The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


7 May 2016
  Shiny Things from Viking Times - The Gold Treasure of Hiddensee: The Craftmanship

As promised, here is the second post about the Hiddensee Gold Treasure where I'll take a closer look at the pieces, the craftmanship involved in creating them, and the cultural context in which they were created.

Hiddensee Treasure, the ring

Rings of all sizes are a well-known feature in Mediaeval Scandinavian culture where kings were known as 'ring givers'. Those rings were usually arm rings or neck rings and served as payment as well as decoration (some rings that have been found show that material has been hacked off (1)). Surely, the art was valued, but more so the material. Older jewelry has often been melted down to create new pieces - the whole set of Hiddensee was made of re-used gold (2). Viking goldsmiths were pretty skilled at separating the various metals from an alloy, which explains the high purity of the Hiddensee gold of ~ 97%.

The neck ring of the Hiddensee Treasure weighs 152,8 gram and has an outside diametre of 13,5 cm. It is thus a ring more fit for a child or a woman. It consists of four entwined gold wires in the way that first two wires were wound round each other and the both two-wire sets were entwined again, giving the ring a sort of braided look. The ends have been flattened and end in an hook and eye clasp to fasten the ring. The purity of the gold and the structure of the ring make it possible to bend it to some extent without breaking, so it can easily be fixed around a neck (3).

Silver ingots, wire, and wire drawer (Museum Haithabu)

The photo above shows a set of silver ingots, wire, and a wire drawer (in the lower part of the photo) from the toolmaker's hoard found in Haithabu. Silver or gold wire is created by casting an oblong ingot which is then drawn through a set of holes in a piece of harder metal - bronze or iron - which get subsequently smaller. The gold or silver is heated during the process to make it softer, but not the point of melting.

To create the filigree beadwork that adorns several of the pieces from the Hiddensee Treasure, the wire is treated with a beading file or a beading press. The latter looks a bit like a thumbscrew, with several bead shaped hollows into which the heated wire is pressed. The beadwork therefore consists of bits of bead-shaped wire, not of single beads.

Hiddensee Treasure, one of the pendants with granulation decoration

Granulation is a different technique. The irregular little granules on some of the pendants are created by mixing little gold splinters with charcoal in a crucible. When heated in an oven, the metal particles will form into granules, the shape with the smallest surface.

Both beaded wire and granules are fixed to the surface of the pendant by soldering. The soldering alloy is a mixture of gold, silver and copper with a lower melting point than pure gold. It was created by filing off tiny particles from an ingot which were spread onto the surface of the pendant and heated to melting point; then the beaded wire was fixed to it. With complicated ornaments that would likely have required several steps. Granules were simply strewn onto the soldering alloy.

Metal press models for fibulas and pendants (Museum Haithabu)

You have seen in the first post that several of the cross shaped pendants have the same form - they were indeed some sort of mass product, though the ones from Hiddensee are of particularly high quality. Among the finds from Haithabu is a set of 41 press models for various sorts of pendants. Press models and other tools of gold- and silversmiths have also been other found in Viking settlements like Sigtuna, Trelleborg, Lund, even York or Old Ladoga in Russia, but the Haithabu find is the largest.

Moulds and press models made from antler (Haithabu)

The press models of bronze or brass, or sometimes antler, present the basic shape of the fibula or pendant - a slightly elevatd disc, four cross, or bird are the most common - and often also lines for the beadwork. A flat ingot of gold or silver would be hammered into sheet metal which was then punched into shape on the model with a wooden or rounded metal punch. Excess metal was cut off. In a next step, the shaped sheet metal was soldered onto an undecorated second sheet, thus forming a hollow pendant that is rather light in weight. Some of the pendants have tiny cross bars inside to give the structure better support.

Hiddensee Treasure - the fibula

Here is the photo of the fibula again so we can have a closer look at the ornaments. It is 8 cm in diametre with a slighly elevated front, making it 1,4 cm thick in the middle. Like the pendants, the fibula is hollow inside. The bronze needle on the back side has been lost, but the hook and the fittings remain; they are of a somewhat lesser purity than the show side of the fibula, but that alloy makes the gold less soft to carry the weight of the fabric fastened by the fibula.

The show side displays four animals seen from above. Their heads meet in the middle where five little fields, now empty, form a cross. They had once been filled with green glass - an unusal addition. The beasts show the typical elongated and twisting shape found on a number of Viking time decorations. Neck, body and tail are very long while the shoulder is triangular and the hindquarter pear shaped. The style is a mix of the Borre style (with the round shapes and twists) and the Jellinge style (the elongated form) and often referred to as Hiddensee style. Some 50 fibulas in that style exist, but most of them are made of silver and smaller than this one.

Two of the six largest pendants

All ten cross shaped pendants consist of a hollow tube in the shape of a bird's head seen from above, and a cross from whose three arms springs another cross each. The openings at the sides of the tube are made of an alloy with a higher percentage of copper to support the strain of a chain or band. The bird's heads with the two eyes and beak likely belong to some bird of prey, though probably not an eagle, since eagle shaped pendants usually show the bird's head from the side (4). The combination of the pagan bird motiv and the Christian cross makes those pendants interesting in their cultural context. About 40 of them have so far been found in places connected with the Viking culture.

One of the pendants with simple knotwork

The braided bead ornaments on the cross part of the pendants are more typical for continental and AnglosSaxon ornaments. Their origins lie in Roman and Byzantine decoration. The six largest pendants (about 7 cm in length) show braided bands, two smaller ones of about 5 cm length show bead knotwork, and two have granulations ornaments (see photo above). The four 'intermediate' pendants of 2 cm length don't have a bird on the tube; their ornaments are braided bands.

Clover shaped brooch and a fibula in the Terslev-style (Museum Haithabu)

Haithabu had been a centre of trade and craft from the late 9th to the mid 11th century, and the finds of tools and jewelry show a development of style. The older type is the so-called Terslev style (named for the silver hoard of Terslev in Denmark). The ornaments are four-point symmetrical braided bead bands or knot work on round fibulas, but there are no animal shapes like in the later Hiddensee style. Models for both styles and intermediate forms can be found in Haithabu. Gold fibulas are rare and there are few that can compare to the Hiddensee one in size and craftmanship. The cross shaped pendants are more common, but most finds are made of silver.

We cannot be sure how the Hiddensee jewelry was worn, except for the fibula (to hold a cloak or mantle) and the neck ring. The cross shaped pendants don't fit into a necklace where they would bump against each other, so it is likely they were worn as pectoral of several parallel sets held by horizontal bands or chains connected by vertical chains at the sides. If the whole set was worn together, it must have been a pretty impressive sight, jewelry worthy a queen indeed.

Moulds, a thong and other tools for metalwork (Haithabu)

Footnotes
1) An example is the ring from Tissø which weighed about 2 kg - a bit heavy to wear - and shows traces of material having been removed.
2) There were no gold mines in the part of Scandinavia where such jewelry was created, so the material for the Hiddensee treasure is assumed to have come from older jewelry or coins. While the purity of the gold and the way those pieces were created has been researched with modern methods, I could not find any information about a possible origin of the gold, which surprises me - those informations can usually be obtained today. It would be interesting to know if the gold is more local - from the British Isles for example, or as exotic as coins from the Arabian Caliphate. Other metals necessary for alloys, like copper, tin or zinc, had to be obtained by trade or re-melting as well.
3) And it survived being bent to fit into a jar.
4) In most cases, the rest of the fibula, pendant or whatever is also shaped as stylized bird.

Literature
B. Armburster, H. Eilbracht: Wikingergold auf Hiddensee. Rostock, 2010
Kurt Schietzel: Spurensuche Haithabu. Neumünster/Hamburg, 2014

 
Comments:
I'm always amazed when I see jewellery from the past - the older the better. It's the designs on them that fascinate me. I love Celtic jewellery in particular. The detail on the Viking fibula is beautiful.
 
Schon beeindruckend mit wieviel Kunstfertigkeit diese Stücke gearbeitet sind - eines immer schöner als das andere :-)
Danke für die tollen Bilder und diesen wieder sehr informativen Bericht.
Liebe Grüße von der Silberdistel
 
Anerje, I like Vking and Celtic jewelry, too.

Vielen Dank für deine netten Worte, liebe Silberdistel. Stralsund, wo die Stücke ausgestellt sind, ist für dich ja nicht aus der Welt. :-)
 
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The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and central Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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Location: Goettingen, Germany

I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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Mediaeval History

General Essays

Mediaeval Art and Craft

Mediaeval Art
The Choir Screen in the Cathedral of Mainz
The Gospels of Heinrich the Lion
The Hunting Frieze in Königslutter Cathedral
Mediaeval Monster Carvings
The Viking Treasure of Hiddensee

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A Note on handgenginn maðr

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The Siege of Vilnius 1390

The Vikings

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Some historical events are linked under more than one country / subtitle due to the overarching nature of history.


History by Country

Germany

Geneaology

List of Mediaeval German Emperors

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Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors

Kings and Emperors

The Salian Dynasty
King Heinrich IV

House Welf and House Staufen
Emperor Otto IV, Introduction

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Princes
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The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
Duke Otto of Northeim
The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus

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The Marshals of Ebersburg
The Counts of Everstein
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Royal Troubles
Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg

Local Feuds
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The Thuringian Succession War
The Star Wars


England

Kings of England

King Henry IV
King Henry's Lithuanian Crusade

Normans, Britons, Angevins

Great Noble Houses
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The Earls of Richmond

Contested Borders

Northumbria
King Stephen's Troubles with King David of Scots


Scotland

Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
Malcolm III and Northumbria
Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
King David and the Civil War, Part 1
King David and the Civil War, Part 2

Houses Bruce and Stewart
The Early Stewart Kings

Local Troubles

Clan Feuds
MacLeans and MacDonalds
A Scottish Wedding

Scotland and England

The Wars of Independence
Alexander of Argyll
The Fight for Stirling Castle


Wales

Welsh Princes

The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw

Wales and England

A History of Rebellion
Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Denmark

Kings of Denmark

House of Knýtlinga
Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Norway

Kings of Norway

Foreign Relations
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

Feuds and Rebellions

Rebels
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Sweden

Troubles and Alliances

Scandinavian Unity
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union


Livonia
(Latvia and Estonia)

Livonian Towns

Riga
The History of Mediaeval Riga

Tallinn
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


Lithuania

Lithuanian Princes

The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas

The Northern Crusades

The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390


Poland

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union

The Northern Crusades

The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
The Conquest of Danzig


Bohemia

Royal Dynasties

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
King Sigismund and the Hussite Wars


Roman History

The Romans at War

Forts and Fortifications

The German Limes
The Cavalry Fort Aalen
Limes Fort Osterburken
Limes Fort Saalburg

The Hadrian's Wall
Introduction
The Fort at Segedunum / Wallsend

Border Life
Exercise Halls
Mile Castles and Watch Towers
Soldiers' Living Quarters
Cavalry Barracks

Campaigns and Battles

Maps
The Romans in Germania

The Pre-Varus Invasion in Germania
Roman Camp Hedemünden
New Finds in 2008

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
Museum Park at Kalkriese

The Battle at the Harzhorn
Introduction

The Batavian Rebellion
A Short Introduction

Miscellaneous Events

The Legend of Alaric's Burial

Roman Militaria

Armour
Early Imperial Helmets
Late Roman Helmets
The Negau B Helmet

Weapons
Weapon Finds at Hedemünden
The pilum
Daggers
Swords

Other Equipment
Roman Saddles


Roman Life and Religion

Religion and Public Life

Religion
Curse Tablets and Good Luck Charms
Isis Worship
Memorial Stones
The Mithras Cult

Public Life
Roman Transport: Barges
Roman Transport: Amphorae and Barrels
Roman Water Supply

Architecture
Roman Public Baths

Domestic Life

Roman villae
Villa Urbana Longuich
Villa Rustica Wachenheim

Everyday Life
Bathing Habits
Children's Toys
Face Pots


Other Times

Neolithicum to Iron Age

Germany

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
The Hutewald Project in the Solling
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Neolithic Remains
Stone Burials of the Funnelbeaker Culture
The Necropolis of Oldendorf

Bronze Age / Iron Age
The Nydam Ship

Scotland

Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society

Scandinavia

Bronze / Iron Age
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd / Gotland


Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)


Miscellanea

History in Literature and Music

History and Literature

The Weimar Classicism
The Weimar Classicism - Introduction

Theodor Fontane
Short Biography of Theodor Fontane
Fontane Ballads, translated by me
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Romans
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Other
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances


Geology

Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs
Sandstone Formations: Daneil's Cave
Sandstone Formations: Devil's Wall
Sandstone Formations: The Klus Rock

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations
Salt Springs at the Werra

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite


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