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HomeArt groupAncient Weapon Unearthed: 2,000-Year-Old Roman Silver Dagger Stuns Archaeologists

Ancient Weapon Unearthed: 2,000-Year-Old Roman Silver Dagger Stuns Archaeologists

Archaeologists in Germany were “lost for words” after the discovery of a 2,000-year-old silver dagger. The weapon was found in its sheath in the grave of a Roman soldier who once fought against the Germanic tribes.

The dagger was so corroded that it took nine months of sandblasting and grinding before the sharp, 13-inch-long (35 centimeters) weapon was restored, at which point researchers were easily able to remove it from its richly decorated sheath. This find is unusual, as it was not the normal practice for Roman soldiers to be buried with their military equipment.

The dagger and its sheath were discovered in April 2019 by a 19-year-old intern, Nico Calman, during an archaeological dig at Haltern am See, a town in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Haltern was home to a Roman military base during the Augustan period, from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14, and archaeologists have known about the site since 1900.

Bettina Tremmel, an archaeologist at the Westphalie Department for the Preservation and Care of Field Monuments in Germany, who specializes in the Roman Empire and took part in the excavation, said the discovery was “emotional” and that they were “lost for words.” This is because, despite the large number of Roman soldiers stationed at the base, there are only a few finds of weapons, especially complete and intact ones.

The dagger’s handle is inlaid with silver and decorated with rivets, and the iron blade has “deep grooves on either side of the midrib, a pronounced waist and a long tapering point.” The iron sheath is lined with linden wood and decorated with red glass, silver, niello (a black mixture, often of sulphur, copper, silver and lead), and red shiny enamel. Rings on the sheath were used to hang the dagger from a belt, which was also found in the grave.

The dagger was likely wielded by a legionary infantryman, an auxiliary infantryman, or an officer known as a centurion. While daggers were not the main weapons used by the military, they were considered a formidable backup should the soldier’s sword be lost or damaged. The severe penalties for the loss of equipment meant that soldiers had every incentive to keep a tight grip on their weapons.

Archaeology Intern Unearths Spectacular, 2,000-Year-Old Roman Dagger |  Smithsonian

It remains a mystery why this individual was buried with the dagger. It’s possible the owner was a Celtic or German native, as members of those tribes were often buried with their weapons. Alternatively, the person may have been Roman, but wanted the dagger to be included in the burial. The only other known Roman military belt, dagger, and sheath discovery was in a small Roman military camp in Velsen, the Netherlands, where a Roman soldier was thrown into a pit during a military conflict with the Germans in 28 B.C.

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