Anyone who has ever marveled at the ingenuity of a folding umbrella, a folding chair or a folding bicycle might think a folded sword offered a similar compactness and convenience to the soldier who carried one. Sadly, the mysterious soldier who carried a recently discovered folded sword wouldn’t have been able to use it – the sword was placed in his grave after his death. Moreover, convenience wasn’t the purpose of this particular folded sword.
“The sword was deliberately folded, not broken.”
Archaeologist Melina Paisidou presented her findings on this unusual sword at the recent 33rd Archaeological Conference for the excavations in Macedonia and Thrace. It came from a tomb in the Basilica of Thessaloniki – the second-largest city in Greece. Discovered in 2010, the tomb was part of approximately three thousand burial monuments in a variety of shapes and ages. What made this one stand out was the armament found next to the remains – the sword, a dagger and a ‘boss’ from the center of a shield. Paisidou explained to athina984.gr that weapons are rare in Greek tombs, but the folded sword was unique and worthy of further study. (Photos of the sword and the tomb here.)
“It is rare for weapons of this period to be found in excavation contexts, even in Greece. Most of the corresponding findings we have are from Balkan and Western European countries. It is probable that he was a gothic soldier, as Byzantium employed gothic mercenaries especially in the last decades of the 4th century onwards. They were experienced warriors and had a reputation for being good warriors.”
What was a Goth soldier doing in a Christian burial ground? The Goths were a Germanic warrior tribe who fought as mercenaries against the Romans. Dating placed this a mercenary (foederatus) soldier in Greece in the first half of the 5th century CE. While mercenaries fought on both sides at the time, the folded sword identified him as a Goth – ‘killing’ a sword (rendering it useless to anyone else) was a ‘pagan’ ritual practiced by the Romans. However, this mercenary’s burial in Greece in a Christian basilica identified him as a mercenary who changed sides.
A Goth who fought for the Roman Empire and then against it. He must have fought well to have received such an honorable ‘pagan’ burial in a Christian place. Accepting and honoring soldiers who are foreign or in other ways ‘different’ from the majority is something the U.S. armed forces still has problems with.
Perhaps they need to spend some time in boot camp learning the tale of the bent sword.