Online Review: Book

Swords and Daggers in Late Bronze Age Canaan

Ian Shaw


By Sariel Shalev. Pp. 97, pls. 27. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2004. $100. ISBN 3-515-08198-4 (cloth).

The aim of this monograph is straightforwardly expressed as presenting “the history of the dagger and the sword in the Late Bronze Age of Canaan.” That is essentially what this work does, consisting of 67 pages of catalogue that defines and discusses Types 1a through 10c of daggers and swords, with extensive bibliographical references to sites in Canaan (and occasionally Syria-Palestine as a whole) that have yielded examples of the types in question. It forms part of the well-known and solidly reliable Prähistorische Bronzefunde series.

Shalev’s prime reason for undertaking this study is to provide a detailed typology of swords and daggers capable of finally presenting an in-depth version of the northern Syro-Palestinian section of a summary overview of western Asiatic weaponry published more than 60 years ago by Maxwell-Hyslop (“Daggers and Swords in Western Asia,” Iraq 8 [1946] 1–65). The data set has expanded considerably since Maxwell-Hyslop’s time; therefore, the analysis has grown both in terms of types and subtypes and also in terms of the range and diversity of examples. There are, however, a number of occasions when Shalev is able to demonstrate that certain shortcomings of Maxwell-Hyslop’s work were due to misinterpretation rather than lack of pure data, as in the case of the narrow tanged dagger, which, despite numerous publications of Canaanite examples already available from sites such as Ajjul and Lachish by the 1940s, is almost entirely omitted from Maxwell-Hyslop’s discussion of this dagger type (no. 27a in her typology).

In the introduction, Shalev provides a simple solution to the tricky question of how to distinguish objectively between daggers, knives, and swords. He argues that double-edged blades are daggers, single-edged blades are knives, and that weapons with a total length (including blade and hilt) of at least 50 cm are swords. These definitions work reasonably well in the subsequent text. The specific types of weapon categorized here are (1) the riveted dagger, (2) the narrow-tanged dagger, (3) the hooked-tang dagger, (4) the dagger with split-hooked tang, (5) the dagger with blade guard and tang, (6) the dagger with a hilt stub, (7) the cast hilt dagger, (8) the sickle-blade sword, (9) daggers and swords of Aegean influence, and (10) daggers of Egyptian influence. Each typological section consists of an introduction—discussing the basic nature of the type and such details as its frequency and chronological spread—followed by a definition, examples, chronology, and distribution for each of the subtypes, and concluding in each instance with a useful overall summary of the type’s characteristics.

Importantly, although more than half of the examples discussed in this monograph derive from tombs, about 40% come from settlement sites. Many other corpora of Late Bronze Age weaponry, such as those from the Aegean or Egypt (see T.J. Papadopoulos, The Late Bronze Age Daggers of the Aegean. Vol. 1, The Greek Mainland [Stuttgart 1998]; G. Philip, Tell el-Dab’a XV: Metalwork and Metalworking Evidence of the Late Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period [Vienna 2006]), were found primarily in funerary contexts. Thus, this study is particularly valuable since it can probably be assumed that an unusually high proportion of the weapons were actually used, rather than being possibly ceremonial or symbolic in nature. It also means that the artifacts can more usefully be discussed not in typological isolation (as they so often are in this monograph, given its primary aim) but as integral elements of funerary or domestic assemblages relating to specific individuals at particular times and places. We need typologies, but we also need to gain better understanding of the social, economic, and cultural contexts of weaponry. Shalev’s “Comments and Conclusions” in the final nine pages of the book are divided into two sections (“Technological” and “Social” aspects), and they do go some way in stretching the scope of the book beyond typological concerns. The technological section shows the value of chemical and metallographic analysis, while the section dealing with social aspects focuses primarily on the links between grave goods and social status, rather than the possible information to be derived from the archaeological contexts of the many weapons found in settlement sites.

The maps showing distribution of the different weapon types across Syria-Palestine are useful, although it is hard to see the point of the abbreviations of site names in plate 24, which have to be looked up on page 95, when there was enough room to write them in full on the map itself. Plates 22 and 23 present drawings of selected examples of daggers and swords of Aegean and Egyptian influence; here it would have been useful to have included a few drawings of Aegean and Egyptian examples (e.g., the dagger from Tomb 47 at Enkomi, Cyprus, and the daggers from various houses at Amarna, Egypt), so as to allow cross-cultural comparisons to be made visually by the reader, rather than by simply relying on the author’s comments.

The bibliography barely extends beyond the 1980s; the most recent is an article by Shalev himself from 1996. It may well be that little relevant scholarship has been published since the mid 1990s, but it is difficult to avoid the feeling that this manuscript was largely written much earlier than its publication date. Nevertheless, this is a useful book, which provides us with a much-needed survey of the Late Bronze Age material from northern Syria-Palestine, both complementing Philip’s publication of the EBA and MBA material from the region (Metal Weapons of the Early and Middle Bronze Age in Syria [Oxford 1989]) and laying foundations for a possible future work dealing with Bronze Age weaponry in the Levant as a whole, or even, as Shalev suggests in his concluding sentence, an overview of “the entire metal industry in Canaan.”

Ian Shaw
School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology
12–14 Abercromby Square
University of Liverpool
Liverpool L69 7WZ
United Kingdom

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1131.Shaw

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Use [fn]...[/fn] (or <fn>...</fn>) to insert automatically numbered footnotes.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Typographic refinements will be added.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Click "Save" to submit your comment. Please allow some time for your post to be moderated.