|One of Sofie Krafft's watercolors, depicting a silk fragment|
from the Oseberg grave along with reconstruction of the full
pattern. Photo: Kulturhistorisk museum/Museum of Cultural History, Norway
Professor Vedeler focuses primarily upon the availability of silk fabrics to the Vikings and the social and cultural signals given through its use. Nonetheless, the book also contains some lovely full-color photographs of silk finds, as well as some useful information to fuel the deductions of archaeologists, reenactors, and costumers interested in Viking age clothing. Some of the details that form the basis of Vedeler's deductions about how silk fabrics ended up in Scandinavia are more interesting than the deductions themselves. Here are some of the details that surprised or intrigued me:
- Of the Viking age Scandinavian graves where silk has been found and a determination of gender has been made, the overwhelming majority were female graves. Vedeler notes, "Silk has been found in 94 graves in total. Of these, 52 are interpreted as female graves while 19 are male. Nine graves contained both a man and a woman, and in 14 cases the silk were [sic] found in graves where the gender of the deceased is unknown, or in another context." (Page 33, fn. 147).
- There is clear evidence that some women, at least, used strips of samite silk to trim the tops of their apron dresses. Vedeler says: "In some cases, samite silk has been found on the back side of oval brooches, indicating that the silk was part of the suspended dress in the chest area." She cites examples from Veka in Voss (Norway) and in Tuna in Badelunda (Sweden). (Page 37). However, silk strips have also been found in graves without tortoise brooches, indicating that silk was used to trim other kinds of clothing also. (Page 38).
- Most of the silk found in Viking age graves is from Central Asia, Byzantium, or other regions close to those areas. However, a few that appear to be Chinese have been found at Birka. (Page 38).
- There is evidence that Vikings who served in the Varangian Guard in Byzantium were sometime rewarded with silk collars and strips taken from skaramaggia. A skaramagion is a overtunic with long sleeves associated with the Emperor of Byzantium and other Byzantine men of high rank. This suggests that some of the silk strips found in Viking graves may have come to Scandinavia in that condition, and not as larger pieces. (Page 106).