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An extraordinary group of winged spears



In 2019, we presented the article Typology of Spearhead Wings (Vlasatý 2019), which represents the most comprehensive morphological overview of early medieval spear wings. Almost five years later, we return to the subject to report the discovery of a new and previously undefined group of winged spears that is absent in existing monographs on early medieval spears (e.g. Creutz 2003; Husár 2014; Kirpičnikov 1966; Solberg 1984; Sankiewicz – Wyrwa 2018). In contrast to the relatively numerous spears that have wings attached to an integral socket, these are rare cases of tang spears combined with separate winged sockets. The identification of the group was made possible by a recent Swedish find, which connected four older finds from the 19th and the 20th centuries. All finds will be listed and commented on in the catalog.

The article is dedicated to academics, reenactors, craftsmen and other researchers who will appreciate early medieval spears and practical oriented works on their details.

Group description

The technical essence of the group lies in the fact that a separate socket is attached to the front end of the shaft, which serves as a reinforcing sleeves and, if necessary, a support base for the wings. The tang of the spear point is then inserted into the socket. The socket prevents the shaft from cracking and holds the wood together; at the same time, it is secured on both sides, so there is no risk of its loosening. It is possible that the shafts were covered with a thin sheet of iron before being inserted into the sockets. It is thus a constructional alternative to wrapping with wire (Atgāzis 2019: 37) or weaving with organic material (Cehak-Hołubowiczowa 1938-1939: 200), which we know from early medieval tanged spears and javelins. Similar metal sleeves are also found on other objects of a practical nature, for example early medieval knives (Thunmark-Nylén 1998: Abb. 181.5). A similar system is also used in modern chisels.

Fig. 1: approximate process of spear construction.

Since it was possible to use the mentioned alternatives in the form of wire or organic wrapping, we have to ask what advantage this option brought compared to other methods. First of all, it is about the possibility of using metal wings, which would otherwise lack support and an organic guard tied to the shaft would have to be used as a replacement (e.g. Oehrl 2013: 324). Secondly, this variant allows the use of a copper alloy in the formation of the socket, thus createing a captivating and unconventional contrast. A certain unquantifiable proportion of early medieval spears are made in such a way that a small tang is inserted into a conical sleeve and welded into one piece. In other words, the analyzed series of spears is not technologically completely distant from the European standard and a slightly different strategy was chosen in a certain step. The third reason may therefore lie in the absence of welding, thus simplified work.

The group currently consists of five finds: one iron point with a separated winged socket made of iron, one iron point with a two-part socket made of iron and copper alloy, and three winged sockets made of copper alloy. The pieces come from the Czech Republic, Iceland, Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden, from which we can see that this is a geographically widespread practice. It is noteworthy that this is a significantly larger region than the early medieval tanged spears usually appear in. The tang solution is less represented on a pan-European level and the most common area of occurrence includes Belarus (Plavinski 2010: 68-76; 2013: 51-6), Estonia (Tvauri 2012: 193), Finland (Lehtosalo-Hilander 1982: 30-1; Salmo 1938 : 211-253), Lithuania (Kazakevičius 1988: 57-62; Volkaitė-Kulikauskienė 1981: 10), Latvia (Atgāzis 2019: 37-42), Norway (Petersen 1919: 33-4; Solberg 1984: 137-140), Russia (Kirpičnikov 1966: 17; Kočkurkina – Summanen 2021: 259) and Sweden (Serning 1966: 39-40). For the period of 8th-11th centuries, the following typologies are used: Kirpičnikov VI, Petersen L and Solberg XII. The longest tanged spears have a length of up to 51 cm (Berga – Šnore 1992: 11Lehtosalo-Hilander 1982: 30-1), which corresponds in size to the 21 cm long socket from the Czech Republic, so it is likely that it was used with a very long point.

Map 1: distribution of finds in Europe.

In theory, it would be possible to expect the greatest representation of spears of this group at the time when both the tanged spear and the winged spear were used. In absolute numbers, such a coincidence occurs mainly in the 7th-12th centuries, which roughly corresponds to at least four datable finds. In practice, we encounter not only the fact that combinations of both phenomena are extremely rare (hundredths of a percent among the winged spears at most), but also the fact that the tang solution can be an accidental result of the production of a cast socket. Thus, the dating of tanged spears may not be relevant at all for the dating of the rare group. To add to the issue, it should be mentioned that some tanged spears are not the result of following typologies and were created by reforging a broken socketed spearhead (see Peets 2007: 177-8). Spears with non-iron sockets from our collection could theoretically have had a similar fate, as shown by the spear from the Icelandic site of Tindar, which was possibly reforged from the tip of a sword blade.

The copper alloy sockets must have been so laborious that the products certainly cannot be evaluated as random temporary substitute. Their number, price and mutual similarity lead us to the conclusion that they may represent a hitherto unknown weaponry trend of the 10th-13th centuries. If they truly are a group of deliberately produced weapons, their construction, shape, chronology, geographical distribution, rarity and high price theoretically make them an interesting candidate for the identification of spears known by the Old Norse name atgeirr and Old English atagar. Increased research of the last decade devoted to compiling available sources and proposing design assumptions for these myth-enveloped weapons highlights their great value and utility in naval conflicts (McMullen 2014; Orkisz 2016; Shtyryakova 2019). At this point, let us mention one source that the named researchers have overlooked: Florentius of Worcester in his 12th-century Chronicle mentions the apologetic gift of Godwin of Wessex to King Harðaknútr in 1040. The gift consists of a well-equipped ship’s crew, possessing, in addition to gilded helmets, gilded swords, gilded axes, and gilded shields, “a spear called an atagar in the English language.” This mention supports the assumption of high price, use in naval combat, and distribution in the British Isles, which is remarkable in relation to the York find. The Norwegian find, in turn, corresponds remarkably with a reference from the Konungs skuggsjá, a handbook created for the heir to the Norwegian throne around 1250. In this source, chapter 38 emphasizes the importance of certain weapons in naval engagements: “Cast-lead caltrops and good atgeirar are also good weapons on board a ship.

For now, this reasoning is at the level of a working hypothesis and may be completely wrong. Spears can just as well be representative weapons, banners and the like. These hypotheses need to be substantiated with additional finds. In the search, special attention should be paid to the sockets made of copper alloy and the bent wings, which seem to be a certain distinguishing mark of this group and which indicate a special function.


Třebušín, Czech republic

Around 1880, a huge socket made of a copper alloy was reportedly found at Kalich Castle, which was still in the private collection of F. Haneschka in the first half of the 20th century. It is currently in the museum in Litoměřice under inv. no. H 9658 (Zápotocký 2018: 392-3).

The 21 cm long socket has a conical shape and an octagonal cross-section. The surface is decorated with geometric and plant motifs made of lines, clusters of lines and concentric circles. The upper opening, which is designed to encircle an iron spear inserted into it, is decorated with opposed open-mouthed profiled animal heads. The outer diameter at the lower mouth is 5.6 × 5.1 cm. On the sides of the socket there are two oppositely located wings, the span of which is 14.7 cm. There are holes for rivets under the wings. Due to the size of the socket, it is assumed that the original spear must have been of large dimensions and that the point together with the socket reached at least 50 cm in length. The diameter of the socket indicates that the shaft was also massive. The find is dated to the 12th-13th centuries.

Fig. 2: the spear from Třebušín. Source: Zápotocký 2018: 390.

Tindar, Iceland

In 1937, a grave was examined at the Icelandic site of Tindar, which, in addition to the skeleton, contained a cloak ringed pin, a fishing hook and an unusually shaped spear with a shaft (Eldjárn 2016: 129-130). The grave can be dated to the 10th-11th centuries. Today, the find is stored in the National Museum of Iceland under inv. no. 12094/1937-49. In 2023, it was inspected by Askur Ingvaldsson and Marika Esentals, who kindly provided us with their photographs. You can download them by clicking on the following link:

The spear consists of a blade with a tang. The visible part of the blade is 25 cm long. The blade is max 3.7 cm wide and has a fuller, which is why it is believed to be a reforged sword blade. An apparently two-part socket, the upper part of which is iron and equipped with curved wings with a span of approximately 4.7 cm, is pushed onto the tang. The lower part of the socket is a massive, 2.5 cm high cylinder made of copper alloy, which is decorated at both ends with bulging elements, in the middle part with faceting. The upper bulging has a diameter of 2.5 cm, the lower 1.8 cm. A remnant of a wooden shaft is inserted into the copper alloy cylinder, which is currently about 3.5 cm long and has a tendency to expand towards the opposite end. This piece of shaft was probably preserved because it stuck to the tang which extends into it. It is possible that this part of the shaft was covered with an iron sheet.

Fig. 3: the spear from Tindar and its approximate reconstruction.
Source: Eldjárn 2016: 343; Diego Flores Cartes.

Hopperstad, Norway

No later than 1970, a socket made of a copper alloy was found in the Norwegian locality of Råheim, to which a part of the tang and the shaft are still attached (Larsen 1998; Nøttveit 2000: Cat. nr. 113). The spear was in a private collection for several decades before it came to the Bergen Museum, where it is stored under inv. no. BRM456/000001.001.

The socket has a length of 13.2 cm and is equipped with integral wings with a span of 11.3 cm. The outer diameter of the socket at the bottom edge is 5.2 cm. A fragment of the wooden shaft is still inserted into the socket and protrudes 9 cm out of it. The shaft was attached with at least four copper alloy rivets. The upper part of the socket transitions into a ball-shaped piece, which is followed by the shaft of the spear. The blade of the spear was not preserved at all. On three sides, the socket is equipped with a circled dot decoration and a floral ornament, while the remaining side, in addition to the circled dot decoration, is dominated by a representation of Saint Olav with a crown, a shield and a two-handed axe. Based on this decoration, the object can be dated to the 12th-13th centuries, while depictions of St. Olav with an axe date back to the 13th century at the earliest (see Larsen 2005).

Fig. 4: the spear from Råheim. Source: Anna Shepherd, catalog Unimus.

Fig. 5: redraw of a spear from Råheim. Source: Nøttveit 2000.

Fig. 6: approximate reconstruction of the spear from Råheim.
Source: Diego Flores Cartes.

York, United Kingdom

Sometime in the 2nd quarter of the 19th century, a copper alloy socket was found at the Severus’ Hills site in Acomb near York in northern England. Although a privately owned find, it was on public display until the 1970s, while it was later sold to another collector and its current fate is unclear (Lang 1981; Moulden – Tweedle 1986: 33).

The 9 cm long socket has a conical shape. The diameter at the lower mouth is 2.5 cm. Curved wings in the shape of animal heads protrude from the opposite sides of the socket. The wingspan in the preserved state is 7.8 cm, which means that the original one must have been close to 9 cm. The surface is covered with an engraved ornament in the Ringerike style, which dates back to the end of the 10th or the beginning of the 11th century. At the upper opening, which appears to have been shaped to enclose part of the iron blade, pieces of an iron spear are said to have been preserved. The drawing suggests that there were holes for rivets under the wings.

Fig. 7: the spear from York. Source: Lang 1981: Pl. XV; Wardell 1849: Fig. 2.

Fig. 8: a tentative reconstruction of the spear from York.
Source: Stuart Makin (Jackhammer Forge).

Fig. 9: a variation of the York spear. Source: Petr Floriánek (Gullinbursti).

Fjärdhundra – Gästre, Sweden

In the first half of February 2024, the Rabenius family found an unusual spear on their property between Fjärdhundra and Gästre in Uppland, Sweden. They decided to contact the museum in Enköping, which briefly replied that it was a hunting spear, but showed no further interest. The family tried to reach out to the wider public using social networks and were contacted by the author of the article. The finders willingly sent all the requested details and agreed to the publication. For now, the find remains in the possession of the finders. All provided photos can be downloaded by clicking on the following link:

The basis of the find is a corroded tanged spearhead with a total length of about 38 cm, with about 26 cm being the blade and the remaining 12 cm being the massive tang. The maximum width of the blade is 4 cm. A socket is wrapped around the tang, is locked in place and unable to move. The socket is opened today, but it is not impossible that it was originally welded. The height of the socket is 6 cm. The outer diameter at the bottom opening of the socket is about 2.4 cm. The length of a wing is about 1.6 cm, so the original wingspan was not less than 5.5 cm. The tang protrudes from the socket at a length of 4 cm; in this part, the tang is hammered into a square point with a width of the longer wall of about 0.9 cm.

The design of the spear is so unique that it defies typological comparison. Analogies from the Late Middle Ages and early modern times were actively sought, but without success. The only structural parallels are therefore those that were named above and which may come from the 10th-12th centuries. The overall shape has an early medieval feel; in combination with wings, the spear is strikingly similar to the winged variants of type VI according to Solberg (Solberg 1984: 53), which are dated to the period from the second half of the 8th to the first half of the 10th century.

Fig. 10: spear from Fjärdhundra – Gästre. Source: Viveka Rabenius.


The article would not have been created if the Swedish spear had not been found. We thank the Rabenius family for their help. Thanks go to Marika Esentals and Askur Ingvaldsson, Petr Floriánek (Gullinbursti), Anders Helseth (Helseth’s Hammer), Sergej Kainov (State Historical Museum, Moscow), Roman Král (King’s Craft), Stuart Makin (Jackhammer Forge) and Gustav Solberg (University of Copenhagen), with whom the material was consulted. We must also mention Diego Flores Cartes, who is the author of diagrams.

We hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact us or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support our work, please, fund our project on PatreonBuymeacoffee or Paypal.



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