Rijksmuseum van Oudheden bronze dirk
A ceremonial bronze dirk that sold to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden for £400,000 at Christie’s.

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Estimated at £80,000-120,000, it drew a prolonged competition before it eventually sold at £400,000 (£485,000 including premium) to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden.

The museum described it as “one of the most rare and special objects of Dutch and European prehistory”. It was able to raise money via donations including from the Rembrandt Association and the Dutch national fund for arts.

The 2ft 3in (68cm) long bronze dirk (or long thrusting dagger) which dates from c.1500-1350BC was part of the ‘Ommerschans Hoard’ discovered in a field near the city of Ommen in the eastern region of The Netherlands. The items were unearthed between 1894 and 1900and kept in the forester’s home on the landowner's estate until 1927 when the owners took it with them when they moved to Germany.

Since that time, the museum had made attempts in vain to buy the sword but it remained with the owners descendants until it was consigned to Christie’s Antiquities sale on July 5.

Although the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden had previously been allowed to inspect the ceremonial dirk and make a plaster cast for its collection, the original will now be returning to the country where it was found for the first time in almost 90 years after the Leiden institution winning bid.

What was so special about the sword?

Workmanship – the exaggerated size and its thinness, as well as the absence of rivets for fixing to the hilt and the blunt edges have been interpreted as signs that it was designed as a ceremonial rather than utilitarian object. The weapon is not suitable for fighting: it is too big and too heavy and has no cut marks. It was clearly designed as an aesthetic object and may have served for ritualistic functions.

Rarity – only five ‘giant’ dirks of this type are known which all date from 2000 to 800BC. Two were found in France (Plougrescant in Brittany and Beaune in the Burgundy region), one in England (found in Norfolk and now in the British Museum) and two in The Netherlands (the current example found in Ommerschans and another found in Jutphaas). They may even have been made by the same master bronze caster.

Historical importance –  the striking similarities each of these swords despite being spread over a large geographical area, stands as testimony to the wide network of commerce during the Bronze Ages.