Warrior Burials

Interpreting burial status is a difficult thing, however some burials are clearly different from their peers. Often the warrior designation is given to adult males burials found with large amounts of weaponry and exotic goods. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a warrior status or that they themselves fought in battle. In some cultures there are obvious examples of males who were too young to be actually warriors found with ‘warrior’ level artifacts. The status may be something inherited from their parents or conferred upon adulthood. It may be related to one’s status, where all individuals at a certain social level are given warrior like burials whether or not they actually were in battle. However, in many societies it must be earned through hard work.

Iron Axe form Russian Warrior Grave, via Live Science

Iron Axe form Russian Warrior Grave, via Live Science

Archaeological excavations in Russia have revealed a necropolis hidden in the Caucasus mountains. Within it were the remains of an adult male. He was found with numerous golden artifacts, iron chain mail, and a large amount of weaponry. Most impressive was a 36 inch iron sword found between his legs. The whole site is approximately 2,000 years old. Outside of the necropolis there were two bronze helmets, one with relief carvings of curled sheep horns and one with geometric shapes. Remains of three horses, a cow and wild boar were also found at the site, and have been interpreted as signs of his status as they were important to his culture. They argue that based on the artifacts, necropolis and signs of a funerary feast it is likely that this individual is a chieftain. Oddly enough, the site appears to have been looted even though the grave itself was untouched. (For a full list of artifacts see this post by the History Blog)

An archaeological investigation in Japan revealed a 1,400 year old Kofun-period warrior. His status as a warrior was determined by the fact that he was still dressed in his lamellar suit of armor. Based on his size and armor design, he would have belonged to an elite warrior class or was a local ruler. It is the first time that a warrior has been found wearing one of these suits of armor. Traditionally the armor is buried next to the individual. However, it is thought that the warrior died during a volcanic eruption that has been referred to as the ‘Pompeii of Japan’. The fact that he was found face down means he likely fell while running from the eruption. The presence of an infant means he may have been trying to escape with his child.


Medici Warrior Statue, via Discovery News

Sometimes though we get lucky and already know the identity of the warrior. Recently the body of the Renaissance warrior Giovanni de’ Medici was exhumed. It was assumed that he had died from an improper amputation, but bioarchaeologists argue instead he died from infection. Giovanni of the Black Bands was a known warrior, and had a reputation of being invincible. However, he died at only 28 after being hit by a cannon ball, in a battle in Lombardy on Nov. 25, 1526.Vertebral hernias were found on the skeleton, which they argue to be evidence of wearing heavy armor in battle. He was buried in a zinc coffin in a Medici tomb in Florence. A statue picturing him in armor with a sword stands in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Works Cited

Owen 2013. Treasure-Filled Warrior’s Grave Found in Russia. LiveScience. http://www.livescience.com/27275-ancient-treasure-warrior-grave.html

Lorenzi 2013. Famed Warrior Medici Died From Gangrene. Discovery News. http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/mystery-over-renaissance-warriors-amputation-solved-130116.htm

Torres 2012. Japanese archaeologists find 1,400 year old Kofun-period warrior still in armor.

4 responses to “Warrior Burials

  1. What is the plate on the Gundestrup Cauldron where warriors are fed into a seeming Cauldron of Immortality by some deity, from whence they emerge again, ready for the next fight? Planting these warriors in the ground must surely ensured regeneration, like the dragon seeds of Cadmus.

  2. I’m not sure i can agree that the presence of herniated discs is evidence for wearing heavy armour. Armour of that period was designed to fit like a glove, for all the weight to be evenly distributed, and to not limit mobility in any way. A man in the armour of the time could leap onto a horses back or sprint. Also, a well to do mercenary would be able to afford the absolute best milanese armour. I think the assumption that heavy armour caused the herniated disc is based upon a lack of knowledge of period armour and the use of a confirmation argument. Rather, i would speculate, that the herniated discs could have been caused by any number of activities associated with life as a soldier and a battlefield commander, not to mention falling off a horse. On the basis of the argument that herniated discs is an indicator of armour usage there are any number of skeletons with bad backs, but not buried with armour. Therefore are we to believe they were all warriors? I think not somehow.

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