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 The weapons of the ancient Udmurts  


 Weaponry is an integral part of the material culture of any society. We should have in mind that human lives depended on the effectiveness of the weapons. Many researches hold that due to the fact it was ancient weapon producing that most advanced technologies were applied in.

Recently in the Laboratory of natural sciences of the Institute of Archaeology, RAS, the project is carried out concerning the investigations of the blacksmiths craft of the ancient Udmurts the Finno-Ugrian people that once inhabited the Kama and Vyatka rivers basin. The sites situated in the river Cheptsa basin and attested to Polom Cheptsa culture are now the best studied ones in the region. The materials considered in the present paper are related to the Polom stage of this culture (the 5th the early 10th cc.). A large collection of weaponry has been studied metallographically, together with implements and household utensils; the selection under discussion includes a sword, six broadswords, three sabres, seven daggers, eight spearheads, and 28 arrowheads.

The above pieces of weaponry can be divided into two basic groups: hunters equipment, and arms proper. It is quite clear, that any strict division is impossible, since any weapons used for hunting could have been used as arms as well. Therefore it seems to be more correct to term the above groups as the professional weapons (used in military actions only), on the one hand, and those of universal character, on the other hand.

The basic characteristics of weaponry are technical and technological data: the material used for shaping the artefact, the modes of strengthening cutting edge, and so forth. Actually, it was the smiths skill that was responsible for the effectiveness of the weapon. This work is aimed at consideration of the technical and technological features of the weapons used by the ancient Udmurts

The profound studies of iron and steel artefacts are now impossible without application of the archaeometallographic method which provide the opportunity to reconstruct the technological methods of shaping blacksmiths production. The data of the archaeological metallography finally give grounds to answer the questions concerning the quality of production, the knowledge and professional skills of the craftsmen, probable region where the artefacts have been manufactured, and other. It is clear that one cannot obtain full and detailed information on the weapons without analytical investigations.

Arms played an essential role in the life of the ancient Udmurt tribes in the second part of the 1st millennium AD. This was caused, first, by growing significance of hunting in their economy, and, second, by the unstable situation that had emerged in the Kama basin, where the aboriginal population suffered from constant pressure of the steppe communities. Having studied the pieces of weaponry originating from the Ural sites, S.R. Volkov came to the conclusion that in the second half of the 1st mill. AD in the Kama basin a developed complex of weapon had existed, well corresponding to the level of development of the military technique of the epoch. Practically all the advanced transformations that took place in the steppe and forest-steppe territories were adopted by the local population practically at once, or after a short time, including new shapes of arrowheads, sabres, battle-axes (Volkov, 1993, p.91).

Arrowheads were the most wide-spread kind of weapons. They show great diversity in their types, though hunters flat ones absolutely dominate. No strict correlation between arrowhead type and the technology of its manufacturing has been revealed (Fig. 1). The leading operation in shaping arrowheads was free forging applied to various kinds of the raw material. As far as the analysed collection is concerned, 13 pieces were made of bloomery iron. Five items turned to be produced of the iron with high phosphorus content (analyses Nos. 9684, 9752, 9756, 9757), with micro-hardness of ferrite 236-350 kg/mm2. Six artefacts were made of bloomery steel (analyses Nos. 9746, 9751, 9754, 9759, 9817) with carbon content up to 0.3-0.4%. Two arrowheads were manufactured of better material deliberately produced carbonised steel. One of them was of rhomboid shape with broadening blade and stops on the tang (Fig. 1, No. 9743). Most probably, it was forged of some broken tool, as it can be seen from the soldering joints chaotically disposed without any technological purpose. The item had been quenched, troostitic structure was revealed. In the non-quenched portions carbon content reached 0.5-0.7%%. Another arrowhead is related to the group of chisel-like ones without stops (analysis No. 9758). To produce it the medium carbon content steel was taken (C 0.4 %), the material was well forged, steel structure is finely dispersed. The battle qualities of three items were improved by application of chemical-thermal treatment (analyses Nos. 9739, 9742, 9760). One of these arrowheads underwent troostitic hardening (No. 9760). While shaping four items the smiths practiced technological welding (Fig. 1, Nos. 9745, 9747, 9807, 9820): steel working edge was welded on the core made of bloomery iron. On the arrowhead of chisel-like type with stops (analysis No. 9747) steel working edge was welded in the point, finally the artifact underwent heat-treatment (troostitic structure has been revealed).  

From the above results of micro-structural investigation it is clear that simple technological schemes were used for shaping the majority of the arrowheads. Only the group of battle (armour-piercing) ones should be considered an exception, since they were often manufactured with application of additional technological operations (No. 9747 welding-in, Nos. 9742 and 9760 carbonisation), or produced of harder raw material (No. 9743 of carbonised steel, Nos. 9755 and 9756 of phosphorous iron). Heat treatment was exercised only on battle arrowheads (analyses Nos. 9743, 9747, 9760).

Spearheads of Polom culture can be divided into six types according to the shape of their blades (Semenov, 1980, p.46). All these types are present in the studied collection. Similar to the arrowheads, no correlation of certain technology and spearhead type has been traced (Fig. 2). We should rather point out some technological unification of manufacturing of this category of blacksmiths production. The majority of spearheads were shaped of solid-metal blanks. To make the latter both bloomery iron (No. 9803) and bloomery steel were used (Nos. 9735, 9738, 9802, 9805). Two items after shaping were carbonised (Fig. 2, Nos. 9736, 9737). To manufacture the spearhead from the Polom cemetery (Fig. 2, No. 9804) a sophisticated technology was used: on the core of the blade shaped of bloomery steel a smith had welded the working edges made of piled metal.

The piled material consists of 6-7 strips of bloomery steel with carbon content up to 0.3%. I should like to stress two specific technological features in the process of producing the spearheads, namely, while shaping this class of artefacts no meta-stable structures have been discovered, though carbon content reaching 0.5% on separate spots fairly well suited application of heat treatment. Another characteristic feature is the way of shaping the blades of barbed spearheads (Fig. 2, Nos. 9737, 9805). In the later period (the Cheptsa stage of the culture dated to the 10th the 13th cc.) spearheads and arrowheads of this type were manufactured in different way, the barbs were welded on the blade core (Terekhova et al., 1997, p.265). The Polom blacksmiths carried out different operations: they shaped the barbs by cutting the blade up.  

Blade weapons of the discussed collection comprise a sword, broadswords, and sabres. They were undoubtedly designed for professional warriors. Blade weapons of the ancient Udmurts with very few exceptions entered the mens complex of artefacts and marked the corresponding activity. Swords and sabres are known from the burials dated back to the Polom stage of the culture; then general situation in the region became more stable, which caused sharp decrease in significance of this class of weapon. In the burials of the Cheptsa stage of Polom-Cheptsa culture (the 10th the 13th cc.) sabres, swords, and daggers are practically absent (Shutova, 2001,p.123).

In the folklore of many peoples blade weapons symbolised military strength, thus, the Udmurts tales portray the ancient heroes armed with illyan sabre (the sabre of unbaked dough). According to T.G. Vladykinas interpretation, this folklore image is typified by ancient Udmurt semantics that has preserved the real early method of heat-treatment performed by the ancient craftsmen troostitic hardening in dough or some similar matter. It should be said that this procedure quite well corresponded to the function of the discussed group of weapons (Vladykina, 2001, p.93, 94).

The ethnographic data mirror great importance of blade weapons in the Udmurts ritual practice. According to the information obtained by the scholars in the late 19th the early 20th cc., the fortune-tellers (tuno) used sabres and daggers for performing some important rites, such as moving the family into a new house, choosing priests for the Great kuala or Lud (Shutova, 2001, p.124).

The analysed sword (Fig. 3. No. 10801) originates from the Varni cemetery and dates from the 5th the 6th cc. Its two-edged blade is straight, rhomboid in section, nearly 5 cm wide at the hilt. The length of its preserved part is around 65 cm. Two clear rectangular steps mark the transition from the blade to the flat tang. Judging from the opening preserved on it, hilt was attached to the tang with rivets. The Polom swords are close by their shape to the swords of Azelino culture. V.F. Gening considered the latter two-handed ones (Gening, 1963, p.69).

The analysed item was shaped of well-forged steel blank with subsequent heat-treatment. The meta-stable structure revealed on the cutting edges was identified as martensite, further to the middle of the blade it represented martensite with troostite, and in the centre of the sample the structure of ferrite and pearlite was revealed. In the centre of the sample taken from the point of the sword (Fig. 3, analysis No. 10801A) carbon content in steel was 0.4-0.6%%. In the section taken from the cutting edge (analysis No. 10801) the heat-treated zone was seen, and above it ferrite and pearlite structures were disposed (carbon content 0.4-0.6%%), and perlite with cementite (C 0.9-1.0%%). This spatial distribution of the structural zones points to the fact that during the process of heat-treatment the artefact was dipped in a cool matter for short time, due to this procedure the hardest martensite structure had emerged on the point, while the core of the sword remained not heat-treated. The discussed sword was a weapon of high battle qualities: it had got a hard point, hard, but not fragile cutting edges, and the core more ductile than the edges and the point, and at the same time strong enough. High-quality smithing should be pointed to, proceeding from the combination of high carbon content in the metal and clearly designed scheme of heat-treatment, the sword should be interpreted as import.

Broadswords (Fig. 4). This kind of weapons may be considered transitional from two-edged sword to sabre. Unlike swords, broadswords have got straight one-edged blade around 3-3.5 cm wide at the hilt, the transition from the blade to the tang is smooth, showing practically no signs of steps. The hilt was apparently solid, perforated by the tang, no openings for rivets have been discovered on the tang. The point of the blade was double-edged. The whole weapon was 70-80 cm long.  

The technology of manufacturing broadswords was not characterised by any specific complication. Three items were made of bloomery iron (Fig. 4, Nos. 10802, 10807, 10809). The samples taken at a large distance from one another have shown the identical structure; this evidences that the artefacts have been shaped of homogenous metal. I should dwell upon one of the iron blades, broadsword No. 10809. Three samples were taken from this object: form its double-edged point (analysis No.10809A), from the cutting edge (analysis No.10809), and from the tang (analysis No.10809B). On the two first samples ferrite structure has been registered, but the third one has shown the structure of steel with carbon content ca. 0.7%. It cannot be excluded that here we face a defective production, the craftsman had been mistaken: he had used the blank carbonised in advance so that the blade of the broadsword was shaped of iron, whilst more hard steel turned to be on the tang.  

For shaping two other broadswords a craftsman had applied the technological scheme of carbonisation (Nos. 10806, 10808). Sample 10808 is characterised by higher carbon content on the double-edged point (0.5-0.6%%) and presence of low-carbon steel on the cutting edge (up to 0.2-0.3%%).

In the sample from broadsword No. 10805 metal has been partly preserved. Most probably, this piece of weaponry has been shaped of high-carbon steel with C content 0.7-0.9%%. The metal is much free from slag impurities. It cannot be excluded that for producing this particular artefact cast steel was used, thus the discussed broadsword should be determined as import.

Sabres (Fig. 4) comprise slightly curved single-edged blades supplied with double-edged point. This type of weapons in the discussed collection can be singled out conditionally, it is difficult to distinguish between them and the broadswords described above. The difference consists mainly in the position of the tang: the broadswords have it straight, so as its central axis coincides with that of the blade, while on the sabres the axis of the tang forms obtuse angle with the central line of the blade. As for the sabre blades width, it is the same as that of the broadswords, measuring around 3.5 cm at the hilt. Clear steps form the transition from the blade to the tang. The hilt evidently consisted of two plates with the tang fixed in between with rivets.

All the sabres investigated metallographically (Nos. 10803, 10804, 10810) have shown the same technological scheme they were forged of bloom blank and then wholly carbonised. On the cutting edges carbon content reaches up to 0.6-0.8%%. On one sabre only (No. 10810) there was revealed Widmannstatten structure usually often observed on carbonised objects. Two items were heat-treated (Nos. 10803, 10804), only their double-edged points underwent this treatment. In both cases sharp quenching was performed.

Daggers are mainly represented by large-size knives, their blades being over 20 cm long. Two groups are singled out. The first one includes the single-edged blades supplied with flutes (Table, Nos. 5000, 5002, 5003), the second one have not got any (Nos. 4999, 5001, 5004, 9716). Two technological schemes were used for shaping daggers. Four objects have been made of solid steel blanks (Nos. 4999, 5002, 5004, 9716) with irregular carbon content. It may be concluded that bloomery steel was taken as the raw material. Three daggers of this group were heat-treated: the operations of quenching and subsequent high tempering have been established.

For shaping three other daggers piled blanks were used. Two items turned to be produced of the blanks welded of iron and steel strips, in the latter carbon content is up to 0.2-0.3%% (Nos. 5000, 5003). Ferrite structure has been discovered on the strips of analysis No. 5001. The welding on the items in question is not of high quality, the welding joints are broad, with numerous slag impurities inside.

I should like to draw special attention to the dagger from the Varni cemetery dated from the late 4th the first part of the 5th cc. (analysis No. 9717). It is different in shape from the items described above, the dagger is a double-edged weapon, its blade is 4.5 cm wide near the tang, and around 19 cm long (the preserved part). The metallographic tests have shown steel structure both on the blade and on the tang (ferrite with pearlite and ferrite with cementite). Carbon content is 0.5-0.7 %% on the blade and above 1% on the tang. The metal is well forged, with homogeneous structure. Such structures are extremely rarely discovered on the artefacts originating from the Kama sites of the mid 1st millennium AD. As the analogies the swords yielded by the sites of Azelino culture can be pointed out (Terekhova et al., p.143). The similarity of structures revealed, chronological closeness, and functional identity of the discussed objects attributed to battle weapons give grounds to suppose that the discussed dagger had been manufactured in the same production centre that the Azelino swords.  

The both investigated battle-axes are identified as peaks with elongated narrow wedge of triangular shape and two pairs of projections. Both axes originate from the same burial of the Varni cemetery. The core of axe No. 9723 was shaped of bloomery steel. The edge of the same steel was welded on the core, carbon content on the edge was higher than that of the core. Finally, the object had undergone troostitic hardening.

Peak No. 9720 has shown another manufacturing method. Its core was shaped of bloomery iron and then bent in two on a stencil. Between the two ends of the blank a steel strip was fixed, then it was shaped to form the edge. Having performed welding, a blacksmith quenched the axe (troostitic structure has been revealed). I should stress that this object demonstrates more advanced technological scheme used, as well as higher quality of smithing than the previous one.  

The carried out metallographic investigation seems to contribute essentially to our knowledge concerning the ancient Udmurt weapons. Arrowheads and spearheads appeared to be the most simply shaped objects, which is not a surprise, since arrowheads in fact are the weapons to be used once, and an arrowhead made of bloomery iron fairly well met this purpose both while hunting and in the battle field. Only for producing battle (armour-piercing) arrowheads more complicated technological schemes were applied, such as carbonisation and welding-on steel edge. As for the barbed spearheads, certain chronological changes occurred in the technology of their shaping: on the early items the barbs were cut, and on the later ones they were welded-on.

Judging from the technology of production, the majority of the analysed objects attributed to the class of professional blade weapons (the sword, the broadswords, the sabres, and the daggers) could have been manufactured by the ancient Udmurt blacksmiths. The basic method of their producing was forging artefacts of steel. Technological welding was not practiced while shaping broadswords and sabres. To improve the battle qualities of the weapons heat-treatment was widely used. Some pieces of blade weapons stay aside, probably these were imported artefacts shaped of hard steel practically free from slag inclusions (maybe cast steel?). The battle-axes of Saltovo-Mayatskoe type were designed in accordance with the schemes of technological welding, widely spread in the ancient Udmurt blacksmiths craft since the 9th c. AD.



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Shutova N.I., 2001. Ritualnye funkcii zheleznykh predmetov v tradicionnoi kyltyre udmurtov // Drevnie remeslenniki Priuralya. Izhevsk.

Terekhova et al., 1997. Terekhova N.N., Rozanova L.S., Zavyalov V.I., Tolmacheva M.M. Ocherki po istorii drevnei zhelezoobrabotki v Vostochnoi Evrope. Moskva.

Vladykina T.G., 2001.Zagadki udmurtskogo mecha-kladenca // Drevnie remeslenniki Priuralya. Izhevsk.

Volkov S.R., 1993. Kompleks vooruzheniya finno-ugorskogo naseleniya Prikamya vo vtoroi polovine I tys. n.e. (po materialam mogilnikov) // Aktualnye problemy dorevolucionnoi otechestvennoi istorii. Izhevsk.

  Ó V.I.Zavyalov, 2003 .