Sword of Goujian

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Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum, 2015-04-06 01-edit.jpg

The sword of Goujian is a bronze sword from the time of the spring and autumn annals in ancient China (722 to 481 BC). It is attributed to King Goujian who ruled the Kingdom of Yue from 496 to 465 BC. Ruled.

Find history

In the run-up to the construction of an aqueduct for the industrial city of Jingzhou in Hubei Province , archaeological investigations were carried out along the route. Excavations began in mid-October 1965 and ended in January 1966, with more than 50 tombs dating from the Chu Kingdom period being found, from which over 2,000 artifacts were recovered.

The sword comes from grave site 1 in Wangshan , about seven kilometers from the ruins of the city ​​of Ying , which was then the capital of the Chu Kingdom. A coffin was recovered there in December 1965, which contained a human skeleton and a sword. It was in a wooden sheath with black lacquer work. When you drew the sword, it was quite undamaged, although it had lain in the wet ground for a good two thousand years.


Excerpt "King of Yue" and "personal use"

On one side of the sword there are two columns with legible characters in a variant of the old Chinese seal script . They were deciphered as “King of Yue” (越王) and “forged for [his] personal use” (自 作用 劍). The remaining two characters were interpreted as the name of the king.

It was not immediately clear who the king actually was. Several months of discussion ensued among Chinese experts as to which of the ten kings of Chu could be the first owner. Finally, they agreed on the most famous representatives Goujian (勾踐), whose reign in the beginning of the period of the Warring States falls (475-221 v. Chr.)


The sword was in exceptionally good condition when it was found. The trim with a pattern of dark rhombuses on both sides of the blade was also completely intact. It is 55.6 cm long, including an 8.5 cm handle . The blade is 4.6 cm wide at the base. The sword weighs 875 grams. The handle houses eleven concentric rings wrapped in silk. There is also a trim with blue and turquoise crystals.

The sword consists of several layers whose alloy of copper and tin is different. The high tin content in the middle makes it more flexible and harder to break, while the copper blade becomes very sharp. Deposits of lead, iron and sulfur lead to different colorations and high corrosion resistance. The Fudan University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences studied the exact composition as follows.

Part examined copper tin lead iron sulfur arsenic
blade 80.3 18.8 0.4 0.4 - traces
Yellow pattern 83.1 15.2 0.8 0.8 - traces
Black pattern 73.9 22.8 1.4 1.8 traces traces
Darkest areas 68.2 29.1 0.9 1.2 0.5 traces
edge 57.3 29.6 8.7 3.4 0.9 traces
Center notch 41.5 42.6 6.1 3.7 5.9 traces


On loan to Singapore in 1994, a worker accidentally hit the blade against a display case, causing a seven millimeter long scratch. After that, the sword was never awarded again, and in 2013 it was placed on the list of cultural objects prohibited from being exhibited outside the People's Republic of China . It contains a few dozen cultural objects that are considered too important by the Office for Cultural Heritage .


Statue in Longquan to the legend of the sword maker Oo Yezi

There are very similar swords in other graves, but without engraving. The smelting of iron for weapons began during the War of the War, so that the importance of the old bronze swords waned. Freed from their warlike function, the best specimens were kept as valuable pieces of jewelry. In the scholars' discussion, for example, it is said that the sword of Goujian probably ended up as a trousseau to a minister with whom it was buried.

The fine art of bronze swords is also documented in legends about the master Ou Yezi . For Gan Jiang he forged five named swords Zhanlu (湛卢), Juque (巨阙), Shengxie (胜 邪), Yuchang (鱼肠) and Chunjun (纯 钧). In other sources, it was Gan Jian himself. For King Goujian the legends proclaim three masterpieces, Longyuan (龙渊), Tai'e (泰阿) and Gongbu (工 布). The legends about famous swords are similar to the named swords in European sagas, with the sword of Goujian in China being about as famous as Excalibur in Europe.


  • Paul A. Cohen: Speaking to History: The Story of King Goujian in Twentieth-Century China Volume 16 from Asia: Local Studies / Global Themes, University of California Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-520-94239-4

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Paul A. Cohen: Speaking to History: The Story of King Goujian in Twentieth-Century China , pp. 106 ff.
  2. Five more Chinese relics that came a cropper on display abroad ( Memento from February 26, 2018 in the Internet Archive ) from South China Morning Post, February 27, 2018