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The Exceptional Story of the Kovel Spearhead, Who Made it and Where is it Today?

The Exceptional Story of the Kovel Spearhead, Who Made it and Where is it Today?

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In 1858, a farmer plowing a field near Kovel in the old administrative unit Volhynia (what is now Ukraine), discovered an iron spearhead with an intriguing inscription and lavish ornamentation. Soon after its publication, the inscription caught academic attention – and the desire to decipher the story of this amazing artifact has only increased with passing years. The Kovel spearhead, which is now lost, is considered to be a unique relic of the time of the powerful Goths.

Describing the Kovel Spearhead

Historians believe that the Kovel spearhead dates to the early 3rd century AD. The spearhead measures 15.5 cm (6.1 inches) with a maximal length of 3 cm (1.2 inches). Both sides of the leaf were inlaid with silver symbols. The runes on the Kovel spearhead read “thither –rider” - pretty much wishing luck to someone or something that is about to travel, placing emphasis on the action to the object, as the runic inscription describes the spear’s trajectory. The spearhead is identified as Gothic because of the nominative – s, while if it were of Norse origin it should have had the nominative – z. The t and d are closer to the Latin alphabet than to the classical Elder Futhark, as it were <TᛁᛚᚨᚱᛁDᛊ>.

The symbols on the Kovel spearhead.

The symbols on the Kovel spearhead. ( Mark David )

Cultural Significance of the Unique Gothic Relic

Some historians believe that the crescent shape on one side of the spear head is a magical symbol that the Goths picked up during one of their exploratory wanderings, probably when they first encountered people from the Black Sea. You can see the use of such symbols in the Kragehul spearhead (similar, though not identical to the Kovel spearhead) which was uncovered at the Kragehul bog near Flemløse in Denmark .

Germanic warriors strongly believed that their spears had magical qualities - and according to their Gothic traditions, impaling your enemy with great force during a battle was a way of sacrificing them to Odin, their God of battle. As the Voluspá verifies in Runelore: The Magic, History, and Hidden Codes of the Runes , by Edred Thorsson: Odin had shot his spear over the host .

‘Goths cross a river’ by Évariste Vital Luminais.

‘Goths cross a river’ by Évariste Vital Luminais. ( Public Domain )

Which Germanic Tribe Brought it to their Homeland?

Even though it is just speculation, some historians believe the Herules (also known as Heruli) could have been the tribe of Ostrogoths who brought the spearhead with them as they migrated back to their homelands while travelling across the Danish Isles to what was then called Gothia. Although the precise origins of the Herules are unknown, they seem to have borne some relationship with the tribes that formed the Suebi – a Germanic post-Roman kingdom, one of the first ones to separate from the Roman Empire.

In this map the possible Herulian homeland is in Southern Sweden.

In this map the possible Herulian homeland is in Southern Sweden. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The origin of the name ‘Herules’ is unclear as well, but later Scandinavian inscriptions which are sometimes attributed to them suggest that this notorious, barbaric group of people were known as the 'lords' and later migrated to Britain. Perhaps the name ‘lords’ was bestowed on them by the Anglo-Saxons, who were impressed with their fighting abilities.

One theory for the sudden appearance of the Herules in Europe around 267 AD, is that they may have been only recently established on the eastern bank of the Dnepr as an ethno-genesis between Goths, other Germanic tribes, and some Sarmatian nomads. Other sources suggest that they originated in southern Scandinavia alongside the Goths and Langobards and were driven out in the 3rd century AD. Thereafter they migrated into Eastern Europe, probably through Poland and Ukraine, until they reached the Don.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Heruli core group probably migrated from Scandinavia and picked up other additions along the way, forming the people who appeared in 267. The question is: Could it have been the Herules that picked up the Kovel spearhead and brought it back to their homeland? No one can answer this question with confidence, but the dates seem to match perfectly.  

A comparison of the Müncheberg (left) and Kovel (right) spearheads.

A comparison of the Müncheberg (left) and Kovel (right) spearheads. ( Public Domain )

The Unknown Fate of the Kovel Spearhead

Nowadays, an 1880 copy of the spearhead is exhibited in Berlin, while another copy from 1884 can be seen in Warsaw. The original Kovel spearhead was looted from a private Polish owner by SS-Untersturmführer Peter Paulsen, a member of the Nazi SS group called the Ahnenerbe. Paulsen had been assigned to Poland after the German invasion in 1939. The official mission of the Ahnenerbe (literally meaning: ancestors inheritance ) was supposedly to excavate new evidence of the accomplishments and deeds of Germanic ancestors using exact scientific methods.

The Emblem of the Ahnenerbe.

The Emblem of the Ahnenerbe. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Ahnenerbe later would perform experiments and launch voyages trying to prove that prehistoric and mythological Nordic populations had once dominated the world. However, it is unknown what happened to many of their “discovered” artifacts following the war - the Kovel spearhead is one such artifact which has apparently been lost to humanity. Where could it be today?

Top image: Replica of the Kovel Spearhead. ( Pera Peris ) Background: Water in Dragobrat, Ukraine. (Ross Sokolovski/ Unsplash)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

References:

David, M.  (2014) Relic of the Goths: The Kovel Spearhead . Available at: http://damarvik.blogspot.gr/2014/01/relic-of-goths-kovel-spearhead.html

Thorsson, E. (1987) Runelore: The Magic, History, and Hidden Codes of the Runes. Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Runelore-Magic-History-Hidden-Codes/dp/0877286671

The History Files (n.d.) Heruli (Heruls / Eruli) (Germans). Available at: http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsEurope/BarbarianHeruli.htm

Encyclopædia Britannica (2007) Heruli. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Heruli

Must, G. (1955) The Inscription on the Spearhead of Kovel. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/411361?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

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