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The saber found in the monastery of Agios Nikolas may have belonged to Turkish pirates. Credit: E. Maniotis & T. Dogas

Saber Sword Found in Greek Monastery May Have Belonged to Turkish Pirates


The origins of a rare sword discovered in a Greek monastery has baffled Greek archaeologists. However, it’s thought that the weapon might have belonged to Mediaeval Turkish pirates raiding the Greek coast.

Archaeologists in Greece think the one-edged curved saber (sometimes spelt sabre) might have been left inside the coastal monastery after a pirate raid in the 14th century. However, it could also have belonged to one of the monks defending the monastery. Either way, the sword represents one of only a handful of late Byzantine period swords ever found in Greece.

Archaeologist Errikos Maniotis, a doctoral candidate at Masaryk University in Brno in the Czech Republic, told LiveScience that in the 14th century, one-edged swords were used both by Turks and Byzantines. Therefore, it is proving difficult to determine if this sword was wielded by a Byzantine defender of the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos of Chrysokamaros, or a Turkish raider (pirate).

The ruins of the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos of Chrysokamaros. Credit: E. Maniotis & T. Dogas

The ruins of the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos of Chrysokamaros. Credit: E. Maniotis & T. Dogas

A Thick-Skinned Monastery

The monastery of Agios Nikolas is located on the coastline in Chalkidiki, in the Greek Municipality of Sithonia, about 64 kilometres (40 miles) southeast of the city of Thessaloniki on the northwest coast of the Aegean Sea. Situated on the middle of the three prominent peninsulas of Chalkidiki, Theodoros Dogas, an archaeologist for the Ephorate of Antiquities of Chalcidice and Mount Athos, said that in 2000 and 2001 archaeologists excavated the monastery and discovered the rare one-edged sword.

This year’s excavations have established that the monastery was surrounded by a granite wall measuring between 1.7 to 2 metres (5.5 and 6 feet) thick, added Dogas. Similarly to the great coastal Abbey’s of England, which were built to stand attacks from raiding Vikings, churches in this region of Greece were built so substantially because they so often came under attack from sea pirates.

Seeking The Sword’s Unknown Origins

The Monastery tower now stands about 5 metres (16 ft) but evidence shows that this structure was at one time much higher, but it was badly damaged in the mediaeval period. Archaeologists found the badly-corroded one-edged iron sword in the same archaeological layer as the fire damage, amidst axes and daggers. According to the researchers, when all this is interpreted together it suggests the tower was destroyed by strong fire after a pirate raid in the second-half of the 14th century.

The researchers say well-built monasteries along the Greek coast were often used as refuges during pirate raids. Furthermore, the monasteries were targeted for their grain stores. However, archaeologists Maniotis and Dogas have identified three different 14th century military campaigns that might have led to the sword being left behind. In 1344 AD administrators from the Mount Athos monastery were kidnapped; From 1345 AD until about 1371 AD the region was occupied by the Serbian king Stefan Dušan, and from 1383 AD until 1387 AD the Chalkidiki region was often raided for food during the Ottoman siege of Thessaloniki.

Measuring nearly 45 centimetres (18 inches) long, while the blade of the sword was discovered whole, there is not enough data to determine whether the weapon was Turkish or Byzantine.

The Historical Saber

The researchers wrote that icons of Byzantine saints in the 13th century depict “curved, one-edged swords.” Furthemore, Byzantine soldiers used this style of weapon as early as the sixth century while fighting the nomadic Avars and the Sassanid Persians who the scientists say had “assimilated them from the warriors of the Eurasian steppes.” It is also known that the ‘paramerion,’ a saber-like curved sword, was used by the Byzantine military.

Examples of Ottoman sabres (CC by SA 2.0)

Examples of Ottoman sabres (CC by SA 2.0)

Confusing matters further, the ‘kilij’ or ‘pusat’ was a popular type of one-handed, single-edged and moderately curved scimitar used by medieval people in the Seljuk Empire, Timurid Empire, Mamluk Empire, Ottoman Empire, and other Turkic khanates of Eurasian steppes and Turkestan. The two researchers accept that the ancient origins of this rare sword might never be known, but sometime soon their new paper will be published laying out their new work at the monastery of Agios Nikolas, and the circumstances surrounding the sword.

Top image: The saber found in the monastery of Agios Nikolas may have belonged to Turkish pirates. Credit: E. Maniotis & T. Dogas

By Ashley Cowie

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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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