The Naue Type II Sword ca. 1200 – 700 b.c.
‘The geographical and temporal extent of this weapon’s popularity attests to its efficiency. In the Near East, the Aegean, and Europe from Italy and the Balkans to Britain and Scandinavia, the Naue Type II remained the standard sword until at least the seventh century.’
–Robert Drews, The End of the Bronze Age
From Chariotry to Infantry
Between 1700 and 1600 b.c. the mobility of the chariot revolutionized warfare in the Eastern Mediterranean. Prior to this shift the region’s armies were based on lightly armored (or un-armored) spearmen fighting in close order melees supported by archers equipped with short range ‘simple’ bows. The chariot’s speed, coupled with the long range compound bow, gave chariot troops a decided advantage over dense infantry formations.
At the end of the Bronze Age, however, barbarian raiders (often called the ‘Sea Peoples’) descended on the palace-based city-states and kingdoms of Greece and the Near East between 1225 and 1175 b.c., bringing about a dark age which lasted until the rise of the classical Greek culture (which still had Homer’s tales of the Illiad and the Odyssey as a memory of the age of ‘the city sacker’). Evidently these raiders favored open order ‘skirmisher’ tactics that the chariot archers were ill prepared to combat, as is evidenced by the general abandonment of chariot warfare in favor of new types of foot soldiers equipped with new weapons and armor.
The most notable of these new weapons was a type of bronze sword. Today it is known by historians as the Naue Type II.
The sword takes one of its two names from the German historian Dr. Julius Naue, who classified the weapon in his Die vorromischen Schwerter aus Kupfer, Bronze und Eisen (Pre-Roman Swords of Copper, Bronze and Iron), Munich, 1903. The other name, ‘Griffzungenschwert‘ translates as ‘grip-tongue sword’ and comes from the revolutionary feature of the Naue Type II.
Previous edged weapons had suffered from the fact that in many cases the blade was made separately from the hilt, which had to be attached to it with rivets. This caused a problem when the weapon was used to cut or parry a blow as the joint between the blade and hilt received stress which would frequently break the rivets and/or their mounting holes.
In the Naue Type II, however, the entire weapon was made in a single bronze casting which incorporated raised flanges into the edges of the tang (or ‘tongue’) in order to accept grips of wood or bone. This innovation made possible the development of the world’s first truly efficient cut-and-thrust sword.
From archaeological evidence it would appear that the Griffzungenschwert evolved in the ‘barbarian’ regions of Austria and Hungary, some variants going back to ca. 1450 b.c. It was only around 1200, however, that the Naue Type II took the civilized world by storm. By no coincidence this was at the same time as the destruction of cities throughout Greece and the Near East; an era which saw the end of the Hittite Empire and the beginning of Egypt’s final decline. The archaeological record shows that swords of the Naue Type II began to be adopted by the defenders of these besieged lands around 1200. Although there is no hard evidence, logic suggests that the sword was, out of sheer neccesity, copied by the city-dwellers from the weapons used by the raiders who had come to destroy them.
Interestingly, one of the earliest datable specimens of the Naue Type II found in the Mediterranean region is an Egyptian sword inscribed for Seti II (ca. 1202-1196 b.c.). In his study of warfare at the end of the Bronze Age, Robert Drews tallied up the following counts for finds of the bronze Naue Type II:
Near East: 8
Although these numbers clearly indicate that the sword was of greater prevalence in southern Europe rather than the Near East (although it should be kept in mind that variations in funeral customs and random chance in survival and discovery always affect the archaeological record), Drews also noted that five more swords with a cut-and-thrust blade profile similar to that of the Naue Type II have been found in the Syrian city of Ugarit. These swords have different tangs than the griffzunge of the true Naue Type II. As one of these five is inscribed for the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah (ca. 1212-1203 b.c), it is possible that these represent experimental weapons which were being manufactured to contend with the Griffzungenschwerter that were carried by the raiders (from Southern Europe?) who began their attacks in the last quarter of the 13th century, especially as the tang of the ‘Merneptah sword’ is so thin that it was not usable. Likewise, in Greece four other examples of ‘experimental’ types of bronze cut-and-thrust swords have been found, which may indicate that the Myceneans also adopted the weapon under pressure from attackers from the Balkan region.
To a greater or lesser extent the Naue Type II and its variants were adopted by the individual states of the Eastern Mediterranean in the early 12th century b.c.. As can be seen from the two inscribed examples, the Egyptian army must have been very keen on acquiring the new swords, an unexpected bit of innovation by what was quite possibly the most conservative culture to ever exist. The illustration below shows some of the different hilt styles of Griffzungenschwerter from different regions:
From Bronze to Iron
By 900 b.c the material of the Naue Type II had changed to iron but the shape was still the same. The sword continued in use all the way past 700 b.c. when the rise of Greek close-order hoplite tactics, the basis of which were heavily armored spearmen, relegated the sword to secondary status. The hoplites preferred a leaf-bladed sword, a direct descendant of the Naue Type II, which was the most common sword in the Mediterranean world until the spike-tanged ‘Spanish’ sword was adopted by Rome ca. 150 b.c.
Although the exact story may be lost to us, it is clear that the Naue Type II played a prominent part in the collapse of the cosmopolitan international culture of the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean, an act which cleared the way for the rise of classical Greece and Rome.
‘From the Ukraine and Romania in the east and Ireland and Spain to the west, and from Sweden in the north to Italy in the south, everyone used a form of grip-tongue sword. And, interestingly, even Late Mycenaean Greece succumbed to the fashion. After 1200 BC the grip-tongue sword of ‘European’ type became the standard long sword in Greece, although local short swords continued to be made. Grip-tongue swords also appear in Cyprus and Egypt and at Ugarit in Syria.’
-Anthony Harding, “Stone, Bronze and Iron”
Swords and Hilt Weapons