The 2,000-year-old Roman dagger and the stories it keeps

by Shirley Williams
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

They say that a picture says a thousand words. If that is true then how many words do objects found in archaeological digs say? These discoveries can provide key insights into worlds that are now lost. If they are from a time when nothing else has been found they can provide a marker in history of what civilization was doing and why. A weapon can reveal a raging war, a glove can reveal a civilization that was cold but knew how to knit. Everything tells a story. These discoveries tell a story not only of the time they are from but they tell a story about that exact object and its owner. A recent discovery had a lot to say.

Almost one year ago a dagger was found at an archaeological site in Germany. It looked like a long brown rock. It was so encrusted with mud and dirt that to call it a dagger at all seemed like a generous leap. Yet the dagger was later dated to 2,000 years old, so it is difficult to expect it to be in pristine condition. The dagger was discovered at a Roman burial ground in a location where the German town Haltern am See is now found. One of the largest known military camps was once found here and it was home to a large number of incredible battles between Romans and Germans.

- Advertisement -

The dagger was an incredible find as despite its worn state it appeared to be fully intact. It was taken to a fiber restorer to see what could be done to return it to its original state without impacting the original material. After months of work, the result produced is incredible. Today the dagger does look slightly worn, the metals a little faded but there is no rust, no mud, no breakages, nothing. If you came across this dagger in a store, based on the condition alone, you would assume it was less than 100 years old. The condition is pristine.

What once looked like a large lump of clay, that was still amazing, is now so much more. The dagger was found in its sheath and also a belt attached. When looking at the refurbished dagger you can immediately see that this was not a dagger for an ordinary soldier, it is cleary an incredibly special custom piece. The dagger blade starts wide but curves to become thin before widening again and finally finishing in a sharp point. The metals for the blade were found a variety of different steels that had been forged together. 

The handle fo the dagger is thin and intricately detailed with carvings and small spheres of red glass. This matches the sheath that holds the blade. The sheath is incredibly detailed with patterns of crescent moons, diamonds, and a laurel wreath. The sheath itself is made of metal and red enamel and glass. To think that the dagger was pulled from its blade to discover more about it. Who knows what the reason was that it was last pulled from its sheath and what stories that blade could tell.

The belt is leather but coated in silver to give the impression of an expensive metal belt. Whether this reveals that the belt was not owned by someone extremely wealthy or if a leather belt was just more practical, is unknown. Why this belt ended up outside a burial mound is the greatest mystery. The most likely theory is that it was left outside the burial ground of a fallen soldier or general in honor of their work. Perhaps with more discoveries from this site, the story will become a little clearer.

More history for you