Single brooches

From Vikings Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The first five brooch styles discussed here are all part of female jewellery and the use discussed here is for female kit.

Equal Armed Brooches

This type of brooch is often found lying between the two ovals and in many ways is complimentary to them. They are found in the whole of Scandinavia and date from the ninth through to the eleventh. Many are similar in style to the ovals they are executed with zoomorphic animals and many posses silvered ‘bosses’ as do ovals. They are typically made of bronze, silver coated, or gilded bronze or pure silver.

Trefoil Brooches

The trefoil brooch is often interpreted as the fastener for the mantle and indeed it would be able to fasten quite thick material. These brooches were developed from Frankish strap distributors taken back to Scandinavia by one assumes the early Viking raiders. As these strap distributors where used further copies were made up as true brooches by insular Viking craftsmen.

While trefoil brooches had a very brief spell as a male dress accessory, they rapidly became a characteristically female item. They are typically made from gilded bronze or pure silver.

Round/Disc Brooches

Small round brooches are most commonly found at the neck of a body and are usually interpreted as closing the chemise. The brooches considered to fasten the chemise are quite small. The typical Scandinavian styles are dish shaped with filigree and/open-work zoomorphic designs on them. They appear to have been produced in copper alloy, silver and the most spectacular ones in gold.

Gold and Silver brooches were often made by the use of a patrice. This involved casting a copper alloy (bronze) model on which thin gold or silver sheet was hammered. The resulting relief model was then embellished with filigree and/or granulation work. A set of 42 patrice’s were found in the excavations from Hedeby. Niello a black silver by-product was used decoratively as well as gilding, inlaying with precious stones and glass. The only technique which seems to have evaded Scandinavian goldsmiths is that of enamelling.

England seems to produce rather flatter brooches like the ones from York although how much they owe to Scandinavian design and how much to English design is yet to be determined. There is evidence to suggest that in the tenth century a move toward granulation and filigree styles were very popular. For the lower classes who would not have access to silver and gold, brooches in copper alloy and lead alloy (pewter) were cast. Although they would loose the great detail of hand made work they were undoubtedly prized possessions. Brooches with imitation roman coins set in the middle of concentric rings of silver have been found in England and Scandinavia.

Drum/Box Brooches

These brooches represent one of the most characteristic styles of brooches from Gotland. Of the 750 known examples only 20 are from non Gotlandic contexts mostly from the eastern Baltic. These are interpreted as belonging to women who have travelled off the island. These brooches are most often found on the breastbone between the two animal head brooches and is interpreted as fastening the shawl or cloak. (MacGregor. 1997. 28) These brooches are so called because they have vertical sides. They are cast as hollow pieces, sometimes as one piece, sometimes the front plate is a separate open-work panel. Other parts of the brooch can be separately applied including the central boss, and standing panels on the sides. Decorative features again mirror the animal head brooches - zoomophic animals, plain or punched decoration.

One of the most spectacular versions of this brooch[1] is cast in copper alloy in 12 parts but is covered almost entirely in gold, silver and niello using filigree, gilding and granulation techniques. The decorative features of this brooch are interesting in that styles from the 9th through to the 11th are utilized, it is even decorated on the bottom with the latest Urnes style. This last brooch is unusual in many ways because as study done recently (Thunmark-Nylen 1983) sees a shift in production values through time. Late brooches tend to be less well made than earlier examples, blurred decoration confirms that they were made as casts from existing examples.

Penannular brooches

To be added...


The Pitney Brooch and Urnes Style Brooches made use Scandinavian style ornamentation and as such have been considered appropriate for the Viking age. However these open-work brooches using the Urnes style are typical of the late eleventh century and are not appropriate for use with the oval brooch style dress. In Gotland there is also evidence for a strange brooch named by several scholars as a tool brooch. It presents itself in the form of an annular ring upon which are four uprights, attached to these is another ring. From this upper ring Gotlandic women would have hung, by means of chains various tools and toilet implements, such as keys and tweezers. Also on Gotland is the type of brooch known as a disc-on-bow brooch, having its origins in the vendel period there are known examples from the Viking period. The disc-on-bow brooch is worn by some Scandinavian women singly and horizontally at the neck. The boat shaped brooch from Bornholm in Denmark is a unique find and dates from the mid 9th century. No others closely resembling it are evidenced in Scandinavia.

Credits: with thanks to Caroline Buckley.