Barion Pixel
By using our website, you approve the use of cookies in accordance with the Cookies Policy.

Silk in the Early Medieval III. – Silk for Nomads and Block Printed silks

Mestellér János
Silk in the Early Medieval III. – Silk for Nomads and Block Printed silks
In our article series, we would like to add some points about the usage of silk textiles in the Early Medieval and in the Early Medieval reenactment. On our third article, we check some interesting things about silk found in the heritage of nomad peoples in the Caucasus and Altai mountains, and what we could know about block printed silks.

Alans of Moshchevaya Balka

Silk trade easily reached the Caucasus Mountains. Here, trade routes went through as part of the Silk Road. In the famous burials of Moshchevaya Balka the most well-preserved pieces of gear from the Early Medieval remained to us. From here we know more than a hundred kinds of silks. Here we could find some full silk clothes as well, and much what is decorated with silk.

Interesting to note that among the non-silk clothing, there aren’t colored ones, just pale, natural white. All the colors are coming from the silks. Here we can find silks from Byzantium, Central Asia and China. As Marianne Vedeler vividly notes: „No care has been taken to make the pattern and colors match”.

We can observe the same kind of usage of the silks like in Oseberg. Pieces cut in narrow and rectangular forms and sewn into clothes. Also, lots of parallels could be drawn between the patterns and the usage of silk between Oseberg and Moshchevaya Balka.

Here is our third hunter silk pattern as well. What is a close stylistic parallel to Byzantine silk of the Bahram Gur hunter scene what was found in Oseberg and also in Pskov.

Turks in the Altai

In the Northern Altai V. D. Kubarev investigated 17 graves where they discovered remains of clothes from silk, woolen fabric, felt, leather and fur remains.

Among these, 12 types of silk ornaments identified. Three represent versions of the same motif: two dragons and a „tree of life” in a medallion. They differ from each other in the size of the medallions. This type has a Chinese origin and could be dated to the 7-8 century. Few examples of rhomboid, geometrical and floral patterns were also revealed. Also, 8-9 kinds of non-ornamented silks in various colors. The majority of patterned silks were monochromatic. Among these are some possible Sogdian origin.


Really important what the researcher of the Altai Turks, V.D. Kubarev states about these finds: “The frequency of Chinese silk in ancient Turkic burials allows us to affirm that the wearing of silk clothing was not solely the privilege of rich and noble nomads.”

Block Printed Silks

Block printed wool motif from Chernigov

Block print is an interesting phenomenon. We do not have lots of sources to it, but for the technique we have examples from Kiev, Chernigov and Moshchevaya Balka. These are prints of different materials: Linen, wool and silk also. What we can assume that these products weren’t imports, but the printing parts are locally made. And we can see that the figures are imitating silk patterns.

Block printed silk from Moshchevaya Balka

The technique is present in Western Europe in the VI-VIIth century as well.

Block printed silk pattern and it’s reconstruction

The article series are an extended version of the presentation of Mestellér János: Silk in the Viking Age – Points about the usage of silk textiles in the Early Medieval and in the Early Medieval reenactment. Presented in Bratislava, III. Fórum včasného stredoveku (III. Early Medieval Forum) in 2019. II. 02.


Berta, N. – Harangi, F. – Nagy – K.E. –Türk, A.: New data to the research on 10th century txtiles from the Hungarian conquest period cemetery at Derecske-Nagymező-dűlő. 2018.

Christensen, A. E. – Nockert, M.: Osebergfunnet : bind iv, Tekstilene. Oslo. 2006.

Eriksen, Åse: Med silke til Valhall, En studie av mønster og vevemetoder. In: FAGFELLEVURDERT VIKING, Norsk Arkeologisk Arbok, Vol: LXXX. 2017.

Fadlán, I: Beszámoló a volgai bolgárok földjén tett utazásról. Tr: Simon, R. Budapest 2007.

Füredi, Á.: Honfoglalás kori tarsolylemez Pest megyében a Bugyi-Felsőványi 2. sír. In: Archeológiai Értesítő 137 2012.

Frankopan, P.: The Silk Roads, A new history of the world. NewYork 2017.

Ierusalimskaja, A. A.: Moshtcevaya Balka, An unusual archeological site at the North Caucasus Silk Road. St. Petersburg 2012.

Jakunina, L. J.: O triech kurgannych tkaniach. Moscow 1940.

Kubarev, G.V.: The culture of the ancient Turks of the Altai (on the basis of burials). Novosibirsk 2005.

Orfinskaya, O. V.: Парчовое платье X в. из Гнездовского некрополя. In: St. Petersburg 2012.

Orfinskaya, O. V. – Zubkova, E.A.: The results of Investigation of the Textiles from Excavation of 2006 in Pskov. In: Archeological news 16 (2009). St. Petersburg 2010.

Vedeler, Marianne: Silk finds from Oseberg. Production and distribution of high status markers across ethnic boundaries. In: An offprint from Everyday Products in the Middle Ages. Creafts, Consumption and the Individual in Northern Europe c. AC 800-1600. Ed: Hansen, G. Ashby, S. Baug, I. Oxford 2015.

Vedeler, Marianne: Silk for the Vikings. Oxford 2014.

Watt, J. C. – Wardwell, A.E.: When Silk Was Gold: Central Asian and Chinese Textiles. New York 1997.

Online sources:
Firdausí: The Sháhnáma

Living History Crafts

Marya Kargashina’s Medieval Research – Novgorod to Three Mountains

Snell, M.: Silk production and Trade in Medieval Times

Labels attached to the content: Silks