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Identification of a potential hat cone from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep, Hungary



In November 2023, during a cursory research of the literature, we found a mention of a silver object from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep, Hungary, which is still identified as part of a horse’s bridle. However, in our opinion, the object is misinterpreted and in fact there is a high probability that it is actually an as yet unrecognized terminal of elite headgear.

In the following paper, we will collect all available data on the object, elaborate on the discussion of its function, and propose a new interpretation, supported by an unprecedentedly extensive commentary. As part of the article, we undertook research in the archives of the Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum) in Budapest, which did not yield any significant new findings. We can thus say that the object is not in the mentioned museum and is apparently lost forever.

The location of Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep on the map of Europe.

Context of the find

In the locality of Újtelep (Lőkös-dűlő) near the village of Tiszaeszlár in eastern Hungary, a burial ground from the period of the Hungarian Conquest was found in the 1940s (Dienes 1996: 310-311; Fehér – Éry – Kralovánszky 1962: 79; Fodor et al. 1996: 193-5; Tóth 2008: 60-64; 2014: 57-60). Specifically, the site was located on the southern slope of a natural ridge 312 meters west of the 53rd kilometer of the national road between the towns of Tiszalök and Rakamaz. To date, a total of four graves have been discovered from the burial site, but its true extent is unknown. The top of the ridge is heavily damaged by erosion and intensive plowing, so it can be expected that the burial site is significantly damaged. There is some speculation as to the dating of the burial site, however the current consensus seems to favour the early to mid 10th century (Fodor et al. 1996: 195). Tóth even suggests only the second third of the 10th century (Tóth 2014: 60).

The first grave with a W-E orientation (1) was discovered in 1944 during the digging of war trenches. A certain child showed this grave to József Rohács, a shoemaker from Tiszalök. Stimulated by this find, Rohács dug a narrow probe in the N-S direction, in which he discovered two graves (2-3), oriented in the W-E direction. On September 15, 1948, archaeologist Nándor Fettich (1900-1971) visited Rohács, who inspected the burial site, wrote a report based on Rohács’s notes, and took over the finds for a symbolic sum for the Hungarian National Museum, where they remain to this day. On October 29-30 of the same year, Nándor Fettich, together with his fellow archaeologist Mihály Párducz, dug a exploratory probe that revealed the fourth grave (4). In 1966, archaeologist István Dienes (1929-1995) was also marginally involved in the study of the burial site and located it precisely (Tóth 2014: 57). It is Dienes’s and Rohács’ notes, which today remain in the archives of the Hungarian National Museum under the inventory numbers I.45.T and 42.T.I, that are key to the next chapters of this work.

Location of the cemetery. Source: Tóth 2014: 57.

Let us now mention the two graves excavated by Rohács (2 and 3). Grave 2 was 35 cm deep and disturbed by a plow. The skeleton of the deceased man was lying on his back and due to post-depositional processes, his head was missing, so he was 148 cm long. The grave goods consisted of bones of a horse, a horse bit, 3 arrows, gilt silver belt fittings and a horse harness buckle, copper alloy buttons, silver rings, an iron knife in wooden sheet covered with silver plate, 2 perforated silver coins of Louis the Pious (814-840), 2 perforated silver coins of Charles the Bald (840-875), iron-clad quiver and bone inlay of a bow case for carrying an unstringed bow. Between the bone plates, there were a twisted and a bent bronze wire. Inv. nos. 6/1948.1,4-7,10,11,13. It was demonstrably an horse burial, which contained a rich collection of weapons and clothing.

Grave 3, which according to Rohács’ notes was located 3 meters north of Grave 2, had no measurable dimensions and the human skeleton was not preserved at all. According to Tóth’s description, it should have included a silver belt mount, a fragmented silver hoop, a bone application of a quiver with the remains of an iron rivet and a silver object identified as a harness fitting (Tóth 2008: 62; 2014: 58). According to Rohács, the belt mount belonged to Grave 2 and Grave 3 included a button. In one case, Tóth mistakenly states that the harness fitting belongs to grave 4 (Tóth 2008: 262; 2014: 60). Inv. nos. 6/1948.2-3. The grave is interpreted as an equestrian burial based on the discussed harness fittings. Rohács’ notes explicitly mention the presence of horse bones, which Tóth omits.

Selection of objects from the grave 2. Source: Tóth 2014: Tab. 58-60.

Click on the following button to view or download Rohács’s handwritten notes, which we had the opportunity to scan in the archives of the Hungarian National Museum:

Presentation of the object

In the Dienes’s handwritten notes, Tóth found a textual and pictorial description of the burial ground, which supplements Rohács’s description by the presence of an object with the description “Silver socket of a bridle plume (?), in a fragmentary state” (Ezüst csótárdísz [?], töredékes állapotban). She published her findings on this object in full only in her dissertation (Tóth 2008: 227), while the text is missing from the published version (Tóth 2014). It is worth mentioning that the word “socket of a bridle plume” (csótárdísz) was first used by Rohács, while Dienes adds a question mark that expresses his doubts.

According to this author and Dienes’ reconstruction, it was a conical, hollow object made of silver sheet, which was equipped with several lobes at the base, which were separated by high and narrow gaps. The gaps narrowed towards the top and were rounded. The lobes made up about a third of the object’s height. Tóth estimates the number of lobes at five. The apex of the cone is flat and open. No traces of holes, rivets or decoration are indicated, but a vertical line is drawn on the wall of the cone, connecting the top of the gap with the upper edge of the cone. Any dimensions of this find are missing; however, we can assume that if the find was interpreted as a socket of the bridle plume, the dimensions were in the units of centimetres.

Dienes’ reconstruction of the object.

Criticism of existing theory

As said, the object is interpreted as the socket of an organic plume placed on the front side of a horse’s bridle (tollbokrétaköpű, incorrectly csótár). These sockets are known from many Eastern European cultures and in Central Europe they are associated primarily with the Avars (see Szentpéteri 1993). Avar sockets are overwhelmingly made of a copper alloy and are in half the cases gilded; we know only one silver piece (Csuthy 2020: 139). The base has an oval or almond-shaped cross-section and is 4-8 cm long, while the height of the socket reaches 1.5-5 cm. The tube receiving the plume is usually not centered with respect to the base. After the end of the Avar horizon, there is a significant decline in the usage of sockets; in the Carolingian period, they appear sporadically in the Carpathian Basin (Csuthy 2020: 139; Tóth 2008: 227). The object from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep differs from average sockets in all these characteristics, which renders the previous interpretation unreliable. The main point of criticism is the diametrically different shape of the base, which makes it impossible to attach it to the bridle. András Csuthy, who studied the problem of Avar sockets (Csuthy 2020: 137-140), agrees with this conclusion in a personal conversation.

Examples of plume sockets. Source: Csuthy 2019: 353; 2020: 152.

Significantly closer analogies to the find from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep are hanging conical fittings (kónikus veretek), which served as holders for organic tassels (Csuthy 2020: 140-142). In terms of shape, these are almost identical pieces, but lack the lobed design at the bottom edge. The lower and upper edges tend to be reinforced. Varying between 1.2-3.2 cm in height, they are noticeably smaller than plume sockets. They are identical in material to the plume sockets, i.e. silver pieces are rare. Traditionally in nomadic cultures, they are used at a level below the horse’s mouth, but as more than one pair can appear in graves in different positions, it is certain that they could have been used on any harness strap. As far as we know, tassel holders are only found in Central European graves in the Avar period and do not occur during the Hungarian Conquest. The material and chronological discrepancy suggests that the object from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep is probably not a tassel holder from a horse harness. The only Conquest period object analogical in shape is a silver and granulated pendant from Sárrétudvari-Hízóföld, which served as a gemma holder (Gesztelyi 2003).

Examples of tassel holders. Source: Csuthy 2020: 153; Szentpéteri 1993: 3. kép.

Three objects from the period of the Hungarian Conquest are compared with the find from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep (see Tóth 2008: 227). One of them is a hemispherical object made of gilded silver from Grave 49 from the site Karos-Eperjesszög II (Révész 1996: 60, Tab. 70; Révész et al. 2020: 21). The diameter of the base is 17.2 cm, height 10.7 cm. The top is perforated with a small hole. A decorative function on horse harness is assumed. In 2021, a team of researchers examining the heritage of the Karos cemeteries concluded that the find from Grave 49 with 17 cm in diameter at the bottom, could hardly have been accurately fixed to the horse’s head. No similar shaped object is known to be a horse headdress in the early medieval archaeological corpus of Eastern Europe. However, a similar shaped object is known in Eurasia at this time on the horse’s back, where it was fixed at the crossing point of the straps (Türk et al. 2021: Fig. 16).

The second is a flat silver sheet plaque from Grave 52 of the same cemetery (Révész 1996: 27, 71, Tab. 89). The plaque is lobed on the underside, narrows towards the top and is equipped with a hole at the top. It is believed that this piece served as a decoration on the front side of the bridle, which is in agreement with Late Antiquity analogies (see e.g. Fabech – Näsman 2017; Geißlinger 1961). Both finds are so different in shape or size that they cannot be directly connected. It therefore seems that the find from the Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep site stands relatively alone in the Old Hungarian material and is devoid of any parallels, which Tóth admits (Tóth 2008: 227).

The third is a silver cast decoration of an Old Hungarian Grave 2/1937 from Streda nad Bodrogom, Slovakia (Nevizánsky – Košta 2009: 309; 2012: 122). The object with a trefoil base measuring 2.64 × 2 cm and a total height of 0.84 cm is equipped with three rivets with a length of 0.71 cm and a hollow cone. The cone is finished with a hole with a diameter of 0.5 cm. The mass of the object is 0.00513 kg. In 2009, commentators believed that the object was the fitting of a case for a stringed bow and that the hole in the cone was used to insert a glass filling or a gemstone (Nevizánsky – Košta 2009: 309, 318). In the following publication, the same authors reassessed their opinion and considered the fittings to be the plume socket of a horse’s bridle (Nevizánsky – Košta 2012: 122). Erdélyi (1961-1962: 17) also saw the plume socket in the object, but he had only one non-detailed black-and-white photo without scale. Currently, it is not possible to give a clear interpretation of this fitting: it is obvious that it is intended to be riveted to a flat leather base. In any case, it is an extraordinary piece that almost lacks parallels – the exception is the find from the Karos I locality (Dókus 1900: 53; Révész 1996: 13, Tab. 1.19). The similarities of both objects with the conical finds from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep are minimal.

Finds from Karos-Eperjesszög II and Streda nad Bodrogom.
From left: Grave 52, Grave 49, Grave 2/1937.
Source: Nevizánsky – Košta 2012: Abb. 11; Révész 1996: Tab. 70, 89.

Proposing a new theory

If we lack any closer shape and material analogies from the territory of Hungary from the observed period, we can try to search abroad. The most similar finds are the two conical tops of prestige hats (süvegcsúcs), found in Graves 581 and 644 in Birka, Sweden (Arbman 1940: Taf. 94). Both finials have a lobed lower edge, are made of thin silver sheet, decorated with granulation, and are attributed to their origin in Kyivan Rus (Duczko 1985: 24, 101). The find from Grave 581 is more complete, while the other lacks the hollow ball at the top. Because of this defect, the damaged piece that is extremely similar to Dienes’ drawing. Since we also know two similar hat cones from the Old Hungarian context, this theory may not be exaggerated.

It should be borne in mind that Dienes’s drawing is an approximate reconstruction and may be misleading due to ignorance of close parallels. The upper edge can thus be proportionally wider, even though it may originally have been narrow and covered by a soldered silver sheet ball. Dienes could also have overlooked the holes in the lobes, which in the case of the two Old Hungarian analogies are very small indeed. The main arguments of our theory are the similarity in the overall shape, material, shape and number of gaps and the presence of a decorative line connecting the top of the gaps with the upper edge. Since we cannot physically examine the object, our proposal remains at the level of an unverifiable hypothesis, which can only be supported by the discovery of another lobed piece in the territory of Hungary. Natalia Khamajko, who published hat terminals in the past (Khamajko 2017), agrees with our proposal. Attila Türk also expressed support for the new theory.

Comparison of finds from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep and Birka.
Source: Duczko 1985: 100; Tóth 2008: 64.

Before proceeding to a complete enumeration of parallels and implications, let us focus on two pressing issues. The hat cones are usually found in opulently equipped equestrian graves, which Grave 3 from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep does not fulfill. One possibility is that the grave was robbed. However, we cannot rule out the alternative that the object actually came from the prestigiously equipped Grave 2. Both graves were excavated at the same time and were located nearby, so an inadvertent confusion is not impossible. It could have been an accident caused by plowing, which damaged the shallow Grave 2 in the area of the head, near which the terminal could have been located, and the hat cone moved to the site of Grave 3 by agricultural activity. We cannot rule out another human error either: Tóth (2014: 59) literally states “in Rohács’s report, the findings were somewhat mixed up” (Rohács beszámolójában kissé összekeveredtek a leletek). Although, according to Nándor Fettich, István Dienes and István Fodor, Rohács was not a bad observer, he was not a studied archaeologist; he worked in the region as a keen collector of objects and an amateur archaeologist in the 1930s and 1940s. He had a wide scope, digging basically any graves and focusing on collecting items. He had a warm relationship with some archaeologists and institutions, for example the collaboration with Nándor Fettich lasted several years from 1947 at the latest (Kemenczei 1983: 51).

At the same time, we have to ask ourselves how it is possible that this find has remained neglected until today. The answer is not simple at all. The key point, in our opinion, is the sequence of circumstances that caused the finds from Birka, discovered by Stolpe in the 19th century, not to be published in the promising works of Arne (1911) and Paulsen (1933) and to international awareness only with Arbman’s publications from years 1940-1943. These publications are still rare in physical form and exist in Hungarian libraries in just one piece: the poorly illustrated Text (Arbman 1943) first arrived in Hungary in 1947, and the heavily illustrated Tafeln (Arbman 1940) in 1968. The digitized form of these books was officially distributed around 2020. Fettich, who was a quality archaeologist and craftsman and who apparently saw the object in person, thus had no chance to recognize it, despite the fact that he had already published one Old Hungarian hat cone in the past (Fettich 1937: Taf. LXXIII). Dienes’ notes were apparently created around 1966.

István Fodor (1943-2021) may have been the closest to the discovery, who published both the object from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep and another Old Hungarian hat cone in the very same book (Fodor et al. 1996: 132, 194). However, it is not at all clear whether Fodor was familiar with Dienes’s drawing, which was only pointed out by Tóth in 2008. In any case, this can be justified by the huge extent of the material that Fodor had to process while preparing the given book. In addition, Fodor published another work on the new discovery of the Old Hungarian hat cone (Fodor 2018), i.e. after the publication of drawing by Tóth. In this case Professor Fodor can be excused by his advanced age and the limited scope of the article. It should not be overlooked that the similarity of the finds from Birka with another Old Hungarian specimen was pointed out by Kovács in 2003 (Kovács 2003), so the previous identification is impossible. When asked why Tóth herself did not notice the similarity, we find an explanation in the fact that the author tried to find parallels in the local Hungarian environment. In general, it can be said that proper international attention has been paid to the metal hat cones only in the last twelve years in connection with two new discoveries. We believe this very fact is the main reason of the late identification of the object from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep.

3D model of the hat cone reconstruction, based on the find from Šestovica.

International comparison and group definition

If we leave aside the find from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep, we currently have at least five conical hat terminals made of metal. They are the finds from Graves 581 and 644 from Birka (Arbman 1940: Taf. 94; Duczko 1985: 98), the find from Grave 2/2006 from the Šestovica, Ukraine (Androšchuk – Zocenko 2012: 335), the find from the grave from Berehove, present-day Ukraine (Beregszász) (Fodor et al. 1996: 132) and the find from the Hungarian site of Jászberény-Alsómuszáj, homokbánya (Fodor 2018; Jancsik et al. 2019). All the finials mentioned are made of silver, the first three are decorated with granulation on the surface, while the other two Old Hungarian pieces are gilded and chiseled. First four pieces show filigree decor. In the past, these cones were also mistakenly referred to as helmet sockets (e.g. Kalmár 1971: 264).

Hat cones comparison. Source: Fodor et al. 1996: 132; 2018: 240; Gardeła 2021: 47.

Grave 581 from Birka is one of the most distinctive Scandinavian graves of the Viking Age and has been subjected to a number of investigations which revealed that the person buried was a young woman who had reached the age of 30 (e.g. Gardeła 2021: 47-55; Hedenstierna-Jonson et al. 2017). The burial inventory included two horses with riding gear, a Petersen type E sword, a type M axe, a long knife in an ornate sheath, spears, a shield, arrows, a set of game pieces and more. The hat cone was located at the nape of the neck of the deceased, so it was originally placed on the head. The finial is 6.6 cm high, 3.6 cm wide at the bottom edge, 0.9 cm wide at the level of the dome (Duczko 1985: 98). It is made of sheet metal with a thickness of 0.04 cm and weighs 0.0209 kg (Duczko 1985: 98). The dome appears to be soldered on. The cone is accompanied by wire braids, which were part of the original headgear, as will be explained later. A coin from the years 913-933 was found in the grave.

Grave 644 from Birka is a richly decorated double grave of an adult man from abroad and a young local woman (Price et al. 2018: 34), which contained a Petersen type H/I sword, a long knife with a decorated sheath, a hammer-axe, riding equipment, a spear, a shield, a set of glass game pieces and, among other things, a metal plate of an Old Hungarian sabretache. The hat cone is incomplete, 6.2 cm high, 4.2 cm wide at the base and 0.8 cm at the top (Duczko 1985: 98). It is made of sheet metal with a thickness of 0.04 cm and weighs 0.0197 kg (Duczko 1985: 98). A part of the hat was also a posament decoration. A coin from 920-921 was discovered in the grave.

Grave 2/2006 from Šestovica is an expensively furnished chamber grave of a young man (20-25 years old), who was buried with two horses and riding equipment, a H/I type sword, an Androshchuk type 6 scabbard chape, a long knife in a decorated sheaht, a lance with a silver-plated shaft, two drinking horns, an axe and a bag with a metal plate of the Old Hungarian sabretache (Mikhailov 2016: 221-2). The hat cone is again granulated, has a slightly lobed base and is angular. The height of the cone is 8 cm, the diameter of the base is 4.7 cm, the diameter of the dome is 1.7 cm. Sheet thickness 0.1-0.15 cm (Androšchuk – Zocenko 2012: 335). The dome appears to be soldered on. A coin from the years 907-914 was found in the grave.

An Old Hungarian grave from Berehovo / Beregszász was discovered in 1890 and contained a skeleton surrounded by a horse skeleton, a saber with gold and silver plated fittings and silver wire inlay in the handle, stirrups and other equestrian equipment, a quiver with arrows, caftan gilded silver buttons and belt components (Fodor et al. 1996: 130-132). The cone is 11.4 cm high and has a circular base with a diameter of 6.7 cm. The dome is soldered (Kovács 2003: 209).

The last find was discovered by a treasure hunter in the town of Jászberény around 2015. It is almost certain that it was a grave find, but due to the unprofessional collection it is not possible to say whether it belonged to Grave “A” or “B”. It should be added that Grave “B” contained the skeleton of a man with Europoid and Mongolian features aged 25-35, a horse, stirrups, a bit and arrows (Fodor 2018), which is comparable to the previously mentioned graves. Height of the cone 9.86 cm, diameter of the lower edge 3.6‒4 cm, diameter of the dome 1.1‒1.2 cm. The object is made of sheet metal with a thickness of 0.2-0.3 cm. The ball is attached with a rivet (Jancsik et al. 2019: 70).

The graves from Birka, Šestovica and Berehovo can be described as equestrian or characterized by equestrian elements. This is the class of the most elite graves. Due to these parallels, we suggest the possibility that the potential hat cone from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep may originally come from Grave 2 and the finial from Jászberény from Grave “B”, which in both cases are horse burials.

Distribution of hat cones in Europe including the find from Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep.

The hat cones from Birka and Šestovice are so similar that we can consider them to be products of the same era or even the same workshop. Their dating is not easy and we can only suggest an approximate time span when they were placed in the graves. In the case of Grave 581 from Birka, we can rely on the closest parallels of a sword, which are dated to the 2nd quarter of the 10th century (Kainov 2012: 21, 25), a coin dated 913-933, a Petersen type M axe, which is usually dated to end of the 2nd quarter 10th century at the earliest (Hjardar – Vike 2016: 163-4), Braathen type C stirrups and the fact that Birka was most likely abandoned in the 970s. In the absolute dates, the most probable time of construction of Grave 581 is 940s-970s.

Grave 644 slightly modifies this view. The analogy of the plate of the Old Hungarian sabretache is evaluated in Hungarian literature as a product of the first half of the 10th century (Virágos et al. 2022: 101). The oldest analogies of the Volga region hammer-axe appear in Old Rus graves in the 2nd third or 3rd quarter of the 10th century (Kainov 2019: 141). However, the truly valuable object for dating are the glass game pieces, which are chronologically narrowly limited to the second third of the 10th century. This dating is indicated by Grave Оль-30 from Gnězdovo, which contains a coin minted in 935 and the upper limit of which was determined by the radiocarbon method to the year 946/951 (Eniosova – Puškina – Stoljarova 2018: 147). The youngest evidence of the use of a glass game piece comes from the Gnězdovo hoard, the youngest coin of which is dated to 953/4 (Korzukhina 1954: 89). For these reasons, it would be correct to date Grave 644 to the second third of the 10th century. Šestovica mound 2/2006, in contrast to Grave 581 from Birka, has one object that defines the dating well: scabbard chape dated by Androshchuk to the middle of the 10th century at the earliest (Androshchuk 2014: 121). If these three graves were created not long apart, we can therefore suggest the 950s-960s. If there was a certain time interval between them, a broader dating of the 940s-970s can be chosen.

The dating of Old Hungarian pieces is an open chapter. The find from Berehovo is dated by Kovács to the middle of the 10th century (Kovács 2003: 233), by Gáll to the second third of the 10th century (Gáll 2019: 129). The Jászberény find is placed at the beginning of the 10th century without solid evidence (Fodor 2018: 247), although unpublished radiocarbon dating of the bones from grave “B” does not contradict a dating identical to the Berehovo find (Türk et al. in print). In this context, it is necessary to remind again that the Tiszaeszlár-Újtelep burial ground is dated to the second third of the 10th century in the current literature (Tóth 2014: 60). There is therefore a strong assumption that the fashion of metal pointed hats manifested itself in a narrow time horizon and its cradle was the area of today’s Hungary and Ukraine. As the deceased from Birka, Šestovica and, theoretically, Jászberény “B” were in their productive age up to 35 years old, the fashion of placing caps with metal cones in their graves could have reflected the current clothing trend, rather than slightly delayed one.

Examples of cap reconstructions in an upright position.
Source: Wåhlander 2023: 147; Taras Zagaruk.

The discussed silver applications belong to the class of the most luxurious hats of the 10th century. For these headdresses, we can assume the combination with the best fabrics (silk) and furs, which is explicitly mentioned by Ibn Fadlán in 921: “on his head they put a high brocade hat lined with sable fur“, where the term qalansúwa expresses the high felt headdress of the Turkic peoples (Togan 1939). The anatomy of these cones shows that the hats from which they originally came were conical in shape. Although the finials are made of a thin material, they have a certain weight, which means that the cone cannot stand up on its own on a thin textile hat. Until recently, popular literature and historical reenactment were dominated by the opinion that the hats were textile and the finials hung down, towards the neck of the wearer due to weight (e.g. Pringle 2018: 39). One of the main arguments for this solution was the very position of the finial in Grave 581 in Birka, where the object is located on the back of the wearer’s neck. Under the weight of analogies and careful research, the idea that the hats were reinforced and the top pointed upside is now being introduced. In the case of Grave 581, the hat may simply have degraded and its component fell to the ground and rolled away from the skull. Although it is not a completely new idea (see Duczko 2000: 19; Hägg 2002: 204-5), the authors did not think much about the construction aspects of these headdresses in previous decades. The only exception was Fodor (1996: 132), who suggested that hats topped with a metal finial may have had a felt base. This design assumption seems plausible in light of the above examples. Felt, leather and/or fur formed the support base for the silk that covered the outside – proof of this is the find of a silk samite from the hat cone from rave 581 (Wåhlander 2023: 164). A completely preserved hardened hat from Moščevaja Balka (8th-9th century), which is referred to as a helmet (Ierusalimskaja 1996: 144-5; Ierusalimskaya 1992: 19; 2012: 185-6), is also an essential point of the argument. The basis of this 50 cm high conical hat with a circumference of 65 cm is thick leather, padded with linen on the inside, which is sewn with silk on the outside. A 3.6 cm long wooden cone is sewn into the top, which served as a base for installing the leather decoration with gold foil. The multilayer construction of high conical hats can be found in High Medieval pieces from the Near East and Egypt (Mackie 2015: 136, 139; Smalley 2014). Based on these analogies, we can suggest that the Old Rus, Swedish and Old Hungarian hats with metal tops were not only hardened and composite, but also that they may have had some kind of wooden reinforcement sewn into the top, which served as a support for the heavy jewellery and minimized its damage.

Hardened cap from Moščevaja Balka.
Source: Ierusalimskaja 1996: Abb. 207; Ierusalimskaya 1967: 63; 2012: Пл. 113; János Mestellér.

Similar conical hats with potential metal finials are also found in iconography. One source is a rune stone from Hunnestad in southern Sweden, which belongs to a system of several stones celebrating fallen relatives of the client (Ewing 2006: Fig. 73). The stone depicts a man in a coat, with an axe close to Petersen’s type L/M on his shoulder and a slightly conical headdress. The hat has a certain brim on the edge, and the top is decorated with a finial, which is extremely similar to archaeologically known pieces. Based on the stylistics of the stone, it is possible to date the scene roughly to the period 975/980-1010/1015 (Gräslund 2006). Another supporting visual source are the hats depicted on frescoes from the 6th-8th century in the Tajik locality of Panjakent (e.g. Khamajko 2017: Ил. 9; Jakubovskij – Djakonov 1954: табл. XXXVII). Here we see relatively low, conical hats with tops done in a contrasting colour, which may indicate metal terminals. We deliberately leave out of the comparison the high headdress of the warrior statuette from the Dagestan site of Gigatl, which may have a chin strap and whose compromise dating to the 4th-6th century can be a matter of future discussions (Brileva 2012; Davudov 2012: 116-117; 2016: 73; Gidjiev 2006). Overall, the shape of the conical hats resembled Eastern European helmets with a socket.

Stone from Hunnestad (left) and fresco from Panjakent (right).
Source: Jakubovskij – Djakonov 1954: табл. XXXVII;

In addition to the cones, the hats could also be decorated with posaments and other wire applications. In the case of Grave 581, four plum-shaped wire braids were found under the skull, which may originally have been on textile cords with ball-shaped ends that filled the braids and which were covered with silver sheet or foil (Geijer 1938: 119; reconstruction without foil see here). The exact meaning of this decoration is shrouded in mystery. In her book, Linda Wåhlander suggests the possibility that these cords could have been fixed in the corners of the hat and when tied on the back of the head, the face parts of the hat were folded and the material was layered on the back of the head (Wåhlander 2023: 102, 147). It is stated about the mentioned hat from Moščevaja Balka that it has a button and that it was probably fastened with a chin strap (Ierusalimskaya 2012: 186). Given that almost or all of the listed hats of this type were strongly linked to the equestrian context, fixing the cap while riding in the style of modern riding hats and shakos makes a lot of sense. What is more, the hat from Grave 644 was covered in a line from the forehead to the top with a gold wire posament (Arbman 1943: 222; Geijer 1938: 101; approximate reconstruction here). Judging by the hardened construction, the use of straps and the resemblance to helmets, we might not be far from the truth if we label the hats as light helmets.

Interesting evidence about the discussed hats come from an unexpected source – Icelandic Family sagas, where we read about the so-called “Russian hat” (gerzkr hattr). Now let’s mention all three sources in full:

Þorkell wore a Russian hat and a gray cloak with a golden shoulder brooch.“ (Gísla saga 27)

Hǫskuldr entered the tent and saw a man dressed in fine cloth and with a Russian hat on his head. Hǫskuldr asked him what his name was. The man replied that Gilli. ‘Yet people usually call me Gilli the Rus’.“ (Laxdæla saga 12)

The king then presented him with beautiful garments and leather mittens embroidered with gold, a headband with golden fringes and a Russian hat.“ (Njáls saga 32)

By “Russian cap”, the saga tradition evidently means a sumptuous headdress that represents the best that exists among hats. It is a gift fit for kings. Although there is no mention of the material, the Russian hat is put on the same level as objects made of gold. The hat is explicitly associated with Kyivan Rus (Garðaríki), from where it was either received by Scandinavian rulers or brought by Scandinavian travelers. Chronologically, these stories all fall into the 10th century; in the case of the Njáls saga, the presentation of the gift is situated at the Danish court of Harald Bluetooth (ca. 958 – ca. 986). Another interesting mention can be found in the Jómsvíkinga saga (17), which is not a family saga and is generally accepted as a work of fiction with rare echoes of historical facts in its core (e.g. Słupecki 2000). This work, again set during the reign of Harald Bluetooth, features the powerful chief Strút-Haraldr, who is introduced as follows:

At that time Sjóland was ruled by an earl called Haraldr, who was known as Strút-Haraldr. He had got this name because he had a hat on which the ornaments were valued at ten gold marks.“ (Jómsvíkinga saga 17).

The author of the work alludes to the fact that the Old Norse term strútr literally means “a conical terminal on the hat top” (Baetke 2006: 612), and adds that the hat was decorated with extremely valuable jewellery. Since all facts indicate that hats with conical metal tops were made for a limited period of a few decades, it is possible that the Icelandic oral tradition of the High Middle Ages quite reliably recorded the reflection of an elite material culture around the middle of the 10th century in Eastern Europe. The term “Russian cap” correlates remarkably well with Duczko’s assessment of granulated cones as products of Kyivan Rus (Duczko 1985: 24, 101). The discovery of the Šestovica piece on the territory of Ukraine supported Duczko’s hypothesis. In any case, from the comparison of elite graves, Kyivan Rus emerges as an intermediary who ensured an intensive exchange of persons, ideas and prestigious objects between the Old Hungarian and Central Swedish cultural circles around the middle of the 10th century.

To complete our enumeration of the relevant written sources, we cannot fail to mention the remarkable criticism of Bishop Ratherius of Verona, written against his church colleagues in 930s. According to him, the Italian church dignitaries lacked sufficient education, had a lavish lifestyle and worldly ambitions (Bácsatyai 2007: 7). Ratherius bases his criticism on the comparison of two opposites: the ideal liturgical dress and the secular or savage appearance. He accuses his colleagues of wearing the “Hungarian cap” (galero Ungarico) instead of the priest’s cap:

But then you see that some wear a pelt-garment instead of a cope, a Hungarian hat instead of a priest’s cap, a scepter instead of a staff (…).“ (Rather: Praeloquia, book V:11)

Since we are talking about the time when Italy was ravaged by Hungarian hordes, the traditional interpretation understands the criticism to be Ratherius accusing his colleagues of wearing the clothes characteristic of devilish enemies. However, with our revision, the question arises whether Ratherius did not at the same time have in mind the prodigality that characterized the nomadic headgear.


The article would never have been created without the help of János Mestellér (Kazár Bazár) that deserves our eternal thank. The following researchers also helped us with valuable consultations: András Csuthy (Danube Region Museum in Komárno), Natalia Khamajko (The Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe, Leipzig), Balázs Jancsik (The Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest), Kristián Jócsik (University of Nitra), Attila Türk (The Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest). Thank you!

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Ratherius: Praeloquia = Ratherius: Ratherii Veronensis episcopi opera omnia, Paris 1853.

Gísla saga = Sága o Gíslim. Trans. Ladislav Heger. In: Staroislandské ságy, Praha 1965, 133–185.

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Laxdæla saga = Sága o lidech z Lososího údolí. Trans. Ladislav Heger. In: Staroislandské ságy, Praha 2015, 213–362.

Njáls saga = Sága o Njálovi. Trans. Ladislav Heger. In: Staroislandské ságy, Praha 1965, 321–559.


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