Decorated Axe from Bašnice

In May 2019, an extraordinary militaria was found in the Czech Republic, which has not yet been published in print – an axe inlayed with silver, found in Hořice Region in eastern Bohemia. In this short article, we would like to comment on this find, put it in the context of the Central European arms tradition, and bring it to its digital form, which will better serve the public’s appreciation of this precious artifact.


Circumstances of the finding and presentation

The information available so far is not very detailed. We can safely say that the axe was found near Bašnice in the vicinity of Hořice between Jičín and Hradec Králové in May 2019. The exact location is kept secret by archaeologists because of the ongoing examination of the surroundings. It was found by a detectorist in an unplowed field near a forest at a depth of about 15 cm below ground level. As the axe did not seem very attractive to the detectorist, he left the object on a nearby stump where it was discovered by a colleague of the Museum of East Bohemia in Hradec Králové. He recognized the Early medieval axe in the artifact, and as soon as he took off a piece of corrosion, he discovered the silver decoration and reported the find. A probe was carried out on the spot that did not detect any signs of the burial ground, but archaeologists do not rule out the presence of a plowed grave.

Approximate location of the find within the Czech Republic.

From May to July, the axe was announced in Czech online media. The website of the Museum of East Bohemia in Hradec Králové (“New Find of the Inlayed Axe”, “The Secret of the Bird Axe”, “How the Unique Bird Axe was Conserved”) provided the best information about the discovery, conservation and exhibition. The object was also published on websites of main public medias – Czech Television („Hradečtí archeologové objevili unikátní sekeru. Je zdobená stříbrem“) and Czech Radio („Sekera ne za dva zlatý, ale nevyčíslitelné hodnoty. To je artefakt z 9. století zdobený stříbrem“, „Co už o sobě prozradila vzácná sekera z dob Velkomoravské říše? A kdy ji uvidí veřejnost?“, „Nález, který nemá v Česku obdoby. Na Královéhradecku našli sekeru z raného středověku“) – as well as private medias iDnes („Pole vydalo unikát, stříbrem zdobenou sekeru z dob Velké Moravy“), Deník N („Nálezce na Jičínsku objevil stříbrem zdobenou sekeru z dob Velké Moravy“), Novinky.cz („Archeologové našli unikátní, stříbrem zdobenou sekeru z dob Velké Moravy“), Lidovky.cz („Archeologové našli velkomoravskou sekeru, která v Česku nemá obdoby. Naleziště raději neprozradili“) and local newspapers Deník.cz („Jedinečný nález. Muž „zakopl” u lesa o vzácnou sekeru z dob Velké Moravy“), Hořice.org („Na Hořicku byla nalezena vzácná zdobená sekera z období Velké Moravy“), Hradecký deník („Muž „zakopl“ u lesa o vzácnou sekeru z dob Velké Moravy“), Jičínský deník („Bradatice z období Velké Moravy je unikátním nálezem“) and Hradecká drbna („V hradeckém kraji našli velkomoravskou sekeru, v ČR nemá obdoby“).

In the end of 2019, the conserved axe was exhibited in the museum, altogether with other Early medieval objects from eastern Bohemia. The exhibition was called “The Secret of the Bird Axe” and the objects were accompanied with quality description. The pictures from the exhibition can be seen here and were provided by Dominik Vencl


Brief description and analogies

During the latter part of 2019, the axe was cleaned with an ultrasonic scalpel and micro sandblasting and was preserved (for details of the preservation see Museum of East Bohemia in Hradec Králové 2020). After cleaning, the original shape of the axe and its decoration became apparent.

Photographs mapping the preservation of the axe.
Museum of East Bohemia in Hradec Králové.

The axe from Bašnice, which is assigned by local experts to vaguely defined “Great Moravian Bearded Axes”, is a well-preserved specimen of Kotowicz type IB.5.34 (Kotowicz 2018: 110-111), ie a narrow axehead with an asymmetrical beared-shaped blade, thorns on both sides and is equipped with a hammer-shaped butt with a button terminal. Kotowicz describes two basic variants of this type – the first has a flattened button and occures in the period from 8th to 10th century in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, while the second has a mushroom-like button and can be found in the period  ofrm 7th to 10th century only in Central Europe (Kotowicz 2018: 110). There is no doubt that the axe from Bašnice belongs to the second variant with a mushroom-like button. This variant was used in Avar areas in the 7th-8th centuries, but it was domesticated in the Slavic environment a century later, so we can meet this variant in today’s Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland in the 9th and 10th centuries (Kotowicz 2018: 111). The closest shape analogy is represented by the axe from Barkowice Mokre, Poland, which is significant for the blade decorated with chopped geometric ornament and a mushroom-like button (Kotowicz 2014: 15-16, Tabl. II.2; Kotowicz 2018: Pl. XII. 4), but it differs by profiled neck of the hammer. Such a feature is the most common decorative element of axes of this type, but an axe from Bašnice lacks it. Other close analogies of our axe come from Bojná, Slovakia (Kouřil 2008: Fig. 3.7), Mikulčice, Moriavia (Kouřil 2006: Fig. 4.6-7), Stará Kouřim, Bohemia (Profantová 2005: Fig. 8C.3) and Niedźwiedź, Poland (Kotowicz 2014: 89, Tabl. LIII.5). It is important to stress that type IB.5.34 belong to a bigger group of bearded axes, in which type IB.5.30 is the most dominant. IB.5.30 is widespread from Poland to Albania, but the largest concentration – probably over 100 pieces – is closely related to the Great Moravian period in Moravia, Slovakia, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic (Hrubý 1955: 170; Kotowicz 2018: 104-109; Ruttkay 1976: 306). In other words, the shape of an axe from Bašnice indicates production in Great Moravia, Bohemia or Poland.

Nearest shape analogies of the Bašnice axe:
Kotowicz type IB.5.34 with a mushroom-like button.

Top left: Barkowice Mokre (Kotowicz 2014: Tabl. II.2); Bojná (Kouřil 2008: Obr. 3.7); Mikulčice (Kouřil 2006: Obr. 4.7); Niedźwiedź (Kotowicz 2014: Tabl. LIII.5); Stará Kouřim (Profantová 2005: Obr. 8C.3); Mikulčice (Kouřil 2006: Obr. 4.6).

 


Mapping of type IB.5.34 axes with mushroom-shaped button from 9th-10th centuries.

What makes the axe special is decoration made with inlayed silver wire. The logic of inlay is that grooves are prepared on the surface of the object and filled with contrasting material in a certain motif. Unlike overlay, the grooves correspond to the motif. Both sides of the blade of the our axe are lined with simple lines, which are doubled on the edge side. The lines are crossed at regular intervals by clusters of perpendicular lines (5-7 pieces). A pair of birds with crosses is shown in the space delimited by the lines. Motifs are not symmetrical; on one side, the birds are complemented by additional lines of crossed clusters of lines. The thorns are decorated with vertical lines, which are crossed both by clusters of lines and a large cross with a tree pattern. The sides of the hammer are decorated with central lines with clusters of lines surrounding them. The top and bottom are decorated with triangles, which are either filled with silver (on the side of the blade) or left empty (on the side of the hammer).

The symbolism of the bird appears in a number of elite objects created by Great Moravian and Přemyslid culture – belts, gombíks, knife handles, buckets, scabbards, axes, rings and decorative fittings (Vlasatý 2020). It was definitely a symbol with a positive meaning. It is very likely that the Great Moravian bird was incorporated into Christian symbolism, as indicated by liturgical vessels (Kavánová 2014), but it seems that its importance is not only linked to Christianity. Perhaps it could have a certain position in the dynastic myth or creation myth. Another possible explanation can be associated with the fact that humans have a significant prerequisite to associate with animals with which they are biobehaviorally similar; a bird could express a reflection of some desirable qualities for elites. Based on this symbolism, Bašnice axe can be connected with the cultural area of Great Moravia and early Přemyslid Bohemia.

The fact that the axe is inlaid with other metal is considered to be an unique unparalleled feature by the staff of the Hradec Králové Museum. It is true that beared axes of type IB.5.30 (with associated types IB.5.34 and IB.5.28) are rarely decorated, but at least one analogy exists. It is the axe from Bardy, Poland, which belongs to type IB.5.30 and which is inlayed with copper alloy wire on the thorns, neck and hammer (Kotowicz 2014: Tabl. II.1; Kotowicz 2018: 34-35). Even this axe is considered unique in Poland, and because of the absence of analogy, there has been speculation about Scandinavian influence, which we believe does not need to be discussed any longer (Kotowicz 2018: 35). The axe from Bašnice is 10.8 cm long, the blade is 3 cm wide and the eye is about 2 cm wide, which is significantly less than the usual for type IB.5.30 (usually 15-20 cm in length), but the axe from Bardy reaches similar dimensions (length 13.4 cm, blade width 4.6 cm, eye diameter 2.1 cm). It is also worth mentioning the length of thorns is 4.75 cm. According to Jiří Košta, curator of National Museum of Prague, the axe is therefore a miniature that was made for child burial. The same opinion shares expert Naďa Profantová that points to a small measures of IB.5.34 type axe from grave 79 from Stará Kouřimi (personal discussion with Naďa Profantová). Another decorated axe, but without applied precious metal, is the mentioned axe from Barkowice Mokre. Kotowicz suggests the possibility that the chopped grooves on some axes may have initially been filled with precious metal that rusted over time (Kotowicz 2018: 34), but we do not know if that was the case of the axe from Barkowice. The fact that both decorated axes are located in Poland, where the tradition of decorating axes was more established, may indicate the connection of the Great Moravian environment with the territory of today’s southern Poland, so we cannot exclude the possible Polish origin of Bašnice axe. Another decorated bearded axe is the axe from the grave 221 discovered in the Slovak locality Borovce; the whole surface of the axe was apparently decorated with a non-ferrous metal (Staššíková-Šťukovská – Brziak 1995). So far, only three Early medieval axes decorated with non-ferrous metal from the Czech Republic has been known – the axe-hammer from the grave 120 of Stará Kouřim, whose origin is placed in Khazar Khanate or today’s Iran (Macháček 2000), atypic broad-axe from the grave 1994 in Mikulčice that burnt during the deposit fire in 2007 (Luňák 2018: 79-80) and the axe from grave 22/05 from Klecany, which was decorated with two inlayed stripes of different copper-alloy wire (Profantová 2010: 72-74; 2015: Tab. 18.3, Fototab. 16.6).


Axe of the type IB.5.30 decorated with copper alloy wire, Bardy, Poland.
Kotowicz 2014: Tabl. II.1.

The axe from Bašnice is the 65th axe found in the Czech area that can be dated to the period od 8th-10th century (Profantová 2019: Abb. 4). Based on its shape and decoration, the axe can be dated to the period 800-950 AD, the 9th century seems more likely if we take analogies into account. The axe from Barkowice Mokre can be dated to the first half of the 9th century (Kotowicz 2018: 111), while the axe from Bardy is dated to the prioed from the beginning of the 9th to the beginning of the 10th century (Kotowicz 2014: 15). The Great Moravian axes of type IB.5.30 and associated types date to the period before downfall of Great Moravia, that means to the period from the 9th to the beginning of the 10th century. In the Czech environment, where the axe was found, the symbolism of birds was still used in the first half of the 10th century, as it was in Poland (Vlasatý 2020).


Digital reconstruction

In cooperation with Chilean industrial designer and reenactor Carlos Benavides, we have prepared a digital reconstruction of the Bašnice axe. Images of the reconstruction and video are offered for free distribution and can be downloaded via the following link:

 


I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


 Bibliography

Hrubý, Vilém (1955). Staré Město: Velkomoravské pohřebiště „Na Valách“, Praha.

Kavánová, Blanka (2014). Rekonstrukce relikviáře z Mikulčic. In: Kouřil, Pavel (ed.). Cyrilometodějská misie a Evropa – 1150 let od příchodu soluňských bratří na Velkou Moravu, Brno, 114-117.

Kotowicz, Piotr N. (2014). Topory wczesnośredniowieczne z ziem polskich : Katalog źródeł, Rzeszów.

Kotowicz, Piotr N. (2018). Early Medieval Axes from Territory of Poland, Kraków.

Kouřil, Pavel (2006). Zu einigen Äußerungen der materiellen Nomadenkultur auf dem Mikulčicer Burgwall. K některým projevům nomádské hmotné kultury na mikulčickém hradě. In: Přehled výzkumů Archeologického ústavu AV ČR v Brně 47, Brno, 69–76.

Kouřil, Pavel (2008). Archeologické doklady nomádského vlivu a zásahu na území Moravy v závěru 9. a v 10. století. In: Štefanovičová, T. – Hulínek, D. (ed.). Bitka pri Bratislave v roku 907 a jej význam pre vývoj stredného Podunajska, Bratislava, 113–135.

Luňák, Petr (2018). Velkomoravské sekery, Brno: Masarykova univerzita [dissertation thesis].

Macháček, Jiří (2000). 07.02.02. Streitaxt. In: Wieczorek, A. – Hinz, H.-M. (eds.). Europas mitte um 1000, Katalog, Stuttgart, 162.

Museum of East Bohemia in Hradec Králové 2020 (2020). Jak se konzervovala unikátní ptačí sekerka. In: Muzeum východních Čech v Hradci Králové, visited 8.3.2020, available at https://www.muzeumhk.cz/aktuality/748-jak-se-sanovala-unikatni-ptaci-sekerka.html.

Profantová, Naďa (2005). Elita v zrcadle dětských pohřbů 9. a 10. století v Čechách. In: Študijné zvesti AÚ SAV 37, 63-78.

Profantová, Naďa et al. (2010-2015). Klecany. Raně středověká pohřebiště, 1. svazek (2015), 2. svazek (2010), Praha.

Ruttkay, Alexander (1976). Waffen und Reiterausrüstung des 9. bis zur ersten Hälfte des 14. Jahrhunderts in der Slowakei (II). In: Slovenská Archeológia XXIV / 2, Bratislava.

Staššíková-Šťukovská, Danica – Brziak, Peter (1995). Pôvod povrchových vrstiev železnej sekery z pohrebiska v Borovciach. In: Študijné zvesti AÚ SAV, 31, 1995, 193–202.

Vlasatý, Tomáš (2020). Specifický typ moravského opasku. In: Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Available at: http://sagy.vikingove.cz/specificky-typ-moravskeho-opasku/

Two peculiar Great Moravian swords

The Great Moravian period represents, in terms of swords, an epoch when high-quality swords of type X and Y appear in Czech and Moravian territories. Their increase is undoubtedly associated with the equestrian elite, which preferred these swords because of better functionality in cavalry combat. More information on this phenomenon is provided by Jiří Košta (eg Košta – Hošek 2014; interview with Jiří Košta).

Contrary to this progressive group of swords, there is certainly a group that maintains a traditional design with a shorter blade, a short guard and a multi-piece pommel. In this article we will focus on two swords that fit exactly into this group, and exhibit a rather atypical element – the organic components of the hilt.


Description

Two swords originating from Olomouc – Nemilany and Staré Město have a construction consisting of a double-edged blade – in case of Nemilany, we are speaking about high quality blade with inscription – and wooden hilt components, which were coated with metal sheet (Hošek et al. 2019: ID No 164 and 226). The guard of this type of sword was relatively short and did not exceed the width of the blade too much. The metal sheet that covered the wooden oval block could be decorated, as shows the example from Staré Město, which is inlayed with brass wire.

The most interesting discovery of the latest research is detailed observation of the tang ends, which show that there are holes and fragments of wood. Apparently a wooden pommel was pinned through the hole with a small peg. The pegs were probably also wooden, as there were no metal fragments in the holes. With some degree of certainty, we can estimate that the original pommels could be one or two-piece, while the upper hilts were similarly massive as lower guards and the pommel caps were pyramid-shaped or divided into three lobes. The dating of the Nemilany sword goes back to the 9th or beginning of the 10th century (Hošek et al. 2019: 195), while the Staré Město sword dates to the period from the second half of the 8th to the first half of the 9th century (Hošek et al. 2019: 245).

Analogies that combine relevant shape and materials are missing in the period Europe. Massive oval guards with inlays similar to the Staré Město example could be found at German swords from 8th and 9th century (Geibig 1991; Westphal 2002). Swords with antler or bone components represent a kind of analogy; they were known in a big portion of Europe (Scandinavia, England, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary) in the 9th – 10th century and they usually copy standard types of swords (Vlasatý 2017). The combination of metal and wood used for hilt components can be found at Migration Period swords until the 7th century (eg Davidson 1962: Fig. 49-53), however the time gap prevents any closer connection of the two groups. The application of the hole at the end of tang can be spotted at Alanian two-edged sabre from grave 52 of Dmitrievskoe hillfort, 9th-10th century (Pletneva 1989: 73).


Sword from grave 116/51 from the Staré Město – Na Valách. Hrubý 1955: Fig. 27.2.


The sword from Olomouc – Nemilany

The sword from Olomouc – Nemilany was found during the archaeological excavations of 1999. It was located in the grave of a young adult man and it also contained a knife, two buckets and eggshells (Hošek et al. 2019: 195-6, ID No 164). The sword cannot be typologically classified, it falls chronologically into the 9th – early 10th century. Today, the sword is only a blade with organic fragments of hilt and scabbard. The length of the sword in this state is 936 mm and weight 852 g. The blade, which is 800 mm long, 63.4 mm wide and 5-3 mm thick, consists of a steel core and welded steel blades. On the obverse side of the blade, ther is the inscription IVLFBERHTI, on the reverse side, there is a lattice – both elements were made of pattern welded rods. The fuller is at its widest point 32.5 mm wide and it ends 80 mm from the tip. The tang is 136 mm long. The grip, which was 100 mm long, 42-20 mm wide and about 5 mm thick, is still partially covered with wooden fragments. The lower guard consisted of organic material. It was about 15 mm high and its position was still visible at the time the grave was opened. The pommel was also made up of organic material whose fragments were preserved. At a distance of 20 mm from the end of the tang, there is a corroded remnant of a sheet approximately 2 mm thick, which covered the organic head. The pommel was attached to the tang using a peg which was inserted through the hole at the end of the tang. The sheath fragments consist of wood that has been lined with three kinds of twill fabric. Today the sword is deposited in the Archaeological Center in Olomouc under registration number 22/99-841-1.

The sword from Olomouc – Nemilany. Hošek et al. 2019: 195.


The sword from grave 116/51 from Staré Město

The Staré Město sword was found during archaeological excavations in 1951. It was located in the grave of a man of advanced age, which also contained spurs, two knives and a bucket (Hošek et al. 2019: 245-6, ID No 226). The sword cannot be typologically classified, it falls chronologically to the period from the mid-8th to the mid-9th century. Nowadays, the sword consists only of a blade, a guard, fragments of hilt and scabbard. The length of the sword in this state is 872 mm and the weight is 728 g. The blade, which is 727.5 mm long, 62 mm wide and 5-4 mm thick, has not been metallurgically examined, but X-rays confirmed that the fuller area consists of twisted pattern welding panels and that there is a circle (14.5 mm in diameter) 18 mm below the guard, whose interpretation is uncertain. The fuller is at its widest point 30 mm wide, runs through the entire length of the preserved blade and tapers to 20 mm. The tang is 114.5 mm long. The handle, which was 92.5 mm long, 32-22 mm wide and 6 mm thick, is still partially covered with wooden fragments. A very short and high oval-shaped guard was formed by a wooden base, which was covered all around with iron plate. This plate was inlayed with a wire (73.9% Cu, 25.7% Zn, 0.4% Sn) in branch or herringbone pattern. The top of the guard was covered with copper alloy sheet. The guard is 75 mm long, 34-30 mm high, the original thickness is about 31 mm. The pommel was also made up of organic material whose fragments were preserved. It was set at a distance of 22 mm from the end of the tang, where the tang tapers. It can be assumed that the pommel was attached to the tang by means of a peg which was inserted through a hole located 16.5 mm from the end of the tang and that the pommel was covered with a sheet. The sheath fragments consist of wood that has been covered with several layers of textile and leather. The sword has been poorly reconstructed and preserved in the past and is therefore in a very bad condition. Today the sword is stored in the Moravian Museum in Brno under registration number 116/51.

The sword from grave 116/51 from Staré Město – Na Valách. Hošek et al. 2019: 245.


I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Bibliography

Davidson, Hilda R. Ellis (1962). The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England. Its Archaeology and Literature, Oxford.

Geibig, Alfred (1991). Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter : eine Analyse des Fundmaterials vom ausgehenden 8. bis zum 12. Jahrhundert aus Sammlungen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Neumünster.

Košta, Jiří – Hošek, Jiří (2014). Early Medieval swords from Mikulčice, Brno : Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

Hošek, Jiří – Košta, Jiří – Žákovský, Petr (2019). Ninth to mid-sixteenth century swords from the Czech Republic in their European context, Praha – Brno.

Hrubý, Vilém (1955). Staré Město: Velkomoravské pohřebiště „Na Valách“, Praha.

Pletneva 1989 = Плетнева, С. А. (1989). На славнно-хазареком пограничье (Дмитриевский археологический комплекс), Москва.

Vlasatý, Tomáš (2017). Meče s organickým jílcem. Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Available at: http://sagy.vikingove.cz/mece-s-organickym-jilcem/, cited: 15. 2. 2020.

Westphal, Herbert (2002). Franken oder Sachsen? Untersuchungen an frühmittelaterlichen Waffen, Oldenburg.

The Period Transport of Liquids

The transport and the storage of liquids are one of the biggest problems in the reenactment of any time period. Archaeological finds are only a few and making a keg or flask needs skill. For a person living in 21st century, it is much easier and cheaper to load a barrel of beer and some bottles of water to a car and after that hide everything in a tent. On historical events, there are principles of hiding modern bottles, however we would be lying, if we said that it is a generally valid and strictly followed convention.

If we move from a camp to a march, there is a necessity to have a field bottle, because in our luggage there is a limited space for equipment. In such a case, we are going to plan our way close to the springs and streams. Scandinavian streams (Old Norse lœkr) and mountain rivers have stayed drinkable even up till now, so if the Old Norse people made a good journey plan, they had no thirst. In the corpus of Old Norse dictionary, there is a term rǫst (“mile”), which literally means “distance between two halts”. Literary sources show existence of route with some fixed halts, which were located near the water streams.

Reconstruction of the farmstead Stöng, Iceland.

Even buildings and farmsteads were built near to the water streams. Water is necessary for a household, and people settled there not only because of water, but also because of fish. In some sources, the connection of a farm and a stream more than obvious:

Next to Ásólf’s hall, there was a river. Winter started and the river was full of fish. Þorgeir claimed that they settled on his fishing grounds, so Ásólf moved and built the second hall on west near to another river.
(The book of settlement, chap. 21, Hauskbók version)

The same situation was during the settlement of Iceland. Settlers often took up land, surrounded by two water streams. In addition, there was the law that the settler could take more land than she or he could walk around in one day. The farmstead Stöng, which was built in 11th century and covered by volcano ash in 1104, follows the same logic – it was built on a hill approximately one kilometer above the Fossá river. In densely built-up areas, water drained from wells. The most of farms did not need wells, because they had access to water streams (Short 2003: 74).

The containers for a water transportation can be divided to big volume containers and small volume containers. Among the big volume containers belong barrels, buckets and bigger ceramic vessels. Their volume can be between ones and hundreds of litres and they served for crowds, e.g. farm residents, merchants or soldiers on war expeditions. However, the dimension limits mobility, as can be shown by the quote from the Eyrbyggja saga (chap. 39):

Then too was it the custom of all the shipmen to have their drink in common, and a bucket should stand by the mast with the drink therein, and a locked lid was over it. But some of the drink was in barrels, and was added to the bucket thence as soon as it was drunk out.

The transport of barrels at the Bayeux tapestry.

The small volume containers were using for needs of individuals and they were parts of personal equipment. We are talking about different kinds of flasks, bags and bottles, which had limited volume – only up to several litres, but it was not difficult to carry them. It is necessary to add, that there are almost no preserved containers from Scandinavian area, so we have to use the written sources or look for the analogic finds from the period Europe.

The barrel from Haithabu.

The biggest container from the Viking period is a barrel (Old Norse: tunni, verpill). The barrels are well preserved in archeological, written and iconographic sources. In the previous written example, we can see the barrels were used for long-term storage of water on ships. Barrels also served for fermentation and storage of beverages in the halls. A big barrel with the volume of approximately 800 litres was found in Haithabu, Germany. Similar finds are known also from the Rome Empire period. Barrels of this kind are also depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, where they are loaded on both carts and shoulders and carried to the ships. The Tapestry comments this depiction with these words: “These men carry arms to the ships and here they drag a cart laden with wine and arms.

A slightly smaller container is represented by a bucket, a tub and a vat (Old Norse: ker). The main advantage is a handle for the easier transport. It could be the most frequent big volume container of the period. A bucket was not provided with a permanent lid, because the liquid was meant for an immediate consumption. If it was necessary, the bucket could be covered by a removable lid (Old Norse: hlemmr or lok, see the quote from Eyrbyggja saga). The finds of buckets are well preserved in Oseberg and Haithabu. In Haithabu, they found imported big volume ceramics (so called Reliefbandamphoren) as well, which could be used for similar purpose thanks to transportation eyelets.

Opening of a bottle.  Made by Jakub Zbránek and Zdeněk Kubík.

We know only a few finds of flasks and bottles (Old Norse: flaska) made of leather, ceramics, wood, metal and glass in Early medieval Europe. Absence of local anorganic bottles in Scandinavia is a sign of the fact that organic materials were mainly used. From the following list, it is evident that ceramic, metal and glass bottles were imported to Scandinavia.

There are only a few written mentions about bottles from Scandinavia and they all are of the late date. It is interesting that some mentions are connected with bynames of people living in the Viking Age. We can find Þorsteinn flǫskuskegg (“bottle beard“) and Þorgeirr flǫskubak (“bottle back“) among the Icelandic settlers.


  • Leather bottle, made by Petr Ospálek.

    Leather bottles – it is the only kind mentioned in Old Norse sources. In Grettis saga (chap. 11), there is a funny story of Þorgeirr flǫskubak who is attacked by an assassin to his back, but he manages to survive, because the axe of the assassin hits a leather flask:

“That morning, Þorgeirr got ready to row out to sea, and two men with him, one called Hámundr, the other Brandr. Þorgeirr went first, and had on his back a leather bottle [leðrflaska] and drink therein. It was very dark, and as he walked down from the boat-stand Þorfinn ran at him, and smote him with an axe betwixt the shoulders, and the axe sank in, and the bottle squeaked, but he let go the axe, for he deemed that there would be little need of binding up, and would save himself as swiftly as might be. [Now it is to be said of Þorgeirr, that he turned from the blow as the axe smote the bottle, nor had he any wound. [Thereat folk made much mocking, and called Þorgeirr Bottleback, and that was his by-name ever after.”

This part continues with a stanza with this meaning: “Earlier the famous men cut their swords into enemies’ bodies, but now a coward hit a flask with whey by an axe. Even though it is a nice example of an Old Norse perception of society decline, but we can notice the mention about whey (Old Norse sýra). The whey was mixed with water in a ratio 1:11 and created a popular Icelandic drink, the so-called blanda (for the exactl mixture, see here, page 26). The saga suggests that Þorgeirr has got such a drink in his flask.

The leather flasks are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon sources and are archaeologically documented in Ireland, where were found some decorated pieces from 12th century. They are lightweight and ideal for long hikes. They are resistant against damage too. But sometimes water is running through, whis is a disadvantage. Summary, I recommend to reconstruct of leather variants.



A replica of a wooden bottle, made by CEA.


 

  • Ceramics bottles – ceramics bottles were popular for the whole Early medieval period. They were used in the the Roman times (Roman ceramics amphoras for a wine transporting are known from Rhineland), in the Migration period, as well as in the period of 9th to 11th century. One piece was found in Winchester, England (11th century, photos here, here, here), another one in Gnezdovo, Russia (10th century, photo here) and yet another in Great Moravian Staré Město (9th century, photos here and here). In Belgian Ertvelde-Zelzate (9th century, here), a painted flask was found. Analogies of this bottle were found in Dorestad and in Norwegian Kaupang too. The find from Kaupang is represented by nine orange painted shards – the only proof of ceramics flasks in Scandinavia (Skre 2011: 293). The similar shape to Roman amphoras remained popular in the Rhineland, and it devepoled into so-called Reliefbandamphoren that are up to 70 cm high. Some pieces were found in Haithabu as well. Ceramic bottles seem to be popular in Eastern Europe as well.


    The pottery industry of Viking Age Scandinavia was not very developed, so we can presume that all the ceramic bottles in Scandinavia were imported. Me and my colleagues were using this type for years and it proved to be very practical. On the other hand, the use is very questionable in Scandinavia.


  • Bronze bottle from Aska.

    Metal bottles – an unique copper-alloy bottle was found in the woman’s grave in Aska, Sweden. According to works, which I found on the internet (here and here), the grave dated to 10th century and the container is considered a Persian import, because of the inscription. The origin limits the usage in reenactment. A similar bottle was found in FölhagenGotland, and it is dated to the of 10th century (the picture on demand).

  • Glass bottles – I am aware of two Scandinavian bottle necks made of glass, they are very rare finds. The first one was found in Haithabu and is dated to the 9th century (Schiezel 1998: 62, Taf. 13:1–2). The second one was found in a rich female grave from Trå, Norway, dated to the 10th century. Pictures on demand.

All the mentioned bottles except the glass and metal examples do have the eyelets. So, we can suppose that they had got a strap for a hanging. To my knowledge, stoppers are never preserved, so they probably were made of wood. The experiments showed that oaken lathed or hand-made mushroom or cylinder-shaped stoppers are functional. While a simple wooden stopper works for wooden and leather bottles, in case of other materials, it is useful if the stopper is a bit smaller and wrapped in a textile, so the neck is not destroyed by the harder material of the stopper. 

I believe that the article provided a brief summary of Early medieval liquid containers. For reenactment purposes, I recommend to use the barrels and buckets for camp life and the bottles for a march. This can also lead to reconstructing proper banquet tools, like spoons, scoop and ladles, that are present in the sources. If needed, write your feedback into the comments, the problem of a liquid transportation is still opened. Many thanks to Roman Král, Zdeněk Kubík, Jan Zajíc and Jakub Zbránek, who helped me with this article and answered my questions. 

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Bibliography

The book of settlement – Landnamabók I-III: Hauksbók, Sturlubók, Melabók. Ed. Finnur Jónsson, København 1900.

Grettis saga – Saga o Grettim. Přel. Ladislav Heger, Praha 1957. Originál online.

Eyrbyggja saga – Sága o lidech z Eyru. Přel. Ladislav Heger. In: Staroislandské ságy, Praha 1965: 35–131.

Cleasby, Richard  Vigfússon, Gudbrand (1874). An Icelandic-English dictionary, Toronto.

Schietzel, Kurt (1998). Die Glasfunde von Haithabu, Berichte über die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 32, Neumünster.

Short, William R. (2010). Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas, Jefferson.

Skre, Dagfinn (ed.) (2011). Things from the Town. Artefacts and Inhabitants in Viking-age Kaupang. Kaupang Excavation Project Publication series, vol. 3., Århus.

 

For those interested in wooden barrels, buckets and ceramic vessels, I recommend these books:

Hübener, Wolfgang (1959). Die Keramik von Haithabu, Neumünster.

Janssen, Walter (1987). Die Importkeramik von Haithabu, Neumünster.

Wesphal, Florian (2006). Die Holzfunde von Haithabu, Neumünster.

Jakobsson’s Hilt Typology

Jan Petersen’s revolutionary thesis De Norske Vikingesverd (1919) became a basis for many authors, who attempted to adjust or complete the work, or replace it with a typology of their own. Such an example is Mikael Jakobsson, who chose a different approach in his thesis Krigarideologi och vikingatida svärdstypologi (Stockholm, 1992), which we analyse in the text below.

kniha

The book Krigarideologi och vikingatida svärdstypologi [Warrior ideology and typology of Viking Age swords], which is a published doctoral thesis of the author, is a reputable and very thorough work. Personally, I see its main benefit in advanced analysis using data collected from majority of Europe. His goal is not a revision of Petersen’s hilt typology – with which he basically agrees – but a categorisation of broader hilt groups based on similarities in construction. Jakobsson labels these categories as “design principles”. While Petersen worked with three principles (a group with multi-lobed pommel, a group with simplified pommel, a group of unclassifiable types), Jakobsson expanded the list to six, respectively seven types:

  1. Triangle pommel
  2. Three-lobed pommel
  3. Five or more-lobed pommel
  4. Absenting pommel
  5. Curved guard
  6. Single-pieced pommel
  7. Unclassifiable

 

Design principle 1 : triangular pommel

Jakobsson’s triangular pommel corresponds to Petersen’s main sword types A, B, C, H and I, plus his special types 3, 6, 8 and 15. The swords using this design principle comprise a substantial part of swords finds portfolio – at least 884 pieces (48%) according to Jakobsson. This equals to 529 swords in Norway (60%), 147 in Sweden (17%), 81 in Finland (9%), 4 in Denmark (0,5%), 94 in Western Europe (11%) and 29 in Eastern Europe (3%). Their origin can be traced to continental swords with pyramid-shaped pommels. This principle emerged in Scandinavia sometime between the half and end of 8th century under the influence of Carolingian swords and remained there until the end of 10th century.

princip1-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 1.

princip1-rozsireniDistribution of design principle 1 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 2 : three-lobed pommel

The design principle 2 includes variants of type A, types D, E, L, Mannheim, Mannheim/Speyer, R, S, T, U V and Z, older variant of type X and special types 1, 2, 6, 13, 14 and 19. This principle is present at least on 492 swords (26%). This corresponds with 188 swords in Norway (37%), 58 in Sweden (12%), 43 in Finland (9%), 18 in Denmark (4%), 75 in Western Europe (15%) and 110 in Eastern Europe (23%). The origin can be traced to Merovingian swords, with the three-lobed pommel being based on a pommel with animal heads on the sides. This principle appeared in Scandinavia at the end of 8th century under the influence of Early-Carolingian swords, and supported by English influence in 9th century, it remained there until the beginning of 11th century.

princip2-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 2.

princip1-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 2 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 3 : five and more-lobed pommel

Jakobsson’s design principle 3 includes Petersen’s sword types O, K and the five-lobed variant of type S. This principle is the least numerous with only over 88 swords (5%) and is tighly connected to the design principle 2. In Norway, there are 44 swords (49%), 4 in Sweden (5%), none in Finland, 1 in Denmark (1%), 26 in Western Europe (30%) and 13 in Eastern Europe (15%). Like design principle 2, also the design principle 3 is based on Merovingian pommels with animal heads on pommel sides. It arrived in Scandinavia at the beginning of 9th century and remained until the half of 10th century. The topic five and more-lobed pommels is vaguely analyzed, as there are more than fifty cast bronze pommels that are not included.

princip3-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 3.

princip3-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 3 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 4 : absenting pommel

With its distinctive upper guard instead of a traditional pommel, design principle 4 includes main types M, P, Q, Y, Æ and special types 5, 17 and 18. We know of at least 712 swords (39%) belonging to this design principle. It is notable that the type M alone is the most numerous of all sword types with more than 432 finds (17%). As for the principle 4, we know of 631 swords in Norway (89%), 23 in Sweden (3%), 14 in Finland (2%), 2 in Denmark (0,3%), 28 in Western Europe (4%) and 14 in Eastern Europe (2%). Design principle 4 was in use from 9th century to sometime during 11th century.

princip4-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 4.

princip4-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 3, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 5 : curved guard

This design principle of swords consists of main type L, Q, T, Y, Z and Æ, variants of types O, K and X, plus special types 7, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. The number of swords belonging to design principle 5 is somewhere over 482 pieces (26%). In Norway, we know of 312 finds (71%), 32 in Sweden (7%), 23 in Finland (5%), 3 at maximum in Denmark (1%), 45 in Western Europe (10%) and 70 in Eastern Europe (6%). Design principle 5 was in use during the same period as design principle 4 – from the beginning of 9th century till the end of 11th century.

princip5-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 5.

princip5-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 5, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 6 : single-pieced pommel

The distinguishing attribute for design principle 6, containing sword types X and W, is a single-pieced pommel with absenting upper guard. There are over 211 swords (11%) of this kind, with 69 found in Norway (33%), 25 in Sweden (12%), 46 in Finland (22%), 8 in Denmark (4%), 51 in Western Europe (24%) and 12 in Eastern Europe (6%). While Jakobsson suggested design principle 6 coming into use at the end of 9th century or the beginning of 10th century, Jiří Košta proved on a set of type X swords from Moravia area of Mikulčice that this principle could had been in use in Central Europe as early as 9th century. This principle turned out to be dominant and substantial for following medieval weapons.

princip6-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 5.

princip6-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 6, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Unclassifiable

Out of the total of 1900 included swords, as much as 97% can be classified into one or more of the previous six design principles. The remaining 3% (around 60 swords) cannot be categorised as such, because they are either a combination of some of two principles or represent a completely standalone category.

nezaraditelnePetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s unclassifiable category.


As the research shows, it is possible to see a certain evolution of the individual sword types, with a new type of sword per circa each new generation. On contrary, if we categorise the swords by Jakobsson’s design principles – thus working a wider group of sword types based on clearly defined attributes – the length of usage increases to over 100 years, in some cases even up to 200-250 years, i.e. 6-8 generations. Such a prolonged usage of similar manufacturing process undoubtedly must have a deeper meaning. At least in 10th century, all principles were used simultaneously, so it is not possible to connect different manufacturing processes with different chronology. The same goes with geographical distribution, as all principles were used in the similar area, and with practical features – design principle 1 has no connection between the pommel type and blade type, so we can come across both single- and two-edged swords. Jakobsson therefore suggests the popularity of six different principles being tied to something else entirely – to different strategies for reproducing a symbolical value tied to a physical form.

The symbolical value of swords goes hand to hand with their ownership and usage. The fact that the sword principles emerged in such volatile times filled with war, and that the swords are often found in graves suggests that their owners were perceived as sovereigns and combat capable figures. A sword is therefore a multi-layered expression of independence and legitimate membership of higher society (see The sword biography). This value was undoubtedly reflected by the visage of the sword, with some types or even whole principles being more suitable for such a presentation than others. Individual principles might have held a meaning we are not able to grasp anymore nowadays.

More traditional constructions (most of the principle 1, 2 and 3 swords) consist of heavier, usually decorated multi-pieced pommels and short guards, which are good especially for footed combat. In contrast to this conservative construction with deep roots in previous generations of Germanic weapons, there are lighter, less decorated swords with simple pommels, longer guards and better usage in mounted combat (principle 6, especially the type X). Their owners could had expressed their allegiance to continental aristocracy and fashion which the local elite promoted. This could also be the case of principle 5, which seems to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, with its features being widely replicated at least in Viking-Age Scandinavia. Principle 4 might had been more suitable for a part of population wishing to show their identity of sword owners but could not afford the previously mentioned principles. That is why Petersen‘s type M is the most common sword of the Early Middle-Ages (see Petersens type M swords).

Last but not least, it is important to mention that the weapon distribution throughout Scandinavia was not uniform, and that there were notable differences between rich centres and less important peripheries. In closed communities, such as Iceland and some Scandinavian regions, the weapons were widespread among the population, but swords were held by only the richest and in small numbers. In major centres such as Uppland, Central Sweden (also known as society dividing model), the weapons were mainly owned by warrior nobility, circa in ratio 14 Petersen’s types per 100 swords. In this societal model, the presence and absence of weapons among the wider population is crucial. In contrast to this model stand the peripheries settled by seldom stratified population attempting to demonstrate its power. Such a demonstration usually takes form of cumulation of vast number of weapons (also known as society uniting model), which is based on quantity and quality. This can be seen both in number of swords found in Norway, counting over several thousands, and relatively high diversity of sword types, being 10-13 Petersen‘s types per 100 swords in some areas. The vacuum created by absence of a central ruler is filled by number of lesser chieftains who represent their sovereignty by possession of exclusive equipment. Such a type of society, which uses more swords, preserves this trend and puts even more swords into circulation. Other reasons for the creation of Norwegian model could be interpreted by well-equipped militia, but also in other ways. According to Jakobsson, all the models are as a matter of fact a reflection of the same reality.

Jakobsson‘s work is a semiotic approach to material culture. He attempts to outline a complex relation between a symbol and a context and does not resort only to a single explanation. His approach to the subject is by both analysing the sword categories from broader historical perspective and by considering each of the specific weapons by the local and minor relevance. Despite its useful analyses and extensive appendixes, the book does not receive enough attention after more than 25 years. Nevetherless, Jakobsson‘s research should be revised in order to confirm or disprove its up-to-dateness.

Tomáš Vlasatý
Slaný, Bohemia, 2nd May 2019


I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.