Archaeologists found knives, arrows, a cavalier’s spur and silver coins from what may be the site of the important 1315 AD Battle of Morgarten, during which Swiss peasants repelled an attack of cavalry of the Holy Roman Empire.
The finding in 2015, from the Morgarten plain on the border of Zug and Schwyz cantons, is being called significant.
The battle marked the first time in Europe that peasant forces overcame a feudal host. The victory by the Swiss led to the consolidation of the Three Forest Cantons, which were the heart of modern Switzerland.
In the history of European warfare, the battle was important because Swiss forces demonstrated that men armed with pikes (18-foot/5.5-meter spears) could defeat men in armor whether they were afoot or mounted.
The Battle of Morgarten, painting by Benedicht Tschachtlan ( Wikimedia Commons )
The imperialists had their sights set on the area because it gave easy access to Italy via the Gotthard Pass. To this day, at the turn of autumn to winter, cows are herded down the paths that the Swiss defended from the summer Alpine grazing pastures and into their winter barn accomodation, a practice that has taken place since 3000 BC according to Le News . Now the occasion is something of a celebration, with the cows adorned with flowers and alpenhorns trumpeting out through the hillsides. The event takes place throughout September in the Alpine towns and villages of central Europe.
To prevent grave robbers and looters from plundering the historical site, the two cantons agreed to do excavations, says Archaeology News Network . The objects don’t prove the battle happened at that exact site but do provide supporting evidence. This is the first time that objects from what may be the site of the battle have been found.
Researchers found 12 pfennigs or silver coins from 1275 to the beginning of the 14 th century. Weapons dating from the early 14 th century included two knives and a scabbard and two arrows. Other objects that are harder to date also were found, including horseshoes and knives. In addition, the researchers found jewelry and a bronze buckle that may date from between the 7 th and 10 th centuries.
Officials placed some of the items on display at the Museum Burg Zug.
The communities organize a three-day festival during the summer to commemorate the battle, which took play in the Agëri Valley.
Mountains in the canton of Zug, near where the battle was fought. (Photo by Peter Greis/ Wikimedia Commons )
During the battle of November 15, 1315, 1,500 troops of the Swiss Confederacy ambushed Austrian soldiers mounted on horses near the Morgarten Pass. The site History of War says the Duke of Leopold’s men from the Holy Roman Empire may have outnumbered the Swiss troops 2 to 1. Leopold, the brother of Holy Roman Emperor Frederic of Hapsburg , chose to take a mountain pass the Swiss had not fortified, but the Swiss got wind of his plans. They were waiting, and Leopold’s troops, strung out along the narrow pass, were attacked from above by pike-wielding Swiss irregulars. Their momentum from above combined with the helplessness of the mounted imperial troops on mountain terrain led to a slaughter of the imperial forces.
The duke was one of the few men of the imperial forces to escape. History of War says the impact of the battle on the Empire was dramatic. The battle marked the first time peasants destroyed a feudal force. Along with the battles of Crecy and Bannockburn, it ended feudal cavalry’s tactical supremacy.
The Swiss resisted the imperial forces in part because they had letters from previous emperors assuring their autonomy in Unterwalden, Uri and Schwyz, which in 1291 had created the Swiss Confederacy. By 1314, tension between the Swiss Confederacy and the Habsburgs increased when a man the Swiss supported for emperor, Duke Louis IV of Bavaria, vied with Frederick the Handsome, at Habsburg, for the throne. The confederacy feared the Habsburgs would seize their lands, as they had attempted in the late 13 th century. This tense situation, heightened by a Swiss raid on Habsburg-sponsored Einsiedeln Abbey, led to the battle of Morgarten.