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August 2019

S-clasps in European Barbaricum from pre-Roman Iron Age until Merovingian Period


Krzysztof Patalan

The Germanic tribes of the Baltic Sea region used multiple objects as a decoration of their costume. Common were different forms of fibulas, beads and pendants. To this group of object count also the S-shaped clasps. Research on this peculiar decoration were conducted in ZBSA from 2015 until 2018. The project “S-förmige Schließhaken im europäischen Barbaricum” collected over 800 clasps from 2nd century BCE until 6th century CE. This database allowed for thorough study of typology and chronology of the S-shaped clasps.

Moreover, the tribological evaluation of marks on the surface of the clasps revealed use-wear patterns and helped to reconstruct how the S-clasps were carried. As a result their classical interpretation as closure mechanism of the bead-necklaces could not been corroborated. Instead, it seems plausible, that the clasps functioned primarily as decorative element of the necklace, similarly to pendants.

S-HakenS-shaped clasps made of precious metal are often a component of women's necklaces, mainly known from the Roman Empire on the southern Baltic coast. The ZBSA researches their distribution and typology, also with regard to the social status of their owners.

The study of production of the S-shaped clasps allowed reconstructing the possible trajectories of the process. The specialists engaged in manufacture were required a high level of knowledge, and know-how. S-shaped clasps are usually up to 2 cm long. They were made of thin wire (mostly noble metal or copper-alloy). The silver and golden specimens consist of multiple beaded or carved wires soldered together. The body and terminals of such clasps were decorated with granulation. This technique requires soldering of little grains of metal (often-measuring less than millimetre) on the surface of the clasp. As a result, multiple S-shaped clasps found in the rich furnished graves were miniature examples of exquisite artisanal quality.

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