New Evidence Shows How Iron Age Soldiers Bent the Swords of Defeated Enemies

New Evidence Shows How Iron Age Soldiers Bent the Swords of Defeated Enemies

Following the excavation of around 100 Celtic artefacts, found by Matthias Dickhaus at the site of the Wilzenberg hillfort in Germany, it is now believed that Iron Age soldiers bent the swords of their defeated enemies as a show of dominance.

What is The Iron Age Hoard That Was Found?

The Wilzenberg Hoard is a collection of around 150 Celtic pieces, consisting of weaponry, belt hooks, tools jewellery, coins, and horse equipment. This arsenal is the largest known Iron Age hoard in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Archaeologists already knew of the existence of Iron Age pieces in the area, as explained by LWL Archaeologist Dr Manuel Zeiler to Live Science, due to a discovery made in the 1950s.

During the construction of a pavilion near the site, two swords were discovered, which had been wrapped with two lanceheads and two spearheads. Dr Zeiler had also noted that the swords themselves had clearly been purposefully bent and their tips deformed.

Wilzenberg hoard
Image credit: Daily Mail

There were no further discoveries made at the time, and so further research into the hoard did not resume until 2013. At This time archaeologists did a more thorough excavation at the site of the original find to look for further evidence of Iron Age occupation.

Between 2018-2020, Matthias Dickhaus, an experienced metal detectorist and history researcher, continued the search for additional metal artefacts. Dickhaus worked for the LWL as well as the town of Schmallenberg.

In the time he was searching, Dickhause accrued over 100 objects from the hillfort, hitting the proverbial jackpot.

Wilzenberg hoard iron age swords
Image credit: Daily Mail

Among the hoard, there was also a rare horse bridle, recognised by archaeologists of the Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe (LWL), as the bridle for a horse that would have pulled a chariot.

Chariots would have required precise steering on the battle ground, as is evident in the design of this particular bridle.

Most of the artefacts found around the Wilzenberg hillfort were dated from 300 B.C. to the first century B.C., however, the weaponry in question can only be dated within the first century B.C.

Where Was The Hoard Found?

The hoard was excavated at the Wilzenberg hillfort in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. This hillfort is actually located on the Wilzenberg mountain, which stands 2,158-foot-tall (658 meters). This site is believed to have been frequented in the Iron Age by all kinds of people, throughout the 300B.C. – 100 A.D. timeframe.

Wilzenberg hillfort
Image credit: wikipedia

The ancient hillfort which gives the area its name is still visible, though only some of the walls remain. They are not a feature that is easily seen however and can only really be found by hikers and pilgrims who like to visit the mountain.

The harsh mountain climate, unfortunately, did away with much of the fort over time, leaving only the remains of a few walls behind.

What Do The Bent Swords Mean?

Interestingly, the Wilzenberg hillfort is actually located far away from any of the Celtic cultural centres known in other areas of continental Europe. However, the bent swords are clearly comparable to Celtic culture, as was explained by Dr Zeiler.

iron age celtic battle scene
Image Credit: History Extra

Historically, Celtic cultures were known for bending the weapons of the enemies they defeated in battle, much like the swords of the Wilzenberg hoard.

In fact, Dr Zeiler explained that in archaeological investigations in Gournay and Ribemont-Sur-Ancreian sanctuaries, located in France, weapons of conquered soldiers were destroyed by the victors.

This unusual practice is speculated to be a final ceremonial step when celebrating a well-fought victory. Therefore, the discovery and analysis of this new hoard seem to show that Iron Age people, far removed from the Celtic cultural centres, still celebrated their victories in much the same fashion.

Wilzenberg mountain
Image credit: bjoern-eickhoff

The swords discovered, are also largely impossible to date accurately, meaning there is a chance that they were laid down over a period of many years, though it is also possible that the damage was done in a single celebratory event.

Dr Zeiler of the LWL has also deduced that there is no evidence of any epic battle having taken place on Wilzenberg mountain. Whilst the artefacts found largely consisted of weaponry, those weapons were clearly damaged intentionally, not by fighting, and so Wilzenberg would not have been the battleground.



Eloise is a lifelong gamer, a studier of Ancient History and Archaeology, a pet care journalist, a new mother of one, and film studies graduate with a desire to pass on her own knowledge so that others may benefit from it.

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