Bronze Age warriors developed sophisticated sword-fighting techniques to control the blades of their enemies and preserve their weapons during combat, battle recreation reveals
- British researchers assessed how certain moves damage bronze swords
- All damage on a total of 110 Bronze Age weapons were assessed in detail
- Seven modern replicas were made and subjected to lifelike combat tests
- Warriors engaged the blades of enemies deliberately to outmanoeuvre them
Warriors duelling with bronze swords in the millennia before iron weapons were crafted employed sophisticated fighting methods, a study has found.
Researchers assessed the dings and dents on 110 Bronze Age swords and used modern replicas and hand-to-hand combat to investigate the cause of the damage.
They discovered evidence of fighting methods similar to those of the Renaissance and Middle Ages which manipulated the blade of one’s enemy.
This allowed the warrior to expose a fleshy region and strike, with little risk of destroying the relatively weak bronze swords.
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Researchers assessed the dings and dents on 110 Bronze Age swords and used modern replicas and hand-to-hand combat (pictured) to investigate their cause
In order to understand what caused the damage to Bronze Age swords, researchers recruited Neil Burridge, a professional bronzesmith, to make seven replicas (pictured)
Bronze swords were first used as weapons around 3,000BC in Turkey and similar weapons were then used in the fabled Trojan War. The technology spread throughout Europe over the coming centuries
Bronze swords were used by soldiers between 1600BC and 600AD and this combination of copper and tin was prone to damage.
In the hands of an untrained apprentice, a reckless swing of the sword would mangle the metal and render it useless.
That is why, the researchers believe, the fighters were well-versed in using specific moves and sequences.
Previously, the preponderance of bronze swords in graves and at burial sites had led some experts to wonder if they were merely status symbols and not used in battle.
Others had theorised that the bronze swords were used in war but fighters deliberately avoided blade-on-blade contact to preserve their weapons.
The findings of the study, published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, reveal that neither of these are accurate.
Instead, the soldiers were trained to use their weapon to control the blade of their enemy.
Manoeuvring the opponent’s sword out of the way while simultaneously priming for an attack on an exposed fleshy region was the goal of combat in the late Bronze Age, according to Raphael Hermann, the study’s lead author.
Once the sword was removed from the equation, a blow would be struck ideally to the neck, abdomen or pelvis. They deliberately avoided bone in order to prevent their weapon becoming stuck.
Mr Hermann also discovered warriors fought in uniform styles which changed and adapted as sword technology itself advanced.
Bronze swords were first used as weapons around 3,000BC in Turkey and similar weapons were then used in the fabled Trojan War.
The technology spread throughout Europe over the coming centuries.
A variety of weapons and attack methods were used to investigate the damage caused to bronze swords from various objects, including stabbing a shield (pictured)
This controlled weapon test sees what damage is inflicted to a bronze sword from a glancing blow to the face of a wooden shield. This caused an irregular graze in the cutting edge
The tests involved two stages of analysis — studying surviving swords from the era itself, and creating modern equivalents and putting them through a variety of tests (pictured, one test). The former revealed several commonly seen forms of damage, including fissures, dents and blunted tips
Britain was one of the last to adapt to the fighting style, with the study finding the earliest British swords bore evidence of ‘an immature martial tradition’.
Instead of trying to manipulate the sword of their foe, they would simply try to strike and not be hit.
This gradually changed and it is thought the methods used on mainland Europe were adopted in the late Bronze Age, around 200 years after they were first seen in Italy.
Mr Hermann, who conducted the research while a postgraduate student at the University of Newcastle and now working at the University of Gottingen, told the Times: ‘Our findings overturn previous assumptions that prehistoric swordplay was characterised by simply alternating attacking and defending stances, while also disproving scholarly claims that early fencers avoided blade-on-blade contact to preserve their weapons, which were perceived as more damage-prone than later iron swords.’
The tests involved two stages of analysis — studying surviving swords from the era itself, and creating modern equivalents and putting them through a variety of tests.
The former revealed several commonly seen forms of damage, including fissures, dents and blunted tips.
In order to understand what caused the damage, researchers recruited Neil Burridge, a professional bronzesmith, to make seven replica swords.
The researchers tested the impact on bronze swords from other swords but also from different kinds of weapons used in prehistoric armed clashes such as spearheads, spearshafts and replica wood, leather, and bronze shields
One specific technique was found to be very common and evidence of it was etched on several blades. It is a method called versetzen — German for displacement — and would see a pair lock blades deliberately
Each sword was a model of a weapon used in entire Bronze Age, ranging from 1600BC to 700BC.
These included a Middle Bronze Age rapier used between 1300 and 1150 BC and one Carp’s Tongue sword popular between 950 and 800 BC.
The weapons were then used in a series of pre-planned blows from a variety of angles to simulate different impacts during battle.
They were than also given to members of a local swordfighting organisation for controlled weapon tests to recreate prehistoric one-on-one combat.
‘Presuming that different kinds of weapons would have encountered one another in prehistoric armed clashes, we tested the swords not only against other swords but also against spearheads, spearshafts and replica wood, leather, and bronze shields,’ the authors write in the study.
‘To allow for chronological consistency, all tests were carried out with weapons that would have existed contemporaneously.’
One specific technique was found to be very common and evidence of it was etched on several blades.
It is a method called versetzen — German for displacement — and would see a pair lock blades deliberately.
A soldier would then try and outmanoeuvre their opponent, gain the upper hand and strike.
This duelling left unique nicks on the blades of both swords.
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