In the meantime, however, I wanted to write a quick post documenting two additional accounts of Hercules-hilted swords, both purchased in Italy. These swords were brought to my attention through comments on my blog followed up by email exchanges. While they don't (so far, anyway) tell us much that is new about the design or characteristics of the swords, they do give us two data points for when and where they were available.
"as I promised this is the picture,
it is not a very clear photo, I asked my mother to take the pic this morning, but she's in Rome and I'm living in Milan so I couldn't take the photo myself.
My parents have this sword from the middle of 70's and they bought it from a man in a flee market in Rome, the guy had other pretended to be ancient roman artefacts, but it was a period when it was common this kind of market here in Rome and in Italy generally speaking."
Even with the blurry image, it's pretty easy to tell at this point that we're indeed looking at another cast of the same Hercules-hilted sword. If I had to guess, I would say this one might be in pretty good shape. You can clearly make out the lions (?) at Hercules' feet, the outline of the lion skin that he's wearing, and some relief in the club/branch that he's holding over his head. It's impossible to tell from the photo if the sword is cast iron or a copper alloy. I hope that Sonja can take some additional close-up photos at some point and tell us if it's ferrous or non-ferrous metal. Thank you, Sonja.
The second sword (we'll call it the "Benjamin Pompeii" sword) was reportedly purchased at a mobile gift shop outside of Pompeii in 2005. In a comment on this blog post, Benjamin writes:
"I did UNB's study abroad to Pompeii and Herculaneum in 2005. I bought that exact sword at a mobile gift shop for 50 euros outside old Pompeii.
Unfortunately, I don't have any photographs of buying the sword nor can I pose with it right now (it's stored at my family's in Halifax while I'm in Fredericton), but I do have a 2008 photo of the sword hanging in the background on my college bedroom wall. I am sending it to your e-mail promptly."
The interesting thing about these two swords is that they actually have some "primary" contextual information attached to them. This is not true of any of the other swords (Florida = purchased from dealer; California = purchased at estate sale; Italian eBay = purchased online with no additional information; France = for sale by art/antiquities dealer; Spain = for sale by art/antiquities dealer). All of the previously known copper alloy swords had changed hands at least once, breaking the link between the item and information about when/where it was originally obtained.
So these Italian swords tell us something helpful. We know that both the Sonja Rome and the Benjamin Pompeii were purchased from street vendors, who presumably the end point on a supply chain leading from a maker to a seller. The Sonja Rome sword tells us that these kinds of reproductions were being sold at least as far back as the mid-1970's. That date of 1975/1976 does not tell us when the swords were first produced, but gives us a minimum age for the oldest copies (I continue to suspect that at least some of the swords were produced in the 1800's, but I still have no way to demonstrate that). We know that some swords of this design have had at least 40 years to work their way around the world.
I would love to hear from anyone who visited Italy prior to the 1970's and has a memory (or better yet, a photograph) of these kinds of swords being sold.