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Early medieval brooch from Netvořice, Czech rep.


Context of the find

At the beginning of June 2021, we were contacted by a person close to a detectorist who found an unusual artifact and who would like to consult it. From the attached photographs, it was obvious at first glance that the consulted object – a brooch with a schematic engraving of a cross and a human face – differs significantly not only from the usual modern finds, but also from common medieval products of domestic origin.

The finder refused our request to notify the relevant museum, but willingly lent the find through a mediator for the personal search, which happened in July 2021. He added that the finding took place on 31th May 2021 in a forest near the village Netvořice (Benešov district), coordinates 49.8393224N, 14.4876227E, at a depth of up to 30 cm below the surface. The find was lent for a period of about fourteen days, during which it was photographed, weighed, measured and then returned to the finder. The finder and mediator agreed to the publication.

Place of discovery within the Czech Republic.


The round brooch that came into our hands has a maximum diameter of 19.87 mm (diameter on two opposite sides 19.05 × 19.68 mm) and is made of sheet metal, which appears to be a uniform thickness close to 1.22 mm. The weight is currently 1.9 g. Due to the green patina, the material may be a copper alloy, although the item has not been analyzed. The front surface, which is still polished, is decorated with cut lines 0.5 mm wide, created by a sharp tool by cutting in two directions so that it resembles a twig motif.

One of the lines manifests itself on the edge, which largely collapses to the level of the perimeter line, so a hard, yellowish enamel-like substance is revealed inside the line. We have not examined the substance in more detail. In the middle of the perimeter line, we find a cross with a length of arms of 17.25 × 15.85 mm and a width of arms of 5-7 mm, in the foreground of which a schematic face 14.1 mm long and 9.7 mm wide protrudes. The face consists of eyes, nose, chin and crown. The perimeter line around represents a halo.

The back side bears traces of a two-point fastening mechanism, which is difficult to identify today. One of the remains consists of a corroded piece of sheet metal (probably a needle catcher), the other is two small protrusions of the fallen part of the mechanism (probably a needle fastener). In the place of the corroded sheet, the thickness of the clip is 1.8 mm, in the place of the fallen part 1.3 mm. The needle, originally apparently iron, is now absent.

View of both sides of the artifact.

Schematic drawing of Netvořice brooch. Author: Michal Havelka, baba_jaga_atelier

You can download all photos taken during the documentation using the following link:

Analogies and interpretations

The brooch both stylistically and structurally corresponds to the Early Middle Ages of 9th-11th century. In the the are of Bohemia, in which we almost lack metal objects of fastening (other than gombíks), this is an extraordinary find, to which we can only name low units of parallels. Two of them come from the Libice nad Cidlinou agglomeration. The first piece, found during the surface collection in 2012, is made of copper alloy, has a diameter of 23 mm and the raised cross motif is depicted on the front side (NM, H1-543721; Mařík 2018: Fig. 6.6; 2021). Parallels of this brooch are sought in northwestern Europe between the Rhine and the Elbe, where they are marked as Carolingian-Ottonian (Bos 2007-2008; Bergmann 1999: 441-2; Frick 1992-1993; Giesler 1978; Spiong 2000), while numerous finds also come from neighbouring territories, such as today’s Denmark (Baastrup 2009: Fig. 2). A similar provenance is suggested for a convex brooch made of white metal with a diameter of 34 mm, found in the children’s (probably girls’) grave no. 163 from Kanín, which dates to the second half of the 10th century (Mařík 2009: 94, 131, Taf. 52.9; Profantová 2011: 94). In the personal communication, Naďa Profantová mentioned to us that she records a brooch discovered by a detectorist from the territory of Western Bohemia, which is almost identical to the Netvořice piece and which is not yet published.

Metal brooches from the Libice agglomeration. Taken from: Mařík 2018; Mařík 2009: Taf. 52.9.

Despite the fact that the engraving style is done in the same way as the bird motif of the ring from Levý Hradec (NM, H1-27081; Tomková et al. 2020: 224-225), the discussed brooch – as well as its Bohemian parallels – does not seem to be local product. One of the possible provenances is the above-mentioned northwestern Europe. Intensified research and detector surveys in recent decades has also shown significant concentrations of circular brooches at the southern border of Bohemia on the right bank of the Naab and the Danube (Giesler 1978; Horváth 2015; Later 2009; Ungerman 2016; Zimmermann 1989). They appear rarely on the left bank towards the Czech border. After all, circular metal fastenings are not common even in Great Moravia (Dostál 1966: 59; Hrubý 1955: 272-3; Klanica 2006: 97). All this points to the fact that similar brooches were not very common in Bohemia and Moravia.

In searching for foreign analogies, we were unable to find any identical copies. The so-called Heiligenfibeln, depicting the motif of the head of a saint or Christ seen from the front, can be seen as logically close examples; they are typically enamelled and which are generally dated to the end of the 8th – 10th centuries (Frick 1992-1993: 287-296). In addition to this massive group, en face motif can be found on brooches imitating coins (eg Bos 2007-2008: 787-8; Bergmann 2017: Abb. 10). The closest motif we found comes from the site of Bolsward, Netherlands, and belongs to Bos’s variant (Bos 2007-2008: 770, 788); according to Bos, this brooch is made of lead alloy, has a diameter of 28 mm, depicts Christ’s head and is a possible coin imitation. The head is placed on the cross, which is in the background, but it is less schematized than in the Netvořice specimen. Another comparable motif comes from an enamel brooch from Hilton, Britain (Buckton 1986: 9, Fig. 2.4). The brooch shows a face with a beard and a crown on a cross-like background. The dating of the brooch can be narrowed to late 10th and 11th century.

Brooches from Bolsward and Hilton.
Taken from: Bos 2007-2008: 788; Buckton 1986: Fig. 2.4.

However, the engraving style (twig motif) is not typical for the area of northwestern Europe and the geographically closest group with a similar style of decoration can be found in the brooches of the so-called Köttlach II horizon, which is most pronounced in today’s Austria and Slovenia (Giesler 1980; Horváth 2015: Map 8). However, we do not know of any other find that would cross the Czech-Austrian/Czech-Bavarian border or could be find in the core area of the Ottonian Empire (Ungerman 2016: 24-5). The dating of this horizon is traditionally placed between the second half of the 10th and the first half of the 11th century (Giesler 1980). Even though contemporary researchers are leaning towards the dominance in the second half of the 10th century (Eichert 2010: 89-90; Ungerman 2016: 23), production and deposition at the beginning of the 11th century are not completely ruled out (Horváth 2015: 425-6; Schulze-Dörrlamm 1992). The brooches of this group appear in women’s graves in the neck areas (Horváth 2015: Abb. 13).

Distribution of flat and box brooches of the Köttlach II horizon.
Taken from: Horváth 2015: Karte 8.

It is clear from Horváth’s work that box brooches are often decorated with a “chiseled” motif of zigzag lines, while flat brooches are usually decorated with straight lines (Horváth 2015: 420-5). However, this does not apply in all cases – Giesler shows at least one flat brooch, which is made of copper alloy and whose front side is decorated with a knot-cross and a circumferential line made by a wavy or zigzag line (Giesler 1980: Abb. 3.2). Flat brooches, which Eichert calls flache Scheibenfibeln (Eichert 2010: 90-1), are minor in the Köttlach II horizon (other localities: Förk, grave 8; Jaunstein; Sankt Egidi; Zwentendorf, grave 113) and are typically made of copper alloy sheet.

Flat circular brooches of the Köttlach II horizon.
Taken from: Giesler 1980: Abb. 3.2; Horváth 2015: Abb. 22-23.

Whether the Netvořice brooch came from the Western Europe or was a product of the so-called Köttlach culture is not clear at this time without further analogies. In both cases, it can be linked to the Ottonian period. In private correspondence, Naďa Profantová expressed the opinion that the dating of the 2nd third of 10th – 1st half of the 11th century can be proposed. It is definitely a rare find in the Bohemia region and proves relations with foreign countries and the their influence on the domestic clothing tradition.

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