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 second article we check some interesting things about silk fragments found in the territory of Scandinavia and the Kievan Rus.
All Viking Age silks found in Scandinavia have been found in high status contexts, in mounds and/or in graves with extesive and costly grave goods.
Majority of the silk fragments have been cut to strips (0,5-1,9 cm wide). This was folded and sewed to other materials. From Oseberg we can identify wool and linen, to what silk was sewn.
17 fragments from Oseberg have been cut to rectangular or rounded shapes and formed into circles, leaves and arc-formed shape and V-forms. Very likely that the silk strips was used to decorations and as trimming on garments. They sewed it to the clothes not only the right but often with the reverse side turning out. From such reversed sew up, we can see that the right side has traces of hard wear, thus points us that the use of this fragment has a long history, and it was turned over after wearing it right side up for a time.
Silk embroideries and bands
We know 12 fragments of silk embroidement from Oseberg . Pattern figures points to both west European, especially Anglo-Saxon, but also to Scandinavian ornamentation. So there is a big chance that these are locally made products.
In a few cases tablet woven bands also consisted silk.
We could think that silk was imported to Scandianvia mainly from the Byzantium. It was the closest silk producer center to this region, and we know well about the conenctions of the Viking warriors and traders to Miklagard. But in reality majority of the silks in Scandinavian burials are from Central Asia. Of course Byzantine silk is present, and Chinese as well.
When one of the leaders of the Rus merchant died in the capital of the Volga Bulgar, Ibn Fadlan mentions that for his funeral, they made a mattress from Byzantine brocade, and tog the body in brocade kaftan with golden buttons, and he also got a brocade cap.
Staraja Ladoga (Aldeigjuborg)
From here we have a 4 cm wide, 20,5 cm long samit silk strip sewn into a linen fabric. It is a fragment of a coloth and could be dated to the
VIIIth – early IXth centruy. The original pattern faded, but red and blue colors are visible.
Among the textil finds we see an underdress and an apron, woven in blue tabby linen adorned with three types of silk. 2 oval brooches are also known form this grave. It dates to the Xth century.
Marianne Vedeler notes that: „The combination of silk strips suggest that the color combination, rather than combination of pattern, had been focus when trimming was done.” The decoration of the strip were cut into pieces and sewn together without trying to complete or match the original pattern.
One of the silks is part of the „hunter silk” family, with paralels to Oseberg, Moshchevaya Balka and several curch collections in Western Europe. The closest parallel to the Pskov one is the one the parish church of St Calais in France. These silk are likely Byzantine ones, but the motifs leading us back to Sassanian mythological scenes. These are the Bahram Gor hinter scenes.
In grave Dn 4. two lines of narrow silk stripes were found in a man’s grave, together with 24 bronze buttons. The find has beeen interpreted as a man’s kaftan.
More interesting to us one of the woman burials. From here we know a red-gold worked silk and loose strips of silk. We have 2 oval brooches, and dirhmas minted between 960-970, what possibly dates this grave to the end of Xth century. From the kaftan really large parts preserved, more or less full cloth. We can see the closure style, pattern of the cutting, pattern of the brocade. Brocade from China, and maybe the whole kaftan is an import product.
We know from an fragment from near Kiev what shows us a block printed silk pattern.
On the next article we continue to investigate some interesting sites and regions where from we have knowledge about the use of silk: the Caucasus and the Altai mountains.
Coming next: Silk for Nomads
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.
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