Abigail Klein Leichman
July 27, 2023

Nearly two years ago, divers Raffi Bahalul, Shlomi Katzin and Ehud Galili found an iron Crusader-era sword in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel.

It was encrusted with marine organisms, which protected the metal and left it in amazing condition for an artifact about 800 years old.

The sword that lay under water 800 years now has a story
The 800-year-old Crusader sword as it was found in the sea off the Carmel coast in October 2021. Photo by Shlomi Katzin via IAA

Now, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Soreq Nuclear Research Center have published results of tests on the ancient sword.

X-ray imaging, which allowed the ancient sword to be studied without removing the sand and shell coating, suggests that the medieval weapon probably fell into the water during a naval battle

“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,” says Jacob Sharvit from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“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. Swords were not usually discarded, but over the years, once they were no longer in use, the metal was recycled for other uses.”

IAA researcher Joppe Gosker added that “only the nobility and professional soldiers fought with swords” because they were expensive to make and required training and practice to use.

“Being expensive, swords are usually found within a scabbard. 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.”

The sword that lay under water 800 years now has a story
Nir Distelfeld, inspector for the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the Crusader sword. Photo by Anastasia Shapiro, Israel Antiquities Authority

The Crusader Frankish period in Israel began in 1099, with the conquest of Jerusalem from the Fatimid Caliphate, who had ruled the country until that time. In Israel, the Crusader period lasted less than 200 years, and started with armed pilgrimages intended to further the territorial interests of Christianity. The knights, princes, nobles, and ordinary people who participated were later called Crusaders.

After the conquest of Jerusalem, efforts were turned to conquering the coastal cities. During this period, a strong connection developed with Pisa, Venice, and other Italian republics, who sent their fleets to the Holy Land to lay a naval siege on the Muslim coastal cities. The sword could have been on one of the ships that laid siege on the coastal cities, or perhaps it belonged to a knight who was on a ship returning home to Europe.

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