Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content

Latvian metal wrapped axe shafts

When we visited the National History Museum in Riga, Latvia, in 2016, we saw hitherto unknown axes with shafts wrapped in copper alloy band. After many years, we would like to look at this problem from an academic point of view, collect all the published material from the territory of today’s Latvia and evaluate it. The results can be useful to both researchers and reenactors, who often cover the axe shaft with a leather cover instead of the metal bands.

The question of Latvian shaft wrapping has so far been dealt with in the literature mainly by Māris Atgāzis (1964: 118-119; 2019: 132), whose conclusions we will make extensive use of. In 1964, Atgāzis knew a total of 22 specimens. Due to the limitations of the systematic excavations of large burial grounds in the last half century, this corpus has not grown much – we present up to 28 finds in the catalog below. All are made of copper alloy bands. As many as 24-25 finds may come from graves, with nine pieces coming from the Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni burial ground. Wrapped axes also appear in the graves of women (Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, Ābeļu Boķi, Baižkalna Upmaļi) and children (Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni). The axes are placed mainly at the right feet of the deceased. The vast majority come from Latgalian territory (Aglonas Kristapiņi, Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, Baižkalna Upmaļi, Bērzpils Bonifacova, Kokneses Pasta muiža, Ludzas Odukalns, Mārcienas Oliņi, Mērdzenes Dzērves, Pildas Nukši, Višķu Maskava, Zvirgzdenes Kivti), occasionally in the Selonian (Ābeļu Boķi) and Semmigalian (Dreņģeri-Čunkāni) territories. Interesting finds come from the Curonian localities of Piltenes Pasilciems and Talsu Vilkumuižas ezers, in which axes with this solution look somewhat unusual. The oldest examples of wrapping are known from the 8th century, the youngest from the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries.

The wrapping is always connected with one-handed, narrow, light axes. Wrapping is done with bands of uniform widths. For older finds of 8th-9th century, narrower bands with a width of about 1 cm are used, which cover the shaft to a distance of 10-20 cm, while the youngest finds of the 10th century reach the band width of 2-2.5 cm and the length of the wrapped part of the shaft is up to 35 cm. The thickness of the sheet used varies between 0.05-0.12 cm. The largest number of wraps on one shaft is sixteen. The wraps are made from the bottom towards the axehead, usually clockwise, less often counterclockwise (Pildas Nukši). The lower end of the grip is fixed with sometimes noticeable small nails, the upper end is inserted under the head of the ax, which had to be placed from above. The total length of the axes can be expected to be 60-90 cm, which is the most common value for early medieval axes (Kotowicz 2018: 143-146; Poláček – Marek – Skopal 2000: 200-202), ie the wrap could cover up to half the shaft length and the grip part was not wrapped. Wrapping is generally given a practical dimension and can prevent the shaft from breaking. The decorative aspect of wrapping is enhanced by frequent embossed decor (lines, pits) or openwork.

The closest foreign analogies are shafts wrapped in wide iron, bronze or silver bands from Hungary, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom (Kotowicz 2008: 452-453; Vike 2016). There are at least 20 finds of this kind in these countries.


Catalog

Geographical distribution of wrapped shafts in Latvia.

  • Site: Aglonas Kristapiņi, grave 71.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 12378:173.
    Brief description: part of a shaft with an attached axe, wrapped in an unspecified number of bronze band wraps. There is a symmetrical decoration on the edges of the band.
    Literature: Kuniga 2000: 119, XXVI.13 att.

Kuniga 2000: XXVI.13 att.

  • Site: Aglonas Kristapiņi, grave 264.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 12693.99. Atgāzis indicates A 12695.99.
    Brief description: axe shaft with head still on. The shaft is wrapped fifteen times with a band, which is lined with rows of dots along the edge. The lower end seems to be fastened with three nails. Dated to 10th-11th century.
    Literature: Atgāzis 2019: 11. att. abb; Kuniga 2000: 81, 161, 41. att., 59. att., XXVI.13 att.

Atgāzis 2019: 11. att. abb.

Kuniga 2000: XXVI.13 att.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 21.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11822:46.
    Brief description: the grave of a 4-5 year old child contained an axe with a six times wrapped shaft. The band is narrow, undecorated. 8th century dating.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; Ērkšķe et al 2019; Urtāns 1963: 107-108, 56. att.

Ērkšķe et al 2019: Fig. 1.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 169.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11823:184.
    Brief description: the juvenile’s grave contained an axe with the shaft wrapped at least ten times. The band is embossed from the inside so that a plastic hemispherical ornament in the form of rows and rhombuses appears on the visible side. 8th century dating.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132, 145; Ērkšķe et al 2019; Urtāns 1963: 72. att.

Ērkšķe et al 2019: Fig. 4.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 215.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11823:419.
    Brief description: a female grave containing an axe with a shaft wrapped at least ten times. The band is embossed from the inside so that a plastic hemispherical ornament, organized into a herringbone motif, protrudes on the visible side. 8th century dating.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132, 145; Ērkšķe et al 2019; Urtāns 1962: 155. att.

Ērkšķe et al 2019: Fig. 7.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 307.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11823:915.
    Brief description: an axe with a shaft which is wrapped at least ten times with undecorated band. 9th century dating.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; Urtāns 1962: 81, 334. att.

Urtāns 1962: 334. att.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 393.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11847:299.
    Brief description: an axe with a shaft which is wrapped at least thirteen times with undecorated band. 9th century dating.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; Urtāns 1963: 15-17, 136. att.

Urtāns 1963: 136. att.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 400.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11847:344.
    Brief description: the adult man’s grave contained an axe with a shaft wrapped at least ten times. 9th century dating.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; Ērkšķe et al 2019; Urtāns 1963: 151. att.

Ērkšķe et al 2019: Fig. 6.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 415.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11847:450.
    Brief description: only three fragments of bronze wrap, embossed around the perimeter. 9th century dating.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; Urtāns 1963: 43-44, 181. att.

Urtāns 1963: 181. att.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 416.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11847:460.
    Brief description: the juvenile’s grave contained an axe with a shaft wrapped at least eleven times. The band is unadorned. Dating 8th-9th century.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; Ērkšķe et al 2019; Urtāns 1963: 44-45, 182. att.

Ērkšķe et al 2019: Fig. 8.

Source: emuzejs.lnvm.lv.

  • Site: Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni, grave 422.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11847:500.
    Brief description: an axe with at least twelve wraps on the shaft. The wraps overlap, the highest wrap is introduced into the eye of the axehead. Narrow band embossed with dots around the perimeter. 9th century dating.Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; Urtāns 1963: 58-59, 195. att.

Urtāns 1963: 195. att.

  • Site: Ābeļu Boķi VIII, grave 9.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 11777:383.
    Brief description: the axe is included in Atgāzis’ text without further description. It comes from a woman’s grave.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; Vankina 1962: 15.

  • Site: Baižkalna Upmaļi, grave 6.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, 59755.
    Brief description: the axe from a female grave of the 8th century, which is decorated with a shorter wrap with a fine, engraved ornament.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132.

  • Site: Baižkalna Upmaļi, grave 28.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, 59773.
    Brief description: the axe originating from a female grave of the 8th century, which is decorated with a shorter wrap of band 11 mm wide and 1.2 mm thick.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132.

  • Site: Bērzpils Bonifacova.
    Storage, inv. no.: Historical Museum in Jēkabpils.
    Brief description: the axe is included in Atgāzis’ text without further description. A non-grave find.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132.

  • Site: Dreņģeri-Čunkāni, grave 313.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, VI 250f:188.
    Brief description: part of the axe shaft with the head still on. The shaft is wrapped at least five times with a band that is loose and damaged.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1990: 36; Atgāzis 2019: 11. att. abb.

Atgāzis 2019: 11. att. abb.

  • Site: Kokneses Pasta muiža.
    Storage, inv. no.: not identified.
    Brief description: the axe is included in Atgāzis’ text without further description. Grave find, probably discovered in 1894.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 144.

  • Site: Ludzas Odukalns I, grave 15.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 12000:172. Radiņš incorrectly indicates as A 12693.99.
    Brief description: axe shaft with head still on. The shaft is wrapped thirteen times with band, which is lined with edge lines. The band is damaged in some places. The band seems to reach the eye of the axehead.
    Literature: MAR 14: 46, Табл. XV.4; Radiņš 1996: 176; Radiņš 2001: Рис. 17.8.

MAR 14: Табл. XV.4.

Radiņš 1996: 176.

  • Site: Ludzas Odukalns II, grave 30.
    Storage, inv. no.: not identified.
    Brief description: part of the axe shaft which is wrapped at least six times with band. The band is lined with edge lines and perforated in the shape of opposite letters T.
    Literature: MAR 14: 46, Табл. XV.3.

MAR 14: Табл. XV.3.

  • Site: Mārcienas Oliņi, grave 4.
    Storage, inv. no.: Museum of Local History in Madona, MNM 191.
    Brief description: the axe is included in Atgāzis’ text without a detailed description. There were two axes in the grave, narrow and wide. The wrapping was connected to the narrower battle axe. The turn of the 10th and 11th centuries.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 119; Atgāzis 2019: 114, 132.

Atgāzis 2019: 47. att.

  • Site: Mērdzenes Dzērves.
    Storage, inv. no.: LNVM Rīga, A 8205:17.
    Brief description: axe shaft with head still on. The shaft is wrapped sixteen times with a band that is lined with edge lines. Grave find. Dated to 10th-11th century.
    Literature: Radiņš 2001: Рис. 17.7.

Radiņš 2001: Рис. 17.7.

Author: Karel Sýkora.

  • Site: Pildas Nukši, grave 80.
    Storage, inv. no.: the object was located in the Museum of Local History in Ludza in the 1950s and 1960s.
    Brief description: a well-preserved axe of the 10th century, the shaft of which is wrapped fourteen times with band. The band is 23 mm wide, 0.5 mm thick and is decorated with lines at the edges. The band reaches the eye of the axehead.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 119; Šnore – Zaids 1957: 28, 41, 78, Рис. 18, 41.9.

Atgāzis 1964: 5. att.

Šnore – Zaids 1957: Рис. 41.9.

  • Site: Pildas Nukši, unknown grave.
    Storage, inv. no.: not identified.
    Brief description: the axe is included in Atgāzis’s text without further details. We were not able to find it in Šnore – Zaids 1957. The catalog LA 1974 (tab. 60) shows an axe from the Nukši locality, which is visually slightly different from the find from grave 80, but it is probably the same find. It is not impossible that Atgāzis meant this find.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118.

LA 1974: 60. tab.

  • Site: Piltenes Pasilciems.
    Storage, inv. no.: not identified.
    Brief description: axehead with the remains of a bronze band in the eye.
    Literature: Atgāzis 2019: 132.

  • Site: Talsu Vilkumuižas ezers.
    Storage, inv. no.: not identified.
    Brief description: an axehead found in a lake with the remains of a bronze band in its eye.
    Literature: Atgāzis 2019: 132.

  • Site: Višķu Maskava, non-funeral find.
    Storage, inv. no.: not identified.
    Brief description: part of the shaft twice wrapped with bronze band 2.5 cm wide. Decorated with rhombic ornament. Dating: turn of 10th-11th century.
    Literature: Vilcāne 1996: 177, 12. att.

Vilcāne 1996: 12. att.

  • Site: Zvirgzdenes Kivti, grave 102.
    Storage, inv. no.: not identified.
    Brief description: part of the axe wrapped in bronze band at least ten times. Decorated with a herringbone motif or similar lines. Dated to the 8th century.
    Literature: Atgāzis 1964: 118; Atgāzis 2019: 132; LA 1974: 155, 81. att; Šnore 1987: 26-27, 44, VIII. tab.

LA 1974: 81. att.

Šnore 1987: VIII. tab.

  • Site: Zvirgzdenes Kivti, grave 119.
    Storage, inv. no.: not identified.
    Brief description: an axe with a partially preserved shaft, which is wrapped fifteen times with a band. 9th century dating.
    Literature: Šnore 1987: 26-27, 47, 18. att.

Šnore 1987: 18. att.


Acknowledgement

This article would not have been possible without the help of Latvian colleagues and friends who have helped us significantly. First of all, we thank Aija Ērkšķe for providing valuable material from Aizkraukles Lejasbitēni and some literature. Edvards Puciriuss, who helped us get some titles, also made a significant contribution to the article. Artūrs Tomsons and Artis Āboltiņš also deserve our gratitude.


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.


Literature

Atgāzis, Māris (1964). Latgaļu 9.—12. gs. cirvji. In: Arheoloģija un etnogrāfija 6, Rīga, 105-125.

Atgāzis, Māris (1990). Pētījumi Dreņģeru-Čunkānu kapulauka un aizsardzības izrakumi Plūdoņu II apmetnē. In: Zinātniskās atskaites sesijas materiāli par arheologu un etnogrāfu 1988. un 1989. gada pētījumu rezultātiem, Rīga, 34-43.

Atgāzis, Māris (2019). Tuvcīņas ieroči Latvijā 10.- 13. gadsimtā, Rīga.

Ērkšķe, Aija et al. (2019). Axe in the Iron Age Child Burials (7th – 12th century AD) in the territory of Latvia: Gender, Sex or Status. In: 25th EAA Annual Meeting : 25 years Beyond Paradigms, 4-7 September, 2019, Bern, Bern, 64-65.

Kotowicz, P. N. (2008). Nie tylko żeleźca. O rzadziej postrzeganych elementach średniowiecznych toporów. In: “Ad oderam fluvium”: księga dedykowana pamięci Edwarda Dąbrowskiego, Zielona Góra, 441–465.

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

Kuniga, Ināra (2000). Kristapiņu kapulauks: 8. gs. beigas – 12. gs., Rīga.

LA 1974 = Latvijas PSR arheoloģija, Rīga

MAR 14 = Материалы по археологии России 14. Древности Северо-Западного края. Т. I. Вып. 2. Люцинский могильник. С XV таблицами рисунков и 36 политипажами. С.-Петербург, 1893.

Poláček, L. – Marek, O. – Skopal, R. (2000). Holzfunde aus Mikulčice. In: Poláček, L. (ed.). Studien zum Burgwall von Mikulčice IV, Brno, 177–302.

Radiņš, Arnis (1996). Ceļvedis Latvijas senvēsturē, Rīga.

Radiņš 2001 = Радиньш, Арнис (2001). Погребальный обряд и инвентарь латгальских захоронений 10-13 веков // Archaeologia Lituana 2, Vilnius, 65-118.

Šnore – Zaids 1957 = Шноре, Э. Д. – Зейдc, Т. Я. (1957). Нукшинский могильник. Материалы и исследования по археологии Латвийской ССР, Рига.

Šnore, Elvīra (1987). Kivtu kapulauks, Rīga.

Urtāns, Vladislavs (1961). Pārskats par arheoloģiskajiem izrakumiem Aizkraukles Lejasbitēnu kapulaukā 1961. gadā, Rīga.

Urtāns, Vladislavs (1962). Pārskats par arheoloģiskajiem izrakumiem Aizkraukles Lejasbitēnu kapulaukā 1962. gadā, Rīga.

Urtāns, Vladislavs (1963). Pārskats par arheoloģiskajiem izrakumiem Aizkraukles Lejasbitēnu kapulaukā 1963. gadā, Rīga.

Vankina, Lūcija (1962). Arheoloģiskie izrakumi Boķu kapulaukā 1961. gadā. In: Referātu tēzes, Rīga, 14-15.

Vike, Vegard (2016). «Det er ikke gull alt som glimrer» – bredøkser med messingbeslått skaft fra sen vikingtid. In: VIKING – Norsk arkeologisk årbok, LXXIX, Oslo, 95–116.

Vilcāne, Antonija (1996). Višķu Maskavas kapulauks (8.-12. gs). In: Arheoloģija un etnogrāfija 18, Rīga, 162-180.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.