Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview

32 Swords and Other Weapons
in the Nordic Bronze Age:
Technology, Treatment, and Contexts

HENRIK THRANE

Warriors were mentioned early on in the study of the Nordic Bronze Age (Worsaae 1843; Müller 1897) and so was warfare, but not at any length. Any implication that violence of any kind was an important part of life was not manifested. Warfare and warriors were mentioned but not prominently and weapons were treated just like ornaments and pots. It didn’t take long for the myth of the peaceful, happy and sunny Bronze Age as the first Golden Age to become the truth (Brøndsted 1939). In his book on the Bronze Age, Gordon Childe only mentions war when he reaches the Late Bronze Age Urnfield migration, but then he does so extensively (1930: 43, 192).

Curiously enough, C.J. Thomsen’s three-age system was a reaction to the Latin poetical division of the past, in which the golden period was introduced as a term. In the 1840s people were not aware that they lived in the Danish Golden Age, and they did not use the expression, but by the end of the century and through the twentieth century that was how the Bronze Age came to be viewed, consciously or unconsciously. Of course, in a Golden Age peace and prosperity ruled, so there was no place for warfare – that only came with the crude and cold Iron Age.

Retrospectively we may find this curious, considering how many swords were known already by the time Thomsen formulated his model or by the time J.J.A. Worsaae, who knew several hundreds, divided the Bronze Age into early and late phases in 1859 (Worsaae 1843: 24). Swords, spearheads and axes (palstaves) were prominent among the early finds that filled the showcases of Thomsen’s museum because they were big and solid and therefore observed and noted when farmers (or archaeologists) broke into the burial mounds. Thus the dichotomy between the material evidence and its interpretation existed right from the beginning of serious research on the Bronze Age. With the ‘War and Society’ project it became imperative to examine the material base for information on warfare in order to present a state of the arts and formulate a theory of the role of war in the Bronze Age. A couple of studies had already been made (Kristiansen 1984; Nordbladh 1987; Randsborg 1995) but no comprehensive study was available. We have tried to examine the data that may indicate the presence of war.

The first problem is that we only have sources which, at their best, indicate violence. How this violence was organised and whether it to a degree deserves the name War (Steuer 2000; Steuer chapter 16) is an open question. A general scale from group to individual violence can be made, however, and we can examine how the archaeological sources fit

-491-

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