On May 6, 2022, I had the opportunity to personally examine one of the most beautiful early medieval brooches from the territory of Hungary, which was discovered in a cemetery in Székesfehérvár. The examination took place in the morning in the depository of the King St. Stephen Museum (Szent István Király Múzeum), in the presence of curator Adrienn Schneiderná Horváth. The brooch has been measured and is published here in coloured pictures for the first time.
The position of Székesfehérváru on the map of Evrope.
Circumstances of the find and place of storage
In 1936-7, Imre Lipp and János Nemeskéri led excavations at the eastern wall of the apse of the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Nagyboldogasszony-bazilika) in Székesfehérvár. Excavations at the site brought the discovery of at least sixty graves, and the location was named “Cemetery behind the Basilica” (Bazilika mögötti temető). The cemetery copies the shape of the apse, from which one could conclude that it was created after the foundation of the basilica, i.e. roughly at the beginning of the 11th century, during the reign of King Stephen I.
Graves inside and outside the basilica in Székesfehérvár. Source: Éry 2008: Fig. 6.
Grave no. 29, discovered on July 7, 1936 and located approximately 15 m from the apse, contained a 166.91 cm high skeleton oriented W-E, which the older literature believed to be the body of a priest (Dercsényi 1943: 13). Today the skeleton bears the designation VI/66 and is attributed to a woman aged 35-39 (Éry 2008: 265). The only other find in this grave is a disc brooch, discovered “above the first spinal vertebra” (Marosi et al. 1936: 11) or “on the chest” (Horváth 2015: 416) of the deceased. Today, the jewel is stored in the depository of the King St. Stephen Museum in Székesfehérvár with inventory no. 10363 (Dercsényi 1943: 13, 20, 49; Korošec 1979: 132–133). So far, the best works devoted to the brooch are Paola Korošec’s book (1979) and Ciprián Horváth’s article (2015).
Description and metric data
The disc brooch is evaluated as a cast product from a copper alloy with additional enamel (Horváth 2015: 416; Korošec 1979: 132–133). The weight of the brooch is 8 g. The edge of the jewel is slightly deformed and wavy, the total number of waves was originally close to 60. The maximum preserved diameter is 33 mm, on two opposite sides it measures 32 × 31.32 mm. The edge is lined with a perimeter line. The visible side of the brooch is decorated in the following way: the middle of the brooch is filled by a raised circle with a diameter of 12.33 mm, which is not at a right angle to the base and whose wall is pierced in one place. The ring is decorated with a four-legged animal with defined leg muscles, paws, an eye and an open mouth. The surroundings of the animal are filled with dark blue enamel, the animal’s mouth and the space between the animal’s head and back with red enamel.
The circle is surrounded by three triangular, slightly raised rays, which are filled with identical enamel. The length of the walls of the triangles is 8-9.9 mm. The edge is made of dark blue enamel, while the heart-shaped center is red. Red and blue enamel are separated by compartments made of thin sheet metal or wire. In the space between the triangular rays, there are slightly raised songbird-like birds with well-recognizable beaks, eyes, wings and legs. The length of the birds is close to 13.2 mm, the height varies around 6.6 mm. The orientation of the birds is counterclockwise.
The brooch has a slightly concave shape. On the edge, the thickness of the brooch is 1.7 mm, the maximum thickness at the level of the circle is 4.3 mm. On the inside, the circle has a depth of 2.6 mm and a diameter of 12.74 mm. There is no integrated method of fixing the needle on the inside, but two opposite and slightly smoothed places are visible by the naked eye where soldered loops may have originally been located (inspection led the author to the conclusion that at least one of the loops could have been similar in shape to the letter Ω and the other the letter J).
View of the front of the artifact.
View of the back of the artifact.
Side view of the brooch.
Proposed drawn reconstruction of the brooch from Székesfehérvár.
Prepared by Tomáš Cajthaml, grafikacajthaml.cz.
The brooch, apparently intended for fastening a woman’s shawl or other clothing in the chest area, can easily be included in the Köttlach II horizon. 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: 86-7; 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 overall appearance of the piece of jewellery indicates that it is close to the enameled disc brooches with four protruding rays, which are referred to in the literature as the Frauenhofen type (Giesler 1978). These brooches are most common in the eastern Alpine region (Korošec 1979: Taf. 150, 152; Šribar – Stare 1974), in the middle Danube and in Bavaria (Eichert 2010: 78-87; Later 2009), less often in the northern part of Germany (Frick 1992-1993: Taf. 12.3; Spiong 2000: 66, 212–3, Taf. 7.10). Compared to the regular model, the brooch from Székesfehérvár differs in that it is divided into three sections, instead of the usual four, which resemble a cross. In the Eastern Alpine environment, the division of enamelled brooches into three fields is known from the sites of Bad Deutsch-Altenburg (grave 36), Lébény-Kaszás-domb (grave 9) and Kranj-Iskra (grave 271) (Horváth 2015: Abb. 11). Apart from enamelled brooches, a three-pointed ornament of a similar style appears in a number of engraved brooches of the Köttlach II period, where it is shaped into a triquetra motif (Horváth 2015: Abb. 23; Šribar – Stare 1974). A similar division into three fields is applied to brooches from Germany (Wamers 1994: Abb. 54.177) or the Netherlands (Bos 2007-2008: types 188.8.131.52-9., 184.108.40.206.).
The central circle filled with an animal motif is typical for Frauenhofen type brooches. A common animal is the Agnus Dei, a lamb with a head looking back, complemented by a cross. The animal on the Székesfehérvár brooch is not unlike a lamb, but the head does not look back and the mouth seems to be open – in this aspect it resembles the animals on the brooches from Brunn and Georgenberg (Schulze-Dörrlamm 1992: 121), Regensburg (Korošec 1979: Taf. 120.2), Mainz (Wamers 1994: Abb. 48.166-7), Slovenia (Šribar – Stare 1974) and from the Netherlands (Bos 2007-2008: type 220.127.116.11.). The use of compartments to separate the enamelled fields has a good analogy in the grave 9 brooch from Lébény-Kaszás-domb, where a similar thin non-ferrous material is used (Horváth 2015: Abb. 12.3). The colour combination of dark blue and red is quite common in enameled brooches, while the closest example known to us is a brooch found in Žirovnica, Slovenia (Korošec 1979: Taf. 150.11). Bird motifs are frequently used in brooches from this period (see e.g. Spiong 2000: Taf. 7; Šribar – Stare 1974).
The brooch from Székesfehérvár with its parameters fits well into the triangle of Bavaria-Hungary-Northern Italy, which may be its place of production. Ultimately, the brooch reflects the Christianization processes in Hungary under the reigns of Géza (972-997) and King Stephen (997-1038), during which elite material culture leaned towards Western Ottonian models (Spiong 2000: 111-2).
The documentation of the brooch was made possible by our colleague János Mesteller (Kazár Bazár), who communicated with the King St. Stephen Museum and lent us documentation tools. Without him, the examination of the object would not have taken place, and we hereby thank him. We also thank the staff of the mentioned museum for the warm welcome. Our gratitude belongs to Ciprián Horváth (Hungarian Research Institute, Budapest) who helped us find the literature. Master graphic artist Tomáš Cajthaml (grafikacajthaml.cz) needs to be mentioned for his beautiful design of the brooch.
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