The British Library has a 13th century sword with unknown inscription. They recently started a call to arms to translate the inscription.

Old Sword

The inscription reads:


Its meaning is unknown (although there are some guesses) as is why it's on the sword.

I know there are a couple of experts around who know a thing or two about inscriptions and swords. Who would like to give it a shot, all in the name of History?

The original British Library Blog has been updated with additional information from Marc van Hasselt (Utrecht University, Hastatus Heritage Consultancy). He suggests that this is one of several swords found across Europe that appear to originate from the same workshop.

A similar sword found in Alphen aan den Rijn (in the Netherlands) has the following inscription:



  • 4
    Another thing that is bothering me is the first R in the transcript. It does not look anything like the second R on the blade. Some variation, maybe - but this is too much.
    Aug 7, 2015 at 20:39
  • 3
    Given the ambiguity of several of the characters and doubt over the language used, I can't see that answers will be anything other than educated guesses (or simply wild guesses). As the article linked states, there are already several plausible theories but the problem would seem to be defnitively proving one is correct, short of finding a 13th century document that gives the answer.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 7, 2015 at 22:18
  • 3
    Obviously it is the password for the sword.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 7, 2015 at 22:22
  • 3
    @TylerDurden if identifying ancient inscriptions is not history, I don't know what is…
    – o0'.
    Aug 8, 2015 at 11:29
  • 3
    For anyone attempting to answer this, it's probably useful to read the updated British Library blog which includes script from another similar sword from Alphen.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 9, 2015 at 9:25

6 Answers 6


Taking into account that the first "R" and the second are graphically very different (the first "R" could actually be "N"), I propose another possible version:


In order to try to decipher the inscription, I used a reasonable combination of many similar "medieval short-hand formats" (brachigraphy), found in an old handbook, "Lexicon Abbreviaturarum" by A. Cappelli - 1929 (VI edition - 1985), compared with many Latin invocations in ancient medieval manuscripts (easy to find and read in Internet)


Much of the speculation seems way too complicated. I agree that this is mostly abbreviated Latin and Greek by semi-literates at best. Feudal religious shorthand. I also think there are 2 C's, not a C and a G. The slight differences could be the result of smith carefully copying the request. Or a different smith. But the first R looks much more like an N which puts WDN right in the middle of 2 CH pairs. A Saxon (or German) knight could be hedging his bets with a reference to Woden/Wodan bracketed by references to Christ. If so, the remainder, DXORVI, could be DX ORVI or DXO RVI. I suspect the V is really a U, so it could be DX ORUI or DXO RUI. My Latin is 50 years in the rear view mirror, so ORVI (earth?), ORUI (wait) or RUI (rush or hurry) will need to sorted out by someone more knowledgeable. Given this is engraved on a weapon I favor RUI.

  • Could those "DX" stand for "Dux", meaning either Duke or Leader? Aug 13, 2015 at 5:18
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    @PieterGeerkens Dominus X is more likely the expansion of "DX" - Lord Christ. Aug 13, 2015 at 19:25
  • @RISwampYankee: Yes, that makes sense. Aug 13, 2015 at 19:58

XORVI means Croats…. North of the Great Moravia is where Alfred the Great states as Croatian lands (890 AD). In his Geography of Europe relaying on Orosius, Alfred the Great says: "To the north-east of the Moravians are the Dalamensae; east of the Dalamensians are the Horithi (White Croats) In addition, the names "chrowati et altera chrowati" is mentioned in the so-called Prague Charter from 1086 AD.. Bílí Chorvati, White Croats,Bijeli Hrvati.. Tanais Tablets 2nd-3rd century AD Rostov-on-Don, Russia Among the names on the tablets are those of three men: Horoúathos, Horoáthos, and Horóathos (Χορούαθ[ος], Χοροάθος, Χορόαθος)

In Uzbek and Azerbaijani language Croatia is spelled Xorvatiya and Croat is spelled Xorvat.

  • 3
    This needs to be expanded considerably to be an answer to the question. For example, how do you equate "XORVI" with "Horithi"? Also, how is everything after "In addition" linked to the inscription on the sword?
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 15, 2015 at 8:22
  • 1
    In Croatian and Slavic language Croat is Horvat, Croatians are Horvati or Hrvat, Hrvati.. White Croats have existed in Poland up to 14 century and maybe sword is from that area or from Croatia. Not forget that crusades went through Croatia, and once Crusaders conquered and burn Zadar in Dalmatia..maybe it was a souvenir because at that time Croats have swords from the western Europe...
    – janko
    Aug 21, 2015 at 13:38



could also be


The difference is the first C is exchanged with the second G

In fact I would say both C and G are disputed letters could be either one

once I started shifting the C around, it fell into one of the placeholders, revealing the following:


X could just be placeholders

Possibly initials of a baron carrying family name and military rank honours etc.

See Beta Corvi (lots of places I never knew existed, if you happen to be an astronomer!)

But, lets stick to geography, Corvi is a place in Italy as in Punta dei Corvi

Find words made from DRCHD

DRCHD could be Welsh or Gaelic

Most likely Dragon Draggard

As in "His mighty axe found the Draggard's chest and tore through the scale armor and sunk deep, bringing down the vile creature but also Roakore."

GHW I would say are the mans initials or rank

Started doing this without reading the British Museum blog: "Let's compare the River Witham sword to the sword from Alphen: both start with some sort of invocation. On the River Witham sword, it is NDXOX, possibly standing for Nostrum Dominus (our Lord) or Nomine Domini (name of the Lord) followed by XOX. On the sword from Alphen, the starting letters read BENEDOXO. Quite likely, this reads as Benedicat (A blessing), followed by OXO. Perhaps these letter combinations – XOX and OXO – refer to the Holy Trinity"

So initially had arrived at:-

ND as in Notre Dame or ND as in NB, not Note Bene but Note Domino, some such latin

Take heed: "In our opinion parts of the long letter sequences could be solved by means of the traditional Latin abbreviation system based on initials, contractions etc. In this context, the so called nomina sacra are most important because we assume that the inscriptions might be some kind of invocation or religious motto."

Thus the phrase reads:

Pay Attention, This is the sword of GHW Draggard Corvi

Either way, the man must have been quite important since his sword tells a story. So lets start with a personal mythology. Either he has killed a legendary dragon, thus making him the rightful heir of Corvi, or he is about to kill a dragon, which might entitle him to said property and so on. It is pretty safe to assume, the inscription had another aim altogether, on the part of the manufacturers, it was intended to strike terror into the enemy, and "God forbid" its user was killed in battle and the sword was picked up, it would continue to unleash its spell, hence one might want to give the sword back to its owner's family, after having done battle with it.

So my best guess is this has something to do with an Italian or possibly a Catholic, and the manufacturers guarantee the item good for killing Olde English Dragons.

Another rational view, and just to be on the safe side. Let's look and see who the Draggard of Corvi might have been, since the sword may have been forged with an express purpose, perhaps in a war involving the Draggard of Corvi who might be an historical character, so I will definitely do more research along these lines, after my earlier fanciful meanderings into this tale, which have lead me here:

In Rust we Trust

Dominic Dragonvial Goade Tres Corvi INC.

Is this all just an elaborate plot concerning a persons Eve Online character?

Let's investigate a bit further.

There is an Island of Corvo in the Portugese Azores.

Imago Corvi or Sign of the Crow is the name of a dealer specialising in Celtic Art, could the sword be Celtic, or related to Celts in some way?

Artcyclopedia lists Domenico Corvi [Italian Painter, 1721-1803]

A paper offprint by Handl, The Moralia of 1596, Part 2 Handl: Qui cantum corvi

Jacob Handl Qui cantum corvi

More on linguistics of Corvi:

Italian Noun corvi m

plural of corvo Latin Noun corvi m

genitive singular of corvus nominative plural of corvus vocative plural of corvus

Macel de' Corvi literally means Raven slaughterhouse; according to a source quoted by Vasi during the siege of Rome laid by the Gauls in 390 BC, thus the crow could also be a raven

Raven Dragon

Must say, there are some choice quotes on the net involving the word "Draggard" if anything, this deepens the mystery for me:

"Instead he abandoned his sword and jumped high into the air as the blade barely missed him. He backflipped over the impaled Draggard and landed behind it" from Whill of Agora Bundle (Books 1-4): Legends of Agora By Michael James Ploof

Doing a search on NDXOX brings me to a page on cyphers (easycyphers)

Caesar cipher, is one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques.

NDXOX is Amoro in the Affine Cypher

(If you want to pursue this line of inquiry, perhaps there is something more to the whole phrase in terms of advanced cryptography see www.dcode.fr/affine-cipher for a reasonable decryptor, trouble at the outset is finding the exact alphabet and keys to begin with)

How to decrypt Affine cipher Le decryption needs to know the 2 keys A et B.

Let the ciphered message be SNVSX and A=5, B=3 as keys For each letter of the alphabet corresponds a value y : its position in >>the alphabet. Beginning with 0, A = 0, B = 1, Z = 25, but A = 1, ... Z = 26 is fine >>too (depending on the ciphering process). for each letter (of value y) of the message, corresponds a value x, >>result of the inverse function x = A'(y-B) mod 26 (with 26 is the >>alphabet size) The value A' is an integer such as AA' = 1 mod 26 (with 26 is the >>alphabet size). To find trouver A', use the bouton 'calculate >>coefficients'. A coefficient A' for A = 5 with an alphabet size of 26 is 21. Because 5* 21 = 105 = 1 mod 26. For S (y=18), x = A'(18-B) = 21(18-3) = 315 mod 26 = 3 For each value x, corresponds a letter with the same position in the >>alphabet: the coded letter. For S (x=3), corresponds the letter D (position 3). The plain texte is the replacement of all characters with calculated new letters.

NDXO is Amor (Thus two entirely consistent meanings, as a latin abbreviation, Nostrum Dominus (our Lord) or Nomine Domini, and Love of Christ, a Christian concept, brings up issues to do with swordplay, wordplay and weapons)

I found a good introduction to classical cryptography and the Affine Cypher used by Caeser here

Amoro could also be an anagram, a love letter perhaps, or just simply

Nomini Domini Omni Orvi

In the name of the Lord of all the earth

Love Mr Raven Dragon

Thus my initial intuition that this phrase isn't a language as all, but rather a cypher, and a rather clumsy one at that, appears correct, since it readily appears to reveal part of its content. See below - How to recognize an Affine ciphered text?

It is doubtful whether the blacksmith forger of the sword actually sat down and encrypted a message. Rather I believe, having looked at the evidence above, that the manufacturer, rather crudely (some may still perceive it elegantly), inscribed the phrase using a guild code that alludes to the ownership and purpose of the weapon, hardly a distinct language, rather a rough-hewn mercantile secret. Having said this, imagining a world in which the "password" to a particular sword was a closely guarded secret, necessitating a cryptographic industry, makes for a good story, is steampunk about to be replaced by cryptometal?

How to recognize an Affine ciphered text? The ciphered text has an indice of coincidence similar to the language of the plain text.

Lets do some exercises on the "formula"


Times that each letter appears: N = 1 D = 3 X = 3 O = 2 C = 1 H = 2 W = 1 R = 2 G = 1 H = 1 V = 1 I = 1

Big question in my mind is do we have a complete alphabet?

Word of caution when dealing with the period. This is not a time of great reading, one may thus over-analyse the phrase expecting to find a third text, avoiding the practical problem, that the phrase for all intents and purposes, merely contains meaning transferred from one realm to another.

Look up the meaning of secret:

Kept hidden from knowledge or view; concealed Not revealing a secret or not given to revealing secrets: Something that is kept out of the knowledge or sight of others or is known only to oneself or a few A method or formula for doing or making something well, A variable prayer said after the Offertory and before the Preface in the Mass.

The inscription is thus a formula or prayer, known to the few, but certainly no longer a secret.

Thus a good weekend puzzle. As Alfred North Whitehead might also have put it, close enough. I am sure there is a lot more to it, but lets deal with what we have got here first.

Nomine Domini XOX CHW/GHW Draggard Corvi

The exact same combination of letters CHW appear in the footnote to a similar inquiry on a brass strap tag C.H.W. (1834). Ancient Brass Relic. The Dublin Penny Journal. Vol. 3, no.119. Dublin: P.D. Hardy, mere coincidence?

The initial clusters sp-, sr-, sw- became f-, fr-, chw-:

*sɸera became Welsh ffer *srogna "nostril" became Welsh ffroen, Cornish frig and Breton froen, Irish srón *swero "toy, game" became Welsh chwarae and Breton c'hoari (but Cornish gwari)see Brittonic languages

Obviously this isn't exactly what we looking for, we need something like this found on timetoast and a way of building a list of historical persons in order to complete a search, some food for thought: a better history search engine is required, one that can search for missing historical persons, presumably, dead.

Here is a link to a good article on livescience.

  • You're only getting Corvi because you changed the final X to a C (without any explanation as to why). If the X is "just a placeholder", how do you know what character that one is a placeholder for?
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 8, 2015 at 21:41
  • It was an intuition, once I started shifting the C around, it fell into one of the placeholders, the entire thing probably works like manufacturers spell to war off the enemy or foe, but also to charge the iron, steel etc, they don't tell us exactly how this thing was made, but its a bit of an educated guesswork Aug 8, 2015 at 21:43
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    You started off with some reasonable extrapolation and with each edit you got more and more fanciful. Your final answer with its cherry-picking of letters, mix of languages and reference to dragon slaying seems extremely improbable.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 8, 2015 at 22:40
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    Dominic Dragonvial Goade, So you really think that this is all an elaborate joke linked to someone's Eve-online character?
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 8, 2015 at 23:07
  • 4
    A few more edits and your answer has gone from fanciful to pure fantasy. You're now backing up your answer with quotes from a 2012 young-adult fantasy novel and think that this is "guerilla marketing for an online role-playing game"? Presumably, you didn't bother reading the British Library blog entry that says the sword was found in July 1825 and has been in the British Museum since 1858? Does the marketing department of this gaming firm have a time machine?
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 9, 2015 at 15:06

As you can verify at the following link, ten days ago I tried to decipher the full inscription as a medieval Latin acronym (the owner of the sword, may be, was a knight named Wilhelm, Willelmus or Willielmus in medieval Latin):


Of course I am not sure at all that my interpretation is correct.


NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI -> NDXOXCHWD RGHDXORVI : "DX" -> D-> E; X-> CT; NECTO SCHWERE HECTOR VI. And the checksum of both secuences is maintained. Franklin Avila.

  • 3
    Could you please broaden your answer so that a layperson could follow it?
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 22, 2016 at 19:41

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