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King Arthur’s Excalibur Sword: Its Origin and History

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: August 1, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

NO AI USED This Article has been written and edited by our team with no help of the AI

One of the most famous swords in European legends, the Excalibur belonged to King Arthur of Camelot. In Arthurian legends, the magical sword protected the king and his knights. There are varying accounts on how he obtained the sword, but it retains its significance in every story.

So, let us explore the history of the Excalibur and how much truth there is to the Arthurian legends.

Was King Arthur a real person?

Historians have been unable to confirm that King Arthur existed, but many believe he was a real warrior who led British armies against Saxon invaders in the 6th century. In the early 5th century, Britain suffered from the weakening Roman Empire in the west. When the Roman rule over Britain ended, native British rulers were left to fight invaders alone.

When the Anglo-Saxons arrived in England, they gained several territories. By around 500 CE, the Britons won a great victory at the Battle of Mount Badon, led by military leader Ambrosius Aurelianus, though later traditions identified him with King Arthur. In the Historia Brittonum, a Welsh historian ascribed 12 victories to Arthur, described as dux bellorum or supreme commander.

By the 12th century, British writer Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the first life story of Arthur in his book History of the Kings of Britain. He also referred to the sword of King Arthur as Caliburn—now known as Excalibur—which was forged in the island of Avalon. However, he gave no clue where the Arthurian story came from, resulting in many later writers believing that he made everything all up.

The Excalibur vs. The Sword in the Stone

Illustration of King Arthur asking the lady of the lake for the sword excalibur
( Source)

In most popular tradition, the Lady of the Lake or also known as Nimue, gave the Excalibur sword to King Arthur, and it later kept him safe from being wounded in battle. The Excalibur sword is often confused with the sword in the stone drawn by Arthur as proof of his birthright and royalty. While some accounts consider them the same, they are traditionally regarded as different weapons.

Illustration of Arthur Drawing the Sword from the Stone
( Source)

Sometimes a sword in an anvil, the sword in the stone is an unnamed weapon. When Arthur was old enough to claim his inheritance, the wizard Merlin took him to a sword in a massive rock. Magically embedded by Merlin, the sword could only be removed by the rightful king of Britain. Many knights failed in drawing the sword from the stone, but Arthur succeeded and revealed his destiny.

What Excalibur would have really looked like?

Illustration of Arthur Receiving Excalibur
( Source)

The appearance of Excalibur varies greatly from story to story. In Idylls of the King, Alfred Lord Tennyson described the Excalibur embedded with precious stones, including topaz and jacinth. In many versions, the sword blade features inscriptions “Take me up” and “Cast me away” on opposite sides. Some described it as being so bright that it blinded Arthur’s enemies.

Other poets and storytellers created their own descriptions of the sword. Modern reproductions of Excalibur sometimes draw inspiration from medieval swords, especially the longsword. In the film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the Excalibur sword features a decorative crystal on the pommel and a patterned Damascus steel blade. The creators used a written language on the blade inscription specifically for the film.

Facts About The Excalibur Sword

The origins of the sword Excalibur can be traced through the evolution of its name and by looking at early Welsh legends.

Here are the things you need to know about the legendary sword:

King Arthur’s Excalibur was called Caliburn.

The name Excalibur comes from the Welsh Caledfwlch—also Cornish Calesvol and Breton Kaledvoulc’h. The Caledfwlch appears in early Welsh literature, especially in Culhwch and Olwen, one of the earliest Arthurian texts. Geoffrey of Monmouth eventually Latinized the name into Caliburnus, sometimes spelled Caliburn. In Old French texts, it became Escalibor and then finally Excalibur.

The name Excalibur gained the meaning of “cut steel”.

In the Arthurian romance Perceval, French poet Chrétien de Troyes described the Escalibor as the finest sword, which sliced through iron as it could through wood. So, some authors thought that the French term Escalibor suggests cutting iron, steel, and wood. Eventually, English writer Sir Thomas Malory picked up the idea that the name Excalibur meant cut steel.

The Excalibur was probably derived from the Caladbolg sword of an Irish hero.

In Irish mythology, Irish hero Fergus mac Róich wielded his great sword known as Caladbolg, sometimes spelled caladbou which literally means hard fighter. Fergus used it to cut off the tops of three hills in Ireland’s county Meath, creating the flattened hills we see today.

The Welsh Caledfwlch and the Irish Caladbolg are phonetically similar, so some believe that the two swords are related. Still, some scholars suggest that the terms served as generic names for a sword, then the Caledfwlch became the sword of Arthur in the British tradition.

The Excalibur Sword’s scabbard had magical powers of its own.

King Arthur took the sword and the scabbard
( Source)

The extraordinary quality of King Arthur’s sword was its scabbard that protected him and his knights from all wounds. Hence, Arthur’s sister Morgan, sometimes Morgause, stole the scabbard from Excalibur, leaving him vulnerable. His traitor son Mordred challenged his control of the kingdom and killed him in the battle of Camlann.

The Excalibur had to be returned to the lake where it came from.

Sir Bedevere Casts the Sword Excalibur into the Lake
( Source)

Wounded in his final battle, Arthur asked his knight Bedivere, sometimes Griflet, to throw the sword into a lake, where a hand arose to take it, presumably the Lady of the Lake. On his death, a magical boat appeared to take him to the mystical island of Avalon. Folklore says that he would be healed on the island and live on, and he would eventually lead Britain in time of need.

Some of Arthur’s warriors also used the Excalibur.

In the Celtic legend of Culhwch and Olwen, the Excalibur, called Caledfwlch, is one of Arthur’s most valuable possession. His warrior Llenlleawg used it to kill the Irish king Diwrnach while stealing the so-called magical cauldron. The legend of Excalibur began to expand in the Vulgate Cycle and Post-Vulgate Cycle writings. The Excalibur is Arthur’s sword, but his nephew and knight Gawain also used it, contrary to later versions that the magical sword belonged solely to the king. 

Arthur used several other weapons.

The Excalibur is not the only weapon associated with Arthur. In Culhwch and Olwen, he used a spear named Rhongomyniad and a dagger called Carnwennan. In Alliterative Morte Arthure, a Middle English alliterative poem, he used Clarent, a sword of the peace during ceremonies. In the poem, Mordred stole it and used it to kill him.

There is no mention of the Sword in the Stone prophecy in the earliest accounts.

There are different versions of the legend of the sword. In the earliest accounts, Arthur simply inherits the kingdom from his father Uther Pendragon. The first mention of the Sword in the Stone comes from the 12th-century French epic poem Merlin by Robert de Boron.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table served as an example of medieval chivalry.

The concept of the brotherhood of knights appealed to the medieval concept of chivalry. There have been different versions of the story told by the British, French, and German authors, but all of them depict Arthur as a wise and brave ruler.

Arthur founded the Round Table as a symbol of an ideal society, with brave knights like Lancelot, Gawain, Tristan, Erec, Parzival, Ywain, and Sir Kay. Most tales revolve around the ideals of bravery and honor as the king defended the weak against the strong.

Medieval writers variously narrated stories of Arthur and his adventures.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain later inspired poets and storytellers in England and France. In the late 12th century, French poet Chrétien de Troyes introduced the quest for the mysterious Holy Grail, a mysterious vessel associated with the Passion of Christ. Robert de Boron incorporated the theme into Arthurian legends, adding a sense of religious destiny to the story of Arthur.

The Vulgate Cycle, a group of Arthurian legends written from 1210 to 1230, added pseudo-historical narrative with Arthur’s military adventures. The Post-Vulgate Cycle, written between 1230 and 1240, introduced other characters and adventures. In Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, the first English version of the Arthurian legend narrates Arthur’s birth and emphasizes the brotherhood of the knights.

The Excalibur as a magical sword reflects Celtic beliefs and tradition.

In Celtic tradition, it is common for weapons to have mysterious origins. The Celts also endow supernatural powers to the weapons of warriors, kings, and gods. The Excalibur is a magical sword from another realm, and must be returned to its source. It was a common practice among the Celts to throw their weapons into the lakes and ponds, likely based on Celtic sacrificial rituals.

The Excalibur in Pop Culture

King Arthur's sword Excalibur from the 1981 Film 'Excalibur'.
( Source)

The tale of King Arthur and his Excalibur sword continues to inspire authors and filmmakers today. There are many variants of Arthurian legend, successfully reinvented and reimagined. In the film Excalibur, the legendary sword was in the hands of Uther Pendragon before finding its way to Arthur. In the Cursed drama series, the story played out a bit differently. A woman named Nimue is the wielder of the sword and is tasked to deliver the Excalibur to Merlin.

The Arthurian legend also influenced The Lord of the Rings film series, as seen in the symbolism of a sword of power. No wonder Excalibur is also common in cosplay and live-action role-playing games or LARP, which allows players to take the character of King Arthur or Knights of the Round Table.


The Excalibur is the magical sword of King Arthur, the legendary ruler of Britain. Throughout the many Arthurian legends, this sword has had many names and wielders, yet retains its powerful reputation in every story that features it. To this day, the legendary sword remains popular in films, novels, cosplay, and LARP.

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