My Illlustrated Travel Journal with Essays about Roman and Mediaeval History and some Geology

  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)

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.

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

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 journal and blog based on my travels in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, Flanders, and the Baltic Coast. It includes essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, and some geology, which are illustrated with lots of photos of old castles and churches, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: 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 hasn't yet gotten an Instagram account. :-)