Most of the swords nevertheless do seem to come from Europe and the Mediterranean, including some very nice examples of Roman gladii. On its website, the museum itself highlights the prehistoric sword of the Chieftain of Oss and a gilded medieval sword from Dorestad (both sites in the Netherlands).
The interesting thing about this exhibit is that it’s more than just a collection of things. Some displays focus on particular aspects of swords: how they were used, how they were made, and even where they were found. For example, a display case with a collection of long swords has a text that explains that these double-edged weapons were probably used for cutting rather than thrusting.
There is also a display – pictured above – showcasing weapons that were found deposited in lakes and streams, with a large photo of a wetland area behind the display cases.
On the other side of the room are more display cases with a picture of a field behind them to represent swords discovered in the soil. These are small touches, but they reveal something about where these weapons had been desposited in the past. These displays also include texts about the ritual killing of swords (for example, by bending the blade) prior to deposition.
In fact, the area where these displays are located also features a sign hanging from the ceiling. The title can be translated as “Given away” and the body of the text, translated from the Dutch, reads:
A sword is an object to which power and personality are ascribed and that represents the bearer. This personal and inalienable aspect [of swords] is demonstrated by the archaeological context in which swords are found. Many were once deposited in a grave, where they would accompany the deceased warrior or king in eternity. Others were deposited in water, often by ‘killing’ them first through bending or breaking. In both cases the swords were deliberately removed from everyday use.
Of course, I wouldn’t be a good archaeologist if I didn’t immediately object to the identification of people buried with arms as “warriors” (or “kings”). The fact that someone was buried with a weapon doesn’t automatically mean that he (or she!) was a warrior in life. But that’s a minor quibble and neither here nor there. The exhibition doesn’t reveal as much of the archaeological process as I would like, but it’s definitely a step up from the new permanent exhibitions and certainly worth your time to pay a visit.
You have until 2 October 2016 to visit this exhibition on swords at the National Museum of Antiquities. Don’t overlook the other two temporary exhibitions that are running concurrently.