Ever since this 12th century blade was discovered under a tree in 1975, archeologists have wondered how it got all the way from Sweden to Siberia. A controversial new theory suggests it belonged to none other than Ivan the Terrible — one of history's most notorious figures.

The German-built sword was accidentally discovered buried in Novosibirsk region, the only weapon of its kind ever found in Siberia. The beautifully engraved weapon was originally made in central Europe (most likely in the Rhine basin of Germany) before going to the Swedish mainland, or the island of Gotland, where it was adorned with an ornate silver handle and Norse ruse pattern.

How it ended up in Siberia is an enduring mystery, but a Russian historian speculates that it eventually came into the hands of Ivan the Terrible, and that it entered into the royal armoury as a gift at the time of the conquest of Siberia.

Ivan the Terrible was the first tsar of Russia, ruling from 1533 to 1584. He acquired vast amounts of land, including the conquest of the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan and, as noted, Siberia. Ivan also created a centrally controlled Russian state that was imposed by military dominance and terror.

The Siberian Times reports:

There has been widespread debate about how the sword ended up in Russia, with assumptions it was either carried along a trade route, or taken as a spoil of war from skirmishes in the region. In one of the hypothesis, Academician [Vyacheslav] Molodin has suggested the blade - currently stored in the collections of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk - could have been taken from Ivan the Terrible's armoury and brought to Siberia by the legendary warrior Ivan Koltso, ahead of the conquest of the region.

It was during Ivan's reign in the late 16th century that Russia started large scale exploration and colonisation of Siberia. Cossack leader Yermak Timofeyevich was hired to take on the Tatar forces under Khan Kuchum and Murza Karachi and lead the eastward expansion of the empire, with the sword a possible gift from the Kremlin.

The sword was uncovered at the base of a tree in the Baraba forest-steppe, less than three kilometres from where it is thought Koltso, Yermak's closest ally, died in battle. He was declared hero in February 1583, with church bells ringing out in Moscow, when it was announced he and Yermak had taken the capital of the Siberian Khanate, Kashlyk. But his new-found celebrity status did not last long, and he was killed with 40 men during an ambush 18 months later.

Another theory is that it was carried during trade missions. By the mid 12th century, there was an ancient northern path through Russia to the River Ob, called the Russky Tes.

Alternately, it could have travelled east as a result of bartering, or as a spoil of war from battles between the Turkic people of the steppe and the nomadic Urgic population of the Siberian taiga.

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Much more at The Siberian Times, including more photos and an explanation behind the sword's inscriptions.

Images: Siberian Times.