we bring you an exclusive translation of the work written by Russian reenactors that describes the leather finds from Birka and proposes the reconstruction of the shoe. The original article can be found here. The find is very valuable, since the shoes from Viking Age Sweden are almost absent and the reenators usually use the shoe patterns from Ladoga, Haithabu or York.
In 2013, an underwater archaeological survey was conducted around Björkö Island. A group of researchers from the Maritime History Museum (Sjöhistoriska museet), Stockholm, found a number of organic objects at the bottom of Lake Mälaren, including wooden parts of the ships, jewelry, tools and unidentifiable artifacts. Subsequent cleansing of some leather fragments revealed seams that allowed archaeologists to interpret objects as remains of shoes. In December 2017, these fragments were published in press (Olson 2017). We would like to introduce to you some of the conclusions.
Conclusions of the publication
A total of six heavily damaged fragments were found under water. Some of them show signs of cuts or stitches. For example, finds Nos 171, 172 and 183 represent edges that are cut but do not contain any seams. These finds are possibly production waste. Find No. 101 consists of two pieces found together. Both have seams but are not attached to each other in any way.
After the field work was completed, find No. 161, consisting of two adjacent parts (Fig. 1), was first examined. Find No. 172 was found at the same site and could be related to the previous find, although this cannot be said with certainty. Find No. 161 can be safely associated with only the two parts mentioned, each consisting of several more or less damaged fragments. These show signs of cuts and stitches simultaneously. It is not clear how these parts were put together, but from the presence of the characteristic decorative stitches, the curved edge and the strap we can assume that they are parts of a shoe.
Fig. 2: 1st part of the find No. 161 after cleaning. Source: Olson 2017: 280; 239.
Fig. 3: 1st part of the find No. 161 after cleaning: söm = seam, invik = curved edge. Source: Olson 2017: 281. 242.
The material of the first part of find No. 161 was seriously damaged in the past, which is why there are holes on its surface (Fig. 2). As can be seen in the diagram above (Fig. 3), this section consists of fragments A, B, C and D. Fragments B and D are probably part of one whole, while this cannot be said with certainty about the remaining two fragments. Fragment B has both preserved curved edges and traces of stitches and leash. Fragment A, which is better preserved, shows signs of cut, but no stitch marks, and can therefore be classified as manufacturing waste.
Fig. 4: 2st part of the find No. 161 after cleaning.
Source: Olson 2017: 280; 240.
Fig. 5: 2nd part of the find No. 161 after cleaning: söm = seam, invik = curved edge, trä = wood. Source: Olson 2017: 281; 243.
The second part is better preserved than the previous part (Figs. 4, 5). It consists of a rectangular fragment with seams and curved edges. There is a small piece of wood inserted in the skin, probably a wooden peg (Fig. 5). The two stitches located in the middle of this fragment were decorative and functional, reinforcing the vulnerable thumb area of the shoe. From the Viking and Middle Ages, we know the upper parts of shoes that are decorated in this way. The part of the leather strap that was preserved could serve to better fix the shoe to the foot. The publication does not contain more information.
Of course, these are only fragments that have limited informative value, but are still valuable pieces that will help in the reconstruction of the material culture of central Sweden. The first part seems to correspond to a shoe with a side seam and a stitched, round heel (Groenman-van Waateringe sole type 3.2; see Fig. 8). It is not possible to determine the type of binding, but it is likely that the holes for the strap were placed relatively low. The second part appears to be a part of a shoe with a side seam and sole completely sewn around (Groenman-van Waateringe sole type 3.1 or 3.2; see Fig. 8). The upper part was decorated and reinforced with a seam, the type of which can not be determined. There was a W-shaped tongue on the instep, a feature found on several early medieval shoes (eg Wedelspang, Elisenhof, Haithabu), as well as a curved edge (eg Wedelspang, Deventer or Dorestad). Since it is not clear whether both parts belonged to the same product, these elements can be used alone or together. In any case, we have a choice between the two known types of shoes. Separate use of the first and second parts makes it easier to find analogies in the corpus of European period clothing, while with the combination of both elements and minimal addition of missing parts, a shoe of the following appearance can be obtained (Fig. 6, 7).
Fig. 7: Reconstructed appearance. Drawn reconstruction based on the analogous find from Deventer. Source: Goubitz 2007: 137: 4.
Fig. 8: Sole types 3.1 and 3.2.
Source: Groenman-van Waateringe 1984: 32: Abb. 16: 4-5.
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.
Olsson, Andreas (2017). Maritima Birka : Arkeologisk rapport över marinarkeologiska undersökningar av kulturlager och pålanläggning i vattenområdet utanför Svarta jorden på Björkö 2004–2014, Arkeologisk rapport 2017:13 Stockholm. Online.
Groenman-van Waateringe, Willy (1984). Die Lederfunde von Haithabu, Neumünster.
Goubitz 2007 = Goubitz, Olaf (2007). Stepping through time : archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800, Zwolle.
Již po dlouhou dobu jsem chtěl v život uvést sérii článků, která bude doporučovat kvalitní řemeslníky věnující se ranému středověku a která bude přibližovat jejich výrobky, vyráběné zpravidla na zakázku. S radostí oznamuji, že tento příspěvek je pilotním článkem takové série, a budu velmi nadšen jakoukoli odezvu z řad dalších řemeslníků, ale také reenactorů prahnoucích po věrohodných reprodukcích.
Greetings, friends of history!
For a long time, I wanted to introduce a series of articles, which will recommend quality craftsmen interested in Early Middle Ages and which will show their products, usually made to order. I am pleased to announce that this post is a pilot of such a series, and I will be very excited to hear or read any feedback from other craftsmen, but also from reenactors who are coveting for credible reproductions.
První řemeslník, kterého si v této sérii představíme, je český všeuměl Václav Maňha, přáteli zvaný “Veverák”. Václav, který do raně středověké komunity zavítal poměrně nedávno, mne nepřestává překvapovat svojí všestranností a smyslem pro detail, který je vypilovaný lety modelaření. Bravurně zvládá práci se dřevem, kůží, neželeznými kovy i textilem. Jako zřejmě jediný v oboru nabízí pozlacování kůže a pozamentové dekorace ze stříbrného drátu. Václav je nesmírně pracovitý a zakázky má velmi rychle hotové. Jeho výrobky jsou originálům nebo zákazníkovu přání věrné, nakolik je vůbec možné. Jeho práce je možné spatřit na Facebookové stránce Dřevo krásné, dřevo mé.
The first craftsman to present in this series is the Czech all-rounder Václav Maňha, called “Squirrel” by his friends. Václav, who entered the early medieval community quite recently, continues to surprise me with his versatility and sense for detail that is perfected by years of modelmaking. He masterfully works with wood, leather, non-ferrous metals and textiles. Apparently, he is probably the only one in the field who offers gold plated leather and silver wire posaments of authentic size. Václav is extremely hardworking and has orders finished very quickly. His products are as faithful to the originals or customer´s desires as possible. His works can be seen at Facebook page Dřevo krásné, dřevo mé (literary “My beautiful wood”).
Pevně věřím, že jste si čtení tohoto článku užili. Pokud máte poznámku nebo dotaz, neváhejte mi napsat nebo se ozvat níže v komentářích. Pokud se Vám líbí obsah těchto stránek a chtěli byste podpořit jejich další fungování, podpořte, prosím, náš projekt na Patreonunebo Paypalu.
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.
For my entire reenactment career, I have encountered the problem of slippery shoe soles. Some reenactors solve the problem with rubber soles or metal hobnails, but these are not period solutions. Leather soles are extremely slippery on the wet or frozen surfaces, especially when they are a bit used and scuffed, which means the problem has to be solved in a way.
In Sagas of Icelanders and some other sagas, two terms skóbroddr (“shoe spike”; Eyrbyggja saga, Sturlunga saga, Sverris saga) and mannbroddr (literally “man’s spike”; Þorsteins saga hvíta, Vápnfirðinga saga) occur and they represent spikes that are used when saga heroes travel over the ice or as a cheating device mounted to horse forehead during horse fights. Spikes were not permanently attached to shoes; one could put them on and take them off as needed.
Crampons designed for horse hooves. Taken from Rybakov 1985: 362, Tab. 148, 26-29.
Crampons from sagas have many counterparts in the archaeological material in the whole of Scandinavia and beyond. The term mannbroddr suggests there were also crampons designed for horse hooves (see here). In some cases, it is difficult to determine which crampons were designed for men and which for horses. In this article, we will focus mainly on crampons that were meant to be attached to shoes. We will look at finds from Birka and Haithabu and some other analogies. Their function is to help to get stability on slippery surfaces, mainly ice. Etnographical mentions even attest the usage of crampons by whalers on the ocean, where whales were butchered (Goubitz 2007: 305). It is important to add that some of the graves with crampons from Birka were interpreted as winter graves; crampons and skates could play a symbolic role in this case (Gräslund 1980: 75–76). Fox example, during the exhibition We call them Vikings, The Swedish History Museum in Stockholm described crampons with these words: “The road to Hel is icy and leads north and downwards. Ice spikes ensured a safe arrival.“
Generally speaking, crampons of the Viking Age had no more than four spikes. Spikes are positioned in the way to maximize the friction of the shoe. Crampons can be divided into four basic categories:
Type A, “1-point crampons”. These were made of separate bent bands with only one spike. Bent bands, with no more than three pieces at the same time, were attached to leather or wooden bases. The length of these bases corresponded with the width of the shoes and were connected by straps to the shoe. Birka types 1 and 2 belong to this type (Arwidsson 1986: 111; however, Birka type 2 crampons could be horse crampons; discussion with Sergey Kainov). This type occurs also in Norway (Petersen 1951: 62–63), Latvia, Slovakia (my personal observations) and on territories of the Old Rus (Kainov–Spasov 2005),
The method of attachment according to Kainov–Spasov 2005.
Type B, “3-point crampons”. Crampons of this type are in forms that are roughly trianglar – crampons in the shape of an equilateral triangle with open inner space (Birka type 3), Y-shaped crampons (Haithabu types 1 and 2), T-shaped crampons (Haithabu type 3) and V-shaped crampons (Swedish type 5). Crampons in the shape of an equilateral triangle with open inner space have been found in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Poland, Latvia and Old Russia (Petersen 1951: 62–63; Arwidsson 1986: 111; Kirpičnikov 1973: 170; Kainov–Spasov 2005; Petrov 2006: 174; Wojtasik 1998: 372, Ryc. 10.27,5). Y-shaped crampons were found not only in Haithabu, but also in Schleswig (Saggau 2000: 99–100), in territories of West Slavic tribes and in Lund (Westphalen 2002: 271), in medieval Söderköping (SHM 34183:23), in medieval Riga (Petrov 2005) and Novgorod (Petrov 2006: 173–174); the same pieces were found in the tool chest from Mästermyr, Gotland (Arwidsson–Berg 1999: 16, No. 92–93). Three T-shaped crampons were found in Haithabu (Westphalen 2002: 271). V-shaped crampons were only found in the grave Valsgärde 7, which dates to the 7th century (Arwidsson 1977: 91, No. 1097; Arwidsson 1986: 112). No sure method of attachment is known, but we are aware of several high medieval or early modern methods from Oslo, Tønsberg, Trondheim, Leiden, Riga and Novgorod:
At least eighteen leather stripes designed for crampons, sometimes with shoe soles or with imprinted triangular crampons, were found in medieval and early modern layers of Oslo and Tønsberg in Norway. Examples taken from Johansen – Molaug 2008: 197, Figs. 209–210, Johansen 2008: 127, Fig. 141 and the catalogue of Unimus.
The leather stripe from medieval Tønsberg. The crampon was fixed in the stripe and then covered with round leather piece, which held the crampon in the stable position. Taken from Brendalsmo – Lindh 1982: 27. For more medieval leather stripes designed for crampons, see Ulriksen 1992.
A leather piece with imprinted crampon, found in Gamlebyen, Oslo. Very similar solution as in the previous picture. Dated to the first half of the 14th century. Taken from Færden et al 1990: 263, Fig. 30g, 264.
A very well preserved high medieval crampon from Söderköping, Sweden (SHM 34183:23). Note that holes around the crampon, which are similar to those from Oslo and Tønsberg. Taken from the catalogue of SHM.
Metal crampon which is covered with another layer of leather. Found in Trondheim (N53996, Folkebibliotekets tomt felt), dated to 1150-1175.
Medieval leather stripe and triangular crampon from Trondheim. Taken from Goubitz 2007: 311, Fig. 23b.
Late medieval leather stripe with an imprint of triangular crampon, found in Leiden. Taken from Goubitz 2007: 311, Fig. 23a.
The method used in 13th–14th century in Riga, Latvia. Taken from Petrov 2005.
The method used in 13th–14th century in Novgorod, Russia. The area around the crampon is covered with another layer of leather. Taken from Petrov 2006: 172, 176, Fig. 1, 4.
The method suggested by Kainov–Spasov 2005.
The method suggested by Saggau 2000: Abb. 67:4. The crampon is placed in folded leather stripe. Note that the leather strap is placed on a modern shoe.
This method is etnografically attested from Finland. The crampon is placed in folded leather stripe and fixed by stitching. Taken from Schietzel 2014: 214.
Etnographical methods attested in Finland. Taken from Sirelius 1934: 116, Taf. 55, Abb. 244a-c.
The realization of the method suggested by Spasov-Kainov 2005, group NorraVind.
The attachment method used by Veronica Wik.
The attachment method from Tønsberg replicated by Veronica Wic.
The attachment method used by Amy Pooley when climbing Mr Kosciusko. Credits go to Joshua Button.
Type C, “4-point crampons”. Three X-shaped crampons were found in Haithabu (Haithabu type 4; Westphalen 2002: 271). In Viking Age and medieval Norway, X-shaped crampon with open inner space were used as well (see C13709, C35607, C37183or T2316). Similarly, there is a X-shaped crampon with open inner space and metal holders found in medieval Hovgården, Sweden (SHM 15825:149). The attachment method is not known from the Viking Age and it could be similar to what we have shown in the case of type B.
The crampon from medieval Hovgården (SHM 15825:149). Taken from the catalogue of SHM.
The attachment method used by Karel Sýkora, Marobud.
Other types, “atypical crampons”. We have to mention crampons of the Swedish type 4, that were found in graves Tuna Alsike X and Bengtsarvet 2. They were made of an iron bands, whose length corresponded to the width of the shoe. They had bent ends with loops for attachment and three spikes on the bottom side. Analogical methods with two spikes were found in late medieval or early modern sites from Germany (Heiligenberg, Tannenberg, Dossenheim, Gaisberg; Gross 2012: 448–9) and Russia (Staraya Ladoga). Besides the find from Staraya Ladoga, Kirpichnikov (1973) shows yet another interesting form medieval.
2-point iron band crampon with loops for attachment. Taken from Gross 2012: 544, Taf. 60.11.
Crampons found in Staraya Ladoga (Number. 3; 17th century) and Kniazha Hora (Number. 4, 1150–1240 AD). Taken from Kirpichnikov 1973: 170, Fig. 47.
Viking Age crampons could seem as old-fashioned or primitive pieces of metal. However, in Europe, simple crampons like all those aforementioned were used until the 20th century. Their simple and effective construction uses only a limited number of variants. Therefore, we can see very similar pieces in space and time.
Crampons from the 19th and 20th century with similar designs.
My first chance to use crampons took place in 2015, during the festival of Libušín, in the Czech Republic. I chose crampons of type B (Haithabu type 2, Y-shaped). I am very indebted to Jiří “Link” Novák, who gave them to me as a gift. The attachment method was copied from Danish reenactors, since I had not the sources I have now. This was my first try and I would like to inform you about all pros and cons of this piece of gear.
The most important discovery of this experience was that crampons make shoes a very useful thing. When a crampon is used with leather soled shoes, the result is comparable with rubber sole or hobnails. I have not had a chance to use crampons on an icy surface, but they worked perfectly on the wet or dry grass and were very useful during climbing a hill. I used crampons with thick felt insoles, but I think that woolen insoles and crampons fixed with the second layer of leather can lead to the same comfortable feeling. When the user is careful and slow, crampons can be even used on hard surfaces for short distances (all you feel is the pressure). In battle, crampons are also useful for stability, but rather dangerous and therefore not recommended. I personally think they were used mainly in winter, while they had no benefit in summer. They should be used mainly during winter events (for example hikes), whereas to a limited extent during summer events.
The first try showed that a crampon should be fixed into two layers of leather, because the crampon has a tendency to move and to tear the leather.For the same reason, it is necessary to place the crampon the middle of the leather band, not near the edge. The stitching can be very useful. It is always better have two fixed points on the shoe; my attachment method took advantage of leather straps, which hold the leather band in place. Below, you can have a look at photos of my experience.
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.
Arwidsson 1977 = Arwidsson, Greta (1977). Valsgärde 7, Lund.
Arwidsson 1986 = Arwidsson, Greta (1986). Die Eissporen. In: ARWIDSSON, Greta (ed.) Birka II: 2. Systematische Analysen der Gräberfunde, Stockholm: 111–112.
Arwidsson–Berg 1999 = Arwidsson, Greta – Berg, Gösta (1999). The Mästermyr find : a Viking age tool chest from Gotland, Lompoc.
Brendalsmo – Lindh 1982 = Brendalsmo, Jan – Lindh, Jan (1982). Funn fra en utgravning, Øvre Ervik.
Færden et al 1990 = Færden, G., Schia, E., Molaug, P. B. (1990). De Arkeologiske utgravninger i Gamlebyen, Oslo. 7-8, Dagliglivets gjenstander, Øvre Ervik.
Goubitz 2007 = Goubitz, Olaf (2007). Stepping through time : archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800, Zwolle.
Gräslund 1980 = Gräslund, Anne-Sofie (1980). Birka IV. The Burial Customs. A study of the graves on Björkö, Stockholm.
Petrov 2006 = М. И. Петров (2006). Обувные шипы из новгородских раскопок // Новгород и Новгородская земля: история и археология : материалы науч. конференции. Новгород, 24-26 янв. 2006 г, Великий Новгород: 171–178. Online: http://bibliotekar.ru/rusNovgorod/144.htm
Rybakov 1985 = Рыбаков, Б. А. (1985). Археология СССР : Древняя Русь. Город, замок, село, Moskva.
Saggau 2000 = Saggau, Hilke E. (2000). Mittelalterliche Eisenfunde aus Schleswig : Ausgrabung Schild 1971-1975, (Ausgrabungen in Schleswig 14), Neumünster.
Sirelius 1934 = Sirelius, U. T. (1934). Die Volkskultur Finnlands : I. Jagd und Fischerei, Berlin-Leipzig.
Schietzel2014 = Schietzel, Kurt (2014). Spurensuche Haithabu, Neumünster / Hamburg.
Ulriksen 1992 = Ulriksen, Eli. Lærmaterialet. In: Lindh, Jan (1992). Arkeologi i Tønsberg. 1 : Søndre bydel, Oslo: 103–142.
Westphalen 2002 = Westphalen, Petra (2002). Die Eisenfunde von Haithabu, (Die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 10), Neumünster.
Wojtasik 1998 = Wojtasik, Jerzy (1998). Srebrne Wzgórze w Wolinie, wstępne wyniki badań z lat 1961–1969. In: Materiały Zachodniopomorskie, 45, 321–383.