Some time ago, we touched upon the impressive yet mysterious status of the so-called Ulfberht swords. Wielded by the Vikings, these extremely rare swords comprised high-carbon content that could be compared to the ‘advanced’ crucible steel variety of the later 1800’s. Now historically, beyond the boundaries of Europe, there had been manufacturing processes that facilitated the production of high-quality steel for ‘elite’ blade weapons. One good example would obviously pertain to the famed Damascus Steel produced in the the Near East. This steel variety was characterized by its distinctive patterns of banding and mottling that sort of evoked the delicateness of flowing water, and was crafted from the wootz steel imported from Southern India. And now master bladesmith Tony Swatton had taken up the task of forging a Roman Gladius entirely with the ‘damascus’ technique. Cinematographer Phil Holland has brilliantly captured the painstaking procedure in 8K resolution, and compiled it into a short video with all the expressive sights-and-sounds.
ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΚΑ ΑΡΙΣΤΟΥΡΓΗΜΑΤΑ ΜΕΤΑΛΟΥΡΓΙΑΣ:ΡΩΜΑΙΚΟ GLADIUS ΚΑΙ ΣΚΑΝΔΙΝΑΥΙΚΟΣ ΕΣΤΑΡΩΜΕΝΟΣ (Μικρή συλλογή άρθρων)
A)Superb high-resolution short video shows the forging of a Roman Gladius with Damascus Steel
The particular technique used by Swatton for the crafting of this sword entails the 93-layer damascus process. Now it should be noted that as opposed to a conventional Gladius there are some ‘fantastical’ elements taken in lieu of historical accuracy, like the series of holes along the blade’s center, and also the actual blade’s length. But nevertheless the precise nature of this procedure is awe-inspiring, thus aptly alluding to the sheer concentration and hard work that master blacksmiths had to put into their craft for many ages through mankind’s history.
And since we brought up the historicity of Gladius, for the Romans the very term ‘gladius’ literally meant a sword (or rather any kind of sword). In fact, for almost 200 years from the Second Punic War to 20 BC, the Romans actually employed a longer variant of Gladius, also known as gladius Hispaniensis, the renowned blade used by the contemporary Spaniards. By Augustus’ time, the sword design had morphed into a shorter and broader variant (from 64-69 cm to around 40-56 cm). And finally by the middle of 1st century AD, the Roman Empire sword evolved into the so-called Pompeii-style Gladius that showcased a parallel-edged blade and a conspicuous triangular short point. This design progression further mirrored the cut-and-thrust fighting techniques adopted by the Roman legionaries.
In any case, if you crave for more insights into this fascinating video-making process, do take a gander at Phil Holland’s website.
B)Beautiful Viking gold artifact might just be the oldest crucifix found in Denmark
A crucifix discovered from the early middle ages is a rare enough find as it is. But even rarer is the scenario where the crucifix is of Viking make, and even predates the runic symbols of Harald Bluetooth who is often credited with turning the “Danes to Christianity”. Pertaining to the latter part, an amateur metal detectorist (as is often the case nowadays) discovered the above picture specimen in a field in Denmark. The exquisite gold artifact (called the Aunslev cross) flaunts its impressive form and craftsmanship by showcasing Christ with his outstretched arms encompassing the familiar shape of the crucifix. And date wise, the gold object is believed to be crafted in early 10th century AD (thus still corresponding to the Viking Age), and as such is probably the oldest complete crucifix (depiction) found from Denmark.
Now in case you are wondering, previously the historians thought that the oldest complete crucifix depiction was found among the massive rune-stones erected by Harald Bluetooth in 965 AD. But this new discovery predates the so-called Jelling stones by decades, thus suggesting that Christianity was adopted in Denmark earlier than conventionally conjectured. Interestingly, the potentially ‘history changing’ Aunslev cross is only 0.6-inches in height and weighs a bantam 0.45 ounces. In spite of such tiny credentials, the craftsmanship is intricate with embellished gold-threads and incorporation of filigree balls.
Now it should be noted that similar crucifix designs have been found in female graves in Birka, Sweden. Intriguingly enough, Birka (near Stockholm) is the very same site that also yielded the famed Allah-inscribed ring, thus suggesting the importance of this Viking Age trading settlement that connected Scandinavia with the far-flung realms like the Eastern Roman Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate via routes like Ladoga and Novgorod. To that end, the crucifix designs (like their Islamic counterpart) could also pertain to the Viking penchant for gold and precious metals, as opposed to any specific religious affiliation.
However Swedish archaeologist Martin Rundkvist has hypothesized that the aforementioned gold crucifix was locally made, probably near Hedeby in Denmark. His hypothesis is fueled by the fact that in spite of the trading pedigree of towns like Hedeby and Birka, many of the townsfolk were also active artisans. So in terms of date, the Aunslev cross in question here might just be the oldest crucifix found in Danish lands. In any case, the incredible Viking artifact will be displayed at the Viking Museum in Ladby till the Easter holiday (and then sent away for preservation and further analysis).