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 trough as part of the Silk Road. In the famous burials of Moschevaya Balka the most well preserved pieces of gear from the Early Medieval remained to us. From here we know more than a houndred 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 clothings, there aren’t colored ones, just pale, natural white. All the colors are coming from the silks. Here we can find silks from Byzantium, Cantral Asia and China. As Marianne Vedeler vividly notes: „No care has been taken to make the patttern 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 a lots of paralels could be drawn between the petterns and the usage of silk between Oseberg and Moshchevaya Balka.

Here is our third hunter silk pattern as well. What is a close stylistical paralel to Byzantine silk of the Bahram gur hunter scene what was fround in Oseberg and also in Pskov.

Turks in the Altai

In the Northen Altai V. D. Kubarev investigated 17 garves 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 medalion. They differ from each other in the size of the medallions. This type has a Chinese origin and coulf be dated to the 7-8 century. Few examples of rhomboid, geomethrical and floral patterns were also revealed. Also 8-9 kinds of non ornamented silks in various colors. Majority of patterned silks were monochromatic. Amongst these are some of 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 print is an interesting phenomenon. We do not have a lots of sources to it, but for the technique we have examples from Kiev, Chernigov and Moshchevaya Balka. These are prints oo 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.

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

Block printed silk pattern and it’s reconstruction

On the next article we will bring several examples from the Early Medieval about the usage of silk.

Coming next: What was silk used for?

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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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

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