Ages the people paid homage to the ruler after the coronation. This song should in the second half of the 8th century have originated and was probably the first time at the coronation liturgy at Easter of the year 774, after the conquest of Langobardenreiches by Charlemagne used. It remained binding until 1209, until Pope Innocent III. introduced a new coronation order.

The mushroom-shaped pommel bears the engraved coat of arms of Otto IV, a half eagle and three striding lions on one side. This is upside down and, like one of the two inscriptions on the quillons, could only be recognized when the sword was carried in front of the emperor with the point raised. The other side bears a coat of arms with the imperial eagle, which, on the other hand, was recognizable when the sword was lowered or carried on the sword belt. The lower edge of the pommel bears the Latin inscription:

"BENEDICTVS · DO [minv] S DE [v] S QVI DOCET MANV [s] +"

"Praise be to [my] Lord [and] God who teaches [my] hands [to fight]."

The font is similar to the engraving on the crossguard. It can therefore be concluded that both were attached at the same time.


The scabbard of the sword is 101 cm long and made of olive wood. It is adorned with fourteen gold-chased plates depicting rulers. There are enamel plates between the plates . This pictorial program is more than 100 years older than the sword itself and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful works of its kind.

All rulers wear a crown on their head. Only one illustration is engraved with "L - REX" (König L.) on the left and right of the head. This illustration shows, as a comparison with other sources suggests, the last Carolingian ruler Ludwig IV the child , who ruled from 900 to 911 and was the only one of the rulers shown who was not crowned emperor. This made it possible to precisely determine the sequence of people in a simple manner.

The gold plates show the historical series from Charlemagne to Heinrich III. , the Salic emperor from the Worms area. The persons depicted are exclusively Roman-German kings and emperors. West Franconian and Italian kings who were crowned emperors are not shown on the scabbard. The division of the empire in 876 was also not taken into account. Of the three sons of Ludwig the German only Karl III. represented the fat one , who was the only one of the three emperors and had reunited the empire under his rule.

The rulers on the scabbard were identified as follows (the time of rule in brackets, obverse: 1–8, reverse: 9–14):

  1. Charlemagne (768–814)
  2. Louis the Pious (814–840)
  3. Ludwig the German (843–876)
  4. Charles III the thick (876-887)
  5. Arnolf of Carinthia (887–899)
  6. Ludwig IV the child (900–911)
  7. Konrad I. (911-918)
  8. Henry I (919-936)
  9. Otto I the Great (936–973)
  10. Otto II (973-983)
  11. Otto III. (980-1002)
  12. Henry II (1002-1024)
  13. Conrad II (1024-1039)
  14. Henry III. (1039-1056)

On the reliefs, the fourteen rulers are shown from the front in full regalia. They stand with their legs apart with their insignia, the scepter and the imperial orb in their hands, mostly with arms bent in front of their chests. Instead of a scepter, four rulers carry a long staff that they hold with their left arm next to them.

The following pictures are examples of the representations of the rulers on the scabbard. They come from one of the detailed copper engravings by Delsenbach, which Delsenbach made in 1751 of the imperial sword and the other imperial regalia:

These engravings were not published until 1790. Due to the richness of detail, they documented the condition of the sword and the scabbard at the same time. However, a comparison with today's photos shows that Delsenbach worked very carefully, but still made some mistakes. He does not correctly depict some of the belt ends and shoes of the rulers. In addition, the sword sweeper's mark is missing on the sword.

Today the engravings provide important information about the original appearance of the scabbard, as three gold sheets are now so badly crushed that one can only get an idea of ​​the actual appearance of the reliefs on them with the help of the engravings.


Origin of the sword

Otto I and his successors probably already owned one or more valuable swords in their crown treasure. These were probably later replaced by the one preserved today. In the Essen Cathedral Treasury , for example, there is a richly decorated sword with a gold-sheathed scabbard, presumably Otto III. has donated. This weapon could be a predecessor of the imperial sword, because the representations on the scabbards of the two swords are similar.

According to investigations by Mechthild Schulze-Dörrlamm ( lit .: Schulze-Dörrlamm), who carried out archaeological investigations on the imperial sword and other parts of the imperial regalia in the mid-1990s, the entire sword dates from the end of the 12th century. It was probably made for Emperor Otto IV . This dating suggests Otto's coat of arms in the pommel. It is very likely that the sword for Otto's coronation as Roman-German king was made in Aachen on July 12, 1198 . It probably served as a replacement for the old sword from the Salian period, which, like the other imperial regalia, was still in the possession of the anti-king Philip of Swabia .

As with the other imperial regalia, for example the imperial crown , there are and were other dates. In 1926, L. Speneder supported the thesis that the weapon was a typical weapon of the 11th century and, like the scabbard in the time of Henry III. originated. Only the knob is an addition under Otto IV.

Later it was believed that the sword originated in the 12th century. The historian Erben dated the sword between 1130 and 1194 and assumed that it was created in Sicily . In the 1980s, Fillitz and Trnek took the view, partly revising older assumptions, that the entire sword was to be dated between 1198 and 1230.

Based on the inscriptions on the quillons in Romanesque Middle Latin, France could be the country of origin. This could be related to the fact that Otto IV was the second son of Henry the Lion and spent his youth at the court of his uncle, the King of England . He was appointed Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine by this four years before his election as king .

The sword has been given the additional name Mauritius sword since Charles IV , who also liked to associate the other parts of the imperial regalia with important saints. The early Christian martyr Mauritius was awarded the Holy Lance as early as the 11th century . In the Middle Ages he was the model for all Christian knights. He was also in such high esteem that he was temporarily the patron of the empire.

Formation of the vagina

The scabbard of the imperial sword is attributed to the depicted ruler Heinrich III., He is the last king depicted on the scabbard, or his successor Heinrich IV . However, detailed investigations of the scabbard suggest that the sword scabbard could only have been made in the second half of the 11th century.

It was therefore only made for Henry IV (1056–1106). This is also supported by the fact that Heinrich IV in particular had to try to document the legitimacy of his claim to power during the investiture dispute . This is an additional indication that the scabbard was intended for the imperial coronation of Henry IV in Rome in 1084 .

The details of the manufacture, including the use of real Byzantine enamels, framing the picture fields, clothing of the rulers, etc., which are otherwise only found in Byzantine and Italian works of the time, and the use of olive wood for the body of the scabbard suggest that the Scabbard was made in Italy . In addition, Henry IV stayed exclusively in Italy for the three years before his coronation.

It is therefore clear that the scabbard was not originally intended for today's imperial sword, but is a little more than 100 years older. This is also supported by the different uses of precious metals and stylistic features.

Why the scabbard was later reused and added to the imperial sword can only be speculated. In addition to the extraordinary beauty, a reinterpretation of the rulers may have come in handy for the client of the imperial sword Otto IV.

First mentions

First detailed representation of the imperial sword (back) and the ceremonial sword (front)

In a letter from a lady-in-waiting of Elizabeth of Aragón , the wife of Frederick III. des Schönes , from 1315 the first written mention of the imperial sword as the Mauritius sword. In an inventory list of Trifels Castle from 1246, however, it only states:

"Zwey swert with two scabbards, adorned with noble gesture"

So there are two swords with a scabbard decorated with precious stones. This probably meant the imperial sword and the ceremonial sword . There is no known written evidence older than this inventory list.

The oldest known pictorial representations date from the 15th century, but the two swords depicted on a woodcut of the imperial regalia by Hans Spörer have no resemblance to the imperial sword or the ceremonial sword. The first detailed representation of the sword was not made until the 17th century. The copper engraving by an unknown artist shown here shows the imperial sword crossed with the ceremonial sword.

Nuremberg and Vienna

Since the sword was added to the imperial regalia at the end of the 12th century, its fate has been inextricably linked with that of the other imperial regalia. For a more detailed presentation of the history of the imperial regalia, see: History of the imperial regalia

The sword and other imperial regalia were kept in various places during the late Middle Ages, for example in the Karlštejn Castle near Prague, on the Trifels, in the imperial abbey of Hersfeld .

In 1423 Nuremberg was commissioned by Sigismund to keep the imperial regalia forever, irrevocably and incontestably . This became necessary because, due to the Hussite Wars, the former storage location in Prague was no longer safe.

Since after the victory of the French Revolution in 1789 and the overthrow of the monarchy, the coalition wars that followed, which were supposed to restore the monarchy, also spread to Germany, the imperial regalia in Nuremberg were no longer safe. That is why they were brought to Vienna in a secret operation in 1800 to the seat of the then emperor.

With the exception of an interlude from 1938 to 1946, the sword and the other imperial jewels have since rested in the secular treasury of the Vienna Hofburg and are exhibited there.

After the end of the Holy Roman Empire

In contrast to the other imperial regalia, the imperial sword was used several times for representative purposes even after the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. For example, it became king in 1838 at the coronation of Ferdinand I in Milan, at the Tyrolean hereditary homage in the same year, at the opening of the Austrian Imperial Council and other official occasions, and for the last time at the coronation of Emperor Charles I as Charles IV used by Hungary in 1916.

In order to arouse Hitler's interest in returning the imperial regalia to Nuremberg, the then Lord Mayor of Nuremberg, Willy Liebel , presented him with a replica of the imperial sword with the pithy words "The German imperial sword to the leader of all Germans".


The presentation of the sword at the coronation by the Pope was intended to remind the ruler that he was the defender of the Empire and the Church. In a figurative sense, he received it from the hands of the apostles Peter and Paul.

The display of the rulers on the vagina was political program. Henry IV had at the time of investiture controversy , given the fine imposed on him excommunication and after fighting against two anti-kings, pay special attention to the legality of his rule claim. With the unbroken line of rulers from Charlemagne to his predecessor Heinrich III. Henry IV demonstrated that he was the only legitimate successor to the Carolingian rulers.

This sword with its scabbard, in addition to showing a strong sense of tradition, also represents an early form of propaganda. The sword scabbard, as a symbol of rule and a royal self-portrayal, is also an expression of the difficult struggle between church and emperor.

Furthermore, the representation of the fourteen rulers probably also has a religious-symbolic character. The fourteen as a doubling of the “holy” number 7 and three times 14 is the number of ancestors that Matthew mentions in his family tree from Abraham to Jesus . Such a biblical model for the rulers is not excluded, especially since the number fourteen fits so well with the number of “ancestors” who held the throne of the Holy Roman Empire up to Henry IV.

See also


  • Hermann Fillitz : The insignia and jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. Schroll, Vienna et al. 1954.
  • Mechthild Schulze-Dörrlamm: The realm sword. A symbol of power from Salier Heinrich IV. And the Guelph Otto IV. (= Roman-Germanic Central Museum. Monographs. Vol. 32). With the excursus The lost belt of Emperor Otto IV. Thorbecke, Sigmaringen 1995, ISBN 3-7995-0391-9 .
  • Jan Keupp , Hans Reither, Peter Pohlit, Katharina Schober, Stefan Weinfurter (eds.): "... die keyerlichen zeychen ..." The imperial regalia - emblems of the Holy Roman Empire. Schnell + Steiner, Regensburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-7954-2002-4 .
  • Sabine Haag (ed.): Masterpieces of the Secular Treasury (= short guide through the Kunsthistorisches Museum. 2). Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2009, ISBN 978-3-85497-169-6 .

Web links

Commons : Reichsschwert  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Illustration based on Schulze-Dörrlamm, p. 21.
  2. Fillitz, p. 36 and Schulze-Dörrlamm, p. 19.
  3. Schulze-Dörrlamm, p. 13.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on November 10, 2004 in this version .