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Weimar (Thuringia). Museum for Prehistory in Thuringia: Reconstruction of the Unetice culture’s Bronze Age prince's grave in Leubingen.

Prehistoric Prince Was Brutally Murdered in the Oldest Politically Motivated Assassination


A team of archaeologists and forensics experts studying the remains of the 'Prince of Helmsdorf,’ dated to around 1940 BC, who was discovered in Klopfleisch in 1877, have announced that ‘he was murdered’ in what might be the oldest ever ‘political assassination’.

Scientists working in the German city of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, reexamined the prince’s skeleton who died 3,846 years ago and they said that some the injuries found on his bones “point to the oldest political assassination in history, probably by the hand of an experienced warrior” according to a report in DW.

The Prince and the Nebra Sky Disc

The prince’s body was examined forensically after co-authors Kai Michel and Harald Meller, the Saxony-Anhalt State Archaeologist, published a new book about the enigmatic Nebra Sky Disc. According to an article in, the Nebra sky disc was “a sensational archaeological find.” This 3,600 years old bronze disk, inlaid with gold symbols, depicts a rich understanding of astronomical phenomena and the skeleton of the prince of Helmsdorf was discovered “in the Leubinger mound” where the Nebra Sky Disc was found.

Nebra Sky Disc. (Dbachmann/CC BY SA 3.0)

Nebra Sky Disc. (Dbachmann/CC BY SA 3.0)

Discovered by treasure-hunters using a metal detector in Saxony in 1999, the authors suggest that “the Bronze Age Unetice culture, which produced the disc was the first high culture to evolve north of the Alps.” Speaking of the importance of the forensic examination, co-author Kai Michel told reporters: “Ultimately we are dealing with the only known remains of someone directly linked to the Nebra Sky Disc. And as far as we can tell, we have now found evidence of the oldest political assassination in history.”

Taking the Fingerprints of a Trained Assassin

In 2002, scientists inspecting the prince's remains “identified injury”, but were unable to present conclusive evidence that he had been murdered. But last Tuesday, Frank Ramsthaler, deputy director of the University of Saarland Institute for Forensic Medicine, announced: ”We have been able to verify three clear injuries to the bones. There were likely more injuries, but all three of those we confirmed would have been lethal. The murder weapon may have been a dagger, the blade of which would have to have been at least 15 centimeters (just under 6 inches) long.”

Swords found together with the Nebra skydisk, ca. 1600 BC. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Swords found together with the Nebra skydisk, ca. 1600 BC. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ramsthaler added that the skeleton had “A six millimeter wide and three millimeter deep wound in the eleventh thoracic vertebra” probably caused by “a powerful and experienced warrior” stabbing the prince’s “stomach and into his spine.” The “intensity of the injury,” according to Ramsthaler, “indicates that the prince would have been stabbed as he stood against the wall, or perhaps while lying on the floor. The forensic scientist says the stabbing would also have severed arteries, “leading to certain death.”

Professor Harald Meller identified “a second injury” which came from “above and behind the collarbone” effectively “splitting the prince's left shoulder blade and likely seriously injuring veins and portions of the lungs.” These injuries were very deliberate and the scientists pointed out that the points of injury are “where Roman gladiators would set their death blow.”

The Leubinger mound in Thuringia, Germany. (Public Domain)

The Leubinger mound in Thuringia, Germany. (Public Domain)

All the evidence considered, Meller speculates that “The ruler was unsuspecting and surprised by the attack” and he said “It could well be that he, like Julius Caesar in ancient Rome, was the victim of a conspiracy” because the attacker “must have been a trusted person close to him. Perhaps a relative, friend or body guard.” 

The team of scientists attempted to re-create the prince’s last moments and while they will never be sure, the arm injury suggests “that the prince may have been surprised by the attacker and tried to defend himself.” After his death, according to an earlier DW article, the people of the Unetice culture buried the prince of Helmsdorf in “the Leubinger mound” in which the disc was also discovered.

Top Image: Weimar (Thuringia). Museum for Prehistory in Thuringia: Reconstruction of the Unetice culture’s Bronze Age prince's grave in Leubingen. Source: Wolfgang Sauber/CC BY SA 4.0

By Ashley Cowie



Just reading about this makes me feel so sad for that prince no matter what his age was...what a way to go.

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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