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Huge 500-Year-Old Longsword Recovered from Medieval Grave on Swedish Coast

Researchers digging at the Lilla Torg site in the western Swedish port city of Halmstad unearthed something extraordinarily rare. While excavating a grave in a medieval era cemetery, archaeologists from Kulturmiljö Halland (the Cultural Environment of Halland) and its partners at the Lödöse and Bohusläns Museums found a long, rusted metal sword that measured more than four feet (1.2 meters) long. The massive weapon was discovered buried next to an elite man who had died in the late 15th or early 16th century, and this individual was unique in his own right as he measured over six feet tall (an atypical height for medieval times).

This remarkable discovery occurred on December 19, during excavations of a large cemetery containing 49 graves that was found beneath Halmstad’s Lilla Torg square. The burial sites were unearthed under what had once been a Franciscan monastery and church, which were known to have been open and occupied by the Franciscan Order from 1494 through 1531.

Archaeologist Eirik Johansson from Bohusläns Museum holds up the medieval sword he found during the ongoing archaeological survey of Lilla Torg in Halmstad. (Kulturmiljö Halland)

A Giant Figure With a Huge Sword

Among all these burials, the grave that held the skeleton of the tall man stood out, firstly because of the size of its occupant, and second because of the heavy sword that was buried at his side. While an osteological examination of the man’s skeleton showed he would have been about 6’3” (1.9 meters) in height, his sword was only two feet (0.6 meters) short of this in length, measuring an impressive 4’3” (1.3 meters). The sword was the only artifact in the grave, and it had been placed at the man’s left side (presumably he would have been left-handed).

The metal sword still included its wooden hilt, which managed to survive the passage of five centuries since the sword’s time of burial. Following a series of X-rays taken after the sword was removed from the ground, the archaeologists discovered that it was decorated by two inlaid crosses made from some type of precious metal.

The fairly intact sword was measured at 1.3 meters (4 foot 3 inches). (Kulturmiljö Halland)

The medieval longsword was the only burial item found in the tall man’s grave. But this artifact alone was enough to determine that the man must have enjoyed elite status in medieval Scandinavian society.

“Finding swords in medieval graves is very rare, and the people who were buried with swords belonged to the upper echelons of society,” Kulturmiljö Halland reported.

“The sword find 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.”

Excavating the Long-Lost Franciscan Order of Halmstad

The Franciscan monastery and its accompanying church, which were dedicated to Sankta Annas (St. Anna), were constructed between 1494 and 1503, under the direction of Christina of Saxony, the Scandinavian Queen of Denmark (she ruled over the lands of Sweden as well).

After the premature closure of the monastery in 1531, the structure was repurposed as first a hospital and later as an armory, and it remained in use until being destroyed in a massive fire that ravaged the city of Halmstad in 1619.

The first X-ray image of the sword found under Lilla Torg in Halmstad. (Kulturmiljö Halland)

The very first excavations at the Lilla Torg square took place in 1932, which led to the discovery of the ruined church building and the monastery kitchen. The excavation of the grave with the sword, and the other 48 graves found so far, proved conclusively that the site was used as a burial spot for people of noble birth and/or high status. This would have been a policy of the Franciscans, and the burials that took place on church grounds would all have occurred during their period of occupation.

Archaeologists unearthed the grave of the tall man and its accompanying sword beneath the floor of the church on the southern side. Two other burials of adults, one a man and one a women, were discovered adjacent to the tall man’s tomb, but neither of these graves contained any material goods. In fact none of the other graves excavated in the medieval cemetery held any burial goods, which suggests the tall man enjoyed unique stature in either in the greater community or among the Franciscan monks and nuns.

Three of the graves under investigation at the Lilla Torg site. (Kulturmiljö Halland)

The historic town of Halmstad, which was founded in 1307, is located approximately 270 miles (435 kilometers) southwest of Stockholm, on Sweden’s Atlantic Ocean coast. It was part of the Danish Kingdom in medieval times, which explains why the Sankta Anna church and monastery could only be built with the approval of the Queen of Denmark. She undoubtedly intended the place to function as a permanent home for the Franciscans, but shifting political winds determined the site would remain a religious sanctuary for less than four decades.

A Sword of Mystery

After its discovery, the medieval longsword was quickly removed from the site and sent to a conservation facility for further examination, and to make sure it is preserved and protected. It was during analysis at this facility that archaeologists discovered the existence of the two inlaid crosses, signaling the tall man’s religious devotion.

Interestingly, the archaeologists believe the sword’s blade might have been partially broken off at some point, meaning it was even longer and heavier than it currently is. Further investigations are expected to reveal the truth about the enigmatic sword’s actual size and real age, and possibly about how it would have been used (i.e., as a ceremonial object or in actual battles).