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Texts - Sword from Blucina

Final photos you can see in section weapons: Germanic gold hilt spatha (117) with pattern-welded blade and making of Blucina sword

Brno, the second largest city of present Czech country looks up to the political centre of Czech republic - the hundred-spired mother of Czech kingdom Prague - with mixture of admiration, envy and inferiority complex. But the situation was not always true. For example, more than one thousand years ago during the time of Great Moravia, the Moravian part of present Czech Republic was the centre of Central Europe. That was just Bohemia who was the outsider of political events. And it is not only exception. Moravia was a transit territory of distance trade between North and South Europe since primeval ages and the trade brought richness and therewith a power. The best known distance merchant route passing through the Moravian territory got the name "Amber" according to the rare and popular material of primeval trade - amber.

One of the strands of the Amber Route was passing through Moravia from south - form Vienna, Roman Vindobona, via Mušov up to Židlochovice where it got to the present Brno region and then via Blučina further through the Moravian Gate up to the Baltic Sea. During the Migration Era the distance routes were much more important then usually because the masses of migrating tribes and nations were transferring on them. And one important archaeological discovery made in Brno region dates back just to the time and it includes Brno in the context of wider European history. In 1953, during the exploration of Blučina stronghold (placed on the Cezava uphill between Židlochovice and Blučina), Dr. Tihelka discovered an amply equipped tomb of a magnate dated back to the period of Migration Era. The tomb contained a skeleton of a man with long double-edged sword (spatha), short sword (sax), longbow, arrows, saddle, a lot of jewellery (a gold bracelet heavier than 200g, among others) and glass jars. The jewellery and gold parts of the weapons were decorated with red garnets, using cloisonné technique as it is typical for luxury items dated back to 5-6th century A.D.

There immediately arose questions who it was and when he was buried there. The second question can be answered quite exactly - in accordance with similar discoveries such as the tomb of Frankian king Childerich (+481) in Tournai, Belgium, or the tomb in Pouan in France accredited to the king of Visigoths Theodorich (+451) we can assume that the magnate of Blučina was buried in between 450s and 480s at the time after Attila's empire decline.

The question - who it was - is much more difficult. We can only say for a certainty that it was a man between thirty and forty, left-handed person (the spatha was found along his right side), with not very mature muscle tentacles. In opinion of historians there was probably living a German tribe of Heruls in South Moravia at the time. The Heruls came from Scandinavia - they set out from there in the 3rd century A.D. for south-east and they came up to the Black Sea where they established their own empire.

In the 5th century their empire was defeated by the Huns and the Herul warriors were joined to the Hun army. Together with the Huns they went in for a lost battle with Roman army-leader Aetius in the Catalaun fields in France (451). Though, after Attila's death they defeated his heir in the battle of river Nedao (maybe in Hungary) together with other submitted German tribes and so they regained their freedom. At the time they were settled at the Danubian territory and probably also in the south of Moravia. But in 512 A.D. their star is going down - they were defeated by Langobards and a part of them left for Easter Empire and a part migrated together with Langobards to the North Italy (Lombardy).

Regarding the name of the magnate form Blučina , we unfortunately do not know any name of a Herul leader dated back to the second half of 5th century, because only minimal information have preserved form the period. It is likely that we will never learn the name of the man form Blučina.

As I am a sword-cutter from Brno, I wished to make a replication of the sword from Blučina for many years. In 2004 I got an opportunity to realize my idea. Having studied properly the original sword in the Moravian State Museum I started to make the replication during last autumn.

The sword making starts always from the blade. But there preserved nearly nothing from the original one form Blučina, only a few pieces of rust. According to the documented discovery situation I could estimate that the blade was 70 to 80 cm long and 5 to 6 cm wide. So I used a blade of a coeval sword found in Flonheim in Germany as a model. I made the blade by using the pattern-welding technique (pattern-welding is a sword-cutter technique used in Europe from 3rd to 9th century A.D. In principle it is stranding and forge-welding of strips of hard steel and soft iron, so as to gain high resistance of blades. After the surface finish, the damask patterns of different materials are visible). The edges made of high quality steel embrace a core compound of four damask rods.

Each rod is welded from eighteen stripes of soft and hard steel and these are twisted so that the pattern-welding creates a geometric pattern (see photo). The core is covered with edges made of high-carbon welded steel that I smelted by myself. I hardened the completed blade in water.

Then I proceeded to make the sword-hilt. The wooden handle of the original sword is covered with a golden plate, the lower guard and the upper guard is also made of wood and covered with gilded silver plate. The pommel itself is a massive silver casting engraved in the style of Germanic animal patterns. I made all the parts exactly in accordance with the original sword, but I used gilded bronze as a material.

The alder scabbard covered with leather is the most decorated part of the sword from Blučina.

It is braced with gilded silver parts on the scabbard edges all over, the scabbard chape is decorated with garnets (see photo). Near to the mouth of the scabbard there are two scabbard runners used for belt bracing. These are also made of gilded silver and inlayed with rectangular garnets. Herein I could briefly describe the above mentioned technique of inlay of metal with gemstones - cloisonné. I cut garnet slates into cases of proper shape and I underlaid them with gilded foil (for better reflex of the light going through the garnet) and ensured them against lapse by peening the flanges of the hole. As a result there are deeply red glowing windows on the gold ground. This jewellery "barbarian" fashion was widespread during the Migration Era all over Europe and coloured glasses were also used besides garnets.

Between the scabbard runners on a snake with garnet eyes there hangs a sword bead - a strange, probably a magic symbol originated from East Europe that can be found at swords from Britain to Poland in the period form 5th to 7th century A.D. The one from Blučina had been made of white chalcedony or agate; I used an agate form Kozákov, Czech Republic.

Finally, I completed the sword. I fixed the hilt to the blade by peening the tang end on the upper guard, whereas the rivet head was hidden underneath the pommel.

Odds are that the luxury sword from Blučina was not only a high-effective weapon, but in particular a symbol of richness and power of its owner. Although we do not know his name he had evidently belonged to the magisterial elite of his days. It was a period of big turnovers, a period of seeming decline of Latin civilization. But in the end, the Christian-ancient bases of the Western Roman Empire survived its downfall and they became the bases for further evolution, enriched also with the "barbarian" tradition of the newly incoming nations of German or later Slavonic origin. We classify the tomb form Blučina as one of the most important discoveries dated to the period. The Brno region thereby falls in the context of cultural history of Latin Europe. That is the history that we joined again after fifty years of totalities.

Author: Patrick Bárta, translation by Barbora Sverakova

Postscript: The author thanks to all employees of Moravian State Museum for their help, especially to Mr. L.Galuška, PhD. CSc.


J. Menghin- Schwerter im fruhen Mittelalter- Stuttgart 1983
K.Tihelka- Hrob z doby stehovani narodu na Cezavach u Bluciny- Brno 1954
J. Bednarikova- Stehovani narodu- Praha 2003
R. Kvet- Duse krajiny- Praha 2004
L Or des princes barbares-catalogue of a exhibition- St.Germain 2001
B.Arrhenius- Merovingian garnet jewelery emergence and social implications-Stockholm 1985
E. Brehmer-Germanische zweischeinige Schwerter aus der Volkervanderungszeit-Stockholm 1939
E.Salin- Germanische Tierornamentik

replicas of historical arms