We have a good understanding of the jewelry worn by these tribes since they buried their dead with their jewelry. The spread of Christianity changed these rituals, from the 7th and 8th century on we have to rely on other sources like monastery inventories and wills next to rare finds of hoards of jewelry.
Disk Brooch, 6th Century.
Precious stones were very popular. Color was extremely important to the new inhabitants of western Europe. Sapphires, emeralds and above all garnets were used intensively. Enamels were used as well, mainly after Byzantine masters’ examples. Pearls from the Orient as well as freshwater pearls from Scotland were in great demand.
Sections of the Great Cross of Guarrazar.
Techniques and Styles
Fibula of Queen Aregund, c.515-573.
The technique had been in fashion with the Goths when they were still living on the Eastern side of the Danube and when they moved westward they introduced it to other Germanic tribes who adopted the decoration style.
Merovingan Garnet Inlay 6th Century.
Merovingian Disk c.7th Century.
The introduction of Christianity to the Germanic tribes didn’t change the decorative styles much, except for the emergence of the cross as a popular motif. Due to the ending of pagan burial traditions, we have to rely on very few random finds of surviving objects to describe 8th and 9th-century Germanic jewelry. Niello was used on both gold and silver and cloisonné enamel techniques were by this time known in the West.
Types of Jewelry
Bronze Fibula, Germanic.
Germanic jewelry often had a functional purpose instead of being a purely decorative object. The most common objects from the Early Middle Ages are garment fasteners. These brooches, of which some were derived from antique fibulae, are found in several forms. Disc- and penannular brooches were by far the most common and were used to secure robes and capes at the neck or shoulder. Bird fibulae were popular as well. Further items like clasps, large belt buckles and smaller ones to secure footwear, sword suspending ornaments and armor were often heavily decorated in the jewelry styles of the time.
Women wore rings, bracelets and necklaces and archaeological excavations show that lengths of glass beads or amber were worn across the chest, suspended from the dress. Earrings were uncommon objects in the jewelry boxes of the Germanic ladies in the Early Middle Ages.
Anglo Saxon Fibula.
Sutton Hoo Shoulder Clasp, Closed.
In 1939 the burial site of an early 7th-century Anglo-Saxon king, believed to be King Raedwald of East Anglia, was excavated at a place called Sutton Hoo near Suffolk in the United Kingdom. The king had been given a traditional ship burial and was sent off to the world of the dead with a vast array of goods. Among the grave finds were some of the most beautiful pieces of Germanic jewelry known to us.
Sutton Hoo Shoulder Clasp.
Anglo Saxon Buckle.
7th century AD. British Museum
Sutton Hoo Purse.
The Guarrazar Treasure
Guarrazar Treasure Votive Crown.
Guarrazar Treasure Votive Crown. (Detail)
- Middeleeuwen, de Boer, D.E.H, van Herwaarden, J and Scheurkogel, J. Martinus Nijhoff uitgevers, Groningen, The Netherlands, 1995. ISBN 906890485x
- 7000 Years of Jewellery, Various Authors, edited by Hugh Tait, British Museum Press, London, 1986. ISBN 9780714150321
- Ancient Jewellery: Interpreting the Past, Ogden, Jack, British Museum Press, London, 1992. ISBN 071412060x
- Jewelry, from Antiquity to the Present, Phillips, Clare, Thames & Hudson, London, 1996. ISBN 9780500202876
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