Roman Swords and Questionable Motives

From Andy White's Swordgate Poster. Note the finer detail with the California sword's hilt when compared to the Nova Scotia version.

I was asked to write a piece about the Roman sword nonsense at Oak Island, which I hadn’t really had a chance to read up on.

So I did.

And, boy, howdy! I’ve read some tall tales, but this is a good one. First, a couple things I should say up front: 1) there probably isn’t anything I can add from the rational perspective that hasn’t already been said by folks like Andy White. But I’ll form my own opinions then go off and read what the other skeptics say. I’m hoping I’m not far off the mark, but also hoping I add a slightly different perspective; 2) I’m no stranger to the ways of the “Treasure Commander” -J. Hutton Pulitzer’s self-aggrandizing title. I wrote a bit about one of his claims a couple years ago.

Background info
The Roman sword was supposedly found by fishermen at least two generations ago, kept in the family, then “surfaced” for researchers. A father and son were scalloping off of Oak Island in Nova Scotia and recovered the sword. It’s interesting that “near Oak Island” is mentioned, since the History Channel has had a reality television show that features two brothers searching for buried treasure there for the last 3 seasons. Nice wagon to hitch one’s coat tails to.

Alleged Roman Sword. Courtesy of the History Channel.

Artifact Provenience
So, where’s this sword been all this time? None of the articles I read mentioned a year it was found, but we’re told “the sword was kept for decades” by the original fisherman who left it to his wife when he died. She subsequently gave it to her daughter, who passed it to her husband, who “brought it forward to researchers.”

Unfortunately, it would seem, “researchers” is a loaded term.

Pulitzer claims to have performed portable XRF analysis on the sword; matched the metal to “complex metallic properties of […] other ancient Roman artifacts.” Though in none of the articles are the readers provided the data of the XRF along with that of the control sample used. Or even what the control sample was.

There are many assumptions that are implied if we are to accept the premise that the sword is, indeed, of ancient Roman origin.
1. That the XRF analysis was conducted.
A. That it was conducted by a capable, trained person
B. That suitable control samples were used
2. That ancient Roman swords could not have been on a more modern vessel.
3. That the provenience of the sword is accurate.
4. That a wreck from which the sword actually came from was accurately recorded “decades” ago
A. that this wreck is, indeed, an ancient Roman wreck.
B. if not accurately recorded (to the nearest meter), that Pulizter has “scanned” the right wreck.
C. that Pulitzer actually “scanned” a wreck
5. That someone in the chain of custody of the sword for “decades” wasn’t lying.
6. That Pulitzer isn’t lying.

More Parsimonious Explanations
1. The most likely explanation that leaps to mind is that this is a complete and utter hoax. With the History Channel’s apparent success of The Curse of Oak Island series, a Roman period sword, which would amount to an “out of place artifact,” would make for good press. Good press means $$$, which any commander with “treasure” in his title would clearly desire. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that XRF wasn’t even done and that the sword is a replica. The photos shown of the thing depict a small blade with an anthropomorphic figure as the handle, but, apart from a thin layer of green corrosion, it is in remarkably good condition for having been under salt water for as long as is alleged. one might have expected an extremely corroded, barely identifiable, chunk of metallic residue. What we see wasn’t in the water all that long if ever.

On eBay, there was an apparent Roman sword replica that precisely matched the one Pulitzer is saying is ancient. Right down to the funky green patina of corrosion and the anthropomorphic figure as a handle.

2. The sword is genuine, but lost in modern or, perhaps, historic times. Roman antiques have always been collectible. It is not inconceivable that a traveler by ship lost one.

3. The fisherman lied about the sword’s origin. Perhaps he bought it from someone who duped him in to believing it was genuine and, to make it fly with the wife (ever try to buy something really cool when a spouse wants stuff like food or bills paid?), he concocted a story with his son that they recovered it from Davey Jones. I kinda like this explanation, but I think the first is the right one.

Questions for Pulitzer
1. Where can we see the data from the XRF that includes the target and the controls?
2. Where can we see data of your “scans” of the “Roman ship” such that they demonstrate the ship to be “Roman?”
3. What’s up with the “Treasure Commander” title you’ve given yourself? Who does that? (I’m just kidding about #3)

Perhaps the answers to these questions will be in the “white paper” Pulitzer keeps referring to.

I’ve only just scratched the surface. For more detailed critique, click the last link below and read anything by Andy White and Jason Colavito. These two guys have been on the case from the beginning and I’m off to read what they have to say myself.

links to the info
Historians Claim Ancient Romans Visited Canada
A sword discovered near Oak Island suggests the Romans discovered America
Roman Sword Found Near Oak Island, Nova Scotia, May ‘Rewrite’ North American History [updated]
Roman Sword from Nova Scotia 

About Carl Feagans 398 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.


  1. It’s a shame that this kind of nonsense keeps popping up (the sword is obviously fake) because it discredits other “out of context” artifacts discovered that could be real and shed new insights onto the travels of different peoples. I’ve been involved with an object discovered in the coastal town of Clinton, CT USA, in a Native American shell mound, a Byzantine era oil lamp. It’s a long story that continues to evolve as the whereabouts of the artifact are now unknown. At least it didn’t turn up in a Toscano catalog!

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