Late medieval longsword found in Polish peat bog

Museum director Bartłomiej Bartecki holding the 14th century sword found in Mircze. Photo by Wojciech Pacewicz/PAP.An intact late medieval longsword has been found in a peat bog in Poland. It was discovered in late May by excavator operator Wojciech Kot during drainage operations at the bog in the municipality of Mircze, 12 miles south of the town of Hrubieszów in southeastern Poland. The next day, Kot contacted the Fr. Stanisław Staszic Museum in Hrubieszów and the day after that he brought the sword to the museum in person. Then he took the museum experts to the peat bog where he showed them the exact find spot which is not being revealed to keep treasure hunters from despoiling it.

Detail of the handle missing its hilt. Photo by Wojciech Pacewicz/PAP.The cruciform-handled sword is corroded from centuries spent in a wetland and is missing the original hilt which would have been made out of wood, bone or antler, but it is otherwise intact from pommel to tip. Its original weight is estimated to have been just 1.5 kilos (3.3 lbs) which is light as a feather for a weapon that today is 120 centimeters (four feet) long. The elongated grip was intended for two-handed use which coupled with its long reach and light weight made the sword an agile weapon for armoured knights in battle. This design is typical of the 14th century.

On the back of sword is a symbol, an isosceles cross inside an heraldic shield, that Bartecki thinks is a maker’s mark engraved by the blacksmith. This was a very fine piece of craftsmanship. It is still well-balanced, in excellent condition and does not show any signs of having been deliberately discarded due to damage.

“The place where the discovery was made is a wetland and a peat bog. It is possible that an unlucky knight was pulled into the marsh, or simply lost his sword” – told PAP Bartłomiej Bartecki, director of Fr. Stanisław Staszic Museum in Hrubieszów. […]

The area is first appears on the historical record in the 13th century where it’s mentioned as the site of a few hunting lodges surrounded by forest. The region was part of Ruthenia (aka the Kievan Rus) then and was absorbed by the Kingdom of Poland in 1366 century after the disintegration of the Rus. The Polish governor built a castle in Hrubieszów in the late 14th century. So at least the second half of the century offered good employment opportunity for knights. Or he could have just been riding through and made a wrong turn into the bog.

Archaeologists plan to return to the find site to do a limited excavation. They’re hoping to find additional artifacts or information related to the sword, perhaps even other pieces of the knight’s equipment.

Top of the sword with engraved characters on the blade below the handle. Photo by Wojciech Pacewicz/PAP.The sword is now in Warsaw where it will be stabilized and conserved. Experts will analyze it for any marks that might help identify the owner. Engraved characters on the top of the blade beneath the handle, for example, may be associated with a particular knight or family. After conservation and study, the sword will return to Hrubieszów where it will go on display at the museum. They expect it to be back around November.

“This is a unique find in the region. It is worth pointing out that while there are similar artefacts in museum collections, their places of discovery is often unknown, and that is very important information for historians and archaeologists” – [Bartecki] noted.

Information nobody would have if it weren’t for the quick thinking and responsible actions of Wojciech Kot. Because the finder was so diligent in giving the sword to the museum and noting the find spot, museum staff will apply to the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to grant him a reward or at least official thanks and recognition of his “exemplary attitude.”

20 thoughts on “Late medieval longsword found in Polish peat bog

  1. Hrubieszów is bog country, where lakes slowly disappear as they turn into peat bogs, so it could have been lost from a boat, or off a merchant’s packhorse wading through a soon to be extinct lake.

    I like Hrubieszów, the place names begin to sound Ukrainian, the food is similar to Ukrainian, and it is only about a 90 minute drive away.

  2. This astonishing piece was apparently found near to what today is the border between Ukraine and Poland, west of the Bug river. It would be great, however, if that isosceles cross inside an heraldic shield would reveal further information.

    What today is the North of Poland had in the 13th century been object of the ‘Prussian Crusades’ (‘Lithuanian Crusade’ in the 14th c), during which the Teutonic Knights attempted to ‘Christianize’ the pagan Old Prussians and Lithuanians.

    In return, and much less ‘Teutonic’, the influence of the Jagiellonian dynasty increased massively in the 14th c. and in the South they fought the ‘Turkish and Tatar wars’. In 1320, most of the principalities of the western Rus’ had either been vassal or annexed by Lithuania.

    The style of this thing is indeed rather elegant, but if it really can be narrowed down remains questionable – Even if the ‘Teutonic Order’ was definitely using an ‘isosceles cross inside of a heraldic shield’ 😉

  3. Dearie, You can leave Google alone with this 😉

    If I am not totally wrong- ‘isoscel’ just indicates ‘smarty-pants’ slang (I looked that one up) in order to express that the cross has beams equal in length (i.e. presumably ➕ inside of 🛡 ). Thus, nothing to really worry about:

    σκελετός = dried up (cf. ‘Skeleton’)
    ἴσος = equal

    PS: I post stuff, submit and then a blank page was displayed (which is a new phenomenon, FF over here).

  4. As a blacksmith and weapons historian I hope that the conservation process in Warsaw will sample any unoxidized metal to see what kind of steel was used in the blade. I believe that it would have had to be a fairly high carbon steel tempered to a “springy” temperature for a blade that long and light not to snap or bend in use. The hardest part of making a sword blade is to get the temper correct and uniform.

    FYI, for those who aren’t metal or historic weapons geeks steel first has to be cooled quickly (quenched) which makes it very hard but brittle. Then, it has to be “tempered” by reheating it to a certain temperature. The temperature is indicated by oxidation colors which appear on the metal as it is being reheated. Yellow or straw color is still pretty hard but is not as brittle, blue indicates a softer but springier character.

    Without cutting the sword blade in half and examining the surviving steel crystal structure (unoxidized) under a microscope there is no way that I know of to determine how this blade was tempered.

  5. dearieme, Albertus and Karlsdottir:

    One can see the actual “isosceles cross” in question by opening the third picture in the article to a larger size. It is as illustrated by Albertus, and found approximately 2/3rds down the handle, as measured from the crossguard to the pommel.

  6. Real swords are very light. They have to be if they are to be handled with any speed or grace. 2-4 pounds is exactly right for a sword this size. Right, George M?

  7. Dear Dawn,

    Yes, actual historic swords are suprisingly light weight. Most reproduction swords are clubs in comparison. There are some good reproductions out there but they tend to be pricey.

    If you have to swing a weapon for some time your life may depend on your arm not getting tired quickly.


  8. Thanks, JanB. – Despite the fact that [in contrast to the Scottish ❎ (Dearie !)] that sword could be some form of early ‘Swiss Army Knife’, there is e.g. Hermann von Salza, serving from 1210 to 1239, (cf. his rather similar sword on that 16th century painting).

    Also, here, the coats of arms of the 29 ‘grand masters’ until H. Reuß von Plauen in 1470, as noted there ‘grand master in prussia and lord of the spital in jherusalem’ from the ‘St. Gallen armorial’. So whatever it might be, Jogaila was definitely not really short of swords, it seems :skull:

  9. re: “Isosceles cross”

    As a historical bladesmith, I’ve studied a rather ridiculous number of medieval swords in museums and private collections, and have never heard of the term before.

    However, looking at the high-resolution photos, what is visible on the tang is a shield with an equilateral cross; a + mark in it. look at the photo of the hilt held in a guy’s hands, look at the tang roughly 10cm the cross, you should be able to spot it – that is without any doubt a maker’s mark, punched into the tang while forging it – in use it would be covered by the wood and leather grip.

    What is also visible, in the same photograph is a marking on the blade, about 10cm below the cross. That is less distinct, but appears to be a triangle (possibly isosceles, or maybe equilateral) inside a circle. Whether that’s a product of corrosion, a rust bubble that flaked off, or is an actual mark is impossible to say from a photo of the un-conserved blade.

    However, if it is, I suspect that “Isosceles cross” is a translation error, where two different details, the mark with an Isosceles triangle, and the mark with a cross, have been muddled together.

  10. The location of the maker’s mark (aka “touchmark”) indicates the decentralized nature of late medieval weapons production. The mark indicates who made the blade, not the finished sword. The blade would have been sold to another craftsman who would have added the guard, hilt, and pommel who would have then sold it at retail to the final customer or at wholesale to an arms dealer who would have had weapons and armor from multiple makers and of different quality and price.

    The mark on this sword is a communication from the blade smith to the next craftsman in the production process, not to the final user who would have never seen the mark.

    This shows that artifacts can tell us more about past eras than might be obvious at first.

    Mr Elmslie, do you agree with the previous comments about the weight of medieval swords? I have handled or owned a few over the years but it sounds like your experience is much greater than mine.

  11. Ha ha – The more and the closer I keep inspecting that hilt, the more details I seem to recognize 😮

    This piece needs definitely conservation, as I’d love to see what’s in fact there, in contrast to what my twisted mind only tries to suggest.

    So if necessary, get the crust off virtually – Remember how e.g. the encrusted pieces of the Antikythera device from 21 centuries ago got ct-scanned ? (also cf.:

    Also, the period in question was not exactly a peaceful one in the area, which might suggest that several blades were made, and maybe not so ‘decentralized’ as it seems, and they were then in use -thus decentralized- for a considerable amount of time. Even early forms of artillery were in place.

    That sword may have been deposited, ‘lost’ in an accident or (not) been collected from a battlefield.

  12. Dear Albertus,

    The difference in preservation between the Antikythera mechanism and this sword is largely due to the fact that the metal in the former is bronze and the sword is steel. Generally, copper based metals resist corrosion better than iron based metals. In many environments bronze picks up some surface corrosion but otherwise looks like it was made yesterday, iron not so much. Sometimes an iron artifact is completely converted to iron oxide (rust) and only vaguely has the shape of the original. That is not to say that bronze will not corrode away but that in many burial environments bronze may survive while iron is totally gone.

    Thus, there is a “sorting” in the archeological record for copper based metal artifacts. Iron may have been in use as much or more than more expensive bronze but time and chemical reaction has given preferential survival to the bronze artifacts.

  13. Very good point – ‘bronze’ is mainly copper with added tin, while ‘steel’ is mainly iron with other essential additives.

    Indeed, unrecognizable bumps that happen to be bronze objects, despite the fact that they spent millennia in ‘harsh for metal’ environments, to my astonishment almost look brand-new after treatment and restoration, while iron often just vanishes.

    Moreover (if I am not misled), in addition to chemical corrosion, there is even micro-fauna eating away at iron, while copper is poisonous to them – but as always, ‘dosis facit venenum’.

  14. Before I leave to do weekend shopping for my Missus, I was occupied with researching medieval minne songs. Nearly all were intoned lamely. There was for instance ‘Tanhûser’ (songs 1245 to 1265 AD), who -unless occupied with crusades- smashed some love songs.

    But, there also was this tune by ‘Her Nîthart’ (ca.1180-ca.1240 AD) -with quite some pun and a certain punk-attitude, of which I even started to translate the lyrics into some form of English (I know, its June already) :boogie: :


    Dear month of May, your bright sun
    and all the little birds begun
    To manifest a joyful shrine.
    Let them hear the welcome mine.
    Alas, I am -as far as joy is king-
    with the whole world sickening.

    Constantly I must lament,
    of her, that I always talk dear,
    as I support her sweet heart fair,
    But not at all her content.
    About this misery I quail,
    that I tried to get to no avail,

    What so many got giving her service to,
    they all fought galantly a good woman’s due.
    To no purpose I both have serviced and sung blue.

    What he actually sings is this (i.e. minus nine other stanzas). She -its all her fault- made his hair turn grey, with a lot of irony, its only nature’s course .. etc. ..)

    Meie, dîn liehter schîn
    und diu kleinen vogelîn
    bringent fröuden vollen schrîn,
    daz si willekomen sîn! –
    ich bin an den fröuden mîn
    mit der werlde kranc.

    Alle tage ist mîn klage,
    von der ich daz beste sage
    unde ir holdez herze trage,
    daz ich der niht wol behage.
    von den schulden ich verzage,
    daz mir nie gelanc,

    alsô noch genuogen an ir dienest ist gelungen,
    die nâch guoter wîbe lône höveschlîchen rungen.
    nu hân ich beidiu umbe sust gedienet und gesungen.


  15. Triumphantly returned from the crusade against the food discounter, here my “complete” translation:
    “Meie, dîn liehter schîn” (by Neidhart von Rewental, who was born around 1180, presumably in what is now Bavaria)

    Dear month of May, your bright sun
    and all the little birds have now begun
    To manifest a joyful shrine.
    Let them hear the welcome mine.
    Alas, I am, as far as joy is king,
    with the whole world sickening.

    Constantly I must lament,
    of her, that I do talk dear,
    as I support her sweet heart fair,
    Not at all to her content.
    About this misery I quail,
    that I tried getting to no avail,

    What so many got giving her service to,
    they all fought galantly a good woman’s due.
    To no purpose I both have serviced and sung blue.

    In sweet delusion, it’s understood,
    Towards my dearest doing good,
    It never will be given up,
    Even as it’ll never trap.
    Should the loved one not really cherish,
    Sweeter would I rather perish.

    Ever was I, whatever happened,
    As soon as her I did realize,
    in her service what she never,
    and hardly ever I could utilize,
    there and, at times, here,
    strictly as she has commanded.

    Should I do her further service still not reward it,
    would vileness exceed with women all the benefit –
    in which conviction no emperor would put me out.

    I was put in utter misery,
    As I first a grown-up girl did see,
    of which one talks good constantly,
    and with good things glutted she,
    she, who never lost her modesty,
    remaining always in her courtesy.

    And is my shingle gray by now,
    she completely assures how,
    her bright eye’s clearer shine,
    do recognize not really mine,
    as mine do look at her,
    of no duplicity suffer.

    With one of hers she might look at mine!
    Minne demands the eyes to shame,
    Love to man and woman intertwine.

    Prudence with intelligence
    Do adorn a young man, hence,
    he who keeps away from disgrace
    and always just the best does chase:
    To those their luck will flooden,
    that ‘minne’ worthy women.

    Dread he shame – women’s name,
    grief will never do him blame
    is he to good women tame.
    Is his tongue to rebuke lame,
    all virtue’s source he did became,
    blissful be his life!

    Who keeps this kudos, will be from error free.
    Full of luck to his life’s evening he will be.
    This stanza I send the world – TO TURN IT UP FOR GOOD!


    Meie, dîn liehter schîn
    und diu kleinen vogelîn
    bringent fröuden vollen schrîn,
    daz si willekomen sîn! –
    ich bin an den fröuden mîn
    mit der werlde kranc.

    Alle tage ist mîn klage,
    von der ich daz beste sage
    unde ir holdez herze trage,
    daz ich der niht wol behage.
    von den schulden ich verzage,
    daz mir nie gelanc,

    alsô noch genuogen an ir dienest ist gelungen,
    die nâch guoter wîbe lône höveschlîchen rungen.
    nu hân ich beidiu umbe sust gedienet und gesungen.

    Lieben wân, den ich hân,
    gein der lieben wolgetân,
    der ist immer unverlân
    unde enkan noch niht vervân.
    sol diu guote mich vergân,
    sanfter waere ich tôt.

    Ich was ie, swiez ergie,
    sît daz ich ir künde vie,
    in ir dienste, des si nie
    selten mich geniezen lie,
    dort und etewenne hie,
    swie sie mir gebôt.

    Sol ich dienen und des âne lôn von ir belîben,
    so ist des übelen mêre danne des guoten an den wîben –
    von dem gelouben möhte mich ein keiser niht vertrîben!

    Ungemach mir geschach,
    do ich von êrste ein wîp ersach,
    der man ie daz beste sprach
    unde ir guoter dinge jach,
    diu ir kiusche nie zerbrach
    unde ir hövescheit.

    Ist mîn hâr grîsgevar,
    daz kumt von ir schulden gar:
    ir vil liehten ougen klâr
    nement mîn vil kleine war,
    sô diu mînen blickent dar
    âne kunterfeit.

    Wolte sî mit einem gên den mînen beiden zwieren!
    minne, diu gebiutet, daz diu ougen schamezieren,
    liebe zwischen wîben unde mannen underwieren.

    Hôchgemuot, dar zuo fruot
    ist an jungem manne guot,
    der vor schanden ist behuot
    und daz beste gerne tuot:
    den begiuzet saelden fluot,
    minnet werdiu wîp.

    Fürhtet scham – wîbes nam,
    der enwirt dir nimmer gram –
    ist er guoten wîben zam.
    Ist sîn zunge an schelten lam,
    so ist er aller tugende stam,
    saelic sî sîn lîp!

    Der daz lop behalte, der ist âne missewende.
    aller saelden saelic muoz er sîn unz an sîn ende.
    diu liet ich der werlde zeiner bezzerunge sende.


  16. Referring once more to my shopping crusade, I found another one -this time from Tanhûser / Tannhäuser (his lyrics can be dated between 1245 and 1265AD)- on Youtube ( /watch?v=hJhCY__HwK0 ). On there, the lyrics are pasted already, and there is even a translation by a “J. W. Thomas” already (that I -hopefully- did partially improve, even if his own is not that bad at all).

    The YT poster annotates:

    “Tanhûser was one of the later minnesingers and therefore more of a satirist of the courtly love songs. This song parodies the absurdity of courtly service by describing a list of impossible requests from his lady. The list is clearly a drastic means for the lady to express her unattainability, yet the poet is not easily disheartened. – For the ardent lovers of Wagner operas, Tanhûser is the historical figure from whom the legend of Tannhäuser sprung. There is a great book by J. W. Thomas with all of the historical Tanhûser’s extant work translated into English, a discussion of the poet’s works and how they inspired the legend.”

    Moreover, the “illustrated Codex Manesse manuscript (about 1300-1340) depicts him clad in the Teutonic Order habit, suggesting he might have fought in the Sixth Crusade led by Emperor Frederick II in 1228/29 [and that he shipped from Provence in France?].” The ‘Deutschhauskirche’ church in Würzburg allegedly possesses the tombstone of Siboto III of Tanhusen.


    Constant service that’s done well,
    done to ladies that look ‘belle’,
    as I’ve done to mine.
    A salamander I must get her,
    but one thing she did command:
    The one I send her must be RED.
    Out of Provence into the land,
    to Nuremberg; In that I will succeed.

    And the Danube over the Rhine,
    Once I make it so, as I want she will do.
    But as I say “Yes!” she will say “No!”
    Such is what in accord we do.
    Thanks to that I have that girl of mine,
    The one I call my sweet sunshine.

    Heia hey!
    For too long she did not concubine.

    Yes: today and forever more ‘Yes’
    Loud and completely, and still ‘Yes!’.
    An aching heart’s weapon it turns out to be,
    What is this love doing to me ?
    The pure one and praise worthy ?
    That she wont make me glad,
    is what keeps making me sad.
    Sweet delusion keeps me happy, though,
    that I am getting from that ‘frouw’:

    In case the Miuseberg would be flat
    freed from snow, ‘Sweety’ will reward me that.
    All that does churn my heart,
    is what I see in her ensured.
    My will she would fullfill certainly,
    if I build her a house of ivory,
    placing it atop a lake, she wants from me.
    I might have gracious friendship for gallantry,
    in case I bring to her from Galilee,
    From every collateral free,
    a mountain that I would put up on,
    that Adam must have sat upon–

    Heia hey!
    All other deeds would be surpassed.

    A tree that in India stands,
    huge, she wishes from my hands.
    My wlll she would fulfill,
    Let’s see if all that I will get to her:
    I must gain for her that Grail,
    that once possessed Lord Parcyfail.

    And the apple that Paris did address,
    for ‘minne’ to Venus the Lovegodess.
    And the mantle that encased,
    the woman that is untainted.
    Many other wonders she did propose,
    which grievous did on me impose:
    She is longing for the Ark,
    that Noah had timbered.

    Heia hey!
    Brought I that, how dear I would be!



  17. Have so enjoyed reading all the responses. Having spent my entire career in American History, I have recently been reading more and investigating European and Medieval History. Very much enjoying the site.

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