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Szczerbiec – The Jagged Sword of Polish Monarchs

Let’s talk a bit about some important historical swords. There’s been a lot of them throughout history, but not many of them made it to present. Szczerbiec, translated as “the Notched Sword” or “Jagged Sword,” is one of those that did. And, as is often the case with such things, there is a whole bunch of stuff to talk about.

JAGGY

Boleslaus the Brave holding Jaggy

Let’s start at the beginning: the legendary origins of the Jagged sword. We’l call it Jaggy for short, since it sounds cool and hip. Now, every religious nation so far has seen itself as righteous, and the Polish are no exception. It is then unsurprising, that this sword was given to them by an angel at about the turn of the millennium – more specifically, it was given to Boleslaus the Brave, who reigned between 992-1025. He was instructed that Polish kings were always to carry the sword with them so that they would smite their foes and lead their people to victory. Very righteous, very metal. Legend has it that the sword got its notch in the blade – the one that gave it its name – when Boleslaus hit the Golden Gate of Kiev when he conquered it.

Sadly, there’s something fishy about that story. Not the angel, obviously, but something else. You see, the Golden Gate of Kiev wasn’t in place until 19 years later. Now, this sword hasn’t been preserved. In fact, we’re not sure it existed outside of legend. However, there was another Szczerbiec – since we’ve used Jaggy already, this one will be known as Notchy.

NOTHCY

This is the sword that has been preserved, and boy what a sword it is. Although it’s a ceremonial sword, it was never used in battle. It started off as a Sword of Justice (yes, I know, they had a penchant for metal names), that is the symbol of the sovereign’s judicial power. From historical data, we can surmise that the sword belonged to Boleslaus, Duke of Poland, Masovia, and Łęczyca. Again, we have a problem here: there are no records of such a Boleslaus ever existed. Moving on, the sword was first mentioned in the coronation of Casimir IV in 1447, but was likely used in the coronation of Vladislaus the Elbow-High (jeez, talk about a savage nickname) in 1320. The sword, which was said to have originated from Boleslaus the Brave, since it helped give a sense of stability to the monarchy, was used in coronations for centuries – the last one being the coronation of Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski in 1764.

Detailed drawing from 1764

But everything changed when the Prussian nation attacked. In the Kościuszko Uprising, king Frederick William II ordered the Wawel castle to be looted. The crown jewels, of which Notchy was a part of, ended up in Kőningsberg. Some were melted down and others up for sale. Thankfully, the sword escaped its transmogrification into its base components. A Russian minister-to-be bought it, likely in hopes to sell it back to the Polish people at a significant markup. He even approached a member of the Polish parliament, who refused the transaction because he could not verify the autehnticity of the sword.

After a few more adventures, the homesick sword ended up in the hands of one Alexander Basilevsky, who displayed it at the World’s Fair in Pairs. Since much of the knowledge of the sword had been lost, and the scabbard vanished during its many migrations, the sword was presented as having a Teutonic origin. However, some Poles had keen eyes and speculated on its true nature. in 1884, the entire collection of Basilevsky was purchased by Emperor Alexander III of Russia.

Fast forward a few decades to the Peace Of Riga that concluded the Polish-Soviet war. One of the articles stipulated that the Soviets return all culturally significant items that had been alienated from Poland. This resulted in Notch being returned to its rightful place in Wawel castle after 133 years. Get it – I.33? Oh, the little details!

And so we come to World War II. Just two days after Gernamny invaded Poland, the Polish started evacuating their national

Szczerbiec on display in Wawel Castle
Szczerbiec on display in Wawel Castle

treasures. This included Notchy. The treasures were transported in several different ways to Romania, then France, and finally, Britain. Notchy was carried by a ship, which came to be under threat of a Luftwaffe attack. So the guy in charge of keeping the treasures safe pulled a straight up movie scene, and attached Notchy to a plank, wrote a note explaining what it is and put it in a goddamn bottle to float around with the sword should the ship be sunk. Luckily, the ship made it, and from the British, the Canadians took care of the sword until it was returned in 1959. It has been on permanent display in Wawel Castle ever since.

Hopefully, you now know a bit more about a sword of great significance.

 

 

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