The Great Moravian period represents, in terms of swords, an epoch when high-quality swords of type X and Y appear in Czech and Moravian territories. Their increase is undoubtedly associated with the equestrian elite, which preferred these swords because of better functionality in cavalry combat. More information on this phenomenon is provided by Jiří Košta (eg Košta – Hošek 2014; interview with Jiří Košta).
Contrary to this progressive group of swords, there is certainly a group that maintains a traditional design with a shorter blade, a short guard and a multi-piece pommel. In this article we will focus on two swords that fit exactly into this group, and exhibit a rather atypical element – the organic components of the hilt.
Two swords originating from Olomouc – Nemilany and Staré Město have a construction consisting of a double-edged blade – in case of Nemilany, we are speaking about high quality blade with inscription – and wooden hilt components, which were coated with metal sheet (Hošek et al. 2019: ID No 164 and 226). The guard of this type of sword was relatively short and did not exceed the width of the blade too much. The metal sheet that covered the wooden oval block could be decorated, as shows the example from Staré Město, which is inlayed with brass wire.
The most interesting discovery of the latest research is detailed observation of the tang ends, which show that there are holes and fragments of wood. Apparently a wooden pommel was pinned through the hole with a small peg. The pegs were probably also wooden, as there were no metal fragments in the holes. With some degree of certainty, we can estimate that the original pommels could be one or two-piece, while the upper hilts were similarly massive as lower guards and the pommel caps were pyramid-shaped or divided into three lobes. The dating of the Nemilany sword goes back to the 9th or beginning of the 10th century (Hošek et al. 2019: 195), while the Staré Město sword dates to the period from the second half of the 8th to the first half of the 9th century (Hošek et al. 2019: 245).
Analogies that combine relevant shape and materials are missing in the period Europe. Massive oval guards with inlays similar to the Staré Město example could be found at German swords from 8th and 9th century (Geibig 1991; Westphal 2002). Swords with antler or bone components represent a kind of analogy; they were known in a big portion of Europe (Scandinavia, England, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary) in the 9th – 10th century and they usually copy standard types of swords (Vlasatý 2017). The combination of metal and wood used for hilt components can be found at Migration Period swords until the 7th century (eg Davidson 1962: Fig. 49-53), however the time gap prevents any closer connection of the two groups. The application of the hole at the end of tang can be spotted at Alanian two-edged sabre from grave 52 of Dmitrievskoe hillfort, 9th-10th century (Pletneva 1989: 73).
The sword from Olomouc – Nemilany was found during the archaeological excavations of 1999. It was located in the grave of a young adult man and it also contained a knife, two buckets and eggshells (Hošek et al. 2019: 195-6, ID No 164). The sword cannot be typologically classified, it falls chronologically into the 9th – early 10th century. Today, the sword is only a blade with organic fragments of hilt and scabbard. The length of the sword in this state is 936 mm and weight 852 g. The blade, which is 800 mm long, 63.4 mm wide and 5-3 mm thick, consists of a steel core and welded steel blades. On the obverse side of the blade, ther is the inscription IVLFBERHTI, on the reverse side, there is a lattice – both elements were made of pattern welded rods. The fuller is at its widest point 32.5 mm wide and it ends 80 mm from the tip. The tang is 136 mm long. The grip, which was 100 mm long, 42-20 mm wide and about 5 mm thick, is still partially covered with wooden fragments. The lower guard consisted of organic material. It was about 15 mm high and its position was still visible at the time the grave was opened. The pommel was also made up of organic material whose fragments were preserved. At a distance of 20 mm from the end of the tang, there is a corroded remnant of a sheet approximately 2 mm thick, which covered the organic head. The pommel was attached to the tang using a peg which was inserted through the hole at the end of the tang. The sheath fragments consist of wood that has been lined with three kinds of twill fabric. Today the sword is deposited in the Archaeological Center in Olomouc under registration number 22/99-841-1.
The sword from Olomouc – Nemilany. Hošek et al. 2019: 195.
The Staré Město sword was found during archaeological excavations in 1951. It was located in the grave of a man of advanced age, which also contained spurs, two knives and a bucket (Hošek et al. 2019: 245-6, ID No 226). The sword cannot be typologically classified, it falls chronologically to the period from the mid-8th to the mid-9th century. Nowadays, the sword consists only of a blade, a guard, fragments of hilt and scabbard. The length of the sword in this state is 872 mm and the weight is 728 g. The blade, which is 727.5 mm long, 62 mm wide and 5-4 mm thick, has not been metallurgically examined, but X-rays confirmed that the fuller area consists of twisted pattern welding panels and that there is a circle (14.5 mm in diameter) 18 mm below the guard, whose interpretation is uncertain. The fuller is at its widest point 30 mm wide, runs through the entire length of the preserved blade and tapers to 20 mm. The tang is 114.5 mm long. The handle, which was 92.5 mm long, 32-22 mm wide and 6 mm thick, is still partially covered with wooden fragments. A very short and high oval-shaped guard was formed by a wooden base, which was covered all around with iron plate. This plate was inlayed with a wire (73.9% Cu, 25.7% Zn, 0.4% Sn) in branch or herringbone pattern. The top of the guard was covered with copper alloy sheet. The guard is 75 mm long, 34-30 mm high, the original thickness is about 31 mm. The pommel was also made up of organic material whose fragments were preserved. It was set at a distance of 22 mm from the end of the tang, where the tang tapers. It can be assumed that the pommel was attached to the tang by means of a peg which was inserted through a hole located 16.5 mm from the end of the tang and that the pommel was covered with a sheet. The sheath fragments consist of wood that has been covered with several layers of textile and leather. The sword has been poorly reconstructed and preserved in the past and is therefore in a very bad condition. Today the sword is stored in the Moravian Museum in Brno under registration number 116/51.
The sword from grave 116/51 from Staré Město – Na Valách. Hošek et al. 2019: 245.
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Davidson, Hilda R. Ellis (1962). The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England. Its Archaeology and Literature, Oxford.
Geibig, Alfred (1991). Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter : eine Analyse des Fundmaterials vom ausgehenden 8. bis zum 12. Jahrhundert aus Sammlungen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Neumünster.
Košta, Jiří – Hošek, Jiří (2014). Early Medieval swords from Mikulčice, Brno : Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.
Hošek, Jiří – Košta, Jiří – Žákovský, Petr (2019). Ninth to mid-sixteenth century swords from the Czech Republic in their European context, Praha – Brno.
Hrubý, Vilém (1955). Staré Město: Velkomoravské pohřebiště „Na Valách“, Praha.
Pletneva 1989 = Плетнева, С. А. (1989). На славнно-хазареком пограничье (Дмитриевский археологический комплекс), Москва.
Vlasatý, Tomáš (2017). Meče s organickým jílcem. Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Available at: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/mece-s-organickym-jilcem/, cited: 15. 2. 2020.
Westphal, Herbert (2002). Franken oder Sachsen? Untersuchungen an frühmittelaterlichen Waffen, Oldenburg.16. února 2020
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