Rethinking the wallet from Gokstad

The wallet from the rich grave of Gokstad, Norway (early 10th century), is one of the most frequently reconstructed objects of the Early Middle Ages and is sold by many dozens of manufacturers around the world. However, its proposed reconstruction repeatedly attracts the attention of reenactors due to its ambiguity. In this article, we will take a closer look at the wallet and we will propose a new interpretation that has not yet been implemented.


Current interpretation of the wallet

The current interpretation, which is used by reenactors and which is presented in the academic literature, was proposed by Birgit Heyerdahl-Larsen in her article Gokstadhøvdingens pung (The Gokstad chiefstain´s pouch) in 1981. In the article, the author literally states:

[…] some ready-cut pieces of leather or hide which Nicolaysen believed to be the remains of a pouch, were found in the burial chamber along with the chieftain´s personal effects. Unfortunately the pieces no longer exist. Probably the leather dried up and disintergrated when no longer protected by the blue clay of the mound. A hundred years ago modern methods of preservation were of course unknown. Nevertheless I venture to make the «pouch» the theme of an article basing my assumptions on drawings of three of the leather pieces in the publication «The Viking Ship Discovered at Gokstad near Sandefjord» and a description in the main catalogue of the Museum of Antiquities which reads as follows

‚Two oval pieces of double thin hide, 13.5 × 8.5 cm, cut straight at one edge. The pieces correspond and have been sewn together at the edges. One piece has fine openwork patterning and was lined with a coloured material which must have offered a pleasing contrast to the hide at the aperture. There was preasumbly yet another patterned piece. There were also straps and an oblong piece, worn thin at both ends, decorated with three rows of closely-punched holes down the centre. The seams along the edges had left holes in all the pieces.’ “ (Heyerdahl-Larsen 1981: 104)

The text indicates that the author never saw the wallet and its interpretation based on a drawing published Nicolaysen (1882: Pl. IX.3-5) and a description that can be found today in the central catalog Unimus (Unimus 2020). The basis of her interpretation is Nicolaysen’s drawing of an oval object, to which she attaches a perforated leather belt in various ways. The basis of the two versions attached below is a two-part wallet sewn on the edges – both halves are decorated with a openwork and are lined with a textile inside and equipped with two pockets. According to the author, this base has a size of 13.5 × 8.5 cm. The version on the left places a perforated leather strip at the mouth of the pouch, while the version on the right places this strip all around the edge of the pouch. In both cases, the wallet is complemented by a handle, perhaps loosely inspired by a narrowed leather belt, which Nicolays assigned to the find (1882: Pl. IX.5).

Interpretations proposed by Birgit Heyerdahl-Larsen.
Heyerdahl-Larsen 1981: 37.

This interpretation is adopted by reenactors around the world, who use the wallet as almost the only surviving specimen of its kind found in Viking Age Norway. Sometimes both pieces are created to match the shape and material of the proposed reconstruction, other times the versions deviate more or less. The most noticeable differences between the individual trials are the dimensions, the contrast material and the material of the mouth reinforcement, which sometimes is wood or antler.

Version of the wallet made according to the current interpretation.
Maker: Dominik Schörkl (left), Královo řemeslo (right).

Version of the wallet made according to the current interpretation.
Maker: Bjorn This Way (left), norther73 (right).


Discrepancies

However, on closer inspection, the current interpretation is burdened by several inconsistencies that concern three areas – shape, size and construction.

Shape

In order to be equipped with a reinforcing cuff at the mouth, Heyerdahl-Larsen suggests a shape that could be called a kidney-shaped. This is in contrast to Nicolaysen’s original drawing, which shows a more rounded shape and the absence of a cuff. If we take into account the degradation of the object at the time of discovery, which could simply have caused the distortion of the drawing, it can be assumed that the object was symmetrical and had the shape of an oval or an hourglass.

It is definitely worth mentioning that the openwork also looks somewhat differently and more fragile in Nicolaysen’s drawing.

Original Nicolaysen’s drawing. Nicolaysen 1882: Pl. IX.3.

Size

The most common question of reenactors regarding the Gokstad wallet concerns dimensions. Here we cannot forgive the criticism of Heyerdahl-Larsen, who did not personally examine the wallet and considered it destroyed. If she made an effort to find a wallet, she would find not only that it existed, but also that its size deviated somewhat from the provided information. Let us remind that Heyerdahl-Larsen states the size of 13.5 × 8.5 cm.

To this day, about half of the front part of the wallet with one cut spiral has been preserved in a recognizable condition. Its photograph is digitized and stored in the central catalog Unimus under catalog number C10460 (Unimus 2020). From the attached scale, the accuracy of which was confirmed in a personal discussion by the author of the photograph Vegard Vike, it is clear that the size of 13.5 × 8.5 cm applies only to this one half of the object. Theoretically, the whole wallet would take on a size of about 17 × 13.5 cm, which in combination with a reinforcing cuff and loop is not very likely.

Nicolaysen gives a certain indication of how large the original object could have been in his original drawing, which has a 1:2 scale. We have checked other small objects from the book that are preserved to this day, with the result that the objects are drawn correctly or with only minimal deviations. Therefore, if we trust the scale, the front part of the bag measured approximately 15 × 11 cm according to the drawing. Unfortunately, it is not possible to verify the dimensions in the text part of Nicolaysen’s work, which does not contain this detail due to its very fast publication.

We believe that the difference between 17 × 13.5 cm and 15 × 11 cm is due to the fact that the photograph distorts the current state. The object is stretched and the area of ​​decoration is significantly stretched, which makes the object relatively long and wide. If it were possible to reduce the spacing between the openwork decoration to a minimum, as is the case with Nicolaysen’s drawing, we believe that it would affect the size. For this reason, the size of 17 × 13.5 cm cannot be taken too decisively and it is possible to lean towards a smaller size, approximately 15 × 11 cm. Although this dimension does not appear to be dramatically different from the original proposed size, it is a dimension that precludes some means of use. In this context, it is necessary to recall the remark of the conservator Vegard Vike that the whole object most likely underwent significant drying after the discovery, and thus shrinkage. The estimated size of the drawn state must therefore be taken with some reserve and can be considered as minimal. Another fact that must necessarily be considered is the turning of the finished product, which is certainly the case of the wallet from Gokstad.

Current state of the wallet. Unimus 2020.

Construction

We finally see the discrepancies in the description of how the individual parts of the wallet are constructed. Nicolaysen’s original text contains the following simple sentence, which only indicates that the leather was lined with colored fabric (Nicolaysen 1882: 47m):

m. divers fragments of leather with fine puctures […] doubtless parts of a purse which had been lined inside with coloured cloth, that has shown itself between the openings cut in the leather […].“

The current version of the Unimus catalog is the most infomative (Unimus 2020). In terms of language it corresponds to the period about 100 years ago. It is clear that Heyerdahl-Larsen based her infomation on this text:

‚Several piece of thin leather. Two of these pieces are oval, cut straight at one edge, 13.5 wide and 8.5 cm high, which correspond to each other and have been sewn together at the edges. Doubtless parts of a purse. Both pieces are made of two-layered leather, one of which has fine openwork patterning and was lined with textile. There was preasumbly yet another patterned piece. There were also straps, partially equipped with seam holes in the middle part.“

This report is absolutely essential for understanding the whole object, as it is the oldest description from when the object was more complete than it is today. We read about two two-layered oval pieces measuring 13.5 × 8.5 cm that are sewn together. Only one oval two-layered piece was decorated. At the same time, we learn that the piece probably had the same decorated counterpart. The text relates only to half of the wallet, which confirms the photograph of the object – the piece with the openwork is two-layered (the second, uncut two-layer part is not preserved) and corresponds in size.

Heyerdahl-Larsen, on the other hand, equates Nicolaysen’s drawing with the description of two two-layered pieces. Heyerdahl-Larsen interprets the two layer information as “two pockets” and transforms the information about the openwork counterpart into the idea that it was “probably decorated on both sides” (Heyerdahl-Larsen 1981: 37).

The belt was assigned to the wallet by Nicolaysen and, as noted above, the oval shape does not indicate the proposed use of the belts. Objectively speaking, it is not possible to confirm or refute whether the straps were in fact parts of the wallet.


New interpretation

In June 2020, we were contacted by the Danish craftsman Thomas Nichols from the Nichols Naturligvis workshop, who pointed out some of the above-mentioned discrepancies and expressed doubts whether the wallet was reconstructed correctly. We discussed the wallet in detail together and here we would like to publish our reading of the object, which – in our opinion – has been misunderstood to this day.

The shape of the wallet can be based on Nicolaysen’s drawing, which shows an approximately oval shape. The cross-section of the wallet must be based on a report from the Unimus catalog – the front had openwork, was two-layered and sewn to the back, undecorated two-layered part, which had to be a pocket. The back decorated part of the wallet was missing. Nicolaysen’s text and catalog show that the textile layer of contrasting fabric was placed between the two two-layered parts, where it prevented the deposited objects from falling out. It means that the wallet was originally folded and Nicolaysen’s drawing shows the wallet in an unfolded state. This reading is supported by 4 symmetrically placed holes, which in the previous interpretation were considered as decoration. The holes can be understood as a construction feature used to fasten a strap, which was apparently stretched in them. The same case may be the central elongated opening, which may not be a decoration but may have been used to store items in the wallet.

The closest analogy to our proposed interpretation is the wallet from Sigtuna (Sigtuna Museum 2019a; Sigtuna Museum 2019b). The object, found in Trädgårdsmästaren and dated to 1030-1050, consists of a front part measuring 14 × 11 cm, of a hourglass shape, with a simple geometric decor and a possible central opening. The inner parts of the wallet are missing, as with the current state of the Gokstad find.

The purse from Sigtuna. Sigtuna Museum 2019aSigtuna Museum 2019b.

Experimental reconstruction of the purse from Sigtuna. Author: Oleksii Malev.

The interior of the wallet offers several possible interpretations. In the visualization attached below, we propose three methods:

  1. both sides of the wallet are sewn together and the wallet is not openable. The interior is halved by one two-layered leather plate that creates two pockets. The textile layer prevents objects from falling out. The objects are inserted into the wallet through an opening on the upper edge.
  2. both sides of the wallet are left unstitched and the wallet is openable. The textile layer is covered with a leather part, which is then covered with two pockets. The opening on the upper edge is covered with textile.
  3. both sides of the wallet are left unstitched and the wallet is openable. The textile layer is partially covered with a leather part, which is then covered with two pockets. The opening on the upper edge is covered with textile. The space between the leather part and the textile can be used to store items, so the wallet has a total of four pockets.

Unfortunately, we do not know the nature of the textile used. The only information we have is the color of this textile layer, which created a contrast. It is not impossible that it may have been the silk, which is represented by the other find from Gokstad mound (Vedeler 2014: 41-2).

The position of the belt, which was assigned to the find by Nicolaysen and subsequently interpreted by Heyerdahl-Larsen, cannot be estimated. We should not rule out the possibility that these fragments do not belong to the wallet at all.


Visualization of the new interpretation

In collaboration with the reenactor and saddler Thomas Nichols from the Nichols Naturligvis workshop, we have prepared a visualization of the described interpretation, which proposes the construction step by step. The author notes that the production of the wallet takes about 2.5 hours, which is a significant acceleration compared to the 9-11 hours that took the production of the wallet of the current interpretation.

Pictures of the variants can be easily downloaded via the following link:


Variant 1


 

Variant 2

 

Variant 3


Acknowledgement

Revision of the find would not be possible without observant eyes and a determined mind of Thomas Nichols from Nichols Naturligvis workshop, who created functional models of the newly interpreted wallet and whom I warmly thank.

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.


Bibliography

Heyerdahl-Larsen, Birgit (1981). Gokstadhøvdingens pung = The Gokstad chiefstain´s pouch. In: Wexelsen, Einar (ed). Gokstadfunnet : et 100-års minne = The Gokstad excavations : centenary of a Norwegian Viking find, Sandefjord, 36-7, 104-5.

Nicolaysen, Nicolay (1882). Langskibet fra Gokstad ved Sandefjord = The Viking-ship discovered at Gokstad in Norway, Kristiania.

Sigtuna Museum (2019a). Veckans föremål. In: Sigtuna Museum & Art. Visited 19th March 2020, available from:
https://www.facebook.com/sigtunamuseumandart.se/photos/a.424430047633243/1963497667059799/?type=3.

Sigtuna Museum (2019b). Uppdatering av Veckans föremål. In: Sigtuna Museum & Art. Visited 14th June 2020, available from:
https://www.facebook.com/sigtunamuseumandart.se/photos/pcb.1991639364245629/1991636104245955/?type=3&theater.

Unimus (2020). C10460. In: Unimus [online]. [2020-06-14]. Available from:
http://www.unimus.no/artefacts/khm/search/?oid=67669&museumsnr=C10460&f=html

Vedeler, Marianne (2014). Silk for the Vikings, Oxford – Philadelphia.

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 2020a), 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). Another possible analogy is the wallet from Gokstad (Vlasatý 2020b). 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.


Bibliography

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: http://www.chinasilkmuseum.com/zggd/list_103.aspx

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 (2020a). Lathed Tableware with Metal Brim. In: Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Available from: http://sagy.vikingove.cz/lathed-tableware-with-metal-brim/.

Vlasatý, Tomáš (2020b). Rethinking the wallet from Gokstad. In: Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Dostupné z: http://sagy.vikingove.cz/rethinking-the-wallet-from-gokstad/

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.

The Wallet from Iholm, Denmark

In March 2020, I was notified of an interesting find of a wallet from 11th century Denmark, which has not been paid much attention. This brief article will provide basic information on the entire find and the reconstruction attempts.


Circumstances of the find and its content

On a Sunday in 1853, an unnamed brick factory worker from Tåsinge, Denmark, went to uninhabited island of Iholm, which lies in the Svendborg Strait between the islands of Funen and Tåsinge, accompanied by his friends. As he was strolling and destroying molehills, he saw metal reflections in one of them. Inside, he found 15 coins that he had buried again due to fear of disaster and illness, he washed himself and went home. The man shared the information about the discovery with the master brickman, who went to the island with its owner. The find-place, located in the middle of the small island, was thoroughly examined within a radius of about 4 meters and a depth of 1 meter. At a depth of 20-25 cm below the surface, they found a silver treasure that was kept in a leather case, and other silver objects were discovered within a 30 cm radius. The treasure was collected and handed over to the National Museum in Copenhagen (Grundtvig 1948: 170; Skovmand 1942: 90, Cat. No. 32).

The main part of the treasure consisted of 475 coins, more precisely 3 Danish, 1 Norwegian, 17 Swedish, 238 Anglo-Saxon, 10 Dutch, 163 German, 2 Carolingian, 8 Czech, 1 Byzantine, 1 Persian, 27 Kufic and 2 semi-finished coins (Erslev 1875: 119- 120; Hauberg 1900: 165, Cat No. 45; Malmer 1966: 269, Cat No. 43). Duczko informs that the treasure includes two shield pendants with whirl motifs (Duczko 1989: 18). In addition, three fragments of necklaces were found in the treasure (Hårdh 1996: 48, 191), four complete bracelets and ingots (Nationalmuseet 2020; Trap 1923: 706). In 1989, around 100 coins and silver fragments were discovered near the site, so the total number was about 590 pieces of silver (Nationalmuseet 2020). The dating of the treasure is the first quarter of the 11th century. The catalog number of the treasure, which is partially exhibited in the National Museum in Copenhagen (room 23), is C NM 13594-608, C. 1837. The find-place is sometimes also referred as Yholm, Bregninge, Svendborg, Svendborgsund, Tåsinge or Taasinge.

The available literature has always descibed the numismatic part of the treasure (among others Brøndsted 1938: 382; Galster 1980: 65; Rasmusson 1937: 125-6; Schive 1865: 13; Wahlstedt 1930: 23, 28), while the leather fragments remain almost unnoticed by literature. The next chapter will therefore be devoted to the description of leather fragments.


Wallet remains and reconstruction

But not all the silver that glitters! The wallet in which the treasure was located was no less valuable and was a representative item. In the present state, it consists of two leather fragments, one of which is part of the wallet pocket and the other is a sewn application that has been gold-plated (Nationalmuseet 2020; Mannering 2017):

  • fragment 1: a piece of leather with approximate size of 6 × 4 cm, which forms the tip of a folding wallet. The side exhibited in the museum as the upper side is the upper side of the inner pocket. The two sides forming the tip are lined with holes for stitches. Apperently, the fragment of the pocket has been sewn to the second, supporting layer. The top of the fragment and the tip are torn apart. The dominating part of the fragment is a semicircle of holes, which was used to find the originally circular application. This application was positioned at the center of the width of the object, with the offset from the sides being smaller than the offset from the tip. Whether the wallet had one or two pockets facing each other is not known, but both variants are possible. The wallet in its original state probably exceeded the width of 6 cm, while the original length is unknown, but due to hundreds of pieces of silver it could be quite large. The closest contextual and shape analogy is the wallet from Roswinkel, Netherlands, dated to the end of the 9th century (Pleyte 1883; Gräslund 1984: Abb. 16.2). This folding wallet consists of a supporting layer and a three-part pocket embellished with a sewn leather application; it was used to store the treasure – 144 silver coins and a gold coin in a small wooden box (personal discussion with Bert Tessens). Other examples of folding wallets are 24 wallets from Birka (Gräslund 1984: 143-6), Sigtuna wallet (Sigtuna Museum 2019), a small four-piece wallet from Bringsverd, Norway (C23116; Rolfsen 1981: 117) and a small wallet from the Evebø grave, Norway, 5th century (B4590). The presence of a tip at Iholm wallet indicates that the find did not belong to the group of two-piece wallets with integral leather slider, such as those from Elisenhof (Grenander-Nyberg 1985: 234, 247, Taf. 76) and Gniezno (self-observation). With a high degree of probability, we can also exclude it would belong to the group of bags with metal components.

 

  • fragment 2: leather application originally of circular shape. The diameter of this application could be about 3-4 cm. The application consisted of an interwoven motif with a rim, with holes for stitches at the edge of the rim. The interwoven motif was apparently made up of two pieces that were perpendicular to each other, one piece consisting of a rim and strips connecting its two sides, while the other had loose ends, which were interwoven between the strips of the furst piece and inserted under the rim and stitched together with the rim. At this time, exact reconstruction of the application is not possible and it is necessary to wait for detailed analysis and publishing in print. However, similar motifs can be found on pendants and textile applications in Viking Sweden. The leather application was gilded with foil, which is still visible today. The closest analogy to this decorative method can be found in Birka, where all parts of folding wallets are interwoven with gilded leather strips (Gräslund 1984: 143-6). A similar find to those from Birka is a leather pouch lid from Frankish grave 10 in Cologne-Müngersdorf, which is interwoven with copper alloy wires (Fremensdorf 1955: 93, 137, Taf. 92.1-2). Gilded leather can also be found on the wooden knife sheath from warrior grave excavated at Prague Castle (Borkovský 1939-46: 127). Notker the Stammerer mentions that Charlemagne wore gilded leather shoes (De Carolo Magno, translated by Thorpe, p. 132).

Source: Mannering 2017.

Source: Nationalmuseet 2020.

Source: Fashioning the Viking Age 2019.


Wallet from Roswinkel, which is the closest analogy. Source: Gräslund 1984: Abb. 16.2.

As far as we know, two attempts have been made to reconstruct the waller which should be mentioned. The first of these was created in the Danish workshop Nichols Naturligvis. The overall look is great and the only details we can criticize is the size of the application, which covers too big space compared to the original, and the shape of the lower edge, which should be more spiked and probably without a strap. Generally, this attempt copies models from Birka. The workshop is very active in experimenting with the possible looks of the original interwoven motif, which was symmetrical, in their opinion.

Attempted reconstruction by Nichols Naturligvis.

The other attempt was made by Swedish reenactor Veronica Wik, who mounted the asymmetric application on a purse. The benefit of this reconstruction is the fact it reflects the larger capacity of the wallet, which should have been able to hold several hundred pieces of silver, as well as a greater offset of the application from the edge, which is more consistent with the original find. We must also appreciate the involvement of coins and hence the pursuit of a realistic concept.

Reconstruction attempt by Veronica Wik.

Since both versions are not ideal, me and reenactor and graphic designer Tomáš Cajthaml prepared two graphic designs that outlines the original appearance of the artifact in the best possible way – the wallet is folding, has only one strap, the application has the correct ratio to the rest and the offset respects the original composition. We used the shape of Roswinkel wallet, which we consider the closest shape analogy. The look of the application was taken from the attempt of Veronika Wic, although we are aware that none of the designs is 100% accurate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suggested drawn reconstructions of Iholm wallet.
Made by Tomáš Cajthaml.


Acknowledgments and conclusion

Wallet from Iholm is a rare specimen that complements the mosaic of purses, bags and wallets known from the Viking Age. In terms of decorating, it ranks among the top finds. It suggests that gilded leather was a more widespread phenomenon than previously thought. It is also probably the first wallet known from Viking Age Denmark, which will be appreciated especially by reenactors interested in the region who now have the opportunity to take this artifact into consideration. All this should serve as an appeal to the staff of the National Museum in Copenhagen, pointing out that the wallet has not yet been published.

Finally, I would like to thank Nichols Naturligvis for drawing my attention to this find. My thanks also deserve Veronica Wik. In the last, most honorable 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.


Bibliography

Notker the Stammerer: De Carolo Magno. In: Two lives of Charlemagne: Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, translated by Lewis Thorpe, Harmondsworth 1967.

Borkovský, Ivan (1939-46). Hrob bojovníka z doby knížecí na Pražském hradě. In: Památky archeologické 42, 122-131.

Brøndsted, Johannes (1938). Danmarks oldtid, bind 3, København.

Duczko, Władysław (1989). Runde Silberblechanhänger mit punzierten Muster. In: Arwidsson, Greta (ed.). Birka II:3. Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde, Stockholm, 8–18.

Erslev, Kristian (1875). Roskildes ældste Mønter. Studier til Dansk Mønthistorie. In: Aarbøger for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie, København, 117–187.

Fashioning the Viking Age 2019. Fragment of a leather purse from Yholm. In: Fashioning the Viking Age Project. Visited 19.3.2020, available from: https://www.instagram.com/p/BzFgHN9nr0a/.

Fremersdorf, Fritz (1955). Das fränkische Reihengräberfeld Köln-Müngersdorf, Berlin.

Galster, Georg (1980). Vikingetids møntfund fra Bornholm. In: Nordisk Numismatisk Årsskrift 1977–78, 5–246.

Gräslund, Anne-Sofie (1984). Beutel und Taschen. In: Arwidsson, Greta (ed.). Birka II:1. Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde, Stockholm, 141-154.

Grenander-Nyberg, Gertrud (1985). Die Lederfunde aus der frühgeschichtlichen Wurt Elisenhof. In: Szabo, M. – Grenander-Nyberg, G.- Myrdal, J. (eds.). Die Holzfunde aus der frühgeschichtlichen Wurt Elisenhof. Elisenhof Band 5, Frankfurt – Bern – New York.

Grundtvig, Sven (1948). Danske folkesagn, 1839-83: samling. Danske stedsagn, København.

Hårdh, Birgitta (1996). Silver in the Viking Age: A Regional-Economic Study (Acta Archaeologica Lundensia, Series in 8° Nr. 25), Stockholm.

Hauberg, Peter Christian (1900). Myntforhold og udmyntninger i Danmark indtil 1146, København.

Malmer, Brita (1966). Nordiska mynt före år 1000 (Acta Archaeologica Lundensia, Series in 8° Nr. 4), Lund.

Mannering, Ulla (2017). Skattefundet fra øen Yholm. In: Nationalmuseet – Prehistory. Visited 19.3.2020, available from: https://www.facebook.com/DanmarksogMiddelhavslandenesOldtid/photos/a.1701340826604999/1746996435372771/?type=3.

Nationalmuseet (2020). Udsøgt læderpung med guldtryk. In: Nationalmuseet i København. Visited 19.3.2020, available from: https://natmus.dk/historisk-viden/temaer/pels-i-oldtiden-og-antikken/pels-i-oldtiden/udsoegt-laederpung-med-guldtryk/.

Pleyte, Willem (1883). Nederlandsche Oudheden van de vroegste tijden tot op Karel den Groote, Leiden.

Rasmusson, Nils Ludvig (1937). Kring de västerländska mynten i Birka. In: Från stenålder till rokoko, studier tillägnade Otto Rydbeck, Lund, 113–135.

Rolfsen, Perry (1981). Den siste hedning på Agder. In: Viking, Vol. 44, 112–128.

Sigtuna Museum (2019). Veckans föremål. In: Sigtuna Museum & Art. Visited 19.3.2020, available from: https://www.facebook.com/sigtunamuseumandart.se/photos/a.424430047633243/1963497667059799/?type=3.

Schive, G. I. (1865). Norges Mynter i Middelalderen, samlede og beskrevne af G. I. Schive: Med Indledning af C. A. Holmboe, Christiania.

Skovmand, Roar (1942). De danske Skattefund fra Vikingetiden og den ældste Middelalder indtil omkring 1150. In: Aarbøger for nordisk oldkyndighed og historie, København, 1-275.

Trap, Jens Peter (1923). Kongeriget Danmark, 4. Udgave, København.

Trap, Jens Peter (1957). Kongeriget Danmark, 5. Udgave : Odense og Svendborg Amt, København.

Wahlstedt, Axel (1930). Den svenska plåtmyntningens historia. In: Numismatiska meddelanden 25, 22-36.

The Length of Early Medieval Belts

There are some “truths” in reenactment that are not questioned even though they should be. These are called “reenactorism” and engaged by both newbies and veterans. In this article we will show one of these, the myth of a long belt in Early medieval Europe, following the work done by German reenactor Christopher Kunz.

It is fully evident from the preserved material that there was a number of approaches to belt wearing in the Early Middle ages. These approaches originated alongside cultural environment and local development, social ranking, gender and usage method. The assumption of using a uniform belt type with the same width and length is wrong. On the initiative of beginning reenactors who often raise questions about belt length, in this article we will try to map the legth of men’s leather belts according to iconography and finds in burial complexes.

Fig. 1: Grave no. 59 from the Haithabu-Flachgräberfeld burial site
Arents – Eisenschmidt 2010b: 308, Taf. 10.


Simple belt with a short end (up to approx. 20 cm)

This form best resembles present belts, which are manufactured approximately 15 cm longer than the waistline. In seven graves from Birka, Sweden (488, 750, 761, 918, 949, 1030, 1076) the buckles are no more than 10 cm far from each other (Arbman 1943) and similar positions could be found throughout Europe – we can mention Great Moravian (i.e. Kalousek 1973: 33, Fig. 13) or Danish graves (Arents – Eisenschmidt 2010b: 301, Taf. 3). There are no belts with hanging strap-ends in Early medieval iconography, which is rather schematic than detailed. Belts are scarcely visible in painted iconography as they usually seem to be overlapped by pleated upper tunics, which can be interpreted as an element of fashion. As a result the belt looks like a narrow horizontal line.

There is a certain contradiction between some burial positions and strap-end decor, where some of Early medieval belts had strap-ends that hung down when threaded through the buckle. The most graphic evidence comes from depictions of people and animals which can be seen on the strap-ends and placed lengthwise. In some cases, there are figures of naked men depicted on the strap-ends, which could imply that the hanging end could reach down to the genitals and symbolically represent or emphasize them (Thomas 2000: Fig. 3.16, 3.27). In the listing below we will attempt to suggest several manners of tying these belts.

Fig. 2: A selection of painted iconography of 9-11th century depicting a belt hidden in tunic pleats.
From the left: British Lib. MS Arundel 60, 4r, 11th century; BNF Lat. 1, 423r, 9th century; British Lib. MS Stowe 944, 6r, 11th century; XIV.A.13, 29v, 11th century
.

Fig. 3: Strap-ends depicting a naked man.
Thomas 2000: Fig. 3.16, 3.27.


Fig. 4: A rare depiction of hanging strap-end in Western Europe iconography. Manuscript: Latin 1141, Fol. 14, 9th century.

  • Loose end
    The simplest form is represented by a belt worn in its nearly maximal length. The end is then short enough not to obstruct manual labour and because it copies the belt, it can be hidden in a pleated tunic. Depictions of loose belt ends can be quite typically observed in 13th and 14th century. Moreover, we know a belt from Early medieval Latvia which had a metal ring at its end, used to grapple on a buckle tongue. The very same method was is also known from Čingul mound, Ukraine, from 13th century (Отрощенко – Рассамакин 1983: 78).

Fig. 5: Reconstruction of belts from 400-700 AD in Zollernalb region, Germany.
Schmitt 2005: Abb. 15.

Fig. 6: Reconstruction of Haithabu type belts.
Arents – Eisenschmidt 2010b: 140, Abb. 61.

  • Tucked behind the belt
    Another simple way of wearing a belt is tucking its end behind the already fastened part of the belt. We have at least one piece of evidence of this wearing from Anglo-Saxon England, where a belt passed through the buckle, flipped back and end tucked behind itself was documented (Watson 2006: 6-8). This forms a perpendicular line on the belt and keeps the face side of strap-end exposed. In case of pleated tunic covering the belt it can be easily adjusted to form a line.


Fig. 7: Strap-end being flipped back after going through the buckle and tucked behind the already fastened belt. Shrublands Quarry, Watson 2006: Fig. 6.

  • Tucked in a slider
    Metal belt sliders are very scarce in terms of archeological material. One of this kind was found within Gokstad Barrow (C10439) and adjusted to fit a strap-end from the same grave (Nicolaysen 1882: 49, Pl: X:11). Another slider was presumably found in Birka grave no. 478 (Abrman 1943: 138) and three more made of sheet bronze were apparently found in Kopparvik, Gotland (Toplak 2016: 126). According to sliders usually appearing in relation to spurs or garters where they are 2-3 centimeters wide (i.e. Andersen 1993: 48, 69; Thomas 2000: 268; Skre 2011: 72-74), we can assume that if the sliders were used with belts more, we would be able to detect them more easily. It is possible that they corroded over time, that organic sliders were used too or that they will be found during a more detailed research. Generally we can assume that the sliders were used in cases where the buckles did not include holding plates – in opposite cases the holding plates would not be visible after using the slider.

Fig. 8: Reconstruction of the belt from grave no. 478 at Birka.
Abrman 1943: 138, Abb. 83.

Fig. 9: Attempt for a reconstruction of the belt from Birka grave no. 949 applying a leather slider.
Author: Sippe Guntursson.

  • Puncturing two holes
    A relatively elegant reenactor’s solution is to puncture two consecutive holes and tuck the belt behind its buckle. All the belt’s components therefore remain visible. This solution was documented in case of at least two archeological finds from Britain and Belgium, 6th-7th century. (De Smaele et al. in pressWatson 2002: 3). The same system is known from Early medieval Latvia. In case of pleated tunic covering the belt it can be easily adjusted to form a line.

Fig. 10: Puncturing two holes that enables threading the strap-end behind a buckle.
Author: Erik Panknin.

  • Attaching by a thong
    Another aesthetical, yet undocumented manner of attaching a belt is adding a thong which holds the buckle’s tongue while the strap-end continues further behind the buckle. We have no evidence for this manner.

Fig. 11: Fixing the buckle with a thong attached to the belt. An unfounded hypothesis.
Author: L’Atelier de Micky.

  • Tucking into a buckle slot
    Buckles having a rectangular slot aside from the typical loop are very common in Eastern-European regions. After fastening the belt using the loop’s tongue, the strap-end could be tucked into this slot and hanged downwards. In case of pleated tunic covering the belt it can be easily adjusted to form a line.


Fig. 12: Reconstruction of the belt from Berezovec barrow.
Степанова 2009: 250, рис. 18.

  • Knot on a belt
    The most frequent solution among reenactors is undoubtedly a knot performed like this: after going through the buckle, the strap-end is tucked behind the belt from below and then passed through the resulting loop. This means achieving a perpendicular line on the belt and keeping the strap-end’s face side visible. This knot-tying, although with much shorter belt than standardly used in today’s reenactment, could be found in France during the Merovingian age (France-Lanlord 1961). With a high probability, the same solution was found in a grave from St Michael’s Church graveyard in Workington, England. Knots were often worn in 13th and 14th century.

Fig. 13: Reconstruction of a Merovingian belt from St. Quentin.
France-Lanlord 1961.


Composite belt with a long end

Some of the Eastern-European Early medieval decorated belts are manufactured in a more complex way, having one or more longer ends. In case of a belt constructed to have more ends, one of these ends – usually the shorter one – is designed to be fixed by the buckle, while the others are either tagged on or formed by the outer layer of two-layered belt. Long ends of these costly belts are designed for double wrapping, tucking into a slider or behind the belt. The length of the ends is not standardized, however we are unable to find any belt that would reach below its owner’s crotch when completely tied. While looking for parallels, we can notice that a belt compounded this way has many similarities to tassels on horse harnesses. Apparently, the belts were worn by riders or emerged from such a tradition, then maintained the position of wealthy status even after being adopted by neighbouring non-nomadic cultures. At last we can state that longer belts were designed mainly to hold more decoration and to allow the owner to handle the length more flexibly, whether for practical or aesthetical reasons.

Fig. 14: Composite belts with long ends.
A, b – belts from Gnezdovo (Мурашева 2000: рис. 109, 113), c – belts from Nové Zámky (Čilinská 1966: Abb. 19), d – belt from Hemse (Thunmark-Nylén 2006: Abb. III:9:3), e – reconstruction of belt tying from Káros, Hungary (Petkes – Sudár 2014).


Conclusion

The topic of belt lenght in reenactment is definitely a controversional one as it touches every male reenactor. Belts are sometimes costly and even a hint, originally meant as constructive critic, can easily cause negative emotions. There is no need for them though, as there is probably no reenactor who has never worn a long belt. We suppose that this reenactorism, used in practice for more than 30 years over the whole world, is caused by these factors:

  • unwillingness to perform one’s own research leading to imitation of a generally accepted model
  • bad access to sources or their misintepretation
  • easily obtainable and cheap, yet historically inaccurate belts sold on the internet in standard length of about 160 cm
  • unwillingness to talk about the problem by both organizers and attendants

In this article, we demonstrated that historical belts often did not have any hanging ends and that the maximum length where the end would reach was the crotch, which could have a symbolic meaning. Any of the aforementioned manners of attaching should not be incompatible with the sources we have at our disposal, however as we already mentioned, both the length and style of wearing followed local traditions. Western Europe therefore preferred delicately hidden belts while in Eastern Europe, the richly decorated belts were worn on public display.


Bibliography

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Arents, Ute – Eisenschmidt, Silke (2010a). Die Gräber von Haithabu, Band 1: Text, Literatur, Die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 15, Neumünster.

Arents, Ute – Eisenschmidt, Silke (2010b). Die Gräber von Haithabu, Band 2: Katalog, Listen, Tafeln, Beilagen, Die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 15, Neumünster.

Čilinská, Zlata (1966). Slawisch-awarisches Gräberfeld in Nové Zámky. Archaeologia slovacca, Fontes, t. 7, Bratislava.

De Smaele, B. – Delaruelle, S. – Hertogs, S. – Scheltjens, S. – Thijs, C. – Van Doninck, J. – Verdegem, S. (in print). Merovingische begraving en middeleeuwse bewoning bij een bronstijd grafveld aan de Krommenhof in Beerse, AdAK rapport 17, Turnhout.

France-Lanlord, Albert (1961). Die Gürtelgarnitur von Saint-Quentin. In: Germania 39, 412-420;

Kalousek, František (1971). Břeclav-Pohansko. 1, Velkomoravské pohřebiště u kostela : archeologické prameny z pohřebiště, Brno.

Мурашева, В.В. (2000). Древнерусские ременные наборные украшения (Х-XIII вв.), М.: Эдиториал УРСС.

Nicolaysen, Nicolay (1882). Langskibet fra Gokstad ved Sandefjord = The Viking-ship discovered at Gokstad in Norway, Kristiania.

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Bag handles

Dear readers,

let me present the text about bag handles (bag frames or bag closures) from Haithabu. Below the first picture, you can find the original German text and English and Czech translations. In the end of the post, you can find the table that we prepared for you and that maps Scandinavian bag handles.

Correct reconstruction of Haithabu bag. Made by Monika Baráková.


The original text, “Taschenbügel aus Haithabu”


English translation, with more pictures


Czech translation of the English version


Table mapping Scandinavian bag handles. Made by Tomáš Cajthaml.