A sword that was discovered by a diver off the coast of northern Israel in 2021 was likely lost overboard during a fierce naval battle between Crusaders and Muslim residents of coastal cities some 800 years ago, archaeologists announced in a new article published in the latest issue of the ‘Atiqot journal.
When recreational diver Shlomi Katzin pulled the iron sword from the seabed, it was encrusted with shells, sands, and hardened microorganisms, also called a “biogenic crust.” This crust preserved the sword for centuries, since iron usually oxidizes and disintegrates in salt water.
But the heavy layer of shells and sand made it difficult for experts to examine the sword more closely.
The Israel Antiquities Authority partnered with the Soreq Nuclear Research Center to use cutting-edge X-ray radiography technology to visually penetrate the crust and create a simulation of the sword. The Soreq Center is a government research center specializing in nuclear and photonics technology.
During early research into the sword, the crust cracked, exposing and splitting a large part of the iron blade. Researchers decided to continue studying the sword using non-invasive processes only.
Using the X-rays, archaeologists believe the sword was almost certainly lost overboard during a battle because the blade was slightly bent and the crossbar (part of the handle) was whacked out of alignment.
“Everything points to the fact that this sword fell into the water during a fight,” said Dr. Joppe Gosker of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“Being expensive, swords are usually found within a scabbard,” he added. “In this case, only the sword was found. From this, we can infer that it fell into the sea during a battle, possibly with its owner. We didn’t find any additional remains in our scans of the place, but who knows? The warrior may still lie undiscovered in the depths, to be revealed one day by the shifting sands.”
Few swords have been found on land because iron was an expensive material, and swords were generally repurposed into other tools. This weapon was likely a European sword, with a 12th-century blade and a 13th-century pommel or handle.
The European medieval sword was long and straight, “used for stabbing and slashing,” the researchers wrote in the article. Swords in the Islamic world during this time period generally had curved blades, which is why researchers believe it belonged to a Crusader, likely a member of the nobility who had time and money to learn fencing.
“The sword was used by a Crusader warrior who settled in the country after the First Crusade and established the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099,” said Jacob Sharvit, the director of IAA’s marine archaeology unit. “Considering the bloody battles that took place in the country between the Crusaders and the Muslims, known from several historical sources, we could expect to find more such swords. In practice, we mostly find fragments, very few whole swords. So far, seven swords from this period have been found in the country, most of them discovered in the sea,” Sharvit added.
The Crusader period in Israel began in 1099, with the conquest of Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate, and lasted around 200 years. After the Crusaders, a missionary army made up of priests, knights, princes, nobles, and commoners, conquered Jerusalem, they marched on the coastal cities that were under Muslim control at the time.
Maintaining control of the ports was essential for the Crusaders’ survival, due to their reliance on supplies from Europe. During the Crusader period, naval ships from Pisa, Venice, and other Italian republics attacked Muslim coastal cities.
Atlit resident Shlomi Katzin found the sword while scuba diving in October 2021. Its blade is 88 centimeters (35 inches) long and 4.6 centimeters (1.8 inches) wide. Worried about the possibility of looting, he took the sword and immediately reported his find to the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Robbery Prevention Unit.
The Carmel coast is home to rich archaeological discoveries, dating back thousands of years. Neve Yam, where the sword was found, was used as a natural anchorage site as early as 4,000 years ago, according to the IAA.