[ ]
" "

Terekhova N.N., Rozanova L.S.,
Zavyalov V.I., Tolmacheva M.M

The development of the blacksmiths' craft in Eastern Europe


In this paper metallographical analytical method is applied to ancient iron artefacts as the basical one. This permits to use the obtained information for reconstructing the technology of producing certain artefacts. And as a result one can search the development of the blacksmiths' craft.

This paper for the first time presents in systematic and generalised form great analytical material on the techniques of ironworking (both the Early Iron Age and the Medieval Period) in Eastern Europe. Its database includes more than 6000 analyses. The overwhelming part of it is the result of the authors' work, but all available publications on the problem are also reflected.


Metallurgy and metalworking from very beginning were among the leading branches of ancient economy. Consequently, studying the history of certain people, one cannot avoid the problem of development of these trades. In our works metallographical analytical method is applied to ancient iron artefacts as the basical one. This permits to extend significantly the information obtained for reconstructing the technology of manufacturing certain artefacts, find also to value the quality of its processing and the raw materials choosen, as well as to judge about the expediency of the used technological scheme in concrete categories of artefacts and the smith's labour-intensiveness. Finally, metallographical method enables us to obtain the characteristic of producing skills and the organisation of production.

Our paper presents great analytical material on the techniques of ironworking in Eastern Europe. Its database includes more than 6000 analyses. The overwhelming part of it is the result of the authors' work, but all available publications on the problem are also reflected.

The great interest has the problem of reconstruction of different modes in ancient technique and technology of ferrous metals' treatment. Experimental data became the basis for demonstration of the successive stage of processing raw material and its gradual turn into finished product.

A number of experiments were carried out on processing raw materials from bloom to finished product. They were accompanied by metallographical investigations of corresponding samples and their comparison with archaeological artefacts.

Having analysed the data obtained, we would suggest the following definitions for various stages of producing and processing ferrous metal as applied to archaeological materials: furnace bloom, bloom, half-finished product, billet.

Furnace bloom is an immediate product of bloomery ironmaking, not undergone mechanical force. It is a solid mass of iron, its pores and cavities filled with slag.

Bloom reflects an initial stage of furnace bloom treatment as a result some slag inclusions are partially removed, metal being condensed to certain degree.

Half-finished product is a final stage of processing furnace bloom; as a result monolithic iron mass was obtained. This iron material was suitable for producing rough specimen (billet).

Billet (rough specimen) reflects the initial stage of technological process of producing blacksmith's article. The similarity of an artefact with some definable but unfinished article should be regarded as a formal indication of billet.

First iron articles in Eastern Europe were appeared in archaeological sites of the Bronze Age. A rich burial in the barrow cemetery near Boldyrevo village (Southern Urals, Orenburg region) contained a set of various copper artefacts. Among them a number of iron tools were present: a chisel-liketool, an adze-like bimetallic tool with copper handle and iron blade, and also a disk-shaped object. Metallographical and chemical investigation of these pieces led us to a conclusion, that the metal used for their production had a meteorite origin. Of special interest is the fact, that the tools found in the same burial were made of the meteorites of different types. Having into account small probability of finding different meteorites in the same place, we should presume a purposeful search of new material (i.e. iron) throughout a vast territory.

The first artefacts made of metallurgical iron appeared in the territory of Eastern Europe as early as the second half of the 2nd millennium B.C. The finds are extremely rare, their set being confined to the artefacts simple by their form and small in size. The technologies of simple modes of free hot forging are observed, but also there existed such a specific method for ferrous metals' treatment as smith's welding.

The Scythian period is extremely interesting one. It is characterised by leap-like changes in development in technology of ironworking. During comparatively short chronological period of the late 8th-7th centuries B.C. formation of basical technical and technological modes took place. We mean obtaining of different kinds of steel by way of chemical and heat transformations, the application of differentiated methods of heat-treatment and various technological schemes, such as: smith's-welding of iron and steel plates with the hardest metal exposed to the cutting edge; carburization of the working part; steel artefacts' production.

We looked out data from the sites of Scythian period located on the northern and southern slopes of Central Caucasus, in north-eastern and north-western parts of it, and also in the region between the Volga and Kama rivers, steppe part of the North Pontic area, and forest-steppe zone at the Dniper.

The technical achievements, noticed in this period, are spread in the southern part of Eastern Europe, and their chronological coincidence with the emergence of the Scythian and Cimmerian tribes on the historical scene is by no means accidental. These tribes stimulated cultural contacts among different peoples, which in its turn promoted further spreading technological knowledge. These were the regions, connected by cultural and historical links, where technical and technological innovations are observed, which went back to the developed ironworking centres of Western Asia and Transcaucasus.

The population of the forest zone in this period practically was not familiar with iron. Only the sites belonging to the southern group of Anan'ino culture (the Volga-Kama region) were the exception, in these materials the connections with Caucasian centres are clearly traced.

Numerous publications were devoted to the problems of ironworking trade in classical period, but technological analyses dated from this epoch are very few, which is caused by unsatisfactory state of iron artefacts. So of great significance are the analytical materials obtained by the authors during the study of iron finds from Gorgippia (in the territory of modern town of Anapa), one of the significant cities of the Bosporian state. Among numerous technological modes, revealed by metallographical analyses, we should mention unique ones for this epoch, such as: welding steel plates on iron core; welding-in; soldering iron with non-ferrous metals.

The materials from different cultures of the forest-steppe and forest zones of Eastern Europe, dated from the late 1st millennium B.C. up to the third quarter of the 1st millennium A.D. have a great interest. One can say that in forest-steppe zone in the late 1st millennium B.C. powerful centres of iron output and processing raw materials existed (Uman' and Novoklinovo in the Ukraine). In the forest zone iron began to penetrate into the everyday life of the local population. By the middle of the 1st millennium A.D. the quantity of metal finds there increased noticeably. Summing up the analytical data, we may state that in spite of some local differences, the both zones went on the same general line of development of ironworking. During the whole period the simplest modes of producing iron artefacts prevailed: of iron or of steel with unhomogenous contents of carbon. Usually raw material's treatment is of poor quality; slag inclusions are numerous in metal. Both in forest and forest-steppe zones the carburization of finished items was not frequent also. Smith's welding was known as a basis of technological scheme, but was extremely rare (observed in isolated cases). Heat treatment of smiths' production in this period was spread widely enough. The share of heat-treated artefacts reached usually 25%.

Generally speaking, we should say, that blacksmiths' production in forest and forest-steppe cultures of the 1st millennium A.D. had developed into an independent trade, this thesis being supported by the finds of semi-finished commodity items and blooms. But differentiation and specialisation in blacksmith trade did not exist yet. This can be seen from the absence of standard modes of processing certain categories of artefacts. The production should be regarded as a result of universal craftsman's work, which was able to make any necessary item.

The new phase of Eastern Europe blacksmith craft was begun in the Middle Age.

The history of Khazar khaganat an early state formation in Eastern Europe absorbed the attention of numerous scholars. Still such an important branch of trade activity as ironworking remained outside the scope of specialists.

Our investigations of ironworking in the territory between the Don and Donets rivers, which belonged to Khazar khaganat, demonstrate that a single centre of ironworking emerged there on the threshold of the 1st and 2nd millennia A.D. It belonged to Saltovo-Mayatsk archaeological culture. Blacksmiths' production of this centre was connected with metallurgical centres of the steppe and forest-steppe zones, where furnaces of different types of construction were used. They differed in mass of their output, and this fact determined some specific features of ironworking in each region.

For the forest-steppe region of Khazaria the main material was well-forged low-carbon steel. In the steppe region unevenly carbonized steel was typical, which undergone forging in course of formation of an artefact. In the forest-steppe region the basic technological mode was piled-welding, used both in processing raw metal and producing artefacts. Piled-welded metal is characterized by multilayerness. The usage of piled-welded metal blocks is noticed where steel plates of high quality and high-phosphorus iron were joint. Such blocks were used for producing certain categories of artefacts: battle-axes, hoes and some types of knives. In the steppe zone piled-welding technology had quite different character. Much less items are made of piled-welded billet, small number of metal layers characterizes the latter. Welding of iron with high quality steel in these billets is rarely observed, this technological mode is applied, as a rule, for the same categories as in the forest-steppe zone, where articles made of steel are dominating. In the forest-steppe area steel artefacts are less numerous, than iron ones.

Other aspects of technique and technology in ironworking are similar enough in the both regions of Khazaria. Thus, the craftsmen mastered purposefully processing of high-phosphorus iron; they rarely forged "pure" iron items, and used uniformed set of technological schemes. Some insignificant differences in the share of different methods for strengthening working parts of implements (carburization, welding of two or three plates, welding-in, welding-on, heat treatment) depend on unequal representatives of various groups of artefacts. Numerous categories of artefacts in both regions practically coincide typologically: battle-axes, hoes, mouthpieces, cheek-pieces, stirrups, sickles, scrapers and spearheads have standard forms. For numerous categories a tendency to standardization of technological schemes can be traced, which is usually connected with the function of an artefact.

Integration influence of Khazar khaganat as a state organization played an essential role in formation of Saltovo-Mayatsk focus of ironworking, characterized by morphological uniformity of its production and interchange of technological knowledge.

Comparison of Saltovo-Mayatsk and east-Slavic blacksmiths' craft gives the evidence of high level of technical development of this trade in Khazaria. There are numerous common features in ironworking of the cultures in question, they can be found both in some technological schemes and the material used; in some cases we may suppose import of finished or half-finished products. These facts should be explained by chronological and territorial proximity of the tribes included into the sphere of influence of Khazar khaganat on the last stage of its existence.

Ironworking in Khazaria had developed into an independent branch of economic activity and had got the features of professional craft, obviously aimed at military necessities. It was not urban trade differentiated into certain specialization typical of Mediaeval period. In Saltovo-Mayatsk craft the initial signs of this process are observed, which was interrupted by disintegration of the Khazar state.

Traditions in ironworking amongst the population of Khazaria were formed on the basis of synthesis of technical knowledge of different ethnic groups. This process accompanied complicated events of political history of the Alanian and Bulgarian hordes, which formed the bulk of Khazarian population.

The blacksmiths' craft of the mediaeval Finno-Ugrian tribes in west Ural region was a part of East-European ironworking. In the beginning of the 2nd millennium A.D. blacksmiths' trade of the Uralian Finnish tribes entered a new period, as the other East-European peoples. The innovations originating amongst urban craftsmen became definitive factors of the time. These events manifested brightly in west Uralian ironworking by usage of three-fold welded construction. Permian tribes on threshold of the 9th-10th centuries adopted the first tools made in such a technological scheme. And as early as the 10th-11th centuries the process of active mastering this technology was taking place. But this was the end of innovations in the local ironworking. Permian craftsmen producing knives did not use technological schemes of various types of welding-on, popular in blacksmiths' trade of Ancient Russia beginning from the middle of the 12th century; though these technologies were applied for wood-processing tools.

Certain standardization of blacksmiths' production was traced, as well as connection between technological scheme and the category of articles: the most part of axes had steel welded-in cutting edges, for knives three-fold welded construction was spread. No essential changes took place during the period in question in the set of technological schemes used. Wide spreading of raw steel amongst Uralian blacksmiths should be pointed out. They were capable to recognize ordinary and high-phosphorus iron, as in a number of samples combination of different sorts of iron is traced. Permian craftsmen mastered numerous types of heat-treatment, which was applied differentially.

On the basis of analytical data we came to a conclusion, that in the first half of the 2nd millennium A.D. a complicated technical and technological trade structure existed in the territory of western Urals. The local ironworking underwent strong influence of Novgorodian blacksmiths' craft, but also preserved some specific features.

Blacksmiths' craft of Ancient Russia is described in details in archaeological literature. Nevertheless, only general review of the bulk of material obtained by now allowed the authors to raise the question about the origins of formation of traditions in ironworking as far as different local centres are concerned.

The main attention of the present paper was turned to knives. This multifunctional tool is not only the most numerous category of articles of blacksmiths' production, but it also reflects most exhaustively the degree of technological development as well as shifts taking place in economy of ancient societies.

Our conclusions are based on the analytical data obtained from some series of knives from numerous sites belonging to the following ancient Russia lands as: Kiev and Chernigovo-Seversk principalities in Southern Russia, and Novgorod land and Rostov-Suzdal principality in Northern Russia. The chronological scope of the study is dated to the 9th-13th centuries.

The results of analytical investigations of collection of knives gave the evidence to state an essential difference in technological traditions in blacksmiths' trade of Southern and Northern Russia. Thus, for Southern Russian lands application of simple technological schemes is characteristic: articles of steel and iron. Some archaic modes of processing are preserved there, such as carburization of finished artefacts, and piled-welded construction. The most progressive technological scheme was welding of steel cutting edge on iron core and subsequent hardening. Technological peculiarity of Northern Russian lands is expressed in preferring welded constructions based on combination of iron with steel with application of heat treatment. The main technological schemes are tree-fold welded construction and welding-on. The first one was dominating during the 10th-11th centuries, and the latter one prevailed in later periods.

The roots of technological traditions in blacksmiths' craft of southern Russian sites can be traced back to the period of the Early Iron Age, they based on Celtic heritage and survived up to the Mongol conquest in the 13th century. The origins of tree-fold welded scheme, which was the leading one in the vast territories of Northern Russia, should be connected with Scandinavia.

Beginning from the 13th centuries these differences in the technological field of production between Northern and Southern Russia gradually disappeared. Welding-on technological scheme spread being universal and the most efficient method of manufacturing the most types of high-quality production.

Generally development of East-European blacksmiths' craft did not followed some isolated way, but was a part of great historical process of formation of trades. On some stages it underwent certain alien influences. Combination of various factors caused specific features of ironworking in Eastern Europe.

Terekhova N.N., Rozanova L.S.,Zavyalov V.I., Tolmacheva M.M, 2003