Karelian Forging

By Mikhail Artemiev & Federico Buldrini

The importance of blacksmithing for Karelians reflects in the epic Kalevala, where the demigod smith Ilmarinen forged the Sampo mill, a source of happiness and prosperity for its possessor.


Scheme of an ancient iron furnace.

In the past many Livonian Karelians practiced ore mining, blacksmithing and tar smoking. Karelian blacksmiths forged axes, drills, knives and sickles from mined and smelted ore. At some point the iron production was so widespread that sources from the XVI century speak of entire villages living entirely on it. During the XIX century there were also firearms crafted. All these were much appreciated and in demand on the Russian market.

battle axe 10th cent

Battle axe, 10th century

In many Norse sagas from IX and X centuries we find mention of the Kiryal people, living on the shores of lake Ladoga, as rich, trading with the Sami people, penetrating far north and giving Vikings a decent resistance. According to the sagas, Swedish legendary king Ivar Vidfamne, the great great great grandfather of Ivar the Boneless, died during a campaign against the Kiryals, after being tricked into an argument by Odin in disguise, resulting with Ivar jumping after the man and into the sea.

sword 10th cent (2)

Sword, 10th century

Also, the Saga of Halfdan tells of the Viking battle in Kiryalanbotn. Although sagas aren’t considered particularly reliable historical sources, their mentions of the Karelians and Karelia indicates the existence of ties between the Scandinavians and the Karelians, plus their military and economic development at that time.

16th century battle axes:

The Norsemen called the Kiryals land “Kiryalaland” or “Kiryalabotn”, the last one translatable as “Kiryals living at the end of the fjords”. Such fjords can only be found on the northern coast of lake Ladoga. Archaeological finds in that area show that local settlements were indeed located at the lake’s fjords ends, confirming the truthfulness of the old name.

Ancient Karelian weapons were mostly of Russian type, with some European variations as well, both imported with trades and locally crafted.

Twenty four sword fragments found show straight, double-edged blades, about 1 meter long, with sheaths of wood and leather and a bronze tip. The pommels and guards are mostly decorated with floral pattern. Metal inlays are often found on the blade groove, while the sword found in Kurkieki has an Latin inscription.

Other findings include various types of spearheads, from 26 to 37 cm long, some decorated with ornaments and inlays, many axes, including smaller decorated battle axes and great variety of bow arrowheads and cross bow arrows. Many small iron plates, maybe parts of an armour were found only in Rääisälä.

spearhead 16th cent

Spearhead, 16th century

Last but not least, numerous items of horse harness such as bits, horseshoes, buckles and studded horseshoes, for rides on smooth ice.

ice crampon 15th cent

Ice crampon, 15th century

spearhead 16th cent

Spearhead, 16th century

arrowhead 15th cent

Arrowhead, 15th century

Brooches, 10th and 12th centuries:

11th and 12th century pendants:


All pics taken from the Karelian National Museum website:

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