Inspiration #6, a trader from Gotland

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 nålbinding socks 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 a mace 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 sword with 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.

The Bag from Kyiv, Ukraine

When I was browsing through the literature, I came across the remains of a bag that seemed so unusual that I decided to describe it in a separate article. My hope is that it will gain more popularity among the reenactors and will help to better understand the topic of Eastern European organic material culture.

Circumstances of the find and its content

In the years 1997-1999, The Archaeological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (Інститут археології НАНУ) led an excavation of the premises of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kiev, which discovered the burial site from 10th-11th century. At this point, we will only be interested in the tomb designated as 49 or A14 (Ivakin 2011: 34-35). It was a grave of a young woman aged 16-18, whose skeleton was partially preserved. The grave chamber had dimensions of 4 × 3.45 × 0.9 m, was reinforced with wooden planks inside and was oriented to the west. During the construction of the monastery in the 12th century, the grave was partially damaged.

The grave’s inventory consisted of more than 70 metal artifacts (gold, silver, bronze and iron), glass, wood and fabric remnants. On the skull, there were preserved remains of the headband with silver embroidery (width 1.5 cm). Right of it, there was a silver plate in the shape of a diamond. A necklace with 26 pieces of jewelry was stretched around the neck of the deceased, containing 19 glass beads, a gold wire ring and three silver pendants (diameter 2.4 cm) decorated with granulation in the middle. Closer to the edges of the necklace, there were two more silver and gilded pendants – former belt fittings with soldered eyelets, that were decorated with floral ornaments from the rear side. On the deceased’s chest, there were four pieces of silver jewelry linked by a chain, dominated by a round granular brooch of the Terslev type (3.9 cm diameter). A remains of decayed object, most likely a bag with two silver crosses, which will be examined separately, laid by the left elbow at waist heigh. Next to it, there was a knife with a handle wrapped in silver wire. Right of the deceased (at a distance of 0.7 m), a wooden box with fragments of iron fittings and 27 glass decorative plates was placed. The box contained scissors, tweezers, a copper alloy buckle, a copper alloy bowl, and glass beads. In the foundations of the monastery fence, two other beads were found, which probably also came from the grave (Ivakin – Kozubovskij 1999: 5-6; Ivakin – Kozjuva 2003a: 40; Ivakin – Kozjuva 2003b: 96–99; Ivakin 2005: 288-289; Ivakin 2011: 34-35).

The Old Russian crosses from graves are found almost exclusively in the elite women’s graves from the mid-10th century. Androshchuk interprets this fact as the buried women belonged to the retinue of Princess Olga, alongside whom they attended important negotiations with the Byzantine elites (Androshchuk 2013: 169-186). These negotiations, including their participants, are documented, as is the fact that crosses were given during masses, and it is not impossible that the crosses found in the graves come from Byzantium.

Diagram of the grave no. 49 / A14 from the Cathedral of St. Michael in Kiev.
Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7. In our opinion, the indicated reconstruction is wrong.

A selection of finds from grave no. 49 / A14 from the Cathedral of St. Michael in Kiev.
Ivakin 2011: Рис. 22, 26, 30-33, 35-38.

Drawn reconstruction of the equipment buried in the grave no. 49 / A14 of Cathedral of St. Michael in Kiev.
Source: Oleksii Malev.

The bag

The object that laid at the left elbow in the waist area is generally described as a bag (Androshchuk 2011: 81; Androschchuk – Zocenko 2012: 92; Androshchuk 2013: 182), less often as a wooden bowl (Ivakin 2011: 34-35) or reliquary (personal interview with Vera Viktorovna Pavlova). Upon closer examination of the organic parts, and especially when comparing with wooden vessels with a similar type of decoration (see Vlasatý 2020), we agree with Vsevolod Ivakin, the son of the archaeologist leading the expedition Hlib Ivakin, who interprets the remains as a bag (personal interview with Vsevolod Ivakin). In our opinion, the theory which considers fragments as remains of a book cannot be supported by any analogous example. In addition, the position in the wait area may indicate hanging on the belt. Therefore, we will treat the object as a bag in the following part of the work.

The silver fittings found in connection with the bag indicate the likely shape and construction. Let us now describe them in sequence:

  • cross-shaped fitting
    The bag included a silver fitting in the shape of a cross, corresponding to Staecker type 1.2.2 (Androshchuk – Zocenko 2012: 92; Staecker 1999: 91-96). The cross is decorated with punched decoration. The size of the fittings is 3 × 3 × 0.05 cm, while the arms are 0.7-1.2 cm wide. This fitting is with legs on the underside which have been fixed to the leather, the fragments of which are still preserved (as can be seen in Androshchuk – Zocenko 2012: 92). It can be assumed that the position of this fitting on the bag was central and that the fitting was not part of the fastening mechanism. A suitable place for such a fitting could be the center of the lid. One more cross was found in the bag, which is provided with an eye, and apparently was inside the bag.

The cross-shaped fitting.
Source: Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7:21; Androshchuk – Zocenko 2012: Fig. 58.

  • arrow-shaped fitting
    Another piece of decoration is silver metal fitting in the shape of an arrow or a strap-end. The dimensions are approximately 2 × 0.9-1.2 cm, which is very similar to the cross arm. The fitting was fixed to the surface with five nails. In the middle of this fitting, there is a rectangular hole approximately 1 × 0.2 cm. It can be assumed that the position of the fittings was in the central line of the face side, at the same level as the cross-shaped fitting and the central arrow-shaped clamp, with which it formed an aesthetic and functional set. The arrow-shaped fitting and the central arrow-shaped clamp almost certainly formed the fastening system; in our opinion, this fitting was placed on the bottom of the bag just below the lid, which partially overlapped it. The main purpose of this fitting is to reinforce the stressed part of the bag.

The arrow-shaped fitting.
Source: Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7.

  • central arrow-shaped clamp
    The third silver fitting is the largest arrow-shaped clamp, measuring approximately 1 × 0.9-1.2 cm, a width similar to the previous two fittings. Inside the fitting, there were organic fragments, especially leather, which was secured by five nails. The fragment of the preserved leather is straight, without curvature. It can be assumed that this fitting was a central ornament on the edge of the bag lid, and was in the same line as the cross-shaped fitting and arrow-shaped fitting. It is very likely that this fitting was involved in the fastening system. After closing the bag lid, the central clamp apparently partially covered the arrow-shaped fitting.

Central arrow-shaped clamp.
Source: Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7.

  • small arrow-shaped clamps
    In the bag area, 19 silver fragments of small clamps were discovered, which could represent roughly 14 complete clamps. These clamps with irregular dimensions of about 0.7-1 × 0.7-1 cm enclose organic material, leather and textile, apparently coming from the bag lid. They probably accompanied the central arrow-shaped clamp. A fragment of the preserved leather found in clamps is straight, without curvature. One of the leather fragments kept two clamps close to each other, indicating that the clamps were not very spaced.

Small arrow-shaped clamps.
Source: Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7.

Essential information from chemical analysis of organic residues is that the leather was dyed and that the bag contained silk. The leather described as blue or dark, while silk is Byzantine samite (Ivakin – Kozjuva 2003a: 42; Ivakin 2007: 189; Androshchuk 2011: 81). Dyed leather from the early Middle Ages is a rare phenomenon. It is caused not only by small number of analyzed leather, as dyed leather is absent in carefully studied collections (eg Cameron 2000: 6; Mould et al. 2003: 3220). The only discovery of dyed leather from Early Medieval Europe except the Caucasus are the red-dyed covers of the Anglo-Saxon Gospels – St Cuthbert Gospel and Codex Bonifatianus I (Cameron 2000: 6). Manuals for dyeing leather appear either in the fading ancient tradition, which was well-known and continued to be copied in the Early Middle Ages, or in manuscripts since the 12th century. In connection with our bag, the most important source is Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, which mentions the coloring red and black. The black was achieved with atramentum (atramentum sutorium). For the sake of completeness, we can add that Mappae clavicula provides various manuals for dyeing the leather purple, red and shades of green, while Stockholm papyrus provides a method of staining the leather to stabilize the color. The Norman manuscript British Library MS Cotton Titus D.XXIV from the late 12th century mentions dyeing red (Hunt 1995). Veterans in the field of historical reconstruction mention the coloring the leather dark using walnut hulls, vinegar and iron, which is simple and safe, compared to the period procedures.

Silk has been found in connection with the clamps and is therefore likely to be a decoration of the lid and not the content of the bag. The silk used in bag construction can be regarded as an exceptional feature. The closest analogy is the silk bag from Moshchevaya Balka that has the the front decorated with sewn leather applications (Orfinskaya 2001: Рис. 2.21). The assumption that Old Hungarian and Old Russian tarsoly bags applied silk was not possible to prove, but a combination of silk and leather could be found in period shoes, belts, saddles and caftans (personal discussion with János Mesteller). A shoe also found in Moshchevaya Balka has red-dyed leather and a silk hem (Jerusalimskaya 2012: Il. 137). If we expanded the search outside Europe, we can mention the bag stored in the Chinese National Silk Museum, which is dated to 10th-12th century. The rear side of the lid is lined with silk, that is attached with a silk hem (China National Silk Museum 2017). Bags made completely of silk were used in a wide area from China to the Caucasus and rare find are also known from Europe (personal discussions with János Mesteller). In general, two possible options are acceptable, namely that the lid has been covered with silk from the top, or silk has been sewn on the underside of the lid. It is possible that the silk preserved inside the clamps comes from a narrow strip forming the hem.

If we put together the information we have mentioned so far, the following two schematic variants arise. They take into account the way of attaching the individual components, the shape of the lid given by the leather fragments, the number of components and the used materials.

Suggested drawn reconstruction of the bag from the grave no. 49 / A14 of Kiev.
Made by Tomáš Cajthaml.

In the mentioned variants, we do not propose a fastening system that is questionable. Due to the absence of a buckle in the bag area (the buckle was found in the box on the opposite side of the grave), it is evident that the bag was not fastened in this way. In addition, the type of bag that uses the buckle is characterized only by riveted fittings without clamps, as can be for example seen in the tarsola found in the grave of A12 from the same burial ground (Ivakin 2011: Рис. 29; Makarov 2012: 323, Рис. 18). Significantly higher similarity can be found in two bag remains from the chamber grave 2 of Pskov. This grave, which is an excellent analogy to the grave no. 49 / A14 from Kyiv, contains fragments of two bags, one consisting of seven clamps, the other consisting of two clamps and one central fitting (Yakovleva 2015: 70, Cat. 23, 26). The center fitting of the latter one is remarkably similar to our arrow-shaped fitting, but since it has no pair fitting, its position on the bag is harder to determine. However, it is highly likely that it participated in the fastening system and that it strengthened the stressed part of the bag. Another example of the bag that had central fittings and apparently had no buckle is the bag from Islandbridge, Ireland (Harrison – Ó Floinn 2014: 178-180). The finds from Kiev, Pskov and Islandbridge are characterized by fittings with central holes, but the Kiev piece is unique in its vertical position, making it impossible to find parallels.

We will propose four theoretical ways to solve the fastening, and we would like to ask the reenactors if they could try and share their experiences. We will gladly share any attempt.

  1. variant: from the rear side of the lid, from the space of the central arrow-shaped clamp, a narrow strip of leather ran out, passing through a slider made of very thin leather that came out through the arrow-shaped fitting.
  2. variant: two ends of the strap protrude from the inside of the bag through the arrow-shaped fitting, one being pushed through an opening in the central arrow-shaped clamp and tied to the other end, which until then remains free.
  3. variant: a strap protrudes from the inside of the bag through the arrow-shaped fitting, which is pushed through an opening in the arrow-shaped central clamp and a knot is formed thereon.
  4. variant: in the unfilled space in the central arrow-shaped clamp, there is a strap that extends out on both sides, passes through the leather slider in the arrow-shaped fitting and is then knotted.

Tarsoly bag from the grave no. A12, Kyiv.
Ivakin 2011: Рис. 29; Makarov 2012: 323, Рис. 18

Seven clamps from Pskov and their interpretation.
Yakovleva 2015: 70, Cat. 23; interpretation done by Makar Babenko.

Two clamps and central fitting from Pskov and their interpretation.
Yakovleva 2015: 70, Cat. 26; interpretation created by Tomáš Cajthaml.

Acknowledgments and conclusion

The Kiev bag is an extremely valuable artifact that not only expands the mosaic of purses, bags, satchels and wallets known from the Viking Age, but suggests previously unknown methods of leather decoration and combining leather with silk, a practice that has only been speculated in European context. In terms of costly decorating, it ranks among the top finds. Another positive aspect of the find is that  t comes from a well-documented grave. This find has a great potential to influence the reenactor community, but also to understand the Christianization processes taking place in Kievan Rus.

Finally, I would like to thank Roman Král from the workshop King’s Craft, who, despite my endless questions, intensively consulted the find. My thanks also deserve Vsevolod Ivakin and Oleksii Malev that provided me with the important literature. In the last, most honest place, I would like to pay tribute to Tomáš Cajthaml, who quickly and unselfishly created great graphics, thanks to which this artifact can be appreciated by people from all over the world.

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.


Androshchuk, Fedir (2011). Symbols of Faith or Symbols of Status? Christian Objects in Tenth-Century Rus´. In: Garipzanov, I. – Tolochko, O. (eds.). Early Christianity on the Way from the Varangians to the Greeks, Kiev, 70-89.

Androshchuk, Fedir (2013). Vikings in the east: essays on contacts along the road to Byzantium (800 – 1100), Uppsala.

Androshchuk – Zocenko 2012 = Андрощук Ф. O. – Зоценко В. Скандинавские древности Южной Руси: каталог, Paris, 2012.

Cameron, Esther A. (2000). Sheaths and Scabbards in England AD 400-1100. BAR British Series 301, Oxford.

Harrison, Stephen H. – Ó Floinn, Raghnall (2014). Viking Graves and Grave-Goods in Ireland. Medieval Dublin Excavations 1962-81, Series B, Dublin.

Hunt, Tony (1995). Early Anglo-Norman Receipts for Colours. In: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 58, 203-209

China National Silk Museum (2017). Embroidered leather bag with jin-silk and damask hems, Accession No. 3433. In: China National Silk Museum. Available from:

Ivakin 2005 = Ивакин Г.Ю. Погребения X — первой половины XI вв. из раскопок Михайловского Златоверхого монастыря (1997–1999) // Русь в IXXIV векахВзаимодействие Севера и Юга. М., 2005, стр. 287–303.

Ivakin, Hlib (2007). Excavations at St. Michael Golden Domes Monastery in Kiev. In: Aibabin, A. – Ivakin, H. (eds.). Kiev – Cherson – Constantinople, Kiev, Simferopol, and Paris: Ukrainian National Committee for Byzantine Studies, pp. 177–220.

Ivakin 2011 = Ивакин В. Г. Киевские погребения Х в. // Stratum plus № 5. 2011, стр. 1-44.

Ivakin – Kozjuva 2003a = Івакін Г., Козюба В. Нові поховання Х – ХІ ст. Верхнього Києва (з розкопок Архітектурно-археологічної експедиції 1997 – 1999 рр.)  // Дружинні старожитності Центрально-Східної Європи VІІІ–Х ст.: матеріали Міжнародного польового археологічного семінару, 17-20 липня 2003. Чернігів: Сіверянська думка, 2003, стр. 38–50.

Ivakin – Kozljuva 2003b = Івакін Г. Ю., Козюба В. К., Поляков С. Є.. Поховання Х—ХІ ст. В: Нікітенко Н. М. (відп. ред.). Нові дослідження давніх пам’яток Києва. Київ: Софія Київська, 2003, стр. 93—103

Ivakin – Kozubovskij 1997 = Івакін Г. Ю.; Козубовський Г. А.; Козюба В. К.; Поляков С. Є. Науковий звіт про архітектурно археологічні дослідження комплексу Михайлівського Золотоверхого монастиря в м. Києві у 1996—1997 рр. // НА ІА НАНУ, 1997/103.

Jerusalimskaya 2012 = Иерусалимская, А.А. (2012). Мощевая Балка. Необычный археологический памятник на Северокавказском шёлковом пути, СПб.

Makarov et al 2012 = Русь в IX–X веках: археологическая панорама / Ин-т археологии РАН; отв. ред. Н. А. Макаров. – Москва; Вологда: Древности Севера, 2012.

Mould, Q., Carlisle, I, Cameron, E. (2003). Craft Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. The small finds 17/16, York.

Orfinskaya 2001 = Орфинская, О. В. (2001). Текстиль VIII-IX вв. из коллекции Карачаево-Черкесского музея: технологические особенности в контексте культуры раннесредневековой Евразии, Москва.

Staecker, Jörn (1999). Rex regum et dominus dominorum. Die wikingerzeitlichen Kreuz- und Kruzifixanhänger als Ausdruck der Mission in Altdänemark und Schweden, Stockholm.

Vlasatý, Tomáš (2020). Lathed Tableware with Metal Brim. In: Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Available from:

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.

Inspiration #2, A Man From Birka

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.

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.

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.

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 replica of seax from grave Bj 644 (Konstantin adds that this is the old version of the seax and now works on a new one).

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).

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 costumeHere 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.

Were plantfibers cultivated in medieval Iceland?

It is my honour to present the article “Were plantfibers cultivated in medieval Iceland?” that was written and offered to me by my friend Marianne Guckelsberger, a textile master active in Iceland. The article discusses the Icelandic textile production, especially the production of linen.

The article can be downloaded via the following button:

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 Patreon or Paypal.