Two Fifth Century Ad Byzantine Silver Bowls from Estonia/Kaks Viienda Sajandi Butsantsi Hobenou Eestist

Article excerpt

In the second half of the 19th century two silver bowls were discovered in Estonia (Fig. 1). They come from the Byzantine Empire and date to the late 5th early 6th century and they were buried in the same time in Estonia. They are similar and one of them had four control stamps under the bottom dating to the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I (491-518 AD). Even if this makes the bowls truly exceptional, there has been no thorough discussion about them. Next to archaeological and art historical analyses of these bowls the question how and why they came to the north is of interest.


In the year 1877 the report about the acquisitions of the collection of the Learned Estonian Society in Tartu (Dorpat) mentions an interesting item from Kriimani (Tartumaa) (Fig. 1), which was donated by L. von Stryk (Sb GEG 1877, 102 f.).


In "Brinkenhof, Kirchspiel Wendau, Kreis Dorpat" fragments of a silver cup were found. First it was assumed that it came from a masonry of the manor, but later it became clear that it was found from a "partly destroyed cairn, whose rests still showed certain regularities (two parallel rows and one right-angled added one)". Without any doubt it was a tarand-grave. The only additional object found there was a bronze ring (Fig. 9). The report also mentioned that there was a scuffle because of the valuable material and during this the bowl was broken. In the following decades it was occasionally mentioned (Ebert 1913, 545; Guide Riga 1914, 29; Tallgren 1925, 14; Tonisson 1962, 228; Urtans 1968, 77; Jaanits et al. 1982, 287, 289; Selirand & Tonisson 1984, 115; Aun 1992, 142 f.), but V. V. Kropotkin (1970, 88 no. 746, figs 50: 3-4 and 51) was the first to publish a photo of the fragments. However, even this did not help attract attention to this silver cup. The sherds came via the collection of the Learned Estonian Society and the Archaeological Institute of the University of Tartu to the Academy of Sciences of Estonia in Tallinn, now they are preserved at the Institute of History of the Tallinn University (AI 1270).

In 2008 the silver sherds from Kriimani were taken to the Romisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (RGZM) in Mainz for restoration. After the completion some observations about the manufacture process were made (cf. contribution of St. Felten and figs 11-16). The bowl is composed of two parts, the cup and the foot (Figs 2, 3). Unfortunately there were no fitments between the bottom and the body, i.e. the reconstructed height is not absolutely precise, but the course of the vessel wall allows a certain appraisal. The diameter of the rim is 15.5 cm, height is around 9 cm (foot 3.5 cm) and weight (including additions) 251.8 g. The analysis of the silver shows 93-95% Ag, 3.5-5% Cu with leaves of Au and Pb (analysis by Sunhild Hartmann, RGZM). The cup is artless; only two beaded bands border the horizontal rim that shows the rest of a turning process. The material thickness of the wall differs from 0.4-1.4 mm, in some cases the difference could be the result of the removal of corrosion from the surface. Scrapers on the bottom are most probably not antique but from the bedding in the soil or from a "material test" directly after the detection.




The second silver cup had more luck. It was discovered in 1895 near the village Varnja (Tartumaa) on the coast of the lake Peipsi "under a stone" (Fig. 1). It was donated by Prof. Dr. Richard Hausmann together with two "beads of stone" (Sb Riga 1895, 72 no. 14) to the Dommuseum in Riga in the same year and was in 1896 first published as the "Russian work of the 16th century" (RK, 248 no. 1351), but Gustave Schlumberger in Paris defined the stamps as Byzantine marks from the time of the Heraclids, i.e. the 7th century (Hausmann 1909, 1 with note 1 and p. 41). The Varnja bowl was often mentioned in the literature, especially because of the imperial stamps under its base (Hausmann 1909, 41; Ebert 1913, 545; Guide Riga 1914, 29 fig. …