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Bracteate DR BR42 bearing the inscription Alu.

A bracteate (from the Latin bractea, a thin piece of metal) is a flat, thin, single-sided gold coin produced in Northern Europe predominantly during the Migration Period of the Germanic Iron Age (in Sweden this includes the Vendel era), but the name is also used for later produced coins of silver produced in central Europe during the early Middle Ages. The native proto-Norse term, from the evidence of the Tjurkö bracteate inscription, appears to have been walha-kurn, "Welsh (i.e. Roman) grain (for coin)".

There are also described pieces from the neighboring Huns and from the Hunnic invasion of India, in the style of Gupta and Roman coinage.

Contents

Gold bracteates from the Migration Period

The Vadstena bracteate, a typical C-bracteate.

Gold bracteates commonly denote a certain type of jewelry, made mainly in the 5th to 7th century AD, represented by numerous gold specimens. Bead-rimmed and fitted with a loop, most were intended to be worn suspended by a string around the neck, supposedly as an amulet. The gold for the bracteates came from coins paid as peace money by the Roman Empire to their Northern Germanic neighbors.[1]

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Motifs

B-bracteate of the B7 or "Fürstenberg" type, found in Welschingen (IK 389), interpreted as depicting Frija-Frigg.

Many of the bracteates feature ruler portraits of Germanic kings with characteristic hair that is plaited back and depictions of figures from Germanic mythology influenced to varying extents by Roman coinage while others feature entirely new motifs. The motifs are commonly those of Germanic mythology and some are believed to be Germanic pagan icons giving protection or for divination.[1]

Often depicted is a figure with a horse, spear and birds - likely a reference to the Germanic god Wodan - and aspects of the figure that would later appear in 13th century depictions as Odin such as the Poetic Edda. For this reason the bracteates are a target of iconographic studies by scholars interested in Germanic paganism. Several bracteates also feature runic alphabet inscriptions (a total of 133 inscriptions on bracteates are known, amounting to more than a third of the entire Elder Futhark corpus). Numerous Bracteates feature swastikas as a common motif.[1]

Typology

The typology for bracteates divides them into several letter-named categories, a system introduced in an 1855 treatise by the Danish numismatist Christian Jürgensen Thomsen named Om Guldbracteatene og Bracteaternes tidligeste Brug som Mynt and finally defined formally by the Swedish numismatist Oscar Montelius in his 1869 treatise Från jernåldern:

  • A-bracteates (approximately 87 specimens): showing the face of a human, modeled after antique imperial coins
  • B-bracteates (appr. 88 specimens): one to three human figures in standing, sitting or kneeling positions, often accompanied by animals
  • C-bracteates (best represented, by appr. 400 specimens): showing a male's head above a quadruped, often interpreted as the Germanic god Woden.[1]
  • D-bracteates (appr. 336 specimens): showing several animals
  • E-bracteates (appr. 280 specimens): showing an animal triskele under a circular feature
  • F-bracteates (appr. 14 specimens): as a subgroup of the D-bracteates, showing an imaginary animal
  • M-bracteates (appr. 17 specimens): imitations of Roman imperial bust-medallions

Corpus

More than 1,200 bracteates are known in total. Of these, 135 (ca. 11%) bear Elder Futhark inscriptions which are often very short; the most notable inscriptions are found on the Seeland-II-C (offering traveling protection to the one who wears it), Vadstena (giving a listing of the Elder Futhark combined with a potential magical inscription) and Tjurkö (featuring a debated inscription) bracteates.

The German Karl Hauck, archaeologist Morten Axboe and runologist Klaus Düwel have worked since the 1960s to create a complete corpus of the early Germanic bracteates from the migration period, complete with large scale photographs and drawings. This has been published in three volumes in German named Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit. Ikonographischer Katalog.

Early medieval bracteates

Medieval silver bracteat portraying bishop Ulrichs von Halberstadt and Albert I of Brandenburg.

Silver bracteates are different from the migration period bracteates and were the main type of coin minted in German-speaking areas, with the exception of the Rhineland, beginning at around 1130 in Saxony and Thuringia and were taken out of circulation at about 1520. In some cantons of Switzerland, bracteate-like rappen, heller, and angster were produced during the 18th century.

Medieval silver bracteates may be large, but most are about 15 millimeters across and weigh about 1 gram.

Indian style bracteates

These coins were made by the invading Hunnic tribes as they entered India, from 635 ad they seem to have issued gold coins to the weight of half a gram to one gram in the style of Gupta and Roman coinage.

References

  1. ^ a b c d Poul Kjærum, Rikke Agnete Olsen. Oldtidens Ansigt: Faces of the Past (1990), ISBN 9788774682745

Literature

  • Axboe, Morten, Düwel, K., Hauck, K. & von Padberg, L. (1985-89). Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit. Ikonographischer Katalog. Münstersche Mittelalterschriften 24, München, 7 vols..  
    • Band 1:1 (1985), ISBN 3-7705-1240-5.
    • Band 1:2 (1985), ISBN 3-7705-1241-3.
    • Band 1:3 (1985), ISBN 3-7705-2186-2.
    • Band 2:1 (1986), ISBN 3-7705-2301-6.
    • Band 2:2 (1989), ISBN 3-7705-2302-4.
    • Band 3:1 (1989), ISBN 3-7705-2401-2.
    • Band 3:2 (1989), ISBN 3-7705-2402-0.
  • M. Axboe, The Scandinavian gold bracteates, Acta Archaeologica, 52 (1982).
  • M. Axboe, Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit: Herstellungsprobleme und Chronologie, Walter de Gruyter (2004), ISBN 9783110181456.
  • Gaimster, Märit (1998). Vendel period bracteates on Gotland : on the significance of Germanic art. Almqvist & Wiksell International. ISBN 91-22-01790-9.  
  • Hauck, K., 1970: Goldbrakteaten aus Sievern. Spätantike Amulett-Bilder der "Dania Saxonica" und die Sachsen-"Origo" bei Widukind von Corvey, München (Münstersche Mittelalter-Schriften 1).
  • Nowak, S., Schrift auf den Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit, Diss. Göttingen (2003) [1]
  • Starkey, K., 1999: Imagining an early Odin. Gold bracteates as visual evidence?, Scandinavian studies. The journal of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study 71-4 (1999), 373-392.
  • Simek, R., 2003: Religion und Mythologie der Germanen, Darmstadt.

External links


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