This short overview is an amendment to the article Drinking Vessels of Viking Norway. It contains specimens of a specific type of wooden cups and bowls that has the brim reinforced with metal clasps. From the distribution, it is clear such a tableware was quite popular in Early Medieval Northern and Eastern Europe. They can be also compared with buckets and horns that are frequently covered in copper-alloy metals or silver.
Reconstructions of Early Medieval bucket and horn covered in metal.
Roland Williamson, Ivan Minakov.
In the catalogue, I will describe the known pieces from 9th – 11th century Europe. If there are some that are missing, let me know.
Haralds saga Sigurðarsonar 24 Let’s open the article with a literary mention that comes from Saga of Haraldr Sigurðarson. The saga mentions a noble gift – a bowl made of maple, with gilded silver rim and gilded silvered handle, full of silver coins:
“At the feast, king Haraldr gave Steigar-Þóri a maple bowl; it had a rim of silver and a silver handle, both gilded, and it was filled with burned silver pennies.” (Haraldr konungr gaf Steigarþóri at veizlunni mösurbolla; hann var gyrðr með silfri, ok silfrhadda yfir, ok gylt hvártveggja, ok fullr upp af skírum silfrpenningum).
Bj 11A, Birka, Sweden
The grave Bj 11 revealed silver mounts that could originate from a wooden vessel or a plate (Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.13; Arbman 1943: 2-4, Abb. 108; Lindeberg 1984: 243). The mounts were found around a clay vessel that was used as an urn. As the clay vessel was quite big, circa 18 cm in diameter, the only way how mounts could be found all around the vessel is the presumption that the wooden vessel was quite wide and open and was placed under or on top of the urn. The most prominent mount is a circular fitting, 2 cm wide, fastened with 4 rivets and decorated with circles. There are also at least 7 silver clasps (size 13 × 11 mm), some decorated with punched circles, fastened with 2-3 rivets. Their profile suggests they truly come from a wooden dish. The closest analogy of this piece comes from the grave 459 in Timerevo.
Silver fittings of a vessel from Bj 11A, Birka. Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.13.
Bj 523, Birka, Sweden
In the “female” grave Bj 523, two identical vessels were found, from which only one was reasonably preserved, though also badly damaged (Arbman 1940: Taf. 214; Arbman 1943: 157-160, Abb. 108; Lindeberg 1984: 242). The bowls were put together. The thickness of the wood was 4 mm. The outer side of better preserved bowl carried turning traces. The edge is covered with U-shaped square silver clamps of the size 7 × 7 mm at interval of 15 mm. Clamps are fastened by single rivets. The current diameter of the bowl is 112 mm. One of the vessels had a short horizontal handle at the level of the edge. The handle was decorated with a shield-shaped fitting of the size 24 × 15 mm, which was fastened with four rivets.
Remains of the vessels from Bj 523. Arbman 1940: Taf. 214.
Drawn reconstruction of the vessels from Bj 523, Birka. The drawing does not reflect the presence of a short handle. Arbman 1943: Abb. 108.
Bj 544, Birka, Sweden
Badly damaged fragments of a wooden vessel were found in the “male” grave Bj 544 (Arbman 1940: Taf. 215.3; Arbman 1943: 170-1; Lindeberg 1984: 242-3). Based on the description by Arbman (1943: 171), we can guess the vessel had a short triangle horizontal handle at the level of the edge (similar to what we know from Årby and Haithabu). The thickness of the wood was 4 mm. The outer side of the vessel carries turning traces. The edge of the vessel was decorated with a fitting made of silver, size 19 × 17 mm. The fitting is riveted by two riveted and is decorated with punched triangles and lines of dots.
Remains of the vessel from Bj 544, Birka. Arbman 1940: Taf. 215.3.
Bj 711A, Birka, Sweden
In the grave Bj 711A, a copper alloy fitting of a small vessel was found (Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.5; Arbman 1943: 246; Lindeberg 1984: 243). Arbman notes the wood was still preserved at the time of the excavation. The edge of vessel is 5 mm thick and profiled. The fitting measures 32 × 28 mm and is not complete. The fitting was attached with two rivets. The sex of the deceased person in the grave is not known.
The vessel from Bj 885 was decorated with four copper alloy clasps (Arbman 1943: 344; Lindeberg 1984: 242-3). Today, nothing but rivets can be seen. The sex of the deceased person in the grave is not known.
Bj 886, Birka, Sweden
In the “male” grave Bj 866, fragments of a stunning vessel was found (Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.7-12; Arbman 1943: 344-6; Lindeberg 1984: 242). What we know about the vessel is that it was more than 5 cm high, 7 mm thick and it had a small horizontal handle. The handle was covered with an oval mount (original size about 33 × 12 mm) with pressed ornament . The mount was riveted to the handle with three rows of rivets. At least 4 clasps are riveted to the profiled edge; the complete fittings measures 16 × 21 mm and are fastened by two rows of rivets. Two clasps are decorated with nothing but lines, the other two are decorated with pressed decoration that is similat to handle mount. The pressed clasps are decorated with pearl edges too. There is one more fitting, 5 cm long sheet which is a repair of a broken edge of the vessel. The sheet is riveted with three rows of rivets.
The material for the handle mount and clasps is gilded silver. Rivets used for this mounts are made of copper alloy and their heads are waved. The repair sheet is said to be silver riveted with undecorated copper alloy pins.
Fragments of a vessel from Bj 886, Birka. Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.7-12.
Bj 964, Birka, Sweden
A copper alloy fitting of a vessel was found in the “female” burial Bj 964 (Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.4; Arbman 1943: 389; Lindeberg 1984: 242-3). Arbman notes the wood was still preserved at the time of the excavation. The edge of vessel is 5 mm thick and profiled. The fitting measures 36 × 15 mm and was attached with four rivets.
Fragments of a vessel from Bj 964, Birka. Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.4.
Bj 987, Birka, Sweden
Two copper alloy fittings of a vessel were found in the “female” burial Bj 987 (Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.6; Arbman 1943: 413-5; Lindeberg 1984: 242-3). The fittings measure 13 × 27 mm and were fastened with 4 rivets. There are decorating border lines around the fittings. The edge was of the vessel was 4 mm thick.
Fragments of a vessel from Bj 987, Birka. Arbman 1940: Taf. 216.6.
C-306, Gnezdovo, Russia
A complete vessel – a small cup – decorated with silver clasps was found in the “female” grave C-306 (Avdusin – Puškina 1988: 23-4, Fig. 4.10). Based on the available drawing, we can say that the cup measured around 7 cm across the opening. The clasps were fastened with two rivets.
A vessel from the grave C-306 in Gnezdovo. Avdusin – Puškina 1988: Fig. 4.10.
Graves 7 and 74, Gnezdovo, Russia
According to Spitsyn (1905: 15), there were two fittings in the graves 7 and 74 (according to S. I. Sergeev). These fittings could come from a wooden vessel or a horn.
2 Velyka Zhytomyrska Street, Kyiv, Ukraine
During the excavation at 2 Velyka Zhytomyrska in Kyiv, the historical center of the city, heart-shaped silver mounts from a vessel were found (personal communication with Oleksii Malev). The find was excavated by Ya. E. Borovsky in 1988 and can be dated to 10th century.
Metal fittings from 2 Velyka Zhytomyrska Street, Kyiv. Photo by Oleksii Malev.
A reproduction of the find from Kyiv. Made by Oleksii Malev.
Chamber grave 1, Pskov, Russia
Inside the chamber grave 2 in Pskov, a long silver clamp was found. It is interpreted as a fitting coming from a vessel (Yakovleva 2015: 70, Cat. no. 25). The clamp is decorated with punched decoration and contains wood inside.
Yakovleva 2015: 70, Cat. no. 25.
Chamber grave 7, Pskov, Russia Northwestward of the coffin of the girl in Pskov chamber grave 7, there were objects interpreted as fragments of a wooden bowl (Ershova 2015: 322, Рис. 17, Каталог 6). The diameter of the bowl is described to be 9 cm. There are no preserved wood in the burial. The metal elements consist of 5 gilded silver sub-triangular clasps, fragments of silver narrow strip clasps, a square silver-plated fitting (size 22 × 22 mm) with a round hole in the center (8 mm in diameter) and an irregular semicircular plate with raised sides along the edge, decorated with floral ornaments in niello, probably a handle cover.
Fragments of a bowl from Chamber grave 7, Pskov. Ershova 2015: Каталог 6.
An X-ray of the bown in situ. Ershova 2015: 322, Рис. 17.
Graves 100, 118, 285, 457, Timerevo, Russia
Fechner and Nedoshivina (1987: 74) inform that bronze mounts from vessels were found in four graves of Timerevo – 100, 118, 285, 457. Unfortunately, I was not able to find further details on these finds.
Grave 459, Timerevo, Russia
The grave 459 in Timerevo contained fragments of a wooden vessel that was decorated with simple metal clasps along the brim (Fechner – Nedoshivina 1987: 74-5, Рис. 6.2-6). At the bottom of the vessel, there was a circular fitting, fastened with 7 rivets. The circular fitting was inscribed. The closest analogy of the vessel is Bj 11A in Birka.
Remnants of a vessel from grave 459, Timerevo. Fechner – Nedoshivina 1987: Рис. 6.2-6
Grave 32, Tiszakürt ‒ Sziki-Kisföldek, Hungary
In 2019, Zágorhidi Czigány et al. published a brilliant article that shows a cracked bowl repaired with clasps and wire. The bowl was found in the grave 32 in Tiszakürt ‒ Sziki-Kisföldek, which is dated to 10th century. The closest analogy comes from tomb no. 20 in Dargavs, North Ossetia–Alania, Russia.
The recontruction of the edge of the bowl, Grave 32, Tiszakürt ‒ Sziki-Kisföldek, Hungary. Zágorhidi Czigány et al. 2019: 6. kép, 4-6.
The fragments of bowl, Grave 32, Tiszakürt ‒ Sziki-Kisföldek, Hungary. Zágorhidi Czigány et al. 2019: 1. kép.
Grave 30, Priekules Ģūģeru, Latvia
In 1988, a spectacular grave 30 was found in Latvian Priekules Ģūģeru. The grave, dated to 1st half of 11th century, contained a full warrior gear, textiles, trading equipment, jewellery and a cup (Apala – Zariņa 1991). The wooden cup has diameter of 100-120 mm and is 38 mm high. It is decorated with copper alloy plate that is 15 mm high (Apala – Zariņa 1991: 18, 5. att). The plate is continuous and goes all around the edge. The lower edge is toothed. The bowl seems to be repaired by wires.
The bowl from Priekules Ģūģeru. Apala – Zariņa 1991: 5. att, B.
Photo of the bowl, taken by Andrius Bitaitis.
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Saga of Haraldr Sigurðarson (Haralds saga Sigurðarsonar) = Haralds saga Sigurðarsonar. Edited by N. Linder an H. A. Haggson. In: Heimskringla Snorra Sturlusonar III, Uppsala 1872. Online.
Apala, Z. – Zariņa, A. (1991). Dižciltīga latgaļa apbedījums Ģūģeru kapulaukā. In: Latvijas Vēstures Institūta Žurnāls, Nr. 1, 11-29.
Arbman, Holger (1940–1943). Birka I. Die Gräber. Text (1943), Tafeln (1940), Stockholm.
Avdusin, D. A. – Puškina, T. A. (1988). Three Chamber Graves at Gniozdovo. (Tre kammergraver fra Gniozdovo). In: Fornvännen 83, Stockholm, 20-33.
Ershova 2015 = Ершова, Т. Е. (2015). Камерное погребение 7 // Древнерусский некрополь Пскова X – начала XI в.: В 2 т. Т. 2. Камерные погребения древнего Пскова X в. (по материалам археологических раскопок 2003 – 2009 гг. у Старовознесенского монастыря), СПб., стр. 309–346.
Fechner – Nedoshivina 1987 = Фехнер, М.В. – Недошивина, Н. Г. (1987) Этнокультурная характеристика Тимеревского могильника по материалам погребального инвентаря // СА 1987, 2, 70-89.
Lindeberg, Inga (1984). Holzschalen, Holzdosen und Beschläge zu derartigen Holzobjekten. In: Arwidsson, Greta (Ed.). Birka II:1. Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde, Stockholm, 242–244.
Spitsyn 1905 = Спицын, А. А. (1905). Гнездовские курганы из раскопок С.И. Сергеева // ИАК 15, 6-74.
Yakovleva 2015 = Яковлева, Е. А. Камерное погребение 1 // Древнерусский некрополь Пскова X – начала XI в.: В 2 т. Т. 2. Камерные погребения древнего Пскова X в. (по материалам археологических раскопок 2003 – 2009 гг. у Старовознесенского монастыря), СПб., 2015, стр. 28–83.
Zágorhidi Czigány, Bertalan ‒ Kenéz, Árpád ‒ Türk, Attila (2019). Tiszakürt‒Sziki-Kisföldek 32. objektum honfoglalás kori sír. Adatok a 10. századi hurkos végű bronzdrótok érékeléséhez, valamint a lovaglóostorok és fémszerelékes faedények elkülönítéséhez a korszak hagyatékában. In: „Hadak útján” A népvándorláskor fiatal kutatóinak XXIX. konferenciája – 29th Conference of Young Scholars on the Migration Period, Budapest, 59-67.
Decorated vessels made by Dmitry Hramtsov (Truin Stenja).