BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

The Story of a Crusader Sword

Examining a 12th-century sword from Israel

Crusader Sword Discovered

Diver Shlomi Katzin with the Crusader sword.
Credit: Nir Disteleld, Israel Antiquities Authority

How did a Crusader sword end up in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel? Was it an accident or the result of some great battle? While archaeologists don’t have all the answers, X-ray images of the 800-year-old blade revealed many intriguing features of the prize find.

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A Rare Find

Publishing the results of their examination in the journal ‘Atiqot, a team of archaeologists and scientists got to the bottom of many mysteries raised by the chance discovery of the sword several years ago. As reported in Bible History Daily, the sword was found off Carmel Beach, near Haifa, when a scuba diver stumbled across a cache of objects. While the cache included a range of artifacts dating from the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1550 BCE) through the late Islamic period (c. 1291–1516 CE)—apparently the result of numerous shipwrecks over the ages—the item that caught everyone’s eye was the impressive sword. Completely encrusted in sand, shells, and sea pebbles, the sword’s telltale shape was easily discernible. However, it was only later, after extensive X-ray scanning, that the team was able to get more answers.

The sword, which was preliminarily dated to the Crusader period (c. 1099–1291 CE), featured a blade, fuller, cross guard, and a disk-shaped pommel. Made of iron, the blade measures roughly 35 inches long, with the fuller running around one-third of the blade’s length. The tang measures an additional 4 inches, and the cross guard was around 12 inches in length. The tang was originally encased in two wooden scales wrapped in leather to create the sword’s handle.

Crusader Sword

Crusader sword. Courtesy Anastasia Shapiro, IAA.

Comparing the blade to others known from around the region, the team concluded that the sword’s original owner was likely a knight of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (c. 1099–1291 CE), as the sword closely resembled a European-style sword of the 12th century. However, the cross guard and pommel suggest that it was refitted during the early 13th century.

So how did the sword end up buried beneath the seafloor? While the sword may have simply been lost at sea, the team uncovered two additional clues during their examination. First, the sword was slightly bent, as could often happen in battle. Second, its scabbard was nowhere to be found. Taken together, this tentatively suggests the blade was damaged and then lost during a battle near the beach, its owner possibly slain on the battlefield.

Regardless of how the sword was lost, its burial at sea was the primary reason it was found at all. Although the Crusades saw many European knights journey to the Holy Land, few swords from the period have been found, and far fewer in secure archaeological contexts. A major reason for this is the chemical composition of iron swords, which makes them prone to rusting and eventual corrosion. Yet, when lost at sea, these swords become encrusted with sea life, which provides extra protection to the metal and preserves it far longer than in terrestrial environments.


Read more in Bible History Daily:

What Were the Crusades and How Did They Impact Jerusalem?

The Brutality of the Crusades

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

When Crusader Kings Ruled Jerusalem

The Rugged Beauty of Crusader Castles

A Smithy in a Crusader Church

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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2 Responses

  1. Dennis Swaney says:

    Would have been nice to see the x-ray images of the sword. Perhaps there mght be a more detailed article in an upcoming BAR issue?

    As for the “Latin” term, that denotes a relation to the former Western Roman Empire regions and the Roman Catholic or Latin Church. Thus the Crusader knights from that area were called Latin knights. There are Greek Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian Patriarchs of Jerusalem to this day.

  2. catherine Moore says:

    “a knight of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem” how cool is that! Had no idea there were even any Latin Knights in the world..

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2 Responses

  1. Dennis Swaney says:

    Would have been nice to see the x-ray images of the sword. Perhaps there mght be a more detailed article in an upcoming BAR issue?

    As for the “Latin” term, that denotes a relation to the former Western Roman Empire regions and the Roman Catholic or Latin Church. Thus the Crusader knights from that area were called Latin knights. There are Greek Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian Patriarchs of Jerusalem to this day.

  2. catherine Moore says:

    “a knight of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem” how cool is that! Had no idea there were even any Latin Knights in the world..

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