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The Wallet from Trelleborg, Denmark

Archaeological material concerning bags, purses and wallets from the territory of historical Denmark of the Viking period is not extensive. The best-known examples of working bags come from Haithabu and Viborg (Petersen 2005: 407-409, Fig. 24; Schietzel 2014: 265; Ulbricht 1978: Taf. 42.1-2; Westphal 2006: 80, Taf. 59.1-4; see also the article Reconstruction of the “Viking bag”). We can name at least two bag fittings (Jensen 1993), pouches from Haithabu (Groenman-van Waatering 1984: 37-38, Taf. 23-25) and the wallet from Iholm, which we have previously reported on in the article The Wallet from Iholm, Denmark. It is common for reenactors searching for the finds of bags and wallets to focus on finds from neighbouring countries, especially Sweden (Arbman 1940: Taf. 128-136; Gräslund 1984; Zachrisson 2006).

The following article enriches this Danish corpus with a rediscovered wallet from Trelleborg, which was published only once by Paul Nørlund in 1948. The wallet falls into the category of folding specimens and has numerous analogies in Birka, Sweden.


Context and description of the find

The leather fragment, presented below as a wallet remnant, was found in mud at the bottom of a well in the northwest corner of courtyard no. 4 of Trelleborg Fortress near Slagelse, Zealand, Denmark; this well is referred to as “pit no. 50” (Nørlund 1948: 130, 294). The following objects were discovered in the same well: metal parts of tools, a part of a wooden tool similar to a sled, a millstone and an arrow (Nørlund 1948: Tav. XVIII.1, 3-5, XX.6, XLIII.19, LII.9). The dating of the pit points to the Viking Age (Nørlund 1948: Tav. Va).

The position of Trelleborg on the map of Europe.

Pits in the Trelleborg complex. Pit no. 50 is located in the northwestern part of the courtyard of the southeastern block of houses. Taken from: Nørlund 1948: Tav. Va.

The only publication we know of is Nørlund’s monograph Trelleborg from 1948, in which the object is marked as Q 131g (Nørlund 1948: 130, Tav. XXIX.10). Nørlund considers the assignment to a shoe, which he describes as problematic, and finally suggests that it could be a Danish imitation of Birka wallets. There is only one low-quality photograph in the work with an approximate scale of 2/3, which, given the format of the book (33 × 24 cm), indicates that the leather fragment is approximately 16.36 × 9.33 cm. According to the author, the leather is very thin and soft.

The only available photo of the wallet from Trelleborg. Taken from: Nørlund 1948: Tav. XXIX.10.

The photo shows a leather band forming the body (outer part) of the wallet, which tapers to the tip on one side. At the edges of this band, there are the remains of the pocket (inner part), and we can see the curvature of the edges with stitches. The body of the wallet was decorated in such a way that the manufacturer created two rows of wide slits, each of at least ten pieces grouped in pairs, in order to insert the contrast strap through each pair of slits to have an alternating effect. The imprints of these straps, which were inserted from the inside, are still visible on the leather. The rows of slits are asymmetrical to the shape of the leather and fill only one half.

On at least two parts of the edge, we find “fringes”, which are the remnants of the slits of the original pocket decoration. From the appearance, we can only say that the slits were placed along both longer sides, which indicates that the pocket was one-pieced and not halved in the middle. The “fringe” shape is wavy in a way that suggests that three straps were probably used for weaving, similarly to analogies. The edges do not indicate the use of loops of drawstrings or other straps designed to roll up the wallet. The form and possible surface treatment of the straps, which have been weaved in both parts, are not known. The current state and location of the find is unknown and it is quite possible that the find has suffered dramatic damage in the meantime.

Proposed reconstruction of the Trelleborg wallet, taking into account the finds from Birka. Created by Tomáš Cajthaml. The original wallet is more pointed.

Version of the wallet. Maker: Kurtis, group Gamall Tré.


Analogies

As follows from the above, the closest analogies of the Trelleborg wallet were discovered in Birka, Sweden, specifically in the graves of Bj 523, 543, 709, 710, 715, 717, 746, 750 (2 ex.), 804, 837, 845, 904, 956 , 965, 1037, 1149, probably also in Bj 503, 724, 727, 731, 776, 808 and 834 (Arbman 1940: Taf. 130-133; Gräslund 1984: 143-144). The best-preserved specimens come from graves Bj 750, Bj 543 and Bj 904. The better-preserved wallet from grave Bj 750 was constructed identically to the Trelleborg find, with the difference that it was equipped with more pockets and loops at the edges. The cuts were filled with three rows of alternating leather strips, so the result gave a checkerboard impression. The stripes and loops were decorated with gold foil. Gilded strips are also known from graves Bj 543, 727, 776 and 808. The find from grave Bj 904, which has a halved pocket, lacks gilded strips and thus strikingly resembles the Danish piece. The size of Birka’s wallets is almost identical to the Trelleborg find – the length of Bj 543 is circa 17 cm (Arbman 1943: 169), the width of Bj 750 equals 10 cm (Arbman 1943: 271) a dimensions of Bj 904 are 18,5 × 9,3 cm (Arbman 1943: 353). The dating of graves with these purses in Birka is mostly limited to the first three quarters of the 10th century (Gräslund 1984: 145).

Wallets from graves Bj 750, Bj 904 and Bj 543. Taken from Arbman 1940: Taf. 130, 132-133.

Wallet production. Source: Václav Maňha, Dřevo krásné, dřevo mé.

The decorative weaving of contrasting straps through the slits is certainly not an oriental way of decoration, as Nørlund (1948: 130) may have suggested. On the contrary, we can find it on Germanic purses since the 6th century (Fremersdorf 1955: 93, 137, Taf. 92; Pirling 1973); in the case of the lid of the bag from the Frankish tomb 10 of Cologne-Müngersdorf, the leather is interwoven with copper alloy wires and the intertwined application of the wallet from Iholm is covered with gilded foil. A similar woven multi-row decoration is preserved on the comb case from the grave of Bj 1074 of Birka (Arbman 1940: Taf. 136), on the edges of the gloves from grave no. 8 in the Basilica of St. Ulrich and Afra in Augsburg (Peek – Nowak-Böck 2016: Abb. 28-29), from grave no. 58 from Trossingen (Peek – Nowak-Böck 2016: 385-390, Abb. 26), from the Cologne Cathedral (Gillich et al. 2008: 10) and on the belts of grave no. 8 in the Basilica of St. Ulrich and Afra in Augsburg, Saint-Quentin (France-Lanlord 1961; Werner 1977: Taf. 34, 36, 38-39) and Saint-Denis (Fleury – France-Lanord 1998: 166-8).

When it comes to folded wallets, they are a common phenomenon of the time. From the period 9th-11th century, in addition to the finds from Birka and Iholm, we can mention the finds from Bringsverd (C23116), Elisenhof (Grenander-Nyberg 1985: 234, 247, Taf. 76), Gniezno, Roswinkel (Pleyte 1883; Gräslund 1984: Abb. 16.2) or Sigtuna (Sigtuna Museum 2019).

The proposed way of folding wallets from Birka. Taken from Gräslund 1984: Abb. 16.1.


Acknowledgments and conclusion

The Trelleborg Wallet is the second wallet find we know from Viking Age Denmark and is therefore a rare find. It is definitely one of the quality products and if it was decorated with gilded straps, it was one of the best pieces of its kind. The value of the find lies not only in the expansion of the preserved material, but also in the knowledge that the type of wallets, which was known only from Birka, can be used for Danish portrayals.

Tomáš Cajthaml, who selflessly created beautiful graphics, deserves our huge thanks for helping with the article. We attribute equal merits to Zdeněk Beneš and Klaudia Karpińska, who sent us the necessary literature.

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.


Bibliography

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