Rare Roman dagger found by young amateur archaeologist in Switzerland

Inlaid with silver and brass and buried under 20 inches of soil, it was possibly placed as an offering to the gods.

An extremely rare Roman dagger has been found by a young amateur archaeologist on the site of an ancient battlefield in Switzerland.

Dental student Lucas Schmid first made the discovery in 2019. It triggered a full archaeological investigation, which uncovered several more artefacts, the details of which have now been published.

The site saw a clash between Roman troops and the Raeti people, which archaeologists believe took place sometime around the year 15 BC. Rome’s emperor at the time, Augustus, ordered the suppression of the Raeti, a confederation of tribes that lived in the Alpine region of what is now Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Germany.

The dagger discovered by Lucas Schmid. Richly decorated with inlaid silver and brass, it dates from the first half of the 1st century BC. Image: ADG.

The battlefield is located near Crap Ses Gorge and the mountain village of Tiefencastel in the country’s Graubünden canton.

It was first identified in 2003, when Roman military artefacts were uncovered. Further finds were made in 2014, but Schmid took to scanning the site more recently out of a belief that not all its secrets had been uncovered.

‘I suspected that the entire site had not been searched meticulously yet,’ he told the online magazine Live Science, continuing, ‘It was clear to me that more artefacts could be expected.’

His hunch proved correct. The dagger he found, known as a pugio in Latin, is extremely rare, with only four of its kind having been found elsewhere in former Roman territories.

Inlaid with silver and brass and buried under 20 inches of soil, it was possibly placed there by a legionary following the battle as an offering to the gods.

Subsequent excavations by the Archaeological Service of Graubünden (ADG) in September last year uncovered several additional artefacts, including spearheads, slingshots, shields, horseshoe nails, and coins.

Many of these objects are now being displayed for the first time by the ADG. While Schmid says he intends to continue his dental studies, archaeological surveys of the site have not yet concluded.

‘The fieldwork will continue next year,’ said ADG Director Thomas Reitmaier, ‘and we assume that more coins or other finds will come to light that allow an even more precise dating.’