Thursday, September 9, 2010

Omega Brooches--An Update

Last year around this time, I wrote about a bizarre little variant of the penannular brooch that is often called an omega brooch. They are shaped a bit like the Greek capital letter omega, hence the name.

My attention was caught by the fact that antiquities dealers and some reenactors seem to think they are Viking jewelry, even though I've never heard of any omega brooches being found in Scandinavia. I learned that they are generally associated with a tribe called the Mordovians, who live in northwestern Russia, near the Baltic.  Mordovia, now deemed a republic, is still recognized as having a distinct identity from Russia, though it is under Russian political control.

Recently, pearl, one of my most treasured correspondents, found some additional images of omega brooches on the Hull Museum Collections website, amusingly labeled "buckles."  Typing the following accession numbers into the search box will show the pictures of the brooches she found: KINCM:2008.6067.42, KINCM:2008.6067.55, KINCM:2008.6067.56, and KINCM:2008.6067.58.

The most interesting information pearl uncovered, however, is the location with which the Hull brooches are associated.  The British Museum, which had purchased some of the collection to which the Hull's brooches belong back in 1905, states that  the brooches were found  near Krasnoslobodsk.  Wikipedia mentions two towns by this name, one of which is in Mordovia. Pearl reports that the BM's examples can be searched for on their website, using the term "Efaevo" (the specific location of the tumulus where they were found).  Unfortunately, their web search reveals descriptive information but does not seem to include photographs.

So far, the omega brooch appears to be pretty solidly, and uniquely, Mordovian (although the BM and the Hull Museum have classified their examples as Finno-Ugrian), so far as I know it has no associations with the people we think of as Vikings. or with the apron dresses Viking women wore. (Thanks again, pearl!)


  1. the BM and the Hull Museum have classified their examples as Finno-Ugrian

    That's because the Mordvins are speakers of Finno-Ugric language. The term "Volga Finn" seems to be used to differentiate them from the "Baltic Finn" culture, but I'm not sure if those are accepted terms used in modern scholarly circles today, or not.

  2. Interesting. That shows how little I know about the Finns! Thanks again.

  3. I might have found what was the English report describing the find (it
    says it was based on a Russian article which I can't find, in part
    because the reference is so vague)!

    Sheppard, T. 1904. Ancient Russian Ornaments and Weapons. The
    Online at:

    Actually, the entire article is extremely vague, but it seems to have
    been in a popular magazine. On page 53 it says the brooches were
    "found in rows, resting upon the bones of the chest, and had evidently
    been used for fastening garments."

    No mention of gender though, or the fancier brooch style, just the
    plainer flattened-ends-of-wire type. :(

  4. Thanks for the reference, even though the article is vague, as you said.

    The tumulus appears to have been a group grave, with 15 skeletons observed, both male and female, but as you say there's no attempt to associate specific items with specific genders except for the bronze pigtail wrappings you mentioned on your blog. Sigh.

    But the mention of the omega brooches being found "in rows" intriguing; it suggests that large groups of them were used as clothing fasteners. Since they were so small, that's not at all a crazy theory. If only we had graveplans, like the ones Stolpe made at Birka, showing the skeleton with the brooches "in rows, resting upon the bones of the chest"! The article does say that there were 9 of these "loops of bronze". I wonder about the rows--three rows of three each, or something else?

    Ah well, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, as the saying goes.