Long knife from the grave Valsgärde 12

Together with the leading British reenactor Matt Bunker, it is our honour to present the article in which we release unpublished photographs of a knife from the grave Valsgärde 12, Sweden (3rd quarter of the 10th century) and its detailed description. This information has not yet been published in the literature. The article is also conceived as the introduction of an interesting grave into the English language. Matt Bunker, who creates detailed photographs of objects in European museums, can be supported in his activities through his crowdfunding project buymeacoffee.com/medicusmatt.

Map of the burial ground in Valsgärde. Taken from Gräslund – Ljungkvist 2011: Fig. 1.


Find context and dating

The mound Valsgärde 12, which was excavated by Bengt Schönbäck and Else Nordahl during the two months of 1948, stands behind the pompous graves of the Vendel period from the same locality, somewhat secluded. Unlike mounds 1, 2, 4 (Munktell 2013) or 14 (Nordahl 2018), it has never been properly and completely published, so the only sources we can use are the research report (Schönbäck 1948) and studies that dealt with parts of the material found (especially Androshchuk 2014; Lindblom 2000; Pedersen 2014a-b). In the middle of the mound, there was a prepared ditch in which a ship with a length of 10.25 m and a width of 1.6 m was placed. Today, the ship is visible only on the basis of rivets and nails. Each side of the hull consisted of six planks. Imprints in the ground around the ship indicate that the ship was probably covered by a log roof. The orientation of the ship was east-northeast (stern) – west-southwest (bow), with the bow facing the river Fyrisån.

In the eastern part of the ship, in the area of ​​4.1-5.7 m from the stern, a body was placed, the head of which pointed to the stern and of which only a few remains exist to this day, including seven teeth and tibiae. The sex of the deceased has not yet been examined, but the person is commonly described as a man based on the grave inventory. A leather belt with a copper alloy buckle was found in the waist area, corresponding in shape to the find from graves 71 and 229 from Birka (Arbman 1940: Taf. 87.6-7), and a cloak ringed pin of the type I according to Thunmark-Nylén (Pedersen 2014b: Pl 62.5; Thunmark-Nylén 1984: 6). Fragments of 2/1 wool twill corroded to the belt buckle, which are interpreted as the remains of a cloak or blanket (Lindblom 2000: 26). Fragments of wire, apparently from the decoration of the deceased’s clothing, could not be specified (Lindblom 2000: 26). The following items were also found at the level of the belt and buckle: a slate pendant (possibly a whetstone or a touchstone), a fire striker and a flintstone, probably placed in a leather pouch.

Part of the grave inventory of the grave of Valsgärde 12 (No. 1190 indicates the teeth of the deceased). Taken from Lindblom 2000: Fig. 2.

Part of the grave inventory from the bow of the ship. Taken from Hedenstierna-Jonson – Ljungkvist 2021: 229, Fig. 4.

Militaria were placed above the head closer to the stern, which is not a common position (normally they are placed along the body). Closest to the head, there was the Petersen V type sword with Androshchuk’s 6b chape, which lay perpendicular to the axis of the ship with the hilt facing north (Androshchuk 2014: 412; Paulsen 1953: 45-6; Pedersen 2014b: Pl. 63.1). The same goes for the long knife with a decorated sheath, which was placed next to the sword closer to the stern. On the pommel of the sword, there was the Petersen type I spearhead with silver and copper alloy plated socket; the spearhead pointed toward the bow (Graham-Campbell 1980: 72-3). Between the sword’s pommel and the edge of the ship, 21 Wegraeus type A1-2 arrowheads were found, fixed by wire wrapping (Wegraeus 1986: 22), apparently originally located in a quiver, judging by their close proximity. Closer to the stern, two other smaller knives and a shield with a R563 type boss and 19 iron clamps were placed (Arwidsson 1986b: 42). Roughly in the same space as the shield and two smaller knives, ie at a distance of 2.7 – 3.6 m from the stern, tools were found, especially a hammer, scissors corresponding to type II according to Arwidsson (Arwidsson 1984: 197), fragment of a bucket, lock with a key and big whetstone. Mention should also be made of trade equipment – two leather pouches, the first containing a Steuer type A copper alloy box with type 3 scales and the second hiding a set of ten iron weights, a tin fragment and 32 fragments of silver Samanic coins (Steuer 1997: Abb. 14b). Remains of silk clothing with silver embroidery, wire edges and posaments were found in the same part of the ship (Larsson 2007: 87-9; Lindblom 2000). Apparently, in connection with this textile, 12 copper alloy buttons from caftan were found (Beatson 1995-2019; Vedeler 2014: 36).

Fragments of silk with silver embroidery and a wire edge. Taken from Lindblom 2000: Fig. 9-11.

Posaments from the grave of Valsgärde 12. Taken from Lindblom 2000: Fig. 16-21.

One of the pouches and a box from the grave of Valsgärde 12. Taken from Steuer 1997: Abb. 14b.

Equestrian equipment was found on board at a distance of 2-2.5 m from the bow, namely silver plated spurs of group B according to Pedersen (Pedersen 2014a: 104-5; Pedersen 2014b: Pl. 62.4), brackets of Braathen type C / type IIC according to Forsåker (Braathen 1989: 20; Forsåker 1986: 125; Pedersen 2014b: Pl. 62.6), snaffle bit of Forsåker type II / R576 (Forsåker 1986: 115-6; Pedersen 2014b: Pl. 62.3; Rygh 1885), buckles and sheets for stirrup fastening, harness decorations and other fittings. Kitchen utensils were placed on the bow – a cauldron with a chain, roasting skewer and fragments of ceramics. The body of a dog was also stored in the same places, as well as the cremated body of an unknown animal placed in a ceramic vessel. At the south side of the ship, outside the deck, the body of a horse lay whose head was in front of the bow. The skeleton had a Forsåker type I snaffle bit in the mouth (Forsåker 1986: 115-6; Pedersen 2014b: Pl. 62.2). A wooden back piece was fastened at the withers, from which the nails and the rein holder of group B according to Strömberg, cast from a copper alloy (Pedersen 2014b: Pl. 62.1; Strömberg 1986: 145), have been preserved. The surviving harness also included pieces of leather belts and anti-slip crampons.

Part of the inventory of the grave of Valsgärde 12. Taken from Pedersen 2014b: Pl. 62-3.

Spearhead from the grave of Valsgärde 12. Taken from Graham-Campbell 1980: Cat. no. 258.

Fragments of the attached coins were numismatically examined with the result that the mound can be dated to the middle of the 10th century at the earliest – the youngest coin is dated to  949/950 (Androshchuk 2014: 412), 950 (Lindblom 2000: 6) or 952 (Schönbäck – Thunmark-Nylén 2002: 8; Stjerna 2007: 245). For this reason, Schönbäck tends to date the grave just after the middle of the 10th century, but he adds that grave 15, which contains a similar inventory, is younger (Schönbäck – Thunmark-Nylén 2002). Ljungkvist states that graves 12 and 15 are only a few years apart, and literally says that both graves can be classified in the second half of the 10th century and represent a turning point in the use of the cemetery because they are not located in the previously preferred southern part (Ljungkvist 2008: 45). Grave 28 from the second half of the 11th century respects grave 12, and therefore, according to Schönbäck, it is younger (Schönbäck – Thunmark-Nylén 2002).

According to Petersem, type V swords can be dated to the first half of the 10th century in Norway (Petersen 1919: 156), which seems to be still accepted (Hjardar – Vike 2011: 169). Type V swords from Birka probably date to the first half of the 10th century; the most similar inventory could be found in grave 581, which contains a V type sword, a type I spearhead, a long knife, and a coin dated 913-932 (Androshchuk 2014: 386). Old Russian pieces can be dated to the middle of the 10th century or to the second half of the 10th century (Kainov 2012: 42). The chape of Androščuk type 6b can be dated with a high degree of certainty to the second half of the 10th century (Androshchuk 2014: 119-120, 243, 275). We know Petersen’s type I spearhead from at least seven graves in Birka, and striking combinations with long knives can be noticed (a total of 5 ×, graves 581, 644, 703, 832, 955; Stjerna 2007: 248; Thålin-Bergman 1986: 17). Pedersen (2014a: 94, 171) states that spears of this type appear in Danish equestrian graves in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the 10th century. For long knives, dating is generally accepted throughout the 10th century, with Birka pieces being chronologically older and belonging to the first half of the 10th century, while graves from Valsgärde being younger and dated to the second half of the same century, which is due to the demise of Birka shortly after the middle of the 10th century (Stjerna 2007: 245). According to Stjerna, the production of long knives took place in Sweden in one or two decades of the first half of the 10th century (Stjerna 2007: 247). For dating the grave Valsgärde 12, it is an interesting to mention the material from the Gnězdovo, Russia, probably originally made in Sweden, which tends to the second half of the 10th century (Kainov 2019: 109). At least one of the knives from Gnězdovo (mound Dn-86) was stored with a sword type V and the whole mound can most probably be dated to the 3rd quarter of the 10th century (Kainov 2012: 44-46; Shchedrina – Kainov 2021: 239). It is also worth mentioning the mound Dn-4, dendrochronologically dated to the year 975, which is equipped with a sword type V, buttons and silk derived from a caftan (Kainov 2012: 53-54; Orfinskaja 2018).

Pedersen suggests that Valsgärde graves 12 and 15 correspond in chronology and equipment to grave 3 from the Stengade I, Denmark (Pedersen 2014a: 157), adding elsewhere that equipment containing V type swords stands in the middle of two extremes defined by type R562 shield bosses, Ladby-type stirrups and Group A spurs on one side, X type swords, G type spears and Farsø-type stirrups on the other side (Pedersen 2014a: 153). If we take into account the Swedish, Danish and Old Rus material, the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the 10th century appear as a period when objects analogous to the inventory of the grave Valsgärde 12 were stored, and because we are sure that the tomb was not created before 950, it can be safely declared that the 3rd quarter of the 10th century was the time of the construction of this grave, while objects could have been one to two generations old at the time of storage.

Proposed sequence of selected graves in Valsgärde. Taken from Schönbäck – Thunmark-Nylén 2002: Fig. 11.


Previous publication of the long knife

The schematic drawing of the knife in the sheath can be found in the original unpublished documentation, where the object is marked with the number 1046 (Schönbäck 1948). The knife is further mentioned in the article about Birka long knives as an analogy (Arwidsson 1986a: 37). A schematic drawing could also be found in the work by Schönbäck and Thunmark-Nylén (2002: Fig. 4). Thunmark-Nylén mentions the knife from Valsgärde 12 as an analogy of Gotlandic long knives and states that the closest parallels of this piece could be traced in the Baltic countries (Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 251). For completeness, we must add that the long knife is named in Androščuk’s work without further details (Androshchuk 2014: 412).

The most detailed work so far is an article by Niklas Stjerna (2007) and a book by Anna Pedersen (2014a-b). Stjerna obviously did not have the opportunity to examine the knife in person because it does not specify dimensions, but he was certainly familiar with its appearance, which allowed him to define that the ring holders are decorated with openwork and stepped edge, the rings have widened ends with non-grooved nodes and the bronze chape has a profiled edge. The knife is not depicted in Stjerna’s work. Pedersen was the only one of these authors to publish a detailed drawing of a knife (in her work she switched knives from graves 12 and 15; Pedersen 2014b: 126, Pl. 63.3). The drawing shows that the knife and its sheath are well preserved, including the handle and leather part of the sheath. The value of this work lies mainly in the drawing of rings that are bent on the original, poorly visible, and thus overlooked. However, the drawing is black and white and does not show the color contrasts that are visible in the original.

Long knife from the grave Valsgärde 12. Taken from Pedersen 2014b: Pl. 63.3.


Description

The knife with a sheath, which is now located in the Gustavianium Museum in Uppsala and which bears inventory no. 5912:1046, is 475 mm long according to John Worley, the curator of the Scandinavian archaeological collections of the same museum. The sheath is corroded to the knife and cannot be removed non-invasively. This length, which the curator sent us with a photograph with a scale, is close to both the geographically closest analogies from central Sweden (Stjerna 2007: 248) and specimens from the entire region in which long knives appeared in the 10th century (Vlasatý 2020).

A long knife from the grave Valsgärde 12. The photo was gladly sent by curator John Worley, to whom we thank.

The handle of the knife is made of wood and is relatively well preserved. Its length is 110 mm and is approximately circular or oval in cross section with a diameter of approximately 24-25 mm. At a distance of 1-2.5 mm from the front end of the handle, there is a 16 mm long wrap of silver wire, which was created by two double-wire wires in the style of “herringbone”. The wrap, which appears to consist of nineteen rows of twisted wire, was inserted into the prepared groove so that the surface of the handle remained as smooth as possible. The tang of the blade most likely passed through the entire handle. The end of the handle appears to be terminated by a slightly curved thin sheet metal terminal that protrudes from the handle. The number of rivets by which the terminal is attached to the wooden handle is not determined.

The width of the blade copied the width of the handle, ie about 24 mm, which is a value with numerous analogies in the Swedish material (Stjerna 2007: 248). The thickness of the blade is not known, by analogy it appears to have a probable thickness between 6-11 mm (Stjerna 2007: 248). The cross section of the blade undoubtedly forms a triangle similar to a V shape. The back is straight, tapering slightly in the first third at the tip, while the edge is straight for most of its length, except for the last five centimeters in front of the tip, tapering slightly and smoothly, not parallel to the back. If the blade filled the sheath completely, its length was 360-370 mm, however, by analogy it is clear that the tip of the blade never fully reaches the tip of the sheath (Stjerna 2007: Fig. 2.2a, 12e, 19a).

The sheath made of the still preserved thin leather covered the entire length of the knife, including the handle. The only part of the knife that was visible was the metal terminal to which the eyelet with the strap for pulling out the weapon was originally attached. The side of the sheath on the side of the edge was continuously covered with fittings, which were partly decorative, partly represented a functional three-point fastening to the belt. At the level of the handle, there is a trapezoidal, slightly widening one-piece fitting that is bent horizontally (compared to the rest that are bent vertically). The fitting is about 10 mm longer than the handle, at the narrowest point it is 14 mm and at the widest 18 mm. The fitting is made of copper alloy sheet, which is tinned. It is decorated with a three-stage stepped perforation, which is organized in such a way that there are three perforations on the inside towards the handle and two on the outside, the tops of which are located in the omitted space between the three internal perforations. Only the front side of the fitting is decorated with the perforation, the rear bent side is not decorated in this way, which means that the sheath can be worn only in one direction (the end pointed to the left when hanging, the handle pointed to the right hand). The perforation is lined with a contrasting copper alloy sheet. On the outside of the sheath, one of the partitions of the stepped perforation is damaged, on the inside, the partitions are probably intentionally removed, due to which the edge of the lining material is visible (it is visible that the lining material does not reach the edge of the main fitting). The edge of the trapezoidal fitting is decorated with two lines, the inner space is divided into triangular fields by means of lines made of punched pits, which respect the shape of the stepped opening. Five of these fields are additionally decorated with concentric circles. At the meetings of the punched pit lines, there are rivets, of which there are at least 11 on the trapezoidal fitting (three rivets are more massive than the others).

On the outside of the trapezoidal fitting, we see the ring holder, which is inserted under the trapezoidal fitting and its contrasting underlay, and which is fastened with one of the massive rivets. The holder consists of a simple bent plate, before bending taking the shape of an hourglass, on which a ring is inserted before the riveting. The internal fastening of the holder can be clearly seen on more damaged analogies (Vendel IX, graves 59 and 463 from Birka). If the holder plate was originally tinned, this decoration is not visible in the photos. It is not impossible that the holder was decorated with edge lines (like in Valsgärde 15). The second ring holder is no longer covered by further fittings and has a shape which is describes as “winged” in the literature. The width of the base is 27-28 mm, the height of the bent sheet is 21-22 mm. The width of the narrowest part of the fitting where the ring is located is about 9 mm. The fitting is decorated in the same way as the trapezoidal fittings – it is tinned, decorated with a three-stage perforation, contrast lining, punched pit lines and concentric circles. The fitting appears to be attached with at least two rivets. The third ring holder is identical in size and decoration, but it is damaged and was probably fastened with three rivets, one of which has a yellow metal head. The rings themselves are cast of a copper alloy and a uniform size of approximately 28 × 25 mm. Contrary to Stjerna’s view that the nodes were not decorated, Pedersen depicts grooves that typical of this type of object. The rings, the axles of which are undoubtedly narrowed, were used to attach a leather strap, as can be seen in the preserved analogies from grave 834 in Birka.

The tip of the sheath is protected by a one-piece bent chape, the length of which is 108-115 mm. The fitting is tinned and Stjerna’s remark about “bronze” is therefore not entirely accurate. The number of rivets cannot be precisely estimated. The only noticeable decoration is a double edging line. The remaining space of the sheath edge is decorated with grooved clamps, which also appear to be tinned. The clamps are approximately 10 mm long in the bent state and each of them is fastened with only one rivet. There is a single clamp between the first and the second holder, between the second and the third handle 3 clamps are still preserved according to the photo, but the original space is suitable for 5-6 clamps, which Pedersen captures in her drawing. The space between the third holder and the chape was originally filled with clamps, most of which are absent today. Depending on the clamp width of 5-7 mm, there might have been 20-29 pieces in this section.

In the past, the long knife from the grave Valsgärde 12 has been compared to Baltic analogies (Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 251), which does not appear to be a relevant statement in light of new evidence. It is true that the handle wire wrap is often applied to long knives in Curonia and Livonia (eg a knife from the Museum of Little Lithuania in Klaipėda, Girkaliai, Radzes, Genčai, Anduliai, see Vlasatý 2021), however in most cases they are multiple wraps made of copper alloy wire. Copper alloy wire is also used in the long knife from Kjuloholm (Cleve 1978: 172). As far as we know, the only long knives with a simple silver wrap come from the graves Valsgärde 15 (Pedersen 2014: Pl. 63.4) and Šestovice 2/2006 (Androščuk – Zocenko 2012: 190, Fig. 133a – b), ie from the Swedish-Old Rus area. Tin-plating, which according to craftsman Alexey Neumin is achieved in fire using rosin as a flux, are typical of knives from this tradition and can be found in Birka (eg 73, 581), Vendel (IX), Valsgärde (15), Gotland and Šestovica (mounds 30, 145, 2/2006). Three-stage openwork, contrast lining and punched pit lines are also among the common decoration methods of this group. An unusual feature is the concentric circles decoration, the closest analogy of which is known to us is the chape of the Sarsky camp 2 (Leontiev 1996: 100, Fig. 40.13). Ultimately, the knife from the grave of Valsgärde 12 fits well into Swedish production and there is no need to look for analogies in today’s Latvia or Lithuania.

Detailed photos taken by Matt Bunker, to whom we thank.


Acknowledgment

This article could not have been created without quality photos taken by British reenactor Matt Bunker, whom you can support through his crowdfunding project buymeacoffee.com/medicusmatt. Gustavianium curator John Worley, to whom we also thank, made a significant contribution to the creation of the article. We are grateful to the Russian manufacturer Alexey Neumin for consulting the material.


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.


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