Category Archive 'Arms and Armor'
05 Sep 2018

Viking Sword, Possible Byzantine Manufacture

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The extreme nature of the ornamentation on this sword, combined with the unusual (for Scandinavia) motifs coupled with the apparent lack of a fuller (lenticular, ‘grooveless’ sword blades being a common hallmark of swords from Constantinople) may indicate that this sword was manufactured in Byzantium and may have belonged to a Varangian Guardsman or may have been gifted to a Nordic person held in esteem by the Romans.

With double-edged blade of gradual taper; inlaid on both sides in gold and silver with decorative patterns, one side bearing a gradually tapering geometric-architectural design in five stages and the other bearing a gradually tapering palmette design. The hilt comprising down-curved cross guard, sturdy tang and five-lobed pommel riveted to the upward-curving upper guard; the cross-guard, upper guard and pommel all inlaid in silver with decorative knotwork and tracery and in gold with dots.

Overall length: 94 cm (37″); Blade length: 80.6 cm (31.75″)

This rare Viking sword, the hilt of Petersen Type O, has a cross-guard with decorative devices reminiscent of those on one of the three swords that were found in the rich ship burial of about 900 at Hedeby in Denmark when it was subsequently excavated in the 1950s. More of these ‘rabbit ear’ or ‘knotted rope’ characters may be found on three of the ‘Hiltipreht’ group of swords, namely one in the Wallace Collection, London (Inv. No. A456), the Ballinderry sword in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin (Inv. No.1928.382) and the example from Malhus in the Trondheim Museum, Norway (Petersen, Abb.89).

The credentials of this prestigious weapon are further enhanced by the decoration upon the blade. On one side there is a palmette design of inlaid silver with traces of gold that is very similar to that on a fragmented blade from the River Bann in Ireland and illustrated in Bøe. This should be compared with the inlay on a sword from the Waal near Nijmegen (Oakeshott, Records of the Medieval Sword, p.47). On the other side, the inlaid precious metals may well represent a schematic plan view of a building, as is believed to have been intended upon another silver inlaid sword illustrated and described by Ewart Oakeshott (Records of the Medieval Sword, pp.28-29).

02 Sep 2018

The Guttman Gladius

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A POMPEII-TYPE GLADIUS (SHORT SWORD), TINNED BRONZE SCABBARD AND IRON SPEAR HEAD

MID/LATE 1ST CENTURY A.D.

The gladius with parallel double-edged blade of piled construction, of flattened diamond section with raised rib at the point, and long tang, the forte with dot-punched inscription on both sides reading: “C. Valer(i) Pr[imi]/C.Valeri(i) Pri(mi)” and: “C. Valeri(i) P[rimi] C. Raniu(s)/C. Vale[ri] Primi”, mounted, 25 in. (63.6 cm.) long; the scabbard consisting of bronze mounts with remains of tinning, with cut-away and engraved motifs, comprising the locket with two pierced and engraved panels decorated with two helmeted figures, the upper with a warrior moving towards the right, his head turned back, holding spear and shield, and wearing muscled cuirass and crested helmet, two shields resting at his feet, the lower panel with figure of winged Victory writing on a shield hanging from palm tree, wearing drapery around her lower body, the chape with figure of winged Victory holding palm leaf, a separate palmette with scrolling pattern above, with modern collar attachment, mounted, 5¾ in. (14.5 cm.) long max.; and an iron spear blade decorated with circular and wavy line motif on both sides, with faint inscription on the shaft, 17¼ in. (44 cm.) long; and a modern replica of the gladius and scabbard, 26½ in. (67.3 cm.) long max. (4)

Provenance:

Found in Wiesbaden in 1971-1972 by Wolfgang Johe.

Read more: here

20 Aug 2018

Octopus Samurai Helmet

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Tako Kabuto, Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam.

31 Jul 2018

Renaissance Musical Notation Knives

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From the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Open Culture:

These knives, which have musical scores engraved in their blades, brought a table together in singing their prayers, and may have been used to carve the lamb or beef in their “striking balance of decorative and utilitarian function.” At least historians think such “notation knives,” which date from the early 1500s, were used at banquets. “The sharp, wide steel would have been ideal for cutting and serving meat,” writes Eliza Grace Martin at the WQXR blog, “and the accentuated tip would have made for a perfect skewer.” But as Kristen Kalber, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which houses the knives at the top of the post, tells us “diners in very grand feasts didn’t cut their own meat.” It’s unlikely they would have sung from the bloody knives held by their servants.

The knives’ true purpose “remains a mystery,” Martin remarks, like many “rituals of the Renaissance table.” Victoria and Albert Museum curator Kirstin Kennedy admits in the video above that “we are not entirely sure” what the “splendid knife” she holds was used for. But we do know that each knife had a different piece of music on each side, and that a set of them together contained different harmony parts in order to turn a roomful of diners into a chorus. One set of blades had the grace on one side, with the inscription, “the blessing of the table. May the three-in-one bless that which we are about to eat.” The other side holds the benediction, to be sung after the dinner: “The saying of grace. We give thanks to you God for your generosity.”

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Kristen Kalber, at the Victoria & Albert Museum, discusses these knives.

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Maya Corry discusses the Fitzwillian Museum’s musical notation knives starting at 2:30.

11 Apr 2018

Dagger

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Rock Crystal Dagger, 3000 B.C., Spain.

Daily Grail:

Structure 10.042-10.049 is another large two-chambered megalithic construction made from slate slabs. In the second chamber archaeologists found the body of a young male aged between 17 and 25 lying in the foetal position along with a large set of grave goods. These included an undecorated elephant tusk laid above the young man’s head, a set of 23 flint blades, and numerous ivory objects. Additionally, red pigment made from cinnabar had been sprayed over the body and the objects surrounding it. The “remarkable crystal dagger blade”, however, was not found with these grave goods, but instead in the upper level of this chamber.

The rock crystal dagger blade appeared in the upper level of Structure 10.049 of the PP4-Montelirio sector, in association with an ivory hilt and sheath, which renders it an exceptional object in Late Prehistoric Europe… The blade is 214 mm in length, a maximum of 59 mm in width and 13 mm thick. Its morphology is not unheard of in the Iberian Peninsula, although all the samples recorded thus far were made from flint and not rock crystal…

The manufacture of the rock crystal dagger blade must have been based on an accumulation of transmitted empirical knowledge and skill taken from the production of flint dagger blades as well from know-how of rock-crystal smaller foliaceous bifacial objects, such as Ontiveros and Montelirio arrowheads… It was obtained from a large monocrystal at least 220 mm in length and 60 mm in width. Given that these single crystals are hexagonal, they would have a similar width along all their different axes.

The rock crystal source used in creating the crystal weaponry has not been pinpointed exactly at this stage, though analysis suggests two potential sources, “both located several hundred km away from Valencina”.

Given the technical skill and difficulties involved in creating the objects from crystal, rather than flint, researchers believe the motives behind their construction must have been very specific. They note that while crystal objects were found throughout the site…

    The more technically sophisticated items, however, were deposited in the larger megalithic structures…As such, it is reasonable to assume that although the raw material was relatively available throughout the community…only the kin groups, factions or individuals who were buried in megaliths were able to afford the added value that allowed the production of sophisticated objects such as arrow heads or dagger blades.
    In this respect, however, it is important to note that, paradoxically, none of the most sophisticated artefacts studied in this paper can be ascribed to any particular individual: the rock crystal dagger from Structure 10.042-10.049 was found in the upper level of the main chamber (10.049) in which no human bones were identified; in Montelirio, neither the core nor the arrowheads can be ascribed to any on 20 individuals found in the main chamber; lastly, in the case of Ontiveros, the only available publication offers no evidence that the 16 arrow heads were associated to any particular individual.

    It seems therefore reasonable to suggest that rock crystal may have had a dual significance for the Chalcolithic society of Valencina. On the one hand, it had a social significance due to the exoticism of the material and the fact that its transformation required very specific skills and probably some degree of technical specialisation. These objects would have had a “surplus value” based on the exoticism and rarity of the raw material, the techno-economic investment of their manufacture (a know-how limited to very few people) and their use linked to the world of beliefs and funerary practices. They probably represent funerary paraphernalia only accessible to the elite of this time-period.

    On the other hand, rock crystal must have had a symbolic significance as a raw material invested with special meanings and connotations. The literature provides examples of societies in which rock crystal and quartz as raw materials symbolise vitality, magical powers and a connection with ancestors In her analysis of European Neolithic religion, Marija Gimbutas linked the ritual and votive use of white quartz nodules to a symbol of death and regeneration often associated with funerary spaces. Quartz and rock crystal were even portrayed as rocks with great supernatural powers in European Christian tradition. In his Lapidarium, King Alfonso X the Wise of Castile (1276-1279 CE) emphasised its power to connect human beings with the spiritual world, as well as its ability to protect them from danger.

09 Apr 2018

Bronze Italic Cuirass

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Italic Bronze Anatomical Cuirass
Culture : Greek-Western-Greek, Italic
Period : 4th century B.C.
Material : Bronze
Dimensions : H: 35.8 cm

Provenance : Ex-Professor A. Goumaz Collection, Switzerland, 1960’s.

Conditions : Anatomical cuirass featuring two cast bronze plates hammered for better protection against knocks and blows. Repairs on both elements; lateral closure system (hinges, hooks) now lost. Reddish brown colored metal largely covered with a dark green patina and encrustations.

25 Mar 2018

Hingsgavldolken Blade

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Flint knife known as the Hingsgavldolken blade, circa 2400-1800 BC. On display at the Danish National Museum.

11 Feb 2018

1000-Year-Old Viking Axe Before and After Restoration

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19 Sep 2017

Royal Assyrian Sickle Sword

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Sickle sword

Period:
Middle Assyrian

Date:
ca. 1307–1275 B.C.

Geography:
Northern Mesopotamia

Culture:
Assyrian

Medium:
Bronze

Dimensions:
L. 54.3 cm

Classification:
Metalwork-Implements-Inscribed

Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911

Accession Number:
11.166.1

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406

This curved sword bears the cuneiform inscription “Palace of Adad-nirari, king of the universe, son of Arik-den-ili, king of Assyria, son of Enlil-nirari, king of Assyria,” indicating that it was the property of the Middle Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 B.C.). The inscription appears in three places on the sword: on both sides of the blade and along its (noncutting) edge. Also on both sides of the blade is an engraving of an antelope reclining on some sort of platform.

Curved swords appear frequently in Mesopotamian art as symbols of authority, often in the hands of gods and kings. It is therefore likely that this sword was used by Adad-nirari, not necessarily in battle, but in ceremonies as an emblem of his royal power.

25 May 2017

Making Bronze Swords

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At Sarah Hoyt’s site, J.M. Ney-Grimm wondered exactly how the ancients manufactured swords in the Bronze Age.

Making a sword was resource intensive, both because of the valuable metals required and because of the labor from many skilled individuals that went into it. …

Bronze is made by mixing a small part of tin with a larger portion of copper. The ancients didn’t have modern strip mines or deep underground mines. Nor did they have sophisticated machinery run by deisel engines. How did they get copper and tin out of the ground?

Copper mines bore some resemblance to my expectations. The copper deposits needed to be relatively near the surface, but the ancients actually did tunnel down to a vein of ore. There, at the working face, they built a fire to heat the ore-containing rock. Once the rock reached a high enough temperature, they doused it with cold water. This process increased the brittleness of the rock and induced a preliminary degree of cracking. Blows from a hammer or pick could then break it into rubble, which could be heated in a smelting furnace to extract the copper.

Tin was another matter, one entirely new to me.

Tin was found in alluvial deposits in stream beds, usually as a very pure tin gravel well stirred with gravels of quartz, mica, and feldspar (gangue). So the trick was to separate out the tin gravel from the others.

The method of the ancients, as far back as 2,000 BC, was this:

• Dig a trench at the lowest end of the deposit.
• Dig a channel from the nearest water source to pour water over that part of the deposit
• Allow the stream of water to wash the lighter gangue into the trench
• Pick up the heavier tin gravel that remained
• When the lower portion of the deposit had yielded all its tin, dig another trench a bit higher and redirect the water channel, to allow the next section of the deposit to be harvested

The tin gravel thus obtained would be roughly smelted on site, simply roasting the gravel in a fire. The pebbles resulting from this rough smelt would then be transported to a dedicated furnace for a second smelting that yielded the purer tin needed by bladesmiths.

Modern ingots are rectangular blocks, but those of the ancients took several different forms. The earliest were so-called “biscuit” ingots, round on the bottom like a muffin, gently concave on the top. They took the shape of the earthen pit into which the molten metal dripped from the smelting furnace.

But metal is heavy, and the biscuit shape awkward to carry. Around our own Mediterranean, an “oxhide” form was developed. It weighed about 80 pounds and possessed four “legs,” one at each corner, that allowed it to be tied between pack animals or gripped and carried by men.

I became fascinated with an ingot form used much later by the Chinese in the Malay Penninsula. These were hat shaped, much smaller (weighing only a pound), and actually used as currency.

Bronze has one very peculiar property in the smithy.

Most metals, such as iron or even copper, when heated and cooled slowly to room temperature, become more ductile and more workable. They are less prone to internal stresses.

Bronze does not behave like this. When slow cooled, it becomes brittle and difficult to work. Thus it must be heated to cherry-red and then quenched in water. This quick cooling makes it so soft that it can then be hammered. The hammering condenses the metal, giving it more rigidity.

A bladesmith will hammer near the edge of a blade to harden it and help it keep its sharpness, while allowing the center rib to retain more of its resilience.

Were These Swords Any Good?If you compare a bronze sword to a steel sword, the steel is always going to win. But when the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, bronze metallurgy was at its peak. Several thousand years had gone into the development of the most superb techniques. Iron metallurgy was in its infancy, and getting the iron swords to be rigid enough was a problem. The iron swords just weren’t as good as the bronze ones, which were light, strong, just rigid enough, and held an edge well.

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18 May 2017

Moving in Armor

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Arms of Jean le Maingre, known as Boucicaut. Blazoned: Argent à l’aigle éployée de gueules becquée et membrée d’azur.

25 Jan 2017

Viking Ax Found in Danish Tomb

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Vintage News:

Inside an ancient Viking “death house,” a type of large tomb, Danish archaeologists recently made several important discoveries. The tomb, measuring 13 feet by 42 feet, was first unearthed in 2012 during a construction project in Denmark’s southwestern Hårup region.

Archaeologists have been studying the tomb ever since – burial sites are currently the only way archaeologists can study Viking history since remains of Viking settlements have yet to be excavated.

Constructed circa 950 AD, the “death house” contains three separate graves. Inside two of the graves, researchers found the remains of a male and female “power couple” likely of high birth or strong community influence. However, lead archaeologist Kirsten Nellemann Nielsen of the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, cannot say for sure whether the “power couple” is a brother and sister or husband and wife. Clothing items found with the remains show that the man and woman were nobility.

The female’s clothing had silver threads in it, and she was buried with a key, which was a Viking status symbol.

The male remains found in the main tomb yielded an amazing discovery – one of the largest Viking axes found to date. The extremely heavy, giant ax could have been used in combat, but it would have taken two hands to fight with it. Experts believe it was probably used to terrify Viking enemies. As Nielsen explains, “People across Europe feared this type of ax, which at the time was known as the Dane Axe – something like the ‘machine gun’ of the Viking Age.” The ax did not have many decorative markings, which also suggests it was used in battle. The man it was buried with was probably quite strong to wield the ax successfully. The fact that he was buried with the ax and nothing else leads researchers to conclude that he identified himself solely as a strong and competent warrior.

18 Oct 2016

Spartan Helmet (Detail)

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spartanhelmet
Spartan helmet on display in the Olympia Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese – Greece.

One can almost make out the inscription. Almost.

UPDATE: Commenter Rick Hamilton offers the correct reading: “‘Sparta’, along the eye opening, and, ‘Miltiades dedicates to Zeus’ along the bottom.”

And he’s dead right. This is the helmet of Miltiades, the same Miltiades who devised the strategy that won the Battle of Marathon.

04 Oct 2016

India’s Urumi Whip Sword

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urumi

Atlas Obscura profiles another really strange non-European weapon.

The urumi hasn’t regularly been used as an actual weapon for generations, but even as a demonstration weapon, it is still incredibly dangerous. Especially to the user.

The urumi (which can be translated as “curving sword,” and is also known as a “chuttuval”), hails from southern India. The historic weapon was saved from the erasure of time when it was incorporated into Kalaripayattu martial arts, an Indian fighting style that is considered one of the oldest in the world. Incorporating elements of yoga and performative dance, Kalaripayattu movements look like violent but graceful choreography. Urumi fighting is no different, it is just far more dangerous to those who would attempt to learn the skill.

Like any sword, the urumi comes in a number of varieties, with a variable length, and even a variable number of blades, but they all follow the same basic construction. Usually simpler than more elaborately decorated sword weapons, at its simplest, the urumi consists of a hilt connected to a thin, flexible steel blade. The handle is usually protected by a crossguard and knuckle-guard. The long blades extend somewhere between four and six feet in length (or even longer in some cases), and around an inch in width, but the aspect that makes the weapon unique is that the steel is always thin enough to flop around. Almost like a cartoon-version of a rubber sword.

Given the urumi’s unique construction, wielding it is also an art unto itself. Since the flexible blade is no good for stabbing, it is slung around similarly to a traditional leather whip. In order to make continuous strikes with the weapon, it must stay continually in motion so that the momentum which gives the blade its slashing power is not lost. This usually requires the user to swing it over and around their head and shoulders in furious arcs.

While this makes the urumi incredibly hard and dangerous to use, it also provides it with one of its major benefits as a weapon. When the blade curves around the sword wielder in quick arcing slashes, it creates a defensive bubble of flying metal that an opponent would be reckless to get close to. In addition, it makes a terrific weapon for defending against multiple opponents, both by providing a good barrier at a number of angles at once, and for the long, wild attacking arcs the steel whip provides.

Urumi sparring incorporates small buckler shields that are used to deflect direct swings of the weapon, but when the urumi was used in actual combat, it was said to have had the added benefit of curving around the edges of enemy shields, landing cuts even when blocked.

As an added bonus of having a wildly flexible blade, the urumi could be tightly rolled up for easy travel and concealment. In fact, it has often been worn as a belt.

Of course all of this versatility comes at a price. As you can imagine, winging metal whips around your delicate face flesh at high speeds can easily result in a missing nose, or other mishap. Wielding the urumi correctly and safely takes years of training, learning techniques for everything from bringing the blade to safe stop, to altering the rotation of your swings without slicing your arm off.

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