Women’s jewellery in change – the use of garnet in the Rhineland from the 6th to the 7th century AD.

→Judith Jordan

The initial impulse for this PhD-thesis comes from the international project „International Framework“, which was supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the context of the programme „Sprache der Objekte“ from January 2014 until December 2016 (http://web.rgzm.de/en/research/research-areas/a/article/weltweites-zellwerk/).

The objective of the BMBF-project was a more differentiated view of the role of the gemstone garnet in the first millennium AD. Therefore, archaeological and written sources were used and interpreted, and with the help of destruction-free methods views into the used material were possible. These materials were garnet, but also metal, glass and organic matter. The examined objects were varied and comprised different types of brooches, belt garnitures, sword pendants, ear rings and finger rings, weapons and relics from Spain, Hungary, Great Britain, Sweden and Germany.

The following questions were at the beginning of the project:

  • On which paths and in what form (as raw material or as cut stones) did the garnet reach Europe?
  • Stones from which deposits were used in which time and region?
  • How can it be explained, that the use of garnet in the Rhineland declined at the turn of the 6th to the 7th century, but rose in the northern regions of Europe at the same time?


The part of the project from the LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn, which was under the leadership of Dr. E. Nieveler and Prof. Dr. M. Schmauder, was called “Garnet Cloisonné in the Rhineland: Interdisciplinary Research on Trade, Workshops, Symbolism and Users” and consisted of two main themes. Mrs Nieveler dealt with the finds from the 6th century and the PhD-thesis is about the group of filigree and gilded disc brooches from the late 6th and 7th centuries. Therefore, the Rhineland is a model region for trade, use und distribution of garnet over a period of 200 years. The area where most filigree and gilded disc brooches were found, apart from the Rhineland, is in the territories to the west, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and France to the rivers Seine and Yonne. Further south, brooches appeared along the Rhine up to Switzerland and the neighbouring French territory in the west. In the east, objects were found up to the Altmühl-valley in the north of the Danubian river. Both forms of brooches were part of the women’s jewellery. A selection of artefacts was chosen according to these criteria: date, place, function of the settlement, material, social status of the buried person, object type and actual condition. The questions about origin and meaning of objects with garnet-decor from the Rhineland arose several decades ago, for example in the works of the following authors: H. Rupp 1937, F. Rademacher 1940, B. Thieme 1978, B. Arrhenius 1985 and most recently G. Graenert in her dissertation from 2007. A climax in decoration in the cloisonné style can be observed in the Rhineland during the second third of the 6th century. The quality and quantity of the stones and the work declines towards the second half of the 6th century. The dissertation starts at this point. What is the reason for the decline? Is there a disruption of the trade routes? Which geological markers are inside the garnets – are they from India/Sri Lanka or from the Bohemian region? Have the stones been reused or replaced by other materials. One theory states, that the collapse of the garnet trade routes from India/ Sri Lanka is the reason for the decline of garnet inlays in the 7th century. On the other hand, the greater variety of colours in the 7th century brooches, for which red garnet together with blue, green and colourless glass in combination with other gems (like amethyst and carneol) or organic matter was used, could be the result of a change in taste. All brooches from the LVR-LandesMuseum were examined with regard to craftsmanship, by means of photos and x-ray-pictures. An important research method was the use of a digital microscopy, which allowed for detailed views into the construction of the brooch. The result of this examination is a catalogue of all characteristics, which is the basis for documentation and classification of the inlays, their processing and the quality of the goldsmith work. New insights are to be expected from the analysis of the fillings materials, which the goldsmith used to stabilize the different layers of metal. Due to the lack of images and written contemporary sources in the Rhineland, only the work with the brooches allows for an approximation to the level of craftsmanship of this time. By comparing the objects, characteristics can be described that may be useful to identify individual workshops and specific processes. Additional themes are the questions about the design of the front side, the social aspect of the use of these brooches, their distribution in the Rhineland and the perspective in the following decades.


  • Arrhenius 1985
    B. Arrhenius, Merovingian garnet jewellery, emergence and social implications (Stockholm 1985).
  • Brepohl 1995
    E. Brepohl, Theorie und Praxis des Goldschmieds (Leipzig 1995).
  • Graenert 2007
    G. Graenert, Merowingerzeitliche Filigranscheibenfibeln westlich des Rheins. Europe médiévale 7 (Montagnac 2007).
  • Rademacher 1940
    F. Rademacher, Fränkische Goldscheibenfibeln aus dem Rheinischen Landesmuseum in Bonn (München 1940).
  • Rupp 1937
    H. Rupp, Die Herkunft der Zelleneinlage und die Almandin-Scheibenfibeln im Rheinland. Bd. 2. Diss. Köln (Bonn 1937).
  • Thieme 1978
    B. Thieme, Filigranscheibenfibeln der Merowingerzeit aus Deutschland. Ber. RGK 59, 1978, 381–500.


Dissertationsproject Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Jan Bemmann und Prof. Dr. Michael Schmauder