This Medieval Man Was Buried With a Four-Foot-Long Sword in Sweden

Researchers in Halmstad think he was a high-ranking member of the nobility before his death some 600 years ago

Grave with sword
A more than four-foot-long medieval sword was found just to the left of the Swedish man's skeleton. Halland Cultural Environment

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a tall man buried alongside a well-preserved medieval sword in Sweden. They think he may have been an influential nobleman in the 15th or 16th century.

The man’s remains were found in Halmstad, Sweden, during excavations of the city’s “Lilla Torg” (or “Little Square”), according to a blog post from Halland Cultural Environment, a government agency connected to the Halland Museum of Cultural History. Between 1494 and 1531, a Franciscan order inhabited a long-demolished convent in the area called Sankta Anna. The man’s grave was found beneath the church’s south nave.

Though 49 graves have been identified during the exploration of Lilla Torg, this burial stands out because of the artifact inside: an iron sword with a wooden handle that measures over four feet long. The presence of this weapon provides intriguing clues about the social status of its owner.

Inlaid Metal
The sword is decorated with inlaid Christian crosses, likely made of precious metal. Halland Cultural Environment

“Finding swords in medieval graves is very rare, and the people who were buried with swords belonged to the upper echelons of society,” writes Halland Cultural Environment, per Google Translate. “The sword [found] at Lilla Torg confirms that Sankta Anna’s church was used as a burial place for, among other things, people of noble birth during the 35 years that the Franciscan order operated on the site.”

As Johan Klange, an archaeologist with Halland Cultural Environment, tells Live Science’s Tom Metcalfe, this particular dig site was originally discovered during road work in the 1930s. During the recent excavations, researchers have unearthed two other burials—a man and a woman—beneath the footprint of the church’s nave, but they are unremarkable in comparison to the grave of the armed man.

Klange says the man’s height is also impressive: While the average Swedish man stood about 5-foot-5 during this man’s lifetime, he was 6-foot-3.

“We hypothesize that he was part of the high nobility of the Kalmar Union and may have owned property in both Sweden and Denmark,” Klange tells Live Science. “These people became very, very powerful.”

Formed in 1397 in Kalmar, Sweden, the Kalmar Union brought together the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and Denmark under a single monarchy. As historian Harald Gustafsson of Sweden’s Lund University tells Live Science, the alliance was a “personal union”: Each kingdom kept its own laws and institutions. The kingdoms joined in part to collectively challenge the German Hanseatic League’s control of trade in the North and Baltic seas. The Kalmar Union held for nearly 130 years before dissolving under Sweden’s Gustav I Vasa in 1523.

Up-Close Grave
An excavation of the man's grave revealed his skull and upper arm beside a long sword. Halland Cultural Environment

X-ray scans of the sword revealed that it was decorated with two inlaid crosses, likely composed of precious metal. Klange tells Live Science that the weapon resembles a late medieval European style called a “longsword” or “hand-and-a-half sword,” which could be wielded with one or two hands.

According to a translated Facebook post by Halland Cultural Environment, several similar swords have been found in other medieval Swedish graves, such as Franciscan burials in the southern city of Lund. Still, this particular weapon is “an unusual find.”

“The sword has been removed from the ground and was quickly sent to conservation to begin investigation and treatment,” writes the organization. “The conservation process is long, but more information will come both from the archaeological examination of the tomb and from the [conservators’] work with the weapon.”

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