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An ancient Anatolian sword discovered in the cabinet of the Mekhitarist Monastery. Source: Ca' Foscari University of Venice.

5,000 Year-Old Anatolian Sword Was Discovered On Venetian Island


In 2020, a historian discovered one of the oldest Anatolian swords in existence, in a monastery’s cabinet of ancient curiosities.

San Lazzaro degli Armeni, or Saint Lazarus Island, is a small islet in the Venetian Lagoon located 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) to the southeast of Venice and it covers an area of about 7.4 acres (3 hectares). First settled in the 9th century, the island was a  leper colony  during the Middle Ages and in 1717 AD Venice signed the island over to Mkhitar Sebastatsi, an  Armenian Catholic monk who opened the Mekhitarist Monastery.

Saint Lazarus Island and the Mekhitarist Monastery where the sword was discovered. (Centpacrr / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Saint Lazarus Island and the Mekhitarist Monastery where the sword was discovered. (Centpacrr / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Now recognized as the most important site of the  Armenian diaspora , communities of Armenians outside  Armenia where they are considered an indigenous population , the monastery holds 3,000 Armenian manuscripts representing the third largest collection in the world. The monastery also contains a large collection of books, journals, and artifacts, and it was in this collection that Dr. Vittoria Dall Armellina, of the CaFoscari University of Venice , discovered the deeply-ancient sword in a cabinet of medieval artifacts.

“One” Of The Oldest Swords In The World

When Dall Armellina saw the sword she immediately noticed resemblances with other swords found in the Royal Palace of Arslantepe (Eastern Anatolia) and according to a report on Heritage Daily the scientist knew that the weapon had been “incorrectly identified as medieval”. Once it was established that the sword was not listed in the museum s catalogue of ancient Middle Eastern objects, Elena Rova, a professor of archaeology at the Department of Humanistic Studies and her supervisor, Dall Armellina, continued the research.

An Anatolian sword resurfaces after a millennia. (Ca' Foscari University of Venice)

The Anatolian sword now properly recognised as such. ( Ca' Foscari University of Venice )

DallArmellina’s suspicions have now been supported by a scientific study which dated the sword to around 3000 BC, making it incredibly rare and one of the oldest swords in the world. And the only reason this newly discovered sword is being called one of” the oldest swords in the world is because an extremely similar weapon dating to 3000 BC is kept by the Tokat Museum in Turkey that was discovered in the Sivas Province at the eastern part of the Central Anatolia region of Turkey.

Ancient Marches Of The Anatolian Warriors

An analysis of the sword’s metallic composition was carried out in collaboration with Ivana Angelini, professor at the University of Padua , and the CIBA, an interdepartmental center studying and preserving archaeological, historical, and artistic heritage. The weapon was found to be made of a copper and tin alloy frequently used in Anatolia before the Bronze Age and the specialists dated the sword to between the end of the 6th and start of the 3rd millennium BC.

Analysis of the sword’s metallic composition. (Ca' Foscari University of Venice)

Analysis of the sword’s metallic composition. ( Ca' Foscari University of Venice )

Anatolian warriors migrated into central Europe between 4000 and 3000 BC and defused across greater Europe from this time. The researchers say this type of sword was common in a relatively small region in Eastern Anatolia, between the high course of the Euphrates and the southern shore of the Black Sea. And the dating of the sword, around 3000 BC, was a time at which Anatolian and Caucasian warrior elites were buried with grave goods including jewelry and weapons.

The Monastic Origins Of The Sword

Because the sword has no inscriptions, embellishments, or distinctive features, and was in a poor condition, specialists were unable to detect any traces of usage and it is unclear whether the weapon was ever used in combat or if it was a ceremonial sword or a symbolic grave item.

After determining the origins of the sword the researchers focused on ‘how’ the sword had come to be kept in the monastery museum and what connections it has with the community of the Armenian monks. According to an article in Arts Culture & Style, consulting Father, Serafino Jamourlian, of the Mekhitarist Monastery of San Lazzaro , accessed the archives of the museum and discovered that in the mid-1800s the sword had been gifted by an art merchant and collector, Yervant Khorasandjian, and it had been transported from Trabzon to Venice.

Top image: An ancient Anatolian sword discovered in the cabinet of the Mekhitarist Monastery. Source: Ca' Foscari University of Venice .

By Ashley Cowie



Curious to know what else that particular group of monks might accidentally be holding, hopefully a full sweep of their inventory was made and compared to their manuscripts. Nice catch on the reseachers' parts

Looking forward to hearing what's in those manuscripts.

Ed Hanson

Aleksa Vučković's picture

That's what I was aiming at, Drew. The island is part of an Armenian diaspora, certainly, but the Armenians are not "indigenous" to the island, as the author stated in his article. Poor wording, surely.

Drew458's picture

“The weapon was found to be made of a copper and tin alloy frequently used in Anatolia before the Bronze Age”. Copper and tin make bronze. So this is a bronze weapon from before the bronze age? Maybe it’s time to push back the dates for the Bronze Age. Also, this thing looks more like a dagger. It’s way to short and thin to be a sword.

To Aleksa – The island is an outpost of the Armenian diaspora. Armenians are indigenous to Armenia (no kidding), more than 1600 miles east of Venice at the far end of the Black Sea.

Aleksa Vučković's picture

How can Armenian monks be possibly considered "indigenous population" of a Venetian island? Check your terminology, Mr. Cowie.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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