It is our joyful duty to inform the reader of a new unique find – the first decorated Great Moravian bearded axe from Moravia. The photographs of the artefact were sent to us at the beginning of May 2021, immediately after its discovery. The axehead was found by a detectorist, who handed it over together with coordinates and other data to the South Moravian Museum in Znojmo. Due to the yet unexplored possibility that it is a grave find, it is not possible to reveal the precise place of the find, but we can say that the find comes from a place lies within the 10 km range from the Great Moravian fort Hradiště.
The following article is intended as a preliminary description of the artifact for the general public, and an official version for print will be prepared in the future, which will be the collective work of the staff of the South Moravian Museum in Znojmo and the author of this website and which will contain more detailed photographs and expert analyzes.
The axehead we had the opportunity to examine is partially corroded, but it gives a compact and firm impression. It takes on a shape that is traditionally described as the Great Moravian bearded axe with long thorns. It is a light penetrative war axe with a slightly bevelled blade relative to the axis of the shaft. Poulík (1948: 33) and Hanuliak (2004: 145-6) call this form type I; according to the classification of Hrubý (1955: 170, Ob. 28.1), Dostál (1966: 70), Ruttkay (1976: 306-7) and Luňák (2018: 126-7) use type IA to name this shape. It corresponds to type Id according to Nadolski (1954: 41, Tab. XIII.3) and IV.Ac according to Bartošková (1988: 7, Fig. 1). The most accurate system established so far is the Kotowicz combination typology, in which an axe can be assigned to type IB.5.30, which is defined as a narrow asymmetric axe with a blade shaped into the beard, with a shaft hole accompanied with thorns on both sides and with tapered hammerhead butt (Kotowicz 2018: 107-9). We can also mention the definition of type IV.Ac according to Bartošková, according to which it is a Moravian bearded axe with a longer narrowed butt terminated by a vertical rectangular surface and pointed thors at the shaft hole (Bartošková 1988: 7). There are hundreds of axes of identical shape, which are spread mainly in Moravia, Slovakia and Poland, more limitedly in the Czech Republic, Hungary and the Balkans (Kotowicz 2018: 108).
The specific examined specimen belongs to the larger known pieces. Dostál (1966: 70) states that axes of this shape usually vary in the length of 150-200 mm, Hanuliak (2004: 145) states as the most common value the length of 150-170 mm with possible overlaps on both sides. Ruttkay (1976: 307) records lengths varying between 138 and 207 mm. Hrubý (1955: 170) speaks about the lengths of up to 210 mm recorded in the material from Staré Město.
In general, the find can be dated to between the second half of the 8th century and the 10th century (Kotowicz 2018: 107-9), but in the Moravian context we can speak with a high degree of certainty about the Great Moravian horizon, ie the period of when the fort Hradiště existed (Klíma 2000; Klíma 2009). The climax of bearded axes in Moravia is undoubtedly the entire 9th century (see the discussion in Luňák 2018: 151-3).
Schematic drawing of type IB.5.30 according to Kotowicz. Kotowicz 2018: 107.
The total length of the axehead is 189 mm, the weight in the found condition before conservation is 327 g. There is no visible corroded textile. The length of the blade from the upper edge of the shaft hole to today’s rounded upper corner of the edge is 135 mm, to the center of the blade 136 mm and to the lower corner of the blade 137 mm. The expected width of the edge, including the reconstructed upper corner, is 61 mm, the length of the rounded edge is not determined. The blade continuously tapers and is ended with a sharp edge; at a distance of 50 mm from the upper edge of the shaft hole, the thickness of the blade is 10 mm. About 82 mm of the blade is thinner or equal to 10 mm. The length of the beard is 74 mm, the beginning of the beard being located at a distance of 63 mm from the lower edge of the shaft opening. The height of the neck of the blade at the level of the shaft hole is 16.5 mm, while the thickness of the neck at this point is 23 mm.
The ovoid-shaped shaft hole appears to be slightly conical – measuring 32 × 27 mm at the upper mouth, 31 × 29 mm at the lower mouth. It is oriented so that the shaft forms an angle greater than 90° (approximately 100-105°) with the upper edge of the blade and the entire blade is slightly inclined downwards, which multiplied the penetration of the weapon. The hole is accompanied with with long, damaged thorns. On the left side (when viewed from the butt), the upper thorn is damaged and the span of the thorns is 70 mm, on the right side the lower thorn is damaged and the span is 67 mm. The span of the original thorns in a symmetrical design can be estimated at 87 mm. The thorns have a thickness in the middle of their heights varying around 2-3 mm, from where they taper to about 1-1.5 mm at the ends. The maximum thickness of the weapon at the level of the center of the thorns is 34 mm. The center of the thorns is rather rounded, not accentuated by a sharp rib. Looking into the shaft hole, we see a large strip of separated scale-like material on the axis of the left thorns. There is a possibility that it is a remnant of hole welding (Kotowicz’s variant 5; Kotowicz 2018: 27), which is also known from other Great Moravian bearded axes (Pleiner 1967: 79). The ovoid shape of the eye may also point to the possibility that the shaft hole has not been punctured. This possibility must be confirmed or refuted by further analyzes. There are no visible traces of wood in the hole. Originally, the axehead could be equipped with a deciduous shaft with a length of 600-900 mm, while it is more likely to be mounted to the shaft from below (Kotowicz 2018: Pl. XIX-XXIV; Poláček et al. 2000: 199, Abb. 22-27).
The back of the axe is equipped with a butt, which, like the blade, is slightly bent downwards. The length of the butt from the upper edge of the shaft hole is 21 mm, from the lower edge 18 mm. The height of the butt at the shaft hole is 21 mm. When viewed from above, the butt resembles the shape of an hourglass. The impact area of the butt is slightly widened, rounded from the side view, 23 mm high and 9 mm thick.
At the upper edge of the both sides of the blade, there is a decoration in the form of a branch with leaves radiating towards the shaft hole (left side) and away from it (right side). On the left side (when viewed from the butt), it is visible at a distance of 25 mm from the shaft hole and has a length of 31 mm (14 radial leaves with a frequency of 5 leaves / 10 mm). On the opposite side, the decoration is less visible, at a distance of 43 mm from the shaft hole and at a length of 14 mm. The length of the leaves in both cases varies between 4 – 6 mm. No other traces of decoration were found on any area of the axe (all areas of the blade, thorns and butt were examined). It is possible that X-ray analysis proves its existence in other areas. The decoration seems to be cut with a straight metal tool (for technique see Kotowicz 2018: 37), the grooves are not deep and considerably damaged by the corrosion. Whether the decoration was originally filled with another metal is not known at this time, no contrast metal is visible to the naked eye.
The decoration is an unusual feature for bearded axes of this type, which is currently not known at any other bearded axe from the territory of Moravia (Luňák 2018: 74-6). In neighboring Poland, where axes are very precisely revised (Kotowicz 2014; Kotowicz 2018), elements that can be described as decorations can be found in the Early Middle Ages in only 3% of finds (Kotowicz 2011: 106). The geographically closest decorated specimen of the bearded axe is the find from Bojná, whose neck is decorated with two transverse lines (Kouřil 2008: Fig. 3.7). Another analogy is the detector find from the village of Bašnice, discovered in 2019 and published on this website (Vlasatý 2020). The Bašnica miniature axe is inlayed with silver wire, which is arranged in simple and double lines, clusters of lines, birds, crosses, branches and triangles. However, the closest analogy in terms of size and appearance is the bearded axe from Barkowice Mokre, Poland, dated to the 9th century (Góra–Kotowicz 2008-2009; Kotowicz 2011: 107; Kotowicz 2014: 15). This axe is decorated with simple lines arranged in fields, which are filled with hatching, the result corresponding to the motif of a branch. Another comparable piece that we can mention comes from Bardy, Poland (Kotowicz 2014: 15); this 9th century axe is decorated with grooves on the neck, thorns and parts of the butt, which are filled with copper alloy wire.
The branch motif, which can be seen on axes from Znojmo, Bašnice and Barkowice, was used to decorate militaria from the early Roman period to the 13th century (Kotowicz 2018: 39). It became extremely popular in Midwestern Europe during the Merovingian, Carolingian and Ottonian periods (eg Robak 2017: 125; Wachowski 1992: 80-1; personal discussion with Zbigniew Robak). In the Great Moravian and Post Great Moravian horizons in the territory of the Czech Republic, it was also used on swords (Hošek – Košta – Žákovský 2019: 245; Hrubý 1955: Fig. 27.2), helmets (Macků – Pilná 2021), belt buckles and thorns (Kalousek 1971: Fig. 13.2), slides and strap-ends (Robak 2017: 144), spurs and their sets (Profantová – Kavánová 2003: 120), crosses (Klanica 1974: Fig. 2), pottery (Sláma 1977: Abb. 5.58-61, 64, 69, 70) and antler cases (Beranová – Lutovský 2009: 182; Pochitonov 1970-1971).
We would like to thank Miss Lucie Bejčková for notifying us of the extraordinary find and helping us with the documentation. We are deeply indebted to Mrs. Alena Nejedlá from the South Moravian Museum in Znojmo for kind acceptance and the possiblity to approach the find and publish it preliminarily. We would also like to thank the historical fencing group Voron that created a homely atmosphere for us during our visit to Znojmo.
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