The sixth issue of our inspiration series introduces Radomír Jelínek, a well-known Slovak reenactor. Radomír aims to reconstruct a trader from Gotland in late 10th/early 11th century.
We can see from the photos that Radomír wears a brown tunic made from herringbone wool and hemmed with geometrically patterned silk. The tunic is belted with a girdle inspired by various Gotland finds. Its buckle, strap end and belt lamellae come from Rone and Hense graves, while hanging straps are derived from Ense. There is a bag on the belt decorated with sheet brass and silk, a purse based on a Birka find (Radomír currently works on a new one based on a find from Barshalder), a whetstone with a colourful mosaic, tinderbox based on a Birka find and a comb based on a find from Eskelhem. A small pattern-welded steel knife is hanging on his neck, adorned with silver and brass and based on a find from Rone. Then we can see a hammer pendant on a chain – Radomír intends to swap that one for a cross. He covers himself with a brooch-fastened, semi-circular brown cape from herringbone wool (Radomír wears three types of brooches based on Visby finds). There is a fur-hemmed woolen hat on his head, decorated with silk embroidery and a hat top replica based on Birka (the hat will be also decorated with ornamental posament). On his hands we can see some brass and silver bracelets with punched decoration. Finally his profession is symbolized by simple weighing scales which have been found in several locations (Visby, Akeback, Oja).
On his legs we can see wide breeches made according to Gotlandic pictures stones depictions and a find from Haithabu. Breeches are dyed with indigo and tansy. Shoes with two buttons are a replica of Dorestad shoes. There are white nålbindingsocks covering his shins with a thin lace fastened with two small (2 cm) pins.
Weapons are also a part of this trader‘s costume. It is a sharp H type pattern-welded steel sword (unfinished) with Geibig type 3 blade (80 cm long and 6 cm wide), a sharp pattern-welded steel seax (Radomír owns two of these but plans to rebuild both, one of them is a Gotland find replica), a sharp pattern-welded steel spear of type I with brass crosspieces (according to a Gotland find) and amace which is going to be replaced by a more authentic replica.
Aside from this Radomír plans to make a new silken printed caftan, maybe a new hat, satchel, purse, archer‘s equipment, strap divider for the swordwith a belt according to Rone and Hense finds and crampons.
I would like to thank Radomír Jelínek for providing photos and a detailed description of his costume. Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.
In the fifth part of Inspiration series, we will show a rich men’s costume from Gnezdovo, Russia. This time we will look at the costume of German reenactor Alexander Kluge.Alexander tries to reconstruct a retainer from Gnezdovo, 2nd half of 10th century. It is based mostly on grave C-160 from Gnezdovo.
At the pictures, we can notice a blue tunic, which is based on textile fragments from grave C-160 (see article from Mrs Ščerbakova). Knife, fire striker, whetstone, belt and a bag are replicas of objects found in the same grave. The belt and bag are better described by Muraševa in her book. Pants and leg wraps are based on Scandinavian finds and illustrations, because there are not any finds documented in Kievan Rus. The leg wraps are pinned with hooks – one has been discovered in Rurikovo Gorodishche.His leather shoes are inspired by those found in Novgorod and Haithabu.
Battle version of the costume is complemented with a helmet; replica of helmet so called Gnezdovo I, from 10th century (this helmet has its analogies in finds from Stromovka and Bojná), mail armour made of flat rings worn over padding, gloves with mail armour, wooden shield, replica of axe from grave C-160, and not very well-crafted sword, which will be replaced by Alexander.
I would like to thank Alexander Kluge for granting me permission to use his photographs and for detailed description of his costume. Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.
Inspiration series continues and in its fourth episode, I will introduce Viktor Kralin, Russian reenactor, who is the leader of White Lynx group (Белая Рысь) and whom I greatly admire. As the Kievan Rus reenactment is quite popular in the world, I find it particularly interesting to show how Russian reenactors represent their own history.
Viktor draws attention to the fact that there are not many fabric findings in Kievan Rus, so he collects all the data from 9th to 11th century and is looking for foreign analogies. His costume is set to the second half of the 10th century and represents the leader of princely retinue, druzhina.
Viktor’s costume will probably catch your eyes because of his silken clothes with printed patterns. In the photos we can see pink silk caftan with bronze buttons reaching to his waist. Viktor points out that bronze buttons are typical for this garment. The caftan is decorated with printed motifs found in Černihov (see this article) and it is girded with a replica of belt from Šestovica. There is a bag decorated with a metal lid hanging from the belt, which is a replica of the find from Eperjeske. Over the caftan, he wears a monumental patterned cloak, which is a gift from his wife; it is clasped with a borrowed (hence provisional) replica of pin from Birka (grave Bj 624). Similar patterned cloaks are depicted on church frescoes from 11th and 12th century. On his legs, he wears wide beige trousers, inspired by Scandinavian finds, mentions and illustrations. There are red leg wrappings wrapped over the trousers. His feet are protected by low leather shoes. Viktor’s neck is decorated with a silver chain with a silver Byzantine cross. On his head, we can notice a woolen cap, lined with linen and with a hem made of beaver pelt, based on the illumination from Svjatoslav’ chronicle (dated to 1073).
The battle version of the costume consists of the helmet, which is a replica of the find from “Black Mound” near Černihov (in some older photos, Viktor wears a four-piece helmet, to which is riveted a separate nose-guard/nasal), lamellar armor based on the find from Novgorod (2nd half of 11th century), leather gloves, plank shield and Petersen type T sword, which is one of the most common sword types in Viking Age Ukraine.
I would like to thank Viktor Kralin for granting me permission to use his photographs and for detailed description of his costume. Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.
The third episode of inspromat is reserved for rich female costume from Birka. This time we will look at the costume of Russian reenactor and my friend, Lida Gubareva.
Lida sets her costume in the first half of the 10th century in Birka. Most of the equipment consists of replicas of items from grave Bj 965, which contains a coin, so the grave can be dated after the year 913. Despite that, Lida does not consider her costume ideal for the reconstruction of clothing from Birka, because the equipment incorporates also replicas of objects that were found elsewhere. Lida also told me that she is making a new caftan and overdress, and apologized for not knowing all the numbers of the graves, because she reconstructs three periods at the same time.
On the photographs, we can see three different underdresses that have a shape of a simple tunic. The first one (blue) is made of 100% wool woven in diamond twill. It is dyed with indigo and has hems of silk twill, whose warp is dyed with buckthorn and weft with indigo. Silk panel at the neck is decorated with two tablet woven stripes made of silver and silk, which are inspired by tablet woven strip from grave Bj 965. Second underlying dress (yellow) is made of polychrome silk and is hemmed with blue silk. The hems have tablet woven stripes as well. Third underlying dress (green) is made od simple linen and hemmed with silk which is dyed with madder and soda.
Overdress (apron, hangerock) have trapezoidal shape and are made of 100% woolen twill, dyed with indigo. Over these clothes, Lida wears crimson-red caftan, which is made of 100% wool, woven in 2/2 twill, dyed with madder. The weft is slightly darker than the warp. The caftan is hemmed with Sasanian silk with motifs of medallions depicting lions and phoenixes. Her second caftan, the yellow one, is linen and lined with silk. It has a hem of polychrome silk and beaver pelt.
Oval brooches are replicas of the find from several graves in Birka, including Bj 965. All other buckles, necklaces and pendants, ear spoon or needle-case are replicas of finds from Birka. Two exceptions are the Friesian comb with a case and crosses that are inspired by the find from Rügen. The costume is complemented by scarf with a knot, which is an interpretation of “knot” that can be seen on Valkyriefigures from Scandinavia.
I would like to thank Lidia Gubareva for granting me permission to use her photographs and for detailed description of her costume.
I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreonor Paypal.
In the second episode of inspiromat we will stay in Birka, but this time we focus on male costume. For this reason I asked my Russian friend Konstantin Shiryaev who willingly provided me his photos with description.
The costume is based on finds from Birka, particularly grave Bj 644, but he also uses finds from surrounding regions. This is a costume of rich warrior in the mid-10th century. Konstantin says that his costume will never be done, and he intends to continue improving it.
FIG.1: On the head, we can see a circular four-piece woolen cap (type B) dyed with oak bark. Silk on the hem is dyed with natural indigo. Konstantin also wears linen shirt dyed with natural indigo. The shirt is fringed with patterned silk. The shirt is girded with a replica of belt from Garrison in Birka. On his belt a knife hangs in a leather sheath and a replica of the bag from Eperjeske 3. A similar find of bag was found in grave Bj 644. The lid of the bag is decorated with gilded silver plate. On his legs, we can see wide linen trousers (påsbyxor), with shape based on finds from Haithabu, woolen leg wraps and leather boots of type 8 from Haithabu.
FIG.2: On his head, we can see a conical felt cap (type A) with silk sewn onto it. Hat is decorated with silver terminal and a beaver pelt hem. Then, we can notice a red woolen tunic, based on the finds from Bernuthsfeld and Guddal. The tunic is decorated with patterned silk and silver embroidery and is girded with replica of belt from grave Bj 1074. Over the tunic. he wears rectangular blue woolen cloak which is lined and has a hem made of beaver pelt. The pin used to clasp the cloak is a replica from grave Bj 644. This somewhat unusual way of wearing the cloak is based on the positions of pins in Birka, Finland and Russia. Konstantin is holding a replica of battle axe from grave Bj 644. Over the previously described linen trousers, he wears red woolen leggings pinned with replicas of bronze hooks from grave Bj 905.
FIG.3: Costume in this figure is the same as in Figure 1. The only difference is the woolen caftan, which is decorated with a patterned silk and 12 bronze buttons. Konstantin says that the silk part of his caftan is the only fabric on his costume, which is machine-dyed, and therefore intends to sew a new one. At the waist, we can notice replicaof seax from grave Bj 644 (Konstantin adds that this is the old version of the seax and now works on a new one).
FIG.4: Battle version of the costume. On his head there is a helmet, which is inspired by a fragment of Tjele helmet. At the waist, we can notice the sword type H in a wooden sheath. Type H swords are the dominant swords in Birka. On the back, there is a wooden shield, its front is covered in leather. Hands are protected by gloves, which are made of leather and felt (left mitten is only made of wool).
FIG.5: Another picture of battle costume, this time with a single-piece helmet. In accordance with Ibn Fadlan’s report, he has an axe, sword and seax. We can notice that his shoes are lower and his leg wraps are fixed with decorative garters.
I would like to thank Konstantin Shiryaev for granting me permission to use his photographs and for detailed description of his costume. Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.
The transport and the storage of liquids are one of the biggest problems in the reenactment of any time period. Archaeological finds are only a few and making a keg or flask needs skill. For a person living in 21st century, it is much easier and cheaper to load a barrel of beer and some bottles of water to a car and after that hide everything in a tent. On historical events, there are principles of hiding modern bottles, however we would be lying, if we said that it is a generally valid and strictly followed convention.
If we move from a camp to a march, there is a necessity to have a field bottle, because in our luggage there is a limited space for equipment. In such a case, we are going to plan our way close to the springs and streams. Scandinavian streams (Old Norse lœkr) and mountain rivers have stayed drinkable even up till now, so if the Old Norse people made a good journey plan, they had no thirst. In the corpus of Old Norse dictionary, there is a term rǫst (“mile”), which literally means “distance between two halts”. Literary sources show existence of route with some fixed halts, which were located near the water streams.
Reconstruction of the farmstead Stöng, Iceland.
Even buildings and farmsteads were built near to the water streams. Water is necessary for a household, and people settled there not only because of water, but also because of fish. In some sources, the connection of a farm and a stream more than obvious:
“Next to Ásólf’s hall, there was a river. Winter started and the river was full of fish. Þorgeir claimed that they settled on his fishing grounds, so Ásólf moved and built the second hall on west near to another river.”
(The book of settlement, chap. 21, Hauskbók version)
The same situation was during the settlement of Iceland. Settlers often took up land, surrounded by two water streams. In addition, there was the law that the settler could take more land than she or he could walk around in one day. The farmstead Stöng, which was built in 11th century and covered by volcano ash in 1104, follows the same logic – it was built on a hill approximately one kilometer above the Fossá river. In densely built-up areas, water drained from wells. The most of farms did not need wells, because they had access to water streams (Short 2003: 74).
The containers for a water transportation can be divided to big volume containers and small volume containers. Among the big volume containers belong barrels, buckets and bigger ceramic vessels. Their volume can be between ones and hundreds of litres and they served for crowds, e.g. farm residents, merchants or soldiers on war expeditions. However, the dimension limits mobility, as can be shown by the quote from the Eyrbyggja saga (chap. 39):
“Then too was it the custom of all the shipmen to have their drink in common, and a bucket should stand by the mast with the drink therein, and a locked lid was over it. But some of the drink was in barrels, and was added to the bucket thence as soon as it was drunk out.“
The transport of barrels at the Bayeux tapestry.
The small volume containers were using for needs of individuals and they were parts of personal equipment. We are talking about different kinds of flasks, bags and bottles, which had limited volume – only up to several litres, but it was not difficult to carry them. It is necessary to add, that there are almost no preserved containers from Scandinavian area, so we have to use the written sources or look for the analogic finds from the period Europe.
The barrel from Haithabu.
The biggest container from the Viking period is a barrel (Old Norse: tunni, verpill). The barrels are well preserved in archeological, written and iconographic sources. In the previous written example, we can see the barrels were used for long-term storage of water on ships. Barrels also served for fermentation and storage of beverages in the halls. A big barrel with the volume of approximately 800 litres was found in Haithabu, Germany. Similar finds are known also from the Rome Empire period. Barrels of this kind are also depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, where they are loaded on both carts and shoulders and carried to the ships. The Tapestry comments this depiction with these words: “These men carry arms to the ships and here they drag a cart laden with wine and arms.“
A slightly smaller container is represented by a bucket, a tub and a vat (Old Norse: ker). The main advantage is a handle for the easier transport. It could be the most frequent big volume container of the period. A bucket was not provided with a permanent lid, because the liquid was meant for an immediate consumption. If it was necessary, the bucket could be covered by a removable lid (Old Norse: hlemmr or lok, see the quote from Eyrbyggja saga). The finds of buckets are well preserved in Oseberg and Haithabu. In Haithabu, they found imported big volume ceramics (so called Reliefbandamphoren) as well, which could be used for similar purpose thanks to transportation eyelets.
Opening of a bottle. Made by Jakub Zbránek and Zdeněk Kubík.
We know only a few finds of flasks and bottles (Old Norse: flaska) made of leather, ceramics, wood, metal and glass in Early medieval Europe. Absence of local anorganic bottles in Scandinavia is a sign of the fact that organic materials were mainly used. From the following list, it is evident that ceramic, metal and glass bottles were imported to Scandinavia.
There are only a few written mentions about bottles from Scandinavia and they all are of the late date. It is interesting that some mentions are connected with bynames of people living in the Viking Age. We can find Þorsteinn flǫskuskegg (“bottle beard“) and Þorgeirr flǫskubak (“bottle back“) among the Icelandic settlers.
Leather bottle, made by Petr Ospálek.
Leather bottles – it is the only kind mentioned in Old Norse sources. In Grettis saga (chap. 11), there is a funny story of Þorgeirr flǫskubak who is attacked by an assassin to his back, but he manages to survive, because the axe of the assassin hits a leather flask:
“That morning, Þorgeirr got ready to row out to sea, and two men with him, one called Hámundr, the other Brandr. Þorgeirr went first, and had on his back a leather bottle [leðrflaska] and drink therein. It was very dark, and as he walked down from the boat-stand Þorfinn ran at him, and smote him with an axe betwixt the shoulders, and the axe sank in, and the bottle squeaked, but he let go the axe, for he deemed that there would be little need of binding up, and would save himself as swiftly as might be. […] Now it is to be said of Þorgeirr, that he turned from the blow as the axe smote the bottle, nor had he any wound. […] Thereat folk made much mocking, and called Þorgeirr Bottleback, and that was his by-name ever after.”
This part continues with a stanza with this meaning: “Earlier the famous men cut their swords into enemies’ bodies, but now a coward hit a flask with whey by an axe. Even though it is a nice example of an Old Norse perception of society decline, but we can notice the mention about whey (Old Norse sýra). The whey was mixed with water in a ratio 1:11 and created a popular Icelandic drink, the so-called blanda (for the exactl mixture, see here, page 26). The saga suggests that Þorgeirr has got such a drink in his flask.
The leather flasks are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon sources and are archaeologically documented in Ireland, where were found some decorated pieces from 12th century. They are lightweight and ideal for long hikes. They are resistant against damage too. But sometimes water is running through, whis is a disadvantage. Summary, I recommend to reconstruct of leather variants.
Ceramics bottles – ceramics bottles were popular for the whole Early medieval period. They were used in the the Roman times (Roman ceramics amphoras for a wine transporting are known from Rhineland), in the Migration period, as well as in the period of 9th to 11th century. One piece was found in Winchester, England (11th century, photos here, here, here), another one in Gnezdovo, Russia (10th century, photo here) and yet another in Great Moravian Staré Město (9th century, photos here and here). In Belgian Ertvelde-Zelzate (9th century, here), a painted flask was found. Analogies of this bottle were found in Dorestad and in Norwegian Kaupang too. The find from Kaupang is represented by nine orange painted shards – the only proof of ceramics flasks in Scandinavia (Skre 2011: 293). The similar shape to Roman amphoras remained popular in the Rhineland, and it devepoled into so-called Reliefbandamphoren that are up to 70 cm high. Some pieces were found in Haithabu as well. Ceramic bottles seem to be popular in Eastern Europe as well.
The pottery industry of Viking Age Scandinavia was not very developed, so we can presume that all the ceramic bottles in Scandinavia were imported. Me and my colleagues were using this type for years and it proved to be very practical. On the other hand, the use is very questionable in Scandinavia.
A model of amphora, made by Jakub Zbránek.
A model of amphora, made by Jakub Zbránek.
Bronze bottle from Aska.
Metal bottles – an unique copper-alloy bottle was found in the woman’s grave in Aska, Sweden. According to works, which I found on the internet (here and here), the grave dated to 10th century and the container is considered a Persian import, because of the inscription. The origin limits the usage in reenactment. A similar bottle was found in Fölhagen, Gotland, and it is dated to the of 10th century (the picture on demand).
Glass bottles – I am aware of two Scandinavian bottle necks made of glass, they are very rare finds. The first one was found in Haithabu and is dated to the 9th century (Schiezel 1998: 62, Taf. 13:1–2). The second one was found in a rich female grave from Trå, Norway, dated to the 10th century. Pictures on demand.
All the mentioned bottles except the glass and metal examples do have the eyelets. So, we can suppose that they had got a strap for a hanging. To my knowledge, stoppers are never preserved, so they probably were made of wood. The experiments showed that oaken lathed or hand-made mushroom or cylinder-shaped stoppers are functional. While a simple wooden stopper works for wooden and leather bottles, in case of other materials, it is useful if the stopper is a bit smaller and wrapped in a textile, so the neck is not destroyed by the harder material of the stopper.
I believe that the article provided a brief summary of Early medieval liquid containers. For reenactment purposes, I recommend to use the barrels and buckets for camp life and the bottles for a march. This can also lead to reconstructing proper banquet tools, like spoons, scoop and ladles, that are present in the sources. If needed, write your feedback into the comments, the problem of a liquid transportation is still opened. Many thanks to Roman Král, Zdeněk Kubík, Jan Zajíc and Jakub Zbránek, who helped me with this article and answered my questions.
I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreonor Paypal.
The book of settlement – Landnamabók I-III: Hauksbók, Sturlubók, Melabók. Ed. Finnur Jónsson, København 1900.
Grettis saga – Saga o Grettim. Přel. Ladislav Heger, Praha 1957. Originál online.
Eyrbyggja saga – Sága o lidech z Eyru. Přel. Ladislav Heger. In: Staroislandské ságy, Praha 1965: 35–131.
Cleasby, Richard – Vigfússon, Gudbrand (1874). An Icelandic-English dictionary, Toronto.
Schietzel, Kurt (1998). Die Glasfunde von Haithabu, Berichte über die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 32, Neumünster.
Short, William R. (2010). Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas, Jefferson.
Skre, Dagfinn (ed.) (2011). Things from the Town. Artefacts and Inhabitants in Viking-age Kaupang. Kaupang Excavation Project Publication series, vol. 3., Århus.
For those interested in wooden barrels, buckets and ceramic vessels, I recommend these books:
Hübener, Wolfgang (1959). Die Keramik von Haithabu, Neumünster.
Janssen, Walter (1987). Die Importkeramik von Haithabu, Neumünster.
Wesphal, Florian (2006). Die Holzfunde von Haithabu, Neumünster.
During my research work, I have long been coming across an unusual type of artefacts, which are being described as miniature weathervanes (Swedish: miniatyrflöjel, miniflöjel, German: Miniaturwetterfahne). After many years, I have decided to take a deep look into these interesting objects and provide the readers with thorough analysis, comments and further references.
At the moment, I am aware of eight more or less uniform miniature weathervanes, originating from seven localities. Let us take a detailed look at each of them:
Svarta jorden, Birka, Sweden
At the end of the 19th century, one miniature weathervane was found in the Black Earth (located on Björko) during the excavations led by archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe. It is 45 mm long and 35 mm wide (Salin 1921: 3, Fig. 4; Sörling 2018: 59). The material is gilded bronze (Lamm 2002: 36, Bild 4a). Currently, the item is stored in The Swedish History Museum under the catalogue number 5208:188; the on-line version of the catalogue also mentions a presence of 85 mm long pole (stång).
Literature: Salin 1921; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Sörling 2018; Thunmark-Nylén 2006; catalogue SHM.
The miniature weathervane from Birka. Source: Salin 1921: Fig. 4; catalogue SHM.
Tingsgården, Rangsby, Saltvik, Ålandy Most likely in 1881 in Tingsgården, a barrow was found on the land of Ålandian landlord Robert Mattsson, whene he took it apart to use the materials for landscaping. Inside of the barrow, he found a wooden riveted coffin with remnants of coal, bones and an iron object. An archaeological research was conducted in the summer of 1903 by Björn Cederhvarf from The National Museum of Finland, who documented the find and transported it to the museum in Helsinki. The landlord’s son made yet another discovery in the barrow’s ground – a damaged bronze item with stylised animal ornament – a miniature weathervane which was 52 mm long, 37,5 mm wide and weighed 17,6 grams. To this day, the object is stored in The National Museum of Finland, designated by inventory number 4282:13. The Åland Museum only displays a very successful replica (Salin 1921: 20, Fig. 21; Lamm 2002: Bild 4c; Lamm 2004). In the museum, the object is displayed together with a pole , which can be seen here.
Literature: Salin 1921; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.
A miniature weathervane from Tingsgården. Source: Lamm 2002: Bild 4c; Lamm 2004: Fig. 1.
Gropstad, Syrholen, Dala-Floda, Dalarna, Sweden Supposedly in 1971, a highly damaged cremation burial was uncovered near Gropstad at Dala-Floda, containing only two fragmentary casts of miniature weathervanes (Frykberg 1977: 25-30). Both were made of bronze and vary in shape, level of conservation and decoration. One of them does not retain pole sockets, has more significant tassels and is of Borre design. The other has pole sockets, but lacks the tassels – instead, it has perforation, which could had been used for tassel attachment – and is decorated with simple concentric circles. Currently, the weathervanes are stored in Dalarnas Museum in Falun, Sweden.
Literature:Frykberg 1977; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.
Häffinds, Burs, Bandlunde, Gotland Another miniature weathervane was found during excavation of a Viking age marketplace near Häffinds on the eastern coast of Gotland (Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 366-367, Abb. III:40:7:I). The excavation was then led by Göran Burenhult from the Stockholm University and the weathervane was the most interesting item found during the work. The object is made of bronze, measures 53 mm × 42 mm (Thunmark-Nylén 2000: 92) or 54 mm × 43 mm (Lamm 2002: 39, Bild 4g; Lamm 2003: 60). It weighs 26 grams (Lamm 2002: 39). During that time, this particular weathervane brought interest mainly due to having been the first one differentiating from the Birka and Tingsgården finds: it has three pole sockets, the yard ends with animal head terminal and the tassels are pointed.
Literature: Brandt 1986; Edgren 1988; Thunmark-Nylén 2000; Brandt 2002; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.
Söderby, Lovö, Uppland, Sweden A completely shape-identical bronze weathervane was found in spring of 2002 during excavation in Söderby, Sweden, lead by Bo Petré. It was unearthed in a particularly interesting cremation grave A 37 – it seems the grave was deliberately dug within a Bronze Age barrow, and the dead (presumed male) was laid on a bear fur along with dogs, a horse, a chest, a long knife, a silver-posament decorated clothing, two oriental silver coins from 9th century, a comb, a whetstone, two ceramic cups and an iron necklace with a hammer pendant and then cremated (Petré 2011: 60-61). The weathervane is 48 mm long, 37 mm wide and weighs 19,9 grams. Three pole sockets hold a bronze circular shaft, which is broken on both ends (Lamm 2002: 39). The grave has been dated to 10th century (Lamm 2002: 39). Currently, the item is stored in The Swedish History Museum under catalogue number 26192 (F2).
Literature: Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006; Petré 2011; catalogue SHM.
Novoselki, Smolensk, Russia After the Söderby weathervane find, Jan Peder Lamm, the author of an article about miniature weathervanes, received a message of yet another object from Russian archaeologist Kirill Michailov of the IIMK Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences. The miniature weathervane was excavated in Novoselki village in Smolensk area. The message also included a drawing, produced by Mr. Michailov himself after the find in 1996. The drawing shows that the item is the same type like the Häffinds and Söderby finds, though differentiating in the number of pole sockets – having only two instead of three and mounted with an iron shaft. Dr. Lamm stated (Lamm 2002: 40; Lamm 2003: 61) that the find originates from the grave nr. 4, which was marked as incorrect after the publication of E. A. Schmidt’s find in 2005. Schmidt (Schmidt 2005: 196, Il. 11:2) claims that the miniature weathervane was found in the grave nr. 6, along with a spearhead, a knife and a ceramic cup. The object was depicted with a long needle pin and a ring in the form of clothing pin. Personal interviews conducted with archaeologists Sergei Kainov (State Historical Museum of Russia), Kirill Mikhailov (Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russia) and jeweller Vasily Maisky indicate that Schmidt’s drawing is a reconstruction and that the weathervane (which is now stored in The Smolensk State Museum-Preserve under inventory number 23656/1-9) is broken to pieces and lacks the central part with the ring. Despite that, there is no reason not to trust in Schmidt’s reconstruction; it only means that not all of the pieces of the original find are on display.
A drawing of the weathervane from Novoselki. Source: Schmidt 2005: 196, Il. 11:2.
Menzlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany During the autumn of 2002, the International Sachsensymposion (Internationales Sachsensymposion 2002) was organised at the Schwerin castle, where Dr. Lamm held a speech on then newly excavated Söderby and Novoselki weathervanes. After the presentation, he was informed by Friedrich Lüth about yet another, similar object found nearby, at the Viking age trading centre Menzlin. The very same day, Mr. Lamm went to see the find that was deposited in a special showcase in Menzlin, which is used for displaying newly excavated items from the area. He acknowledged that the item is in fact a miniature weathervane and is very similar to the Birka and Tingsgården finds (Lamm 2003). The weathervane was probably excavated in 1999 and published the next year (Schirren 2000: 472, Abb. 136:1). As far as we can tell from the detailed photos, it is about 50 mm long and 38 mm wide.
Literature: Schirren 2000; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.
Menzlin weathervane. Source: Lamm 2003: Abb. 1.
Looking at the finds, we can clearly define two standardized types of the miniature weathervanes – the “Birka type” and the “Häffinds type” – along with the unusual and atypic pieces (Gropstad). Next, we will take a closer look at the presumed function of these objects and the symbolism of miniature weathervanes in Old-Norse culture.
Map of the miniature weathervane finds mentioned in the article. Source: Lamm 2004: Fig. 2.
The function of miniature weathervanes
Jan Peder Lamm had three theories on the possible function of miniature weathervanes. According to him, they were mainly a status symbols and pieces of artistic value. At the same time, he held the opinion of the objects being a part of boat-models, similar to ship-shaped candlesticks (Lamm 2002: 40; Lamm 2003: 61; Lamm 2004: 138), which we know from Norwegian church environment of 12th and 13th century (Blindheim 1983: 96, Fig. 7). The third supposed function was in a seafaring naviagion tool – Mr. Lamm suggested the weathervanes could had been used to help with determining angular height of astronomical objects. This theory was pursued before Lamm by Engström and Nykänen (Engström – Nykänen 1996) but was denoted as surreal and inconclusive (Christensen 1998).
As far as we can tell, the theory of boat models does not fit most of the listed finds. The boat-shaped candlestick platforms are at least two centuries younger and we have only one pair-find of the weathervanes from Gropstad. Thus, it is more probable that the Viking-Age miniature weathervanes were a part of clothing pins, as can be seen at the example from Novoselki. It seems that the poles were narrowed on the inserting part, while having the tip widened and flattened. Below the weathervane, there was a eyelet for attaching a string, which was used for fixing the pin. This method was most likely used for cloak fastening. The standardized look can indicate a centralized manufacture and distribution via for example gift-giving.
The literature on miniature weathervanes was to a major extent focused on symbolism that was presumed the items had. From the era between 1000-1300 AD, we know of at least five complete Scandinavian weathervanes and several of their fragments – all of which were made from gilded high-percentage copper (Blindheim 1983: 104-105). That is in compliance with literary sources, which place gilded weathervanes (oldnorse: veðrviti)at the bow of the war ships of important personas (Blindheim 1983: 93; Lamm 2003: 57). The bow-situated weathervanes can also be found in 11th-13th century iconography, while in the older iconography, the weathervanes can also be found on masts (Blindheim 1983: 94-98; Lamm 2004: 140; Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 367). Aside of that, we also have several instances of the weathervane motive used on metal applications of horse harnesses, pendants and – as discussed above – as clothes pins, which are very faithful miniatures of the genuine ship weathervanes.
Scandinavian weathervanes and their fragments, 1000-1300 AD.
From the upper-left: Källunge weathervane, Heggen weathervane, Söderal weathervane, Tingelstad weathervane, Høyjord weathervane, a horse figurine from the Lolland weathervane. Source: Blindheim 1983: Figs. 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 20.
Selection of miniature weathervanes depicted in iconography, 800-1300 AD.
From the left: Sparlösa runestone, Stenkyrka runestone, Bergen engraving, engravings from churches in Borgund, Urnes and Kaupanger. Source: Lamm 2004: Fig. 10; Blindheim 1983: Figs. 8, 10, 11, 12.
Horse harness fittings in a shape of weathervane, Borre and Gnezdovo. Source: Myhre – Gansum 2003: 27; Lamm 2004: Fig. 9; catalogue Unimus.
Norwegian church boat-shaped candlesticks with weathervanes, 1100-1300 AD.
The weathervanes first started to appear on bow of the ships as early as 11th century, when they began to replace the wooden heads. Their function did not change though – the weathervanes were also removable, and the animals depicted on them were meant to frighten any chaotic agents dwelling along the journey. At the same time, the weathervane posed as a revering representation of the ship’s owner and thus presented a clearly distinguishable symbol. It is often stated that the function of weathervanes changed throughout the following ages, finding the usage on church buildings. However, according to Martin Blindheim (1983: 107-108), the old Norwegian military service laws mention that important ship equipment was stored in churches, and while the rest of the equipment (sails, ropes) fell victim to the passing of time, the weathervanes survived and became a permanent property of the churches. The connection of a church and a ship in naval-oriented Scandinavia is also backed up by the church boat-shaped candlesticks.
At the very least we can say that during the Viking Age, the weathervane was perceived as a property of the ship’s owner and as a precious symbol referring to naval activity and personal reputation. Not every ship owner could afford such an accessory though – the weathervane was undoubtedly limited only to a very small group of the richest, who owned huge and top-grade equipped vessels. The tradition of using weathervanes was so anchored in Scandinavian culture, that it had a substantial effect on weathervane usage even in different parts of Europe – e.g. France where the French word for “weathervane” (girouette) originates from Old Norse (Lindgrén – Neumann 1984).
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