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Gregg Sobocinski




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Aug, 2008 7:50 pm    Post subject: Throwing swords in the river….         Reply with quote

Why do we find a number of nice examples of swords in the rivers? Did people throw these fine weapons (by our opinion) into the river on purpose? How else would they get there?

More than one individual on this forum has questioned why we find such beautiful examples of swords in rivers (i.e.-The Thorpe Falchion.) I would like to discuss historical and imagined situations where a sword would end up in a river. Feel free to vote for your favorite theory!

From an archaeological standpoint, I’ve read that water has been used as a major trash dump for milinnea, which makes sense as most items that sank never returned in their lifetime. The Romans did it, and medieval moats were often used the same way (no reference handy).

My first three theories for swords in rivers are:
1) When taking a prisoner, you toss away their sword to make them most vulnerable without emcumbering yourself with captured weapons.
2) When crossing a river, you fall in or slip on a bridge, causing you to discard heavy items in fear for your life. (Or perhaps the swords fall off people who didn’t make it to the surface.)
3) A damsel’s hat/garment falls into the river, so a gallant lad tries to fish it out of the water while stretched to his limit, then, “DAMN! I dropped it!”

What do you think?
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Aug, 2008 8:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Battle at river crossing.

Retreat across river.

Sunken boat/barge.

Ritual.

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy
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William C Champlin




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Aug, 2008 8:20 pm    Post subject: swords in rivers         Reply with quote

I have read that some societies believed that casting a blade into a body of water was "giving it to the spirits" or gods or whatever mystical beings are of or in the water. A sort of ritual burial. Something like giving excalibur back to the lady of the lake. It seems to me that there are too many river and lake finds for them all to be coincidental and accidental.
mho, W.

tweetchris
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Doug Lester




Location: Decatur, IL
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PostPosted: Mon 11 Aug, 2008 8:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As I remember, Oakeshott wondered about that too in "The Archeology of Weapons". He mentioned swords being found in rivers at places away from battle sites and not at a natural crossing or the site of a bridge. A man fleeing a battle would be marked by his sword and he might want to get rid of it. He might throw it into a river or other body of water to conceal it and to prevent it from being taken as a prize by an opponant.
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Bill Sahigan





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PostPosted: Mon 11 Aug, 2008 9:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Weapons(especially well crafted swords) are worth quite a bit arn't they? throwing them away because they are too heavy doesn't seem plausible IMO.
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Andreas Auer




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 12:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

But sinking your opponents spirit with it might well be considerable...
also in next generations people were not stumbling across swords in Rivers, as they do or did on landfindings, so there are "lots" of "riverfindings".

The secret is,
to keep that pointy end thingy away from you...
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G Ezell
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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 2:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Somewhere, I can't quite find it right now, there is a Roman account describing the Germanic tribes and their odd customs. It goes to tell that after a battle, all the captured weapons and goods were gathered up into one sacred place and dedicated to the gods. No one would touch them for fear of instant death, even though the items were quite valuable. No mention of water, but bodies of water were often considered sacred in the myths passed down to us.

I strongly suspect that in pagan times it was seen as a sacrifice to give thanks or beg favor.

I also suspect it continued well after the peoples were christianized in the areas it was practiced before. The practice goes back to the bronze age, and may have taken awhile to die out. Perhaps it's where the 'wishing well' idea came from. It's interesting to note that often the weapons were ritually 'killed' before being deposited.

Or, perhaps they were clumsy... Big Grin

Remember where legend tells us Author got his sword, and where it was returned to after his death.
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 5:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

G Ezell wrote:
Somewhere, I can't quite find it right now, there is a Roman account describing the Germanic tribes and their odd customs. It goes to tell that after a battle, all the captured weapons and goods were gathered up into one sacred place and dedicated to the gods. No one would touch them for fear of instant death, even though the items were quite valuable.
That probably refers to Denmark, where you've got the countless weapon hoards, from around 350BC to around 400AD. AFAIK you don't see this kind of complete weapon arsenal deposits anywhere outside Denmark or outside that period. I'd be very happy if you could dig up the exact reference. I've only heard of it so far via via.

Quote:
No mention of water, but bodies of water were often considered sacred in the myths passed down to us.

I strongly suspect that in pagan times it was seen as a sacrifice to give thanks or beg favor.

I also suspect it continued well after the peoples were christianized in the areas it was practiced before. The practice goes back to the bronze age, and may have taken awhile to die out. Perhaps it's where the 'wishing well' idea came from. It's interesting to note that often the weapons were ritually 'killed' before being deposited..

Ritual depositions are pretty common in prehistory. But I doubt that this still applies to the more recent periods. Rivers have been one of the most important highways in the past. If there's a lot of traffic, you are going to find a lot of stuff, including swords, from sunken ships, battles on the water or on bridges over it. And a sword that's fallen into a river is lost, while a sword fallen on land gets picked up again. And not to forget that generally metal artifacts are preserved a lot better in rivers (if buried within a not to long time) then on land. So it's only natural that the highest concentration of swords is in rivers, lakes etc. Also keep in mind that a river can spread out the swords over long distances from where it originally fell in the water. So a sword dredged up from a river could have originated from a battle much further upstream, especially if the river flows strongly, and the floor is relatively hard, so the sword doesn't sink into the mud immediately.
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Andrzej Pietrachowicz




Location: Poland, Mazovian voivodenship
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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi,

Don't forget that the metal items were especially valuable and if they had been accidentally dropped they were often searched and re-used (if in good condition) or recycle (if not), so there is very few possibilities to deposit the sword in the sediment. The water (especially cloudy or deep water) could prevent the sword from being found.

Regards,

Andrzej (Andy) Pietrachowicz / Viator
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 7:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Remember Arthur, Bedivere, Excalibur, and the Lady of the Lake. It may well have been an early medieval practice to dispose of your sword in a body of water at the end of your life. It meant that no one else could use it after you (like some Norse swords that had their blades twisted). Maybe it returned the sword's magic or soul to its source, or gave it back to God(s). Or it could have some other ritual significance that is lost to us.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 11:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

See this thread:


http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...ght=rivers

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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R D Moore




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 1:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm leaning toward the ritual theory. Back in the days as a young soldier, no one offered nor accepted the third "light" of a cigarette at night- three or more smokers gathered together and one of them would pull out their lighter and offer to light the cigarettes. The theory-although most likely based on fact- was that a sniper would see the first light, level his weapon on the face of the second- illuminated by the lighter- and then put a bullet through the head of the third. I never believed it would take three lights for the sniper to zero in, but this is an example of how rituals can get started.
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Justin H. Núńez




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 2:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maybe everyone just wanted to be like King Arthur? Happy

That's who all want to be like anyway deep down in our childhood depths right?

"Nothing in fencing is really difficult, it just takes work." - Aldo Nadi
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Daniel Michaelsson




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 2:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roger Hooper wrote:
Remember Arthur, Bedivere, Excalibur, and the Lady of the Lake. It may well have been an early medieval practice to dispose of your sword in a body of water at the end of your life. It meant that no one else could use it after you (like some Norse swords that had their blades twisted).


The Norse had a strong belief in corporeal revenants. Blades were often bent or snapped to stop draugar from using them, they went to great lengths to stop a draugr from rising.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 2:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are some pretty good military manuals (Christine de Pizan's translation circa 1400's of older Roman texts we know wer popular studies) from Roman through medieval era that address protecting arms and armour during river fording. The armour and weapons were recommended to be placed into safe floating vessels (barrels, crates, containers judged capable of floating independently in the event of a capsize) during river crossings. I am not claiming everyone did it that way, just that armed crossing was regarded as a foolish risk to the equipment and soldiers when not absolutely necessary from a battle situation perspective. I am not convinced that a capsize meant guaranteed random loss of weapons. There don't seem to be nearly as many "river skeletons" in their armour as there do "river swords."
Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Gregg Sobocinski




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Aug, 2008 7:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for all of your responses! I was not aware of the extent of sword rituals in Europe. I had thought of the King Arthur legend, but wanted to see where you all took that idea.

Thanks Sean, for the link to the 2006 thread on this same topic. I had not seen that one, and that conversation provides a lot of nice details and references.
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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Wed 13 Aug, 2008 6:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is a little river in Slovenia (Ljubljanica River ) that has been used for centuries since prehistorical age as a deposit for votive offerings.

It is virtually a open air museum and archeologists, both legal ones and illegal amateurs, are digging from it hoards of artifacts dating back to the most diverse cultural periods of slovenian history, i.e. celtic, prehistorical, renaissance, medieval etc.

It was featured in a rather recent issue of the italian edition of the National Geographic, this is a link to the online english version of the article

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/01/slo...hotography

the article was stunning and some slovenian member of this forum could know more about his topic.
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Richard Hare




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Aug, 2008 7:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting topic.

Bruno,
I'd love to have a look in "your" river!!...and I'm quite sure you are right about votive offerings.

It appears that from the Bronze age on, many very good and expensive objects were thrown into lakes-ponds-rivers as a votive offering. (ie, to get the "pull" of the godess of the water, who was the deity called upon when a person was sick , injured or dying.)
Of course, it wouldn't be much good throwing a piece of junk into the water,...the object would have to "cost" you.
Of the valuable items recovered, are weapons, (mainly swords) horse harnes,, and an awful lot of bronze cauldrons,..or expensive cooking pots.
On Hadrians wall, there is a well, marked in latin, and dedicated to the godess of the water, the name, (which I forget!) is a Brythonic name, Romanised. Coins and metal object were found at the bottom, so it would appear thet this practice continued at least up to the Roman period.
As someone else said, this is definitly the origin of the "Wishing well"

Re. the wishing well. This seems to be in our genes! Give a little bairn a coin, when near water, and what happens to it?
...It gets chucked in!

Other reasons for finding swords in water, would I think be ;
Crossings that went wrong, losses in battle, and burials along river banks,(and the rivers eroding the bank, and washing out the grave.)
This last possibility seems most likely with the Very fine example of the "Gilling-West" sword.
the beck or stream is very small, and if the sword had been deposited as a votive offering, would probably have been seen and picked up soon after being deposited. Also, I believe this sword was found sticking out of the bank but submerged, (By a lad looking for tadpoles)

Thanks for starting this interesting thread !

Richard.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Aug, 2008 8:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Flynt wrote:
See this thread:


http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...ght=rivers


I am so glad you found that thread. I tried looking for it a bit last night but I could not find it. Very glad you did.

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy
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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Wed 13 Aug, 2008 9:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Richard Hare wrote:
Interesting topic.

Bruno,
I'd love to have a look in "your" river!!...and I'm quite sure you are right about votive offerings.

It appears that from the Bronze age on, many very good and expensive objects were thrown into lakes-ponds-rivers as a votive offering. (ie, to get the "pull" of the godess of the water, who was the deity called upon when a person was sick , injured or dying.)
Of course, it wouldn't be much good throwing a piece of junk into the water,...the object would have to "cost" you.
Of the valuable items recovered, are weapons, (mainly swords) horse harnes,, and an awful lot of bronze cauldrons,..or expensive cooking pots.
On Hadrians wall, there is a well, marked in latin, and dedicated to the godess of the water, the name, (which I forget!) is a Brythonic name, Romanised. Coins and metal object were found at the bottom, so it would appear thet this practice continued at least up to the Roman period.
As someone else said, this is definitly the origin of the "Wishing well"

Re. the wishing well. This seems to be in our genes! Give a little bairn a coin, when near water, and what happens to it?
...It gets chucked in!

Other reasons for finding swords in water, would I think be ;
Crossings that went wrong, losses in battle, and burials along river banks,(and the rivers eroding the bank, and washing out the grave.)
This last possibility seems most likely with the Very fine example of the "Gilling-West" sword.
the beck or stream is very small, and if the sword had been deposited as a votive offering, would probably have been seen and picked up soon after being deposited. Also, I believe this sword was found sticking out of the bank but submerged, (By a lad looking for tadpoles)

Thanks for starting this interesting thread !

Richard.


Coventina's well

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coventina
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