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Author(s) of the publication: Vladimir KULAKOV

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by Vladimir KULAKOV, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Institute of Archeology, Russian Academy of Sciences

Waves splashed against the boards of warboats cutting across the Baltic. At long last their stemposts touched a gently sloping shore. Yet another gang of "Barbarians" disembarked-a tribe that had emerged victorious in the wars against the Huns, who made all of Europe shudder early in the 5th century, A.D. The seafarers' bags were aglitter with Roman gold...

Many centuries thereafter, when the Second German Reich was in its efflorescence (latter half of the 19th century), and when East Prussia was expanding its plowland, a farmer's plow hit upon "Barbarian" treasures that must have taken a lot of ancient Roman pennies, or solidi to be made.*

A similar find was recovered by a team of archeologists digging in the historical district of Heillibo in Konigsberg, then the capital of East Prussia (today near Elblong, Poland), fifty years before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. This treasure found on the Baltic seaside then vanished as if into thin air.

Not so long ago, in 2003 to 2005, experts sorting out the stock of the A.S. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow hit upon a collection of gold articles. This work was carried out by the Fine Arts Museum and the RAS Archeology Institute in keeping with the joint project on scientific analysis and cataloguing of West European finds dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries, A.D. Formerly the exhibits were stored in the depositaries of the Berlin Museum of Pre- and Protohistory. There were many unknowns pertaining to this collection. For one, when and how these items had been found, their typological and cultural status (whether recovered from burial grounds or hidden treasures), and how the Berlin museum had got hold of them. There were other questions that had been a puzzle to researchers for years, while the answers were actually on the surface, so to speak. It was a well-known fact that with the fall of the Hitler Reich many cultural values, including the gold articles (more than 700 items) kept in the Zoobunker of the seven-story building of the Luftwaffe's air-defense headquarters near the Tiergarten in Berlin were taken to the Soviet Union. Then their traces were lost.

Many of the displaced articles are Prussian relics whose origins and subsequent history the author of the present communication has been studying for well over thirty years now. And here we are: as if someone waved a magic wand-and the gold items surfaced in the Fine Arts Museum as the former exhibits of the German Museum. Intact were not only the old inventory numbers on cardboard tags, but also the wartime packaging material.

The very fact of salvaging these unique items from Berlin's flaming ruins could have made a plot for an adventure story. But the most important thing to us is that

* Solid (solidus, pi. solidi)-initially a gold Roman coin equal to 25 denarii; subsequently, a Byzantine gold coin (minted from anno 309, A.D., on). - Ed.

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Fragment (1) and reconstruction (2) of a dish recovered at Mlotechno.

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we have got an opportunity to come in touch with history's material witnesses and study the antique things that by the will of the fates had landed on the Baltic coast.

Now, what are these priceless relics like?

The oldest ones are two large gold rings (typologically traced to the grivna*) found in 1917 by a landowner, Schulz, near the community of Hammersdorf (today Mloteczno, Poland) during field plowing. One weighs 991 grams (about two pounds), the other-549 grams (over a pound). Herr Max Ebert, a Konigsberg archeologist who has inspected both finds, has related them to the handiwork of Scandinavian goldsmiths and dated them to anno 400 A.D.

Yet it would not be quite correct to identify these two gold items with grivna neckrings - too large and too heavy to carry! Sure, their purpose must have been different. A closer look has shown conic grooves on their end faces just where the metal was drilled. That was a regular jeweler's trick to make his work fit certain pre-assigned parameters, namely Roman weight standards. However, North European jewelers of the time were unable to stick to such standards. Besides, the stamped decor first appeared in Rhineland's workshops in the 4th century A.D., and then spread to Europe's north.

These and other items that we have examined indicate that the two rings were not grivnas-rather, they were wherewithal that Romans were paying to "Barbarian" mercenaries for blood they shed in battles.

Other articles recovered in 1873 from the same place as the two gold rings are likewise of much interest. These are the shards of an ornamented tray depicting antique vege-

* Grivna - here a gold or silver ornament worn by women around the neck. - Ed.

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tative motifs, two large silver vessels showing hunting scenes, and a piece of gold foil. Together with the gold grivnas they must have been part of the war booty of skirmishers who had survived in the crucible of the Hun wars.

Hordes of Avar* nomads invaded the Baltic shores in the 6th and 7th centuries, i.e. after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. They carried a single-edged sword, the forerunner of the present sabre or cavalry sword, fastened by massive brackets of precious metal. One of these articles turned up in the collection taken out of Germany in 1945.

Gottfried Rode, a peasant from a community bearing the same name (now Kulikovo of the Zelenograd District of the Kaliningrad Region), had a lucky break in 1798 to come upon what is now known as the "Ring from Strobjenen". At first the Konigsberg town council had a custody of this relic related to the victory of the Prussians in a long struggle against the Avars. Council members presented it to King Friedrich Wilhelm HI of Prussia on the occasion of the emancipation of serfs in his principality. On March 5, 1800, the ring was deposited in the royal Kunstkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities), and much later it came to the Berlin museum where it had been kept up until 1945.

As shown by the scan of the image impressed on the ring, its centerpiece depicts a fight between two horsemen. One to the left is supposed to be Antones, the Avar captain, and the other, to the right, the ubiquitous Prussian leader Videvut (in ancient tales he was portrayed as an invincible and just ruler). The small diameter of this thing indicates it was worn as a bracelet.

The Pushkin Fine Arts Museum has a custody of quite a few one-of-a-kind finds like that. We cannot tell about all of them within the scope of this short story. It is gratifying indeed that many are now displayed in museums and at exhibitions to please the eye of guests and fill them in on the tribes of long ago, their history, culture and acts.

* Avars - Turkic tribes making inroads on Slavs, Franks, and the East Roman Empire. - Ed.


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Vladimir KULAKOV, GOLD RELICS OF THE BALTIC // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 29.09.2018. URL: (date of access: 26.03.2023).

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