The forging technique of the Holy Lance of the Treasury of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien


The Holy Lance in the treasury of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna represents an object of extraordinary archaeological and historical value. Numerous publications around this lance prove the keen interest in itself as well as in its history. This section presents the shortened version of a report written by the author on the results of a research project dedicated to the archaeometallurgical investigation of the Holy Lance.

The former  technological studies carried out on the lance dated already some time back, so it seemed appropriate to review these results critically. In order to gain further insights into the structure of the lance and its forging technology, only non-destructive analysis methods were available.

The Holy Lance can be subdivided in its current state into various components: in the chiselled lance blade, which divides by a break into a top and a lower part, an iron pin inserted into the lance blade, two iron sheets laterally attached to the nozzle, which were interpreted as knife blades, and a later attached barrel band. A leather wrap, six silver wire windings and a total of three cuffs (made of iron, silver or gold) hold the structure together. This condition is the result of multiple interventions, which turned an originally usable winged lance of the eighth century into an object of very special character. The added symbol value as a mark of power and relic has more than compensated for the loss of usefulness as a combat weapon, as shown clearly by the historical correlations.

Particularly noteworthy is the exceptionally good state of preservation of the lance. So far, no corresponding comparison piece is known in this respect, since all other simultaneous winged lances are excavation or river finds that are corroded accordingly strong and thus allow only limited statements on construction and processing.

The lance in disassembled condition.

The lance sheet is examined with a reflected light microscope, photograph by Philipp Horak

With the help of existing X-ray images of the lance (in undismantled state) and a comprehensive examination with a reflected light microscope (Wild Heerbrugg Photomacroscope M 400), a series of questions were worked out by the authors in the fall of 2003, which subsequently together with the authors of the other contributions of the book were discussed and further developed.
Based on this preliminary work, the gold and silver cuffs were removed in February 2004 - for the first time since 1924 - and a detailed report was made.


The analysis first covered the general shape of the individual parts and their exact dimensions and then focused in particular on observations on material, forging technology and construction as well as production marks and adaptation measures.In addition to the basic questions about the structure and dimensions of the object, it was of course also of interest, how the lance originally looked like respectively how it was constructed. Furthermore, it should be examined how it was used and which traces this has left on the object. In what sequence were the changes made, and how did the lance look after each of them? In addition, a number of forging technological questions should be answered in order to make a classification of the object in terms of its quality possible in this regard, as tried by Paulsen in his article amongst other things.

At the point of the lance a defect is visible. Is this a result of the filing of chips, which subsequently should be incorporated into another relic? The grooves on the spout are severely scuffed: does this possibly result from its use as a banner lance, as Erik Szameit postulates it, or does it show the chip filing described in the literature? How have the grooves holding the iron blades at the side been worked into the spout and wings? Which mounting mechanisms secure the iron pin from falling out, and how was it made? Did the iron pin show also damascening at the bottom? Does the wire wrap represent the original (oldest) holder of the iron pin? Has the barrel band been fixed to the lower end of the spout by means of "cold joint", as Peter Paulsen describes it? How were the gold and silver cuffs made and the script visible on them incorporated? Which material composition can be determined? What kind of gilding was used?



(detailed description - see publication)

The dimensions

The total weight of the lance is 970 g. When assembled, it has a total length of 510 mm; Of this, 266 mm account for the upper part, 244 mm for the lower part. The maximum width of the lance sheet is 51.1 mm; in the fracture area, the cutting edges are at a distance of 43.2 mm.


Summary & Results

It is possible to detect several places where a lack of metal can be observed, although from a technological point of view no reason can be seen. On the one hand, the lower part of the iron pin was intentionally removed by chiselling. On the other hand, the bottom toggle shows traces of intervention (filing traces) in the material. Also, a formerly damascened brass cross is missing on its backside; the brass cross on the middle toggle also shows damage. The point of the lance blade reveals a flaw, similar to the image created by filing metal. The spout is heavily ground on the flat sides, but this damage pattern can better be explained by a longer lasting uniform stress, as it can occur when used as a banner lance, then by processing material with a file. Furthermore a narrow iron strip of about 9 x 2 mm is missing on the right wing, as Peter Paulsen has already pointed out. At the lowest silver wire winding of the upper part, the absence of some winding parts can be determined. The time period in which the changes described above have taken place can not be determined with complete certainty.

At this ordinary winged lance point with its typical for the 2nd half of the 8th century form were a number of interventions. After working out the middle ridge area and repairing the cutting edge with a short metal band, the iron pin was inserted with crescent-shaped plates.

Before that, the lance had been ground, and the various brass crosses had been attached by means of damascening.

Probably already during the first change of the winged lance, more precisely the adaptation as a support of the iron pin, or shortly after,
the lance blade broke and had to be supported with an iron cuff. Subsequently, the knives were attached using the leather wire winding.

The barrel band attached to the spout may have already been present at this time, but  a precise period for these transformations
can not specified. Presumably the changes of the lance took place before the middle of the 10th century.

On the right side, a metal strip was attached by forge welding for repair.

Even before attaching the silver cuff under Emperor Henry IV (reigned 1056-1105), the lower part of the iron pin may have been removed. In this cuff two brackets were intended from the beginning, which should secure the shortened and thus loose-fitting nail against slipping down. Subsequently, the leather winding was removed from the visible areas of the lance, and a silver wire winding was applied to its upper and lower part. We will not be wrong in assuming that these changes are to be considered as one event. The last major change was the attachment of the gold cuff in the 14th century.



Franz Kirchweger (Hg.) Die Heilige Lanze in Wien. Insignie -- Reliquie -- „Schicksalsspeer“. Mit Beiträgen von Gunther G. Wolf, Christian Gastgeber, Franz Kirchweger, Volker Schier, Corine Schleif, Erik Szameit, Mathias Mehofer, Verena Leusch, Birgit Bühler, Manfred Schreiner, Vladan Desnica, Dubravka Jembrih-Simbürger (Schriften des Kunsthistorischen Museums hrsg. von Wilfried Seipel, Bd. 9), Mailand – Wien 2005, ca. 240 Seiten, 150 Abbildungen.