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Aug 26, 2013

Medieval Mondays: A Poisoner's Ring from Bulgaria

Archaeologists working in Bulgaria have found a 14th century ring that may have been used to slip poison into someone's drink, the Sofia Globe reports.

The ring, which was found at the fortress of Cape Kaliakra on the Black Sea, is small and would have probably been worn on the little finger. It has a box-like decoration that's hollow and has a small hole on the side that would be covered up by the ring finger. All the wearer would have to do is spread his fingers and the contents of the box would spill out, supposedly into someone's drink.

Similar rings have been found elsewhere in Europe, especially Italy and Spain.

It's of a style generally worn by men. The archaeologists theorize that it played a part in the political intrigues of the day, when aristocrats vied for control of Bulgaria and even played a role in Byzantine and Venetian politics.

Last year a vampire skeleton was found in Bulgaria. Sounds like it was quite the place in the good old days!

Aug 12, 2013

Medieval Mondays: The Dunstable Swan Jewel

This beautiful little piece of jewelry is called the Dunstable Swan and is one of the overlooked treasures of the British Museum. It was found in a Dominican Priory in Dunstable, England, and probably dates to the 14th or early 15th century.

Knights at that time liked to think they were descended from one of Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, such as the Knight of the Swan. Both the powerful de Bohun family and the House of Lancaster had the swan as their symbol and when King Henry IV (reigned 1399-1413) married Mary de Bohun he took the swan as his personal symbol.

This was probably the personal ornament of a member of the family or one of the knights who swore fealty to them. I love the detail on this little figure, which is only about two centimeters tall!

Aug 5, 2013

Medieval Mondays: Byzantine Silver in an Anglo-Saxon Burial

We've all heard of Sutton Hoo, that amazing treasure-filled ship burial of Anglo-Saxon royalty. One interesting aspect of the hoard buried with this man was there was a large amount of silver from the Byzantine Empire. This was the eastern part of the empire centered on Constantinople that survived nearly a thousand years after the last emperor in Rome was overthrown in 476 AD.

The most splendid example is the Anastasius Platter, a large decorated platter that bears the reign stamp of Anastasius I,  who ruled 491-518 AD. This was basically a control stamp guaranteeing the purity of the silver, something you still see on good silver today. Here are some shots of this work of art courtesy the British Museum.

By the time of the Sutton Hoo burial in the early 7th century, this platter was already more than a century old. so it certainly had time to make it all the way to England. The Byzantine Empire was famed for its power and artwork, and even as far away as England, people craved to have something from its workshops.
Central decoration
One of four control stamps of Emperor Anastasius I on the back

Rim decoration