Spain’s ‘Excalibur’ Sword, a 1,000-Year-Old Weapon Found Buried Upright, Reflects the Region’s Rich Islamic History

Discovered in Valencia in 1994, the iron blade was recently dated to the tenth century, when the Umayyad Caliphate controlled the Iberian Peninsula

Full sword
The weapon is the only Islamic-era sword ever discovered in Valencia. Valencia City Council Archaeology Service

A sword unearthed in Spain and nicknamed “Excalibur” after King Arthur’s legendary blade is more than 1,000 years old, researchers say. A rare artifact from the Iberian Peninsula’s Islamic period, the weapon illustrates the region’s layered history of subjugation.

In Arthurian legend, Excalibur is a sword magically lodged in a stone, until a young Arthur pulls it out, earning the right to be crowned king of Britain. Three decades ago, researchers in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain, unearthed a weapon in a similar position—buried upright at an archaeological site—and nicknamed it accordingly. Now, the sword has been restored and analyzed by the local city council’s Archaeology Service, whose scholars have dated it to the tenth century, when Valencia was called Balansiya, per a statement.

“This sword has a unique design that gives it great archaeological and heritage value,” says Councilor José Luis Moreno in the statement.

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Made of iron and plated with bronze on the hilt, the sword is relatively short, measuring about 18 inches long. Valencia City Council Archaeology Service

The weapon was discovered in 1994 on the historic Chabàs Street, north of Valencia’s ancient Roman forum—an area that “has been occupied by various cultures throughout the city’s history,” writes Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou. Between 500 and 1000 C.E., Byzantine, Visigothic and Arab forces fought for control of the Iberian Peninsula, which is mainly made up of Spain and Portugal. The first centuries of this period saw the Byzantines, originating in the Middle East, lose the peninsula to the Visigoths of Western Europe. Then, beginning in 711, armies united by the Umayyad dynasty—the Arab caliphate’s first great Muslim regime—brought the entire peninsula under Islamic rule. The Muslims, also known as the Moors, named their Iberian kingdom Al-Andalus, a title later tweaked to Andalusia.

Archaeologist José Miguel Osuna led the new research as part of a broader survey of Valencia’s collection of metal objects, which spans the Roman era to the late medieval period. Made of iron, the sword is short, measuring about 18 inches long. Per the statement, its hilt is decorated with bronze plates and notches for easy handling. The tip of the blade is slightly curved, creating confusion over the chronology, as Visigothic swords had a similar shape. (The design probably reflects the evolution of earlier Visigothic models.) Osuna and his colleagues confirmed the artifact’s age by analyzing the layers of sedimentary earth in which it was buried.

Researchers say the weapon may have been wielded by an Andalusian horseman. Valencia City Council Archaeology Service

The weapon’s small size and lack of a hand guard suggest it was used by an Andalusian horseman. It’s the only Islamic-era sword ever found in Valencia. Just one comparable weapon has been excavated in Spain, on the outskirts of Córdoba. Archaeological finds from this period are rare in the country—and even rarer in Valencia due to the characteristics of the city’s soil.

The Iberian Peninsula’s Islamic era was a time of “remarkable cross-cultural exchange between Christian, Jewish and Muslim populations,” notes the Metropolitan Museum of Art on its website. By the 900s, Córdoba had become “perhaps the greatest intellectual center of Europe,” the museum adds. Muslim rule continued until around 1492, when a long period of fading influence culminated in Christians’ conquest of Granada.

Thanks to the sword’s recent examination, says Moreno, “We have a new treasure in this Islamic Excalibur and a historical legacy of ancient Balansiya.”

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