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Replica of baldric fittings from grave 55, Stará Kouřim


In this article, I want to summarize my findings collected while making the functional replica of bronze baldric fittings from the Stará Kouřim stronghold.

Description of the find

In the years 1956-1958, during excavations at the former stronghold of Stará Kouřim under the leadership of Mr. Miloš Šolle, an important burial ground was discovered in a site southeast of the so-called Libušino lake; a total of 150 graves were excavated. While most of the graves were shallow burial pits, there were a few deep shaft graves, probably older than the rest. Two of these deep graves, skeleton graves no. 120 and no. 55, are referred to in the literature as “princely”, due to their unusually rich equipment. In this artcile, I will only deal with grave no. 55.

The finds from Stará Kouřim were first published and summarized by M. Šolle in his work Knížecí pohřebiště na Staré Kouřimi, including a black-and-white photograph of the bronze components found (Šolle 1959: 401). The skeleton of the deceased was completely destroyed by the groundwater; for the same reason, only a darker strip of soil survived from the wooden coffin. In addition to a number of other items (such as a shaft ferrule, a bucket, spurs, a sword, etc.), the inventory of grave no. 55 included a total of four stylistically uniform items, apparently parts of a sword belt.

All finds from grave no. 55 are kept at present in the collections of the National Museum (NM) of Prague. List of a set components according to the NM database follows:

Inv. numberDescriptionLength (mm)Width (mm)Own note
96665Cast bronze fitting, decorated with a uniform technique of grooves, fan-folded in such a way that the central field forms several rows and the perimeter a uniform border. Tongue-shaped with 2 rivets at the top part of the front side, flat at the rear side. Heavily patinated. 7122Strap end
96666Cast bronze fitting, decorated with a uniform technique of grooves, fan-folded in such a way that the central field forms several rows and the perimeter a uniform border. A fragment of a tongue-shaped end with an arched clasp on the underside across the entire width. Heavily patinated.22 (fragment)20Broken oval fitting (A)
96667Cast bronze fitting, decorated with a uniform technique of grooves, fan-folded in such a way that the central field forms several rows and the perimeter a uniform border. Trefoil with 1 rivet in the middle and 1 rivet each in the tongue ends on the underside. Traces of iron rust. Heavily patinated.43×5521-22Trefoil fitting
96668Cast bronze fitting, decorated with a uniform technique of grooves, fan-folded in such a way that the central field forms several rows and the perimeter a uniform border. Elliptical with 2 rivets in the end parts of the underside. Heavily patinated. Glued together.3419Oval fitting with rivets (B)

Table 1: The four components of a sword set.
According to the National Museum archaeological collection database.

Selection of finds from grave no. 55.

Set at the exhibition called “Dějiny”, National Museum Prague – collage. Credit: own work.

Set at the exhibition called “Dějiny”, National Museum Prague.
Non-trivial relief and low thickness are clearly visible. Credit: own work.

Set at the exhibition called Dějiny”, National Museum Prague.
An oblique view, where the features of the relief stand out. Credit: own work.

While the baldric set from the well-known grave in Kolín is generally unanimously considered as a Carolingian import due to its rich workmanship and opulent massiveness, the set from grave no. 55 was bit puzzling from the beginning. The unusual artistic style is usually considered somehow unspecified reflection of fading Avar influences, or even a late Avar production (Šolle 1959: 416, 473). Opinions on the origin or the production area range from a low-quality product of a local craftsman’s workshop (Košta – Hošek 2013: 10) to a direct import from the Frankish regions (Profantová 2011: 79).

As far as I know, there is a consensus that grave no. 55 represents one of the oldest burials in Kouřim and based on the stratigraphy of the cemetery and the inventory, it is dated to the first half of the 9th century, or to the first third of it (Šolle 1959: 474, from more recent works e.g. Košta – Hošek – Žákovský 2019: 125).

It is very tempting to consider the equipment of the two Kouřim graves (and actually the entire burial ground) in connection with the beginnings of the Mojmírid Dynasty, , or with the well-known baptism of fourteen Bohemian princes and their retinue in Regensburg in 845. However, these considerations go significantly beyond the scope of this work and I cannot pay more attention to them here. I refer those interested in the history of Central Europe during the 9th century to the extensive literature.

Analogy from Schouwen

For a long time, no comparable find in terms of decor was known. While preparing this article, I checked once more in literature and online resources, yet discovered really nothing of a comparable decor. On the other hand, a whole range of fittings decorated with vegetable or zoomorphic motifs is known – after all, in the same grave, both the shaft ferrule and the set of fittings for the calf straps are decorated with vegetable decor.

However, as pointed out by Naďa Profantová (Profantová 2011: 79) and subsequently by Robak (2013: 413), a fragment of practically identical fitting comes from the coast of today’s Holland, from the island of Schouwen-Duiveland, 815 kilometers from Kouřim as the crow flies.

The local teacher Johannes Adriaan Hubregtse (1878-1940), living in a village of Burgh between 1911-1940, collected a number of ceramic fragments, coins and other metal objects from the sand dunes and beaches of the western part of the island. The village of Burgh itself is adjacent to the remains of a circular fortification (Ringwalburg) from the end of the 9th century, which was probably intended to protect the coast against raids by the Norsemen (part of the fortification reconstructed 2001-2007). The finds from his collection were first published in a work by Capelle (Capelle 1978). Specifically, we are referring to the item inventory number A.62.

Object A.62. Taken from Capelle 1978: Taf. 13.

Piece of fitting 2.4 cm long and 2 cm wide comes from either an oval fitting or a trefoil belt divider. It is equipped with two rivets, one of which was secondarily made through (probably after the original casting sprout broke off). Today it is in the collections of the scientific society Koninklijk Zeeuwsch Genootschap der Wetenschappen. Thanks to the kindness of the conservator of the archaeological collection there, Mrs. Aagje Feldbrugge, I am pleased to publish a current photo of this object here:

Obverse and reverse of A.62 fitting fragment.
Credit: The archaeological collection of the Royal Society of Sciences of Zeeland (NL).

The similarity of the decoration with the style (and width) of the set from grave no. 55 is striking, although it differs in the way it is attached to the base – two rivets closer to the edges vs. one rivet in axis. I dare to consider this fragment as a remnant of a component with decor completely identical to the set discussed here.

Discussion on the composition of the set

Now I would like to emphasise several important points about the set from grave 55:

  1. Exact layout of set components is unknown to me. This point is not too critical, but deserves clarification: according to the drawing of the grave (Šolle 1966: 71), a set of fittings was located roughly between the remains of the sword and the (unpreserved) skeleton of the buried person. Here, however, I refer to the relative position of the individual components in relation to each other. Knowing this detail would contribute to function considerations, particularly the placement of the individual oval fittings in relation to the sword scabbard.
  2. No belt buckle was found in the grave. This point is more fundamental. From Frankish area, there is a number of belt buckles known, stylistically fitting the rest of their sets (after all, nice example is Kolín grave; among others I will mention Duesminde treasure),, and it is strange that it was not the case of the Kouřim grave. On the other hand, it is possible that an iron buckle was part of the belt: in the original publication an iron fragment of a buckle with a rectangular frame and a larger shape is mentioned among the grave inventory (Šolle 1959: 410-412). The following object is currently recorded in the NM database under the inventory number 96676: “Fragment of an iron buckle (?) with flat plate-like three-forked, irregular trapezoidal shape. Disintegrated, glued, is crumbling.” Dimensions are not given. Unfortunately, I could not find any other information, i.e. a drawing or a photo. Current state of the object inventory no. 96676 probably does not allow a definite conclusion to be made. See below for my re-creation of a buckle.
  3. I do not know what the oval fitting with the rest of the slider (A) originally looked like. This point is very painful, and I will try to discuss it in a little more detail.

First of all, the question is what the plan view of this oval fitting (A) looked like in its intact state, i.e. whether it corresponded in length to the oval fitting with rivets (B). As Zbigniew Robak correctly stated, it cannot be said with certainty whether the fittings were not originally longer (Robak 2013: 143). That would certainly be possible – the surviving piece could be anything between, say, ⅓ to ¼ of the original length. On the basis of an inspection of the reverse side, where the transversely running “rib” in the middle seems to be partially preserved, as in (B), and also of the scheme of the front decoration, I lean personally towards the variant that both ovals were originally identical in plan view.

From the left: the original look (A), my reconstruction with the help of mirroring, the “long” version. Credit: own work.

Secondly, it is not certain what was located on the missing part of the reverse side of the oval fitting (A). There are clear remnants of the slider on the preserved half of the fitting, there is no dispute about that. On the broken side there could have been a rivet, a second slider, or protrusions for fitting a transverse pin (compare the fittings from the Kolín grave). An ordinary rivet has only a fixing function – it places the component in a fixed place in relation to the belt, and once it is hammered, the joint cannot be disassembled. The slider, on the other hand, allows to think about a regulatory function (e.g. shortening the belt due to its tying into the eye of the slider) and a detachable joint. The pin method is the same: with the right construction it can be reasonably disassembled and allows it to be set in a different position relative to the base. For the purpose of my reconstruction, I chose to complete the missing part with a rivet.

Three above mentioned points basically summarize the difficulties associated with the reconstruction of the set. Although a number of similar sets has been found, including those specifically involving the trefoil belt divider, and various attempts have been made on their typology (notably Wachowski 1992), construction details appear to show considerable variation. By construction detail, I mean the number of individual components, their relative position and function – whether the component is fixed to the belt, adjustable, removable, etc.

We will never know, whether whether the set was inserted into the grave as complete, whether it was as damaged already damaged or incomplete, or whether there was secondary damage/decomposition due to the sliding of the stones surrounding the deceased’s coffin (or the walls of the grave), the influence of groundwater, or a combination of above. Given the time of the excavations, I cannot rule that remaining fragment of an oval fitting (A) was overlooked. Due to the otherwise luxurious equipment, I am personally inclined to the secondary violation option, which may explain both one of the oval fittings break-up, as well the iron buckle loss.

Even if all authors agree that the ultimate purpose of the entire set was to ensure a comfortable and safe attachment of the sword to the bearer’s hip, a large number of strapping variants, fitting composition and wearing style can be constructed (cf. Robak 2018: Fig 7, Fig 8 and Košta – Hošek 2008). I would also like to refer to the relatively rich iconography, especially of Western European provenance, e.g. (Robak 2014: Tab CXII et seq.). Possible set composition variants I considered for my reconstruction of the set from grave no. 55 are summarized below:

SchemeNumber of oval fittingsDistribution
2ATwo oval fittings(A) top, (B) bottom, identical in plan
2BTwo oval fittings(B) top, (A) bottom, identical in plan
2CTwo oval fittings(A) top – long, (B) bottom
3AThree oval fittings2× (A) top, (B) bottom
3BThree oval fittings2× (B) above, (A) below

Table 2: Considered design schemes.

Table 2 shows that I also gave a consideration to an option where there would be more oval fittings in the set. Technically, nothing would prevent this – in other sets and in illuminations, oval fittings in a paired design are known, specifically the ones closer to the scabbard (Type I according to Wachowski 1992). However, I cannot think of any scenario how (especially due to secondary damage) the complete disappearance of one of the bronze fittings could occur – i.e. not even a fraction of it would survive, mere imprint in the dirt. Unlike the buckle (see below), in this case I decided to respect the inventory of the grave and chose not to add any other oval fitting to the replica.

Technological consideration

There are basically two different methods for casting bronze and other fusible metals (lead, tin, precious metals). Looking at the object, one can more or less successfully determine which one was used.

The first method is to cast into a stable mold. It can be made of fine-grained stone, clay, other metal, in case of small pieces, even hard wood – in general, any material that can withstand the temperature of cast metal for at least a critical time. When done correctly, it allows repeated use, say around 10-15 castings, depending on the material of the mold and the casting. However, a negative image of the product must first be created in such a mold, which can be very laborious, especially with stone molds. The second method is casting using the lost wax method. The wax model is coated with thin clay and sand by repeated dipping, after the wax has dried and burned, molten metal is poured into the resulting cavity and the mold is broken in the end. This method is very accurate and suitable even for complex shapes, but in principle it is not repeatable.

The relief of the object is a rough guide here. A relief containing positive (protruding) thin lines, or protruding convex surfaces shows that the object was probably cast in a stable mold – negatives of these shapes are relatively easy to scrape into the mold. Relief involving negative (engraved) thin lines or sharply engraved grooves is likely to be cast in lost wax, as these shapes are, on the contrary, easier to scrape into wax. Anything with holes and thin parts outside the division plane was almost certainly archieved by the lost wax method.

I emphasize this is only a rough. The craftsman always chose based on his options, the available material and, let’s say, the task details – how much, how quickly and for how much. A skilled engraver could create an entire set of visually identical wax models or a brilliant negative in fine sandstone in a few hours. The methods can be combined and chained to a certain extent, for example by imprinting a wax or wooden model into an undried clay mold. The relief is rarely of the same type – it is common for the raised parts to alternate with those made in depth on the object. Of course, it also depends on the scale of the relief, i.e. how small it is.

As a side note, I have made a detailed comparison of the gilded strap ends from the same grave no. 55, likely parts of the calf straps (inventory numbers NM 96672 and 96673). Although they look the same at first glance, there are noticeable differences, when compared directly. I am sure that each of them comes from a hand-made wax model, and so is with the other bronze objects from the discussed grave.


The discussed set has always been subject of my interest due to its uniqueness and seemingly simple, but for me an impressive artistic design. Unlike the set from the Kolín grave, I am not aware of anyone attempting a faithful reconstruction. Sometime around 2020, a certain French seller offered a bronze replica – unfortunately, not a very good one; today it has already disappeared from his offer. If I wanted to supplement my equipment with an interesting set, I had no choice but to try to do it myself.

Obtaining suitable photographs was a necessary condition for the reconstruction. Around 2016, the items were exhibited in the exhibition The Story of Prague Castle; however, poor lighting precluded a closer inspection or the taking of a high-quality photo. I made an attempt to arrange a personal visit, but due to the planned conservation, it was impossible. Finally, in 2022, most of the grave inventory was exhibited in the National Museum as part of the exhibition called “Dějiny”. There, I finally managed to take the necessary photos from different angles, but I still had no idea what reverse looks like. In 2023, Mr. Jiří Košta, the curator of the Early Middle Ages collections or NM, kindly provided me with photographs before and after conservation, for which I thank very much. In these photos, the appearance of the reverse side is clearly visible. Equipped by these sources, I could proceed to the next steps. For documentation part, see the final note.

Photo showing the reverse side before and after conservation.
Credit: Jana Butzke, Alzběta Kumstátová, National Museum Prague.

As a technology for my reconstruction, I chose the lost wax method (see above), especially due to the rivets and the slider. Although it would certainly be very interesting to carry out the entire production process strictly using period techniques, including casting, with my limited workshop options I helped myself with modern materials.

I started the physical reconstruction by extracting the individual components from the direct look photograph and printing them on paper. After measuring the printed picture, I gradually reduced or enlarged the images so that their dimensions fit exactly with the given ones. In the case of the broken oval fitting (A), I duplicated its photo in the graphics program, rotated the copy in a mirror image, merged the two parts into one and aligned them so that the rib near the break edge was in the middle – see the image above. The resulting plan view was identical in length to the oval fitting (B).

After preparing the printed materials, I continued with the production of rough (primary) models from various materials, mainly plastic plates. It should be noted here that the components of the set from grave no. 55 are surprisingly thin, around 2 mm. The rough models already respected the plan view and essential elements of the relief – layout of the motif, various ribs, recesses, etc.

I poured the prepared initial models into a flexible silicone material (Lukopren). This gave me reusable molds for casting secondary models. I wanted to be able to start modeling again, but not from scratch. Then I cast the secondary models from jewellery wax. The properties of this are quite different from the beewax – it is harder, it is better etched into it (does not smear) and has a uniform color. Specifically, I used SRS XR2025 medium hard injection wax.

Molds for rough models. Credit: own work.

I have completed the accumulated bases for the final models one by one to the desired state. It took me some time to find a suitable tool shape to carve the characteristic grooves – a round steel wire, ground to a slight bevel on the face, worked best in the end. In case of the central field of the trefoil fitting, the decoration is only my interpretation, as the area in question has been heavily corroded.

In addition to the main components, I naturally also had to prepare small accessories: cast wax wires with a diameter of 3 mm for future rivets, prepare the future buckle tongues with a knife, the slider arch from a strip of wax bent under warm water.

Tools used in creating models. A brush, a knife, a scraper and a burin.
Credit: own work.

Ready-to-cast wax models – obverse and reverse. Credit: own work.

After completing all obverse sides (the relief), I processed the reverse side of in the same way. Where it was necessary, I connected the slider arch and round rivets with a heated wire. Due to manual processing, individual models show various small deviations and minor irregularities, characteristic of manual modeling mentioned above. The finished wax models were finally cast in bronze by the professional Mr. Radek Lukůvka, who is dedicated to casting at a high level and to whom I would like to thank once again.

An important rule that I have convinced myself of several times during the reconstruction: what is not on the wax model or in the casting mold, will not be present on the metal casting. The casting can certainly be cleaned of sprouts, small holes can be drilled, surface can be slightly sanded and polished etc. However, making some major adjustments (for example, finishing the pattern) and repairs (adding the necessary part of the metal) is very laborious and at some point impossible. It is usually more practical to start over and do it better. The same is certainly true in reverse: if any defect is left on the model, it will also be on the casting and will be very visible.

Although a buckle is not really necessary and the belt could be tied around the body, for purpose of this reconstruction I chose to create several buckles de novo, in a design inspired by the rest of the set. I designed two different plan views based on other cast buckles from the Frankish and Scandinavian environments. I modeled five pieces straight away so later I could choose the best one.

Photo of all five buckles after assembly. Credit: own work.

Complete set – obverse and reverse. Credit: own work.

A professional – especially an early medieval one – would of course not proceed in such a complicated way as I did and create models straight out of beeswax. As a lay-amateur, I did not dare to do this procedure. There were countless damaged models, I was troubled by various incomplete castings, damage that I learned to repair along the way, and the like. Literally at the last moment, when the strap end had already been cast in bronze, I noticed during a repeated inspection of the preservation photos that it has a completely different shape of connection to the belt. There is no step-by-step thinning, but fork-like gap instead to join the belt. I completely missed this important detail the first time. So I ended up having to make the whole model again, and also had it recast.

Not counting in the documentation search, this activity took me about one year, with major pauses. Considering this was ad-hoc activity, I only estimate production alone took around 18 hours combined. If I were ever to implement a similar project, I would proceed much faster.

Next, I will continue with an attempt to reconstruct the entire baldric, including installation on the scabbard and wearing it in general. Unfortunately, this issue is very extensive and will require time for experimentation. If circumstances permit, I would like to make a separate text about final assembly in the future.

A final note

Academic and popular literature dealing with archaeological finds usually includes an illustration of the described object in the form of a pen drawing or a black-and-white photograph; both are very suitable for book printing. With rare exceptions (exhibition catalogues), such a photograph is taken from a vertical view of the obverse and in relatively low resolution. However, such images do not provide the eye with sufficient data to grasp the various thicknesses, bulges, edges, incisions and similar details of the given object. Side views, views from different angles or from the reverse side are practically not found in the publications. On top of that, the same photographs, or pen drawings, are constantly repeated in the literature.

I completely understand this approach. However, if a reenactor (as an amateur in the positive sense of the word) wants to find out more about the given object or directly reconstruct it, it is absolutely necessary to secure better documentation. Which means searching for and writing to competent people, or going on a personal visit to the museum and arranging at least a one-time seeing of the object. In case of valuable objects or, on the contrary, ‘uninteresting’ objects, which must located first in depositories, this phase could easily take more time than the subsequent reconstruction.

As a rather tragicomic incident in this context, in 2014 Jan Vlasák created for me wax models of the fittings discussed here, let’s say version 1.0. At that time, I naively succumbed to the optical illusion of the only high-quality photograph available to me at the time (Wamers 2005: 169) and interpreted the relief exactly the opposite: grooves as bulges. The models were subsequently cast, but after recognizing this fundamental error a few years later, I had to destroy them. A valuable lesson, but otherwise a complete fiasco. I have already mentioned the problem with the strap end detail.

Even if the situation has been improving recently (as a certain extreme from the opposite side, I will mention detailed 3D photogrammetry and 3D modeling of selected finds, see e.g. the publication Great Moravian Mikulčice virtually), it is quite obvious that, considering the number of objects in the collections and limited funding, detailed documentation of existing archaeological objects will take many years to come. That’s why I am a little sad that otherwise fantastic projects like eSbí do not use, with exceptions, the possibility to add more photos from different angles or zoomed-in details to the object.


The set from grave no. 55 at Stará Kouřim, despite its seemingly simple design, is an example of the quality work of metalworking artisans from the period of the first third to the middle of the 9th century, or even slightly older. The person buried in this grave was certainly high on the local social stratification. The provenance of the set from somewhere in the vast area of the Frankish Empire is supported by a comparable fitting fragment from the coast of today’s Holland. The individual components of the set were modeled and subsequently cast using the lost wax method, in agreement with other cast items from the grave inventory.


This text would not have been possible without the kind help of the following people:

Aagje Feldbrugge – Koninklijk Zeeuwsch Genootschap der Wetenschappen
Jiří Košta – National Museum, Prague
Radek Lukůvka – Kedar Foundry
Tomáš Vlasatý – Project Forlǫg


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Košta, J. – Hošek, J. (2013). Swords uncovered at the burial ground of the Stará Kouřim stronghold (9th century) from the perspective of archaeology and metallography In: Marek, Lech (ed.). Weapons Bring Peace? Warfare in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Wrocław, 7-29.

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