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The axe from Gromovo, Karelia

In recent years, a silver-decorated axe has regularly appeared on internet forums, bearing a label saying it as a “A 1000 year old Viking axe” (see link) or a “Viking axe from the 10th-11th centuries” (see link). The image, which is shared by many people interested in historical weapons, raises many questions due to the absence of any additional information, including whether it is a falsified axe. In the following article, I would like to put everything in a correct perspective and provide basic information about this find with dating and the nearest parallels.

The axe from Gromovo. Image taken from the reddit discussion page.


Circumstances of the finding and place of storage

The axe is not a fake. It was found in the spring 2013 in the locality of Gromovo (Громово) 2, situated in the Priozersk district of the Leningrad Oblast, Russian Federation. It was discovered together with an iron scythe about a meter below the surface. Based on these discoveries and previous illegal excavations in the same locality, an archaeological survey was carried out, which found the presence of disturbed graves of 13th-14th century. The axe was assigned to grave no. 1, which also contained a scythe, a knife, a razor and the remains of a belt. The publication of material from the same locality was taken care of by the research leader, archaeologist S. V. Belskij in 2018 (Belskij 2018: 187). At the moment, the axe is stored in the Kunstkamera Museum (Кунсткамера) in St. Petersburg under inventory number МАЭ № 7614-1.

Position of Gromovo on the map of Europe.


Description

The axe, which takes the form of Petersen type M (Petersen 1919) and Kirpičnikov type VII (Kirpičnikov 1966), is 14.2 cm long, has a 10 cm long blade, maximum blade thickness 0.7 cm, 3 cm high and 1.1 cm thick butt. The eye is lenticular or ovoid. During the restoration, an ornamental inlay made of thin silver wire was discovered, which is located on one side only – it is visible when carrying the axe on the right side. The ornament in the shape of long lines and spirals covers the area of the part of the blade (as well as its upper edge), thorns and butt, while the part of the blade is left undecorated.

The axe from Gromovo. Source: Belskij 2018: Рис. 59.

The axe from Gromovo. Source: Goskatalog.


Analogies and dating

The grave from Gromovo is roughly dated to 13th-14th century (Belskij 2018: 187) and the 13th century seems to be a reasonable assumption. The identical shape variant of type M axes with long thorns is set just into the 13th century in the Baltic countries (Atgāzis 2019: 66. att). Thanks to the close analogies of the motif, the decoration offers far more accurate dating. Let’s now list the closest analogies.

The decorative manifestation seen on the axe is shared by several other axes, swords and spears of Finnish, Karelian and Latvian provenance. The closest analogy is the axe from grave no. 47 from the Masku Humikkala cemetery in southwestern Finland (KM 8656:H47:5; Kivikoski 1973: Abb. 1192; Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 61). Another close analogy comes from grave no. 17 in Köyliö, Finland (KM 8723:195; Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 62), and an axe from Piltenes Pasilciems, Latvia (Atgāzis 2019: 67. att) seems to stand close to this group. The axe from the locality Požnja-Stanok (Пожня-Станок) from the Kostroma Oblast (Smirnov 1940) belongs to the same tradition. There is another similar axe in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which is an obvious forgery (inv. no. L.2018.48.4).

Axes with analogous decoration.
From the left: Masku Humikkala (Kivikoski 1973: Abb. 1192), Köyliö (Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 62), Piltenes Pasilciems (Atgāzis 2019: 67. att), Požnja-Stanok (Smirnov 1940). Not to scale.

As far as swords are concerned, a similar inlays are found in the finds from Eura (KM 65; Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 40), grave no. 3:1 from the locality of Kaukola Kekomäki (KM 2489:280-281; Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 43), another sword from the same locality (KM 2489:121; Moilanen 2015: 273, 277), Viskumäki (TMM 13393; Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 42), at the crossguard from Novgorod (Kainov – Olejnikov 2020) and potentially at one pommels from a private collections. From the spears, we can name specimens from the localities Vesilahti (KM 3010:21; Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 57.2; Kivikoski 1973: Abb. 1182) and Messukylä-Vilusenharju (Mus. Tampere 2538:266; Kivikoski 1973: Abb. 1184), Mainiemi (KM 2659:1; Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 58; Kivikoski 1973: Abb. 1181) and Kötkä (KM 11174; Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 58).

Swords with analogous decoration.
From the top left: Eura (Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 40), Kaukola Kekomäki (Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 43), Viskumäki (Leppäaho 1964: Pl. 42). Down: Novgorod (Kainov – Olejnikov 2020). Not to scale.

Spears with analogous decoration.
From the top: Mainiemi, Vesilahti, Perniö – Paarskylä, Messukylä – Vilusenharju. Source: Kivikoski 1973: Taf. 134.

Based on the comparison, dating to the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century has been proposed for the grave of Kaukola Kekomäki in the past (Saksa 1998: 58-9). Belskij subsequently came up with the absolute dating of the same grave to the years 1270-1300 (Belskij 2014: 328). The new discovery of a crossguard from Novgorod in a cultural pit, precisely dated between 1188 and the beginning of the 13th century, matches with Saksa’s original assumption (Kainov – Olejnikov 2020). For this reason, we can look at the presented set of weapons, including the axe from Gromovo, as products of the late 12th and certain parts of the 13th century.


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Bibliography

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

Belskij 2014 = Бельский, С. В. (2014). Хронология погребальных памятни- ков Карельского перешейка и Северного Приладожья XI–XV вв. // Stratum plus 5: Люди и вещи Древней Руси, 317–332.

Belskij 2018 = Бельский, С. В. (2018). Опорные археологические памятники и региональные хронологические схемы Восточной Европы. Ред. Г.А. Хлопачев, СПб.

Kainov – Olejnikov 2020 = Каинов, С. Ю. – Олейников, О. М. (2020). Перекрестие меча из раскопа на ул. Большая Московская в Великом Новгороде // Российская Археология 2, 167–176.

Kirpičnikov 1966 = Кирпичников А. Н. (1966). Древнерусское оружие. Вып. 2: Копья, сулицы, боевые топоры, булавы, кистени IX – XIII вв, Москва.

Kivikoski, Ella (1973). Die Eisenzeit Finnlands: Bildwerk und Text, Helsinki.

Leppäaho, Jorma (1964). Späteisenzeitliche Waffen aus Finnland: Schwertinschriften und Waffenverzierungen des 9. – 12. Jahrhunderts ; ein Tafelwerk, Helsinki.

Moilanen, Mikko (2015). Marks of Fire, Value and Faith : Swords with Ferrous Inlays in Finland During the Late Iron Age (ca. 700–1200 AD), Turku.

Petersen, Jan (1919). De Norske Vikingesverd: En Typologisk-Kronologisk Studie Over Vikingetidens Vaaben. Kristiania.

Saksa, Aleksandr (1998). Rautakautinen Karjala. Muinais-Karjalan asutuksen synty ja Varhaiskehitys, Joensuu.

Smirnov 1940 = Смирнов, В. И. (1940). Костромской декоративный топорик // СА V, 304–305.

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