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Jeffrey Hildebrandt
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PostPosted: Sat 13 Jun, 2015 9:51 pm    Post subject: Sword of the Herculaneum soldier         Reply with quote

The Royal Ontario Museum is now showing an exhibition of artifacts from Pompeii, and I was fortunate in being asked to contribute a replica piece for their programming. To my surprise, I was asked to make a sword - surprising because I don't make swords; I make armour. I made it anyway, and I really enjoyed it. It is based on what we could piece together from the unpublished sword and scabbard found on the body of a soldier who died in a pyroclastic flow on the beach of Herculaneum in 79 AD. I hope you like it!

The blade is from 1045 steel, which has a similar carbon content to the average of what would be found in a contemporary Roman sword. Hardening was by slack quenching. I forged the blade very close to its intended dimensions, so that very little stock needed to be removed. For better or worse, some of the forge scale was still visible after final sanding.

The blade has a lozenge section, and a distal taper that ends about 4 inches before the tip (shortly before the profile taper) for the tip reinforcement.

The hilt is furnished with a guard and pommel carved from European boxwood, then clad in a thin skin of silver. The silver was applied as two parts per-fitting, with the parts overlapping over a bead (or double bead) moulding at the part's "equator." The physical crimping of the silver over the bead is all that holds it together (or was before peening the tang) and is surprisingly effective. The silver cladding was what I found most challenging about the whole project, requiring over 100 anneal/work cycles to fit the very thin silver sheets without accidentally folding or cracking them.



Atop the pommel is a ring assembly of unknown (if any) function.



The grip is made of cow bone, carved and polished. The rib between where the index and ring finger grip the sword is unusually deep, and made selection of the bone particularly difficult. The bone needed to be large enough to accommodate the peaks, but not too large or the cavity inside the bone would necessitate grooves that were too shallow. The staff at the store where I bought the bone must have thought I had a very fussy dog!

The part of the project that I enjoyed most was the scabbard. The core is made from two planks of linden, wrapped in pigskin and clad in bronze. The alloy I used is not commercially available in the thicknesses needed for this project, so I had to draw the plates out by hand... which is surprisingly time-consuming! The design of the plates on the original sword are largely obscured by a set of silver medallions worn over the scabbard (assumed to be a form of military award), so much of the scabbard's decoration is based on contemporary pieces, conflated by Dr. Mason, at the ROM. The relief work was executed by repousse over pitch, and the mouldings were made with purpose-built swages.




Accompanying the sword is a belt to wear it, made of silver plates. The Herculaneum soldier wore a separate belt for both his dagger and his sword; what is unusual is that both bore round frogs for weapon attachment (usually only the pugio belt does):




Thanks for looking. I will dig up some weights and measurements from my shop book, because I am sure some of you would like to know. :-)

-Jeffrey Hildebrandt

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Tim Lison




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PostPosted: Sat 13 Jun, 2015 11:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eek! Gasp!!! That is breathtaking. Unbelievable work! Simply outstanding! I'd like to see a pic of it being worn. I'm having a hard time understanding the belt which is a shame because it's glorious. Any chance for a photo of it being worn?
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Henry R. Gower




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PostPosted: Sat 13 Jun, 2015 11:45 pm    Post subject: Roman Sword Project         Reply with quote

I have wondered for quite a long time what kind of sword a Roman Patrician might wear,someone of consular rank, say.Most surviving examples, as well as most replicas today are very simple and therefore suggest a modest status. One exception though, would be the so called "Sword of Tiberius" in the British Museum. Clealry, the instant example was not the sword of an ordinary soldier, any thoughts on how high on the social scale its owner might have been?
Henry
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Jerry Monaghan




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PostPosted: Sun 14 Jun, 2015 12:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Jeffrey.
That would have to be the best roman sword that I have ever had the pleasure to see congratulations an total work
of art I am so envious .
thank you for posting

Regards

Jerry Monaghan
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Jeffrey Hildebrandt
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PostPosted: Sun 14 Jun, 2015 6:41 am    Post subject: Re: Roman Sword Project         Reply with quote

Henry R. Gower wrote:
I have wondered for quite a long time what kind of sword a Roman Patrician might wear,someone of consular rank, say.Most surviving examples, as well as most replicas today are very simple and therefore suggest a modest status. One exception though, would be the so called "Sword of Tiberius" in the British Museum. Clealry, the instant example was not the sword of an ordinary soldier, any thoughts on how high on the social scale its owner might have been?
Henry


There was a National Geographic article written on the Herculaneum soldier that would probably investigate his social status better than I could. Having not read the article, my own first impression would not be of high-rank though, because he was wearing the sword on his right (a concession to carrying a shield in the left hand which was dispensed with at centurio rank) and because he had a bag of woodworking tools on his back. Analysis of his bones suggest that the man was accustomed to riding, so it is quite possible that he was in the cavalry, which would entitle him to higher basic pay. The amount of wealth displayed in the equipment of a miles can be surprising, so I wouldn't completely dismiss the possibility that he was an NCO or lower.

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Jeffrey Hildebrandt
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PostPosted: Sun 14 Jun, 2015 6:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tim Lison wrote:
Eek! Gasp!!! That is breathtaking. Unbelievable work! Simply outstanding! I'd like to see a pic of it being worn. I'm having a hard time understanding the belt which is a shame because it's glorious. Any chance for a photo of it being worn?


Thanks, Tim. This is a picture I took showing how the sword may have been worn between frogs, and I may be able to get a photo of the sword being worn from the museum. This is, at least, how daggers were probably worn. The top suspension loops often show more wear than than the bottom loops, so it is hard to tell exactly how or at what height they were suspended, though depictions of Roman soldiers often show the sword worn with the pommel almost to the armpit.


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Carl W.




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PostPosted: Sun 14 Jun, 2015 8:50 am    Post subject: Re: Sword of the Herculaneum soldier         Reply with quote

Thank You very much for sharing this here. (Very) well done seems for once pathetic praise, so adding Wow!!

Jeffrey Hildebrandt wrote:
For better or worse, some of the forge scale was still visible after final sanding.

For better I think. My Albion Allectus' too perfect blade is not believable to me.
Jeffrey Hildebrandt wrote:
.. surprising because I don't make swords; I made it anyway

:) reminds of Holy Grail.. They said it was daft to build a castle in the swamp. I built it anyway.

Fwiw I'm still confused by the belt attachment, maybe partly by black background. Prior photo showed rings on scabbard but in the "Tim photo" they are gone?
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Jeffrey Hildebrandt
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PostPosted: Sun 14 Jun, 2015 8:54 am    Post subject: Re: Sword of the Herculaneum soldier         Reply with quote

Carl W. wrote:
Fwiw I'm still confused by the belt attachment, maybe partly by black background. Prior photo showed rings on scabbard but in the "Tim photo" they are gone?


Thanks Carl. In the photo where the rings have disappeared, they have just rotated to the back of the scabbard. The blade is just set between the frogs in the picture, not actually attached, which may add to the confusion.

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Tim Lison




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PostPosted: Sun 14 Jun, 2015 8:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the extra pic of how the suspension works. I would love to see it being worn if you can manage! An absolute masterpiece!
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J. Nicolaysen




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PostPosted: Sun 14 Jun, 2015 8:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Really great Jeff, I'm in awe. Did you like making a sword? I think the marks make it look very real. I'd be happy to take this one off the Museum's hands if they don't like it, as long as they just give it away. This kind of work has so many skills involved, from forging to repousse to everything. Just great.
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PostPosted: Mon 15 Jun, 2015 2:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is amazing work. I'm particularly fascinated by the fixing of the silver to the wooden hilt components. There are some pieces made recently that really take things to a new level, this is one of them.

At least it's going to a museum, so I won't have to live in envy of the individual who may own it. Big Grin

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Jarno-T. Pälikkö
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PostPosted: Mon 15 Jun, 2015 11:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Now, this is just a stunning piece of craftsmanship!
Concratulations, Sir - you do make me green with envy!

JT
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Richard Miller




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Jun, 2015 7:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Words fail me. This work is unbelievably beautiful. I have always admired those people who have the ability to create art. This is a true Masterpiece!
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Maciej K.
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PostPosted: Thu 18 Jun, 2015 1:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for sharing Jeffrey.
I was thinking - if I ever saw a better reconstruction of roman sword ?... and the answer is: no.
this is top notch. as a swordmaker - true congratulations.

Medieval Swords - www.artofswordmaking.com
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Shahril Dzulkifli




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PostPosted: Sun 21 Jun, 2015 4:01 am    Post subject: Sword of the Herculaneum soldier         Reply with quote

There's an article on Herculaneum in the December 1982 edition of National Geographic. On page 691 there's a photo of the sword (only the scabbard is visible) lying next to the skeleton of its owner.
“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength”

- Marcus Aurelius
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Kirk Lee Spencer




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PostPosted: Mon 22 Jun, 2015 10:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Absolutely beautiful recreation!!!

I think this may be it's owner featured in National Geographic...

take care,

ks



 Attachment: 262.55 KB
961..HerculaniumSoldier.jpg
Herculanium Soldier with his sword at his side.

 Attachment: 164.84 KB
961pompeivue1800x600fn4ke2.jpg
Herculanium Soldier with his sword at his side.

Two swords
Lit in Eden’s flame
One of iron and one of ink
To place within a bloody hand
One of God or one of man
Our souls to one of
Two eternities
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Matt Corbin




PostPosted: Wed 24 Jun, 2015 8:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very VERY cool!!!
“This was the age of heroes, some legendary, some historical . . . the misty borderland of history where fact and legend mingle.”
- R. Ewart Oakeshott
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Gregory J. Liebau




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PostPosted: Thu 25 Jun, 2015 11:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Congratulations on taking another long stride forward, Jeff... Looks like you're in the sword making business now, for better or worse! Big Grin

-Gregory
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Thu 25 Jun, 2015 10:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Outstanding work Jeff!

Really enjoyed seeing this, especially since I visited Pompeii only the other week together with the family.

Wonderful work, masterful.
Congratulations to a great project.
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Jeffrey Hildebrandt
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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2015 7:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, Gregory. There are few swords that I feel I could do justice without completely diverting my attention to a new craft. This one was exceptional in that most of what made the original special was its sheet metal decoration, which was surprisingly similar to the work I usually do. It was a pleasant change of subject, though, and I could see myself enjoying some other blade-related projects in the future (I would particularly love to collaborate with other specialized makers), if their fancy sheet-work put them within my scope - La Tène scabbards, pugionnes, pierced cup-hilts and main-gauche daggers all sound impossible to pass up. I enjoyed making an Indian-style patah a few years ago, and I have a hooded katar coming up soon that I am looking forward to, but I suspect that making armour will remain my focus.

Thanks for your kind words too, Peter, and for being so open-handed with your research online. A post of yours on another forum was useful to my customer and I, when deciding how to treat the tip of the blade.

I also made it to Pompeii a few years ago, and it really brought ancient Rome to life for me. It was a rare piece of physically-experienced context that enriched this project. It is something that I envy of those who can afford more travel, or better yet, live in or near the environs of the historical cultures that interest them.

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