German made, Adorned in Sweden
How is it possible that a German-made 12th century blade, adorned in Sweden, reached Siberia?
Buried under a tree in the Novosibirsk region, Archaeologists discovered a medieval sword. Unearthed in 1975 scientists are looking to unlocking it’s secrets with the help of European experts. It is the only weapon of its kind ever discovered in Siberia.
What is known is that it’s origins lie in the Rhine basin of Germany, this beautifully engraved sword then possibly traveled to the Swedish mainland, or Gotland an island of Sweden were it was adorned with an ornate silver handle and Norse ruse pattern.
Mother of our Saviour Eternal
‘Both sides of the blade have ‘rune’ inscription which was abbreviated’, said archaeologist Vyacheslav Molodin, the man who led the excavation – in Vengerovo district – which found the weapon. ‘The style of calligraphy proves that it was made by people with knowledge of advanced epigraphic writing techniques’.
Russia’s leading experts at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg decoded the Latin wording on the one metre long blade.
The main inscription reads: N[omine] M[atris] N[ostri] S[alva]t[ORis] Et[eRni] D[omini] S[alvatoRis] E[teRni], with an additional one on the same side of the blade saying C[hRis]t[us] Ih[esus] C[hRis]t[us]. This means:’In the name of the mother of our saviour eternal, eternal Lord and Saviour. Christ Jesus Christ.’
The inscription on the reverse side is harder to read, but the first word ‘NOMENE’ – clearly seen – helps reconstruct the rest as ‘N[omine] O[mnipotentis]. M[ateR]. E[teRni] N[omin]e’, which means ‘In the name of the Almighty. The Mother of God. In the name of Eternal’.
“Grand Inquisitor” of Siberia
This is were things start to get real interesting.There has been widespread debate about how the sword ended up in Russia, with assumptions it was either carried along a trade route, or taken as a spoil of war from skirmishes in the region. During the 16th century Ivan the Terrible enlisted the Stroganovs to advance Russia’s territories to the east. Cossack leader Yermak Timofeyevich was hired to take on the Tatar forces under Khan Kuchum and Murza Karachi and lead the eastward expansion of the empire, with the sword a possible gift from the Kremlin. The sword itself could have could have been taken from Ivan the Terrible’s armoury and brought to Siberia by the legendary warrior Ivan Koltso, ahead of the conquest of the region. The following is an excerpt from the Stroganov Chronicle,
After wintering in Sibir, Ermak sent his lieutenant, Ivan Koltso, “the Ring,” with the report of their great victory back across the Urals. The news that another kingdom was added to the Russian Empire was met with great popular jubilation. Koltso received a pardon for his crimes and rich gifts from the hands of the tsar himself, and left to Sibir accompanied by a company of government troops.
The sword was uncovered at the base of a tree in the Baraba forest-steppe, less than three kilometres from where it is thought Koltso, Yermak’s closest ally, died in battle. He was declared hero in February 1583, with church bells ringing out in Moscow, when it was announced he and Yermak had taken the capital of the Siberian Khanate, Kashlyk. But his new-found celebrity status did not last long, and he was killed with 40 men during an ambush 18 months later.
Excavating near a large birch tree
It was during the summer of 1975 that Molodin, then a young archaeologist, had been working on the banks of the River Om with a group of students from Omsk and Novosibirsk. Their aim was to study the settlements and cemeteries of the Bronze Age, with a focus on group burials.
At a separate site another group of students had been excavating near a large birch tree, but were under instruction from Molodin not to go near it, certain that no one was buried there. However, Alexander Lipatov, the head of the excavation team, disobeyed the brief and stumbled upon what they thought was a rusty scythe just five centimetres under the grass. As they dug further it became apparent it was a large sword.
Mr Molodin told The Siberian Times: ‘The sword wasn’t hidden deliberately, or ‘buried’. It was lying at a depth of 3-5 cm, right under the soil near the birth tree which was close to an old road. I remember the moment we found it as if it was yesterday.
Molodin cautiously shares his new theory: ‘Imagine the last battle of the Cossack detachment headed by Ivan Koltso. The attack was unexpected. Picture someone immediately being killed by a treacherous stab in the back, and someone else grabbing a sword to fight the advancing Tatars.
‘They are unequal forces and the Cossacks are trying to break through the crowds of enemies, but the ranks of the fighters are melting rapidly. Ivan strikes not one opponent. In his hands, the glittering giant sword, a gift from the Russian Tsar.
‘In desperation Ivan and a few survivors of the Cossacks literally hack their way to their waiting horses.
‘Ivan’s leg is already in the stirrup and he is racing on the steppe, with his horse taking him further from the bloody battle. Behind him they chase, with arrows flying. And then, suddenly, the sword falls out of the hands of the hero and drops to the ground under a young birch tree.
‘I am not sure that I am right, imagining all this, but the legend is really beautiful.’
How the Sword reached Russia from Sweden
Swords such as these were not typical in Russia or across Asia, and it was more similar to those widely used by European knights. After extensive research on ancient weapons, Vyacheslav Molodin prepared a report on his findings and concluded it was from Europe and dated to the late 12th or early 13th century.
Questions as to how the sword reached Russia from Sweden have been asked since 1976, with the first theory that it was carried during trade missions.
According to Arab historians, in the middle of the 12th century there was an ancient northern path through Russia to the River Ob, called the ‘Zyryanskaya road’ or ‘Russky tes’. Over the centuries archaeologists have found a treasure trove of coins, silver vessels and medieval jewellery in the Urals and lower reaches of the Ob, having travelled from the west.
The downside to this theory is that the steppe, where the sword was found, is separated from the lower and middle Ob by hundreds of kilometres of rugged forests and swamps. Others have argued the weapon could easily have travelled east as a result of bartering, or as a spoil of war from skirmishes between the Turkic people of the steppe and the nomadic Urgic population of the Siberian taiga.