Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Dr Steven Snape on the Soldier’s Dagger

Watch Dr Steven Snape tell us about this ancient Near Eastern style of dagger.
This object is really, in many ways, quite a lovely piece even though it is a brutal weapon of war.
Well, it is a dagger of a type that was particularly common in the Second Intermediate Period in the very early part of the new kingdom. That’s to say it was a dagger which was contemporary with the wars between the Thebans and the Hyksos. It’s a form of dagger which doesn’t belong to any particular group of people within that war. It seems to be a sort of a piece of weaponry which was used by soldiers on different sides of the conflict. How effective this would’ve been as a weapon is hard to say. The blade is of copper bronze, the hardest metal that was available to soldiers at the time. But the blade itself is actually really rather thin.
Part of that is due to corrosion. But one does wonder whether this will be an effective weapon or whether it would actually break. Perhaps it’s stronger than we think when looking at it like this. It certainly does have a central rib to it. So perhaps, as a weapon, it wasn’t used for trying to stab someone with any sort of protective armour on them, but used against people’s bare flesh. Rather unpleasant thought, it might be really quite effective. But I’m tempted to think it’s much more of a sort of ceremonial or perhaps decorative piece of weaponry. The most elaborate piece is the handle of the dagger itself.
Although the blade is copper bronze, and the blade continues into the body of the handle, the handle itself is made up of a variety of different materials. It’s copper bronze again. It has inlays of elaborate wood such as ebony. These are held in position by these very distinctive green headed copper nails, which hold it in place. And at the top, we’ve got this curved pommel bit, which is made out of ivory.
So even though it’s corroded today and some of the colour’s gone, what you would have seen in antiquity when you first got hold of one of these daggers, which was something which is really quite an impressive piece of kit with the metalwork, the new shiny ivory, the new metal copper studs in it. And I don’t like to think of this as an object which a relatively high ranking individual soldier would have carried, perhaps worn in a belt on a scabbard at the waist. And it would act more of– I’m beginning to think– as an object of status and as a weapon as decoration rather than something that was particularly effective. Of course, again, I’m speculating here.
And the reality is that weaponry like this may well have been used in a whole variety of ways that we can only imagine today.

Here Dr Steven Snape takes a closer look at the dagger from the Garstang Museum of Archaeology.

Compare Steven’s approach to your own. It is interesting to hear Steven speak, as he goes through the possibilities of what this weapon could be used for. It is strong but light, so could have been used in battle against unarmed soldiers. It is also very ornate, and this leads Steven to think that it may have been used more as a ceremonial weapon, away from the battlefield.

The process that Steven goes through is familiar to all archaeologists, that of looking at clues and slotting together what is known to arrive at the function of an object.

I hope you enjoyed engaging with this object, researching possibilities and questioning interpretations. There will be other opportunities in this course to use the same method of archaeological enquiry to surmise what various objects from the ancient near east were used for.

This article is from the free online

Superpowers of the Ancient World: the Near East

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education