• latw-212-1
    Iron saber from destruction level inside the fortification (No. 212) (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)
  • latw-212-20
    Iron saber from destruction level inside the fortification (No. 212) (drawing). (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Iron chopping sword

ca. 570-540s BC, Lydian
Sardis or Museum Inv. No.
Object Type
Metalwork Type
Weapon or Armor
MMS/S 95.2
MMS/S 95.2 Locus 86
B-Grid Coordinates
E119.2 / S137.5 - S138.3 *104.3
Blade and handle core unit, once iron, now corrosion products (iron oxide, magnetite, hematite on the exterior; limonite enveloped by magnetite on some interior parts); broken and repaired. The end of the handle core may be missing. The top side of blade and handle core forms a continuous arc; the bottom, cutting side of the blade has a slight S-curve. The handle core has a central grip of even width, a terminal of gradually-expanding downward-curving form that ends in a rough arc, and a guard that projects below the underside of the weapon. The handle core contains eight pins (once iron, now magnetite surrounding limonite): two at either end of the grip, three in the terminal, and three in the guard. Preserved length 0.60 m (length of blade 0.4655 m), maximum width of blade 0.06 m, maximum thickness 0.01 m.
The sword was recovered resting on an ancient occupation surface just inside the city wall of Sardis, and covered by destruction debris of the mid-sixth century BC. Blade and handle core probably were made together, of folded sheet metal. The top of the blade is generally thick, but at its forward end may have been thin; its lighter tone, lower density, and even thickness suggested to conservator J. Wolfe that the forward part might have been separately made of a high-carbon steel, which had been welded to the middle part of the blade (personal communication 1998). The handle pins show that the handle core certainly had an attached plate on one side, and probably one on either side. The number and location of pins could, but need not necessarily, reflect plates of different materials (such as wood, bone, horn) on grip, terminal, and guard. The sword is a kind sometimes called in Greek kopis or machaira, and was used to deliver chopping blows. Depictions of it in use appear in combat images of Greek sculpture and vase painting. It was most effectively employed in the “Harmodius blow” (so called from a representation in the Tyrannicides statue group in Athens), which was initiated with the weapon held behind the back and continued by bringing it forcefully forward in an arc over the shoulder. Blows from such a chopping sword (not this one) might have created the narrow cuts in the skull of one of the casualties whose bones were recovered in destruction debris on the other side of the city wall (Cahill, “The Persian Sack of Sardis”). In Greek vase painting, the chopping sword is depicted in use by both infantry and cavalry, and by figures in both Greek and orientalizing dress; No. 212 is too short for an effective cavalry sword, according to J. K. Anderson (personal communication, 1998). (The related sabre and scimitar have slightly different shapes; they were designed for slashing, and could supplement initial blows with slicing action, by drawing the blade through what had been struck.)
See Also
Cahill, “Persian Sack”.
Greenewalt and Rautman 1998, 496-497; Greenewalt 1997, 8-10, 17.