You you are in Kotor and want to hear something cool about it?
I lived most of my life in Kotor, and I was always fascinated by its history, but it was only during my college years that I realized, while reading about craftsmen of the Balkans, that the squares of my town, that I walk so often, were echoing with the sounds of sword-making some seven centuries ago.
Then I remembered that epic poetry which we read as kids, the equivalent of the Viking sagas in the Balkans, claim that some mythical swords made in Kotor had “eyes of their own”. Being a lover of everything medieval I just had to research the topic and share it with you, but first, let me introduce you to my medieval hometown.
The merchant hub
Through its entire medieval history, Kotor was a well-known center of trade for many different goods. But it was during the most of 14th century that the town experienced its golden age. Many different goods were exported and imported from this well-protected town.
The trade in all kinds of raw materials like leather, stone, wood, cloth, silver, iron, copper, etc. made the town extremely attractive to craftsmen of various profiles.
Within its quarters you had stonemasons, leather workers, silver and goldsmiths, tillers, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, shipbuilders, icon painters, swordsmiths, armorsmiths, shield makers and painters, and many, many others. It was a real busy medieval town.
The Ottoman threat
But in the later 14th century and through the 15th, dramatic changes happen in the Balkans. Ottoman Empire approaches as the creeping doom for our medieval states.
After the battle of Maritsa 1371. where the big Serbian army was terribly defeated in a night raid by the underdog, the small Ottoman raiding party, the big battle of Kosovo 1389. and the fall of Skadar(Skodra today) the super important merchant town, everyone in the remaining unconquered lands of the peninsula frantically prepared for the defensive struggle. It also meant that weapon and armor smiths of Kotor had a lot of work to do.
So many smiths!
What blew my mind was the fact that only from 1395 to 1445 there were about 100 smiths in Kotor, not even counting their apprentices. If you are visiting Kotor go to the St. Luke church where the smithing quarter was and try to imagine the cacophony of all those hammers beating against the anvils, the rumble of all the furnaces adding air to the coals, and the satisfying sound of quenching, where glowing hot steel blades get plunged into the water.
Out of all the medieval weapons, the sword is the most iconic one. Even though usually, on its own, it wasn’t the main battlefield weapon, the sword was a very important secondary weapon and in some cases a must-have status symbol.
Medieval sources and modern smiths that recreate the medieval smithing, tell us that making swords was a skilled and labor-intensive process. Even our epic poetry confirms that when describing how the sword of Djuradj Stracimirovic Basic a hero of Battle of Kosovo 1389. was made:
“The sword was smithed by two smiths,
two smiths and three helpers,
from Sunday and around till Sunday”
And this isn’t an exaggeration, we know for a fact that for making “black”(unpolished, unsharpened without the wood and leather on grip ) sword took couple of days, and then it would be given to another craftsman that specializes in polishing sharpening, adding the grip and if the sword was meant for an important person, adding the silver and gold details.
But who gave them the eyes?
When I heard the term “sword with eyes” for the first time I immediately assumed it was some sort of fantastic attribute of the weapon added by the epic poet for dramatic effect, but I was very worng. Remember, in Kotor there were all kinds of artisans, and when a swordsmith wanted to impress some extremely important and wealthy noble who commissioned the word he brought his blades to the jeweler. And the jewler adds the jewels, precious stones of all sorts that shine in the sunlight and can remind you of…well yes…..the eyes.