Through all periods of history women liked to wear nice clothes. Therefore, the peoples inhabiting the early medieval Carpathian Basin were by no means unfamiliar with the concept of fashion. Certain shapes of shirts, khaftans or dresses, new types of earrings, pendants, brooches, bracelets and rings have spread – though in some cases more slowly and with slight modifications – among girls and women in a very similar way they do in our days. Some people imitated late Roman or western European costume, or perhaps wore similar dresses than their new lords arriving from the East. Others held on to the traditions of their predecessors, or maybe it was them who brought along and introduced Steppean style costume when moving into the Carpathian Basin.

Organic materials comprising the major part of clothing are rarely preserved to us, therefore we can mostly only guess at the exact cut of textiles, possible embroidery, the width and length of belts or the form and material of footwear. Fortunately, beside objects made of imperishable materials, contemporary written sources, depictions and ethnographical parallels also help the reconstruction of certain elements of attire. We can be sure though those contemporary costumes were much more colourful and diverse than what archaological remains reveal.


Artificially deformed (elongated) skull and diadem


With the appearance of the Huns in Europe and the extension of their power towards the West, not only the political situation has changed; the newly arrived nomadic nobles have also set a new fashion. The attachment to the Hunnic realm has also been signified by a change in women’s costumes. Accessories made of fine gold or gold sheets bent over a cast bronze or silver core appeared, decorated with characteristic red stone inlays in small cells soldered to the objects’ surface. The so-called polychrome style can be observed on brooches and buckles, as well as rings, earrings and bracelets. Furthermore, the Huns brought along a certain type of body modification: artificially deformed (elongated) skulls. In order to obtain a high forehead – which was considered desirable and beautiful – a tight bandage was applied to the head already at a young age (particularly in the case of female children).

At the end of the 19th century, an exceptional find was discovered in the sand pit of the Provostry of Csorna: the skeleton of a woman with a glittering metal band on her head. Along with high-born Hunnic women, ornate headpieces emphasising the high forehead also arrived in the Carpathian Basin in the beginning of the 5th century. On rare occasions, graves of the highest-ranking ladies yield the remains of headcloths couched with metal fittings, gold sequins, complete with an exceptionally ornate band on the part covering the forehead. However, contemporary parallels of the Csorna diadem are only known from the eastern territories: Moldavia, Wallachia, Crimea and Caucasia. 149 small compartments have been soldered on a gold sheet bent over a bronze core and decorated with a punched zig-zag line. The stone inlays have been added to the compartments according to a regular pattern. Large oval cornelians were positioned in the middle of the front, garnets were placed on the frontal surface while less glittery glass sheets and ambers were placed to the sides.

The fashion of artificially deformed (elongated) skulls, which has been spread by the dependants of the Huns and could also be observed in Western Europe, signalled an attachment to the ‘winners’. However, with the fall of the Huns, the habit vanished at a dash. The tradition of diadems and headpieces decorated with metal fittings remained strictly within the borders of the Hunnic Empire, nevertheless neither do these appear after the death of Attila the Hun (453).


Germanic costume with large plated bow brooches

Szabadbattyán, Tiszalök

In the 5th century, large-sized brooches made of silver sheet (occasionally of bronze sheet) were characteristic accessories of high-born ladies living in various Germanic kingdoms of Europe, but also of Vandal women transferred to Africa. These brooches consisting of a semicircular lower plate and an elongated pentagonal upper plate, equipped with a spring and a long pin on the reverse side, were worn in pairs on the shoulders. Originally, they were smaller and in the 4th century their occurrence was mostly limited to the territories east of the Carpathian Mountains as well as the eastern part of the Carpathian Basin. From this area, Germanic peoples outplaced by the Hunnic expansion and thus moving towards the West brought the style of Carpathian origin with them and introduced it Europe-wide. The ’trend’ was not only characterised by the common appearance of large plated bow brooches, but also by the widespread emergence of jewellery decorated with garnet inlays.

In Szabadbattyán, a small graveyard has been disturbed during the construction of the railway; it has been established by a Germanic group which has settled among the local Roman communities. On various occasions, jewels originating from multiple graves belonging to wealthy ladies have been brought to the - museum, though supposedly all of these finds came from the same cemetery. The three pairs of brooches almost identical in size and decoration (as well as the silver buckles which came to light together with them) testify of the confluence of Roman goldsmith’s traditions and Germanic fashion.


Germanic costume in the Avar Period


An interesting phenomenon can be observed in the early Avar Period in three larger settlement areas (East-Transdanubia, the Middle Tisza Region and Transsylvania): the weaponry of men differs from the armature of the Avars ruling these territories. From this period large shields, long and heavy, two-edged swords as well as spears come to light in the above-mentioned areas. In addition, the male belt sets rather followed western European patterns, while the clothing of women ensued the costume style from before the Avar hegemony. These Germans obviously not only stayed in place and came under Avar lordship, but led by their own lords they also provided armed service to the new nomadic type state.

Women’s costumes have preserved the tradition: from their belts, embellished straps hung down to the shin, their clothes were held together with brooches, their headcloths fixed with hairpins. The settlement and graveyard belonging to one of the highest-ranking of these Germanic communities has been excavated in the vicinity of Kölked. Members of the prominent family have been laid to rest on the edge of their courtyard, separated from the cemetery of the community. This was the family to which the lady buried with her gold disc brooch (presented earlier in this exhibition) belonged to. The grave of one of her close relatives also contained exceptional finds: the ornate costume of the lady was fastened with a wide belt – unique in the Carpathian Basin but quite common in the West Frankish terriories – equipped with a buckle and a large square belt mount. The belt is complete with a brooch no longer used according to its original function but added as an ornament. Precise counterparts of this brooch have been worn by the Langobards inhabiting Transdanubia before the arrival of the Avars. Instead of the common single hanging strap, there were three straps attached to the belt of the lady. One of these has been a textile strap with ring hinge and plain silver fittings, similar to those known from the first half of the 6th century. The lady has hung her vanity set, knife and the key to her jewel box to this strap, the end of which was embellished with large, colourful beads. The second strap originates from the second half of 6th century. It is complete with larger silver fittings and a small, round casket made of wood hanging from its end, into which the lady placed a fragment of her gold basket shaped earring and her unused shoe buckle set. The third, richly decorated, ribbon ornamented hanging strap of the belt, which has been assembled as the last one of the three straps, is already contemporary with the other jewels of the deceased woman.

Looking at the girdle with these three straps, we have the impression that the lady may have worn her accessories as well as those of her mother and grandmother parallelly. The complete robe of the deceased woman is strictly conservative, following the style of the period preceding the Avar rule, but at the same time it also bears witness of close relations towards distant western European, Italian territories.


Basket shaped earrings and dress pins

The early Avar Period’s state structure which originated in nomadic tradition and was characterised by a tolerance towards the subjected peoples, underwent a significant transformation in the last third of the 7th century. From the beginning of the 8th century, in the Carpathian Basin the formerly diverse material culture was replaced by a very homogeneous one. Everywhere throughout the Avar Empire men wore the same type of belts, while women fancied similar jewels and the cut of their clothes could not have been much different. There is a single exception known to us: a community which inhabited the broad vicinity of today’s Keszthely, propagating their separateness through their costume.

Same as the isolated wildlife of islands going through a specific evolutionary process, the jewel set characteristic of this community, distinctive of the Avars, has transformed in a unique way. Of the former, diverse late Antique earring types, only a single variant has remained in use. The pendants of the 6-7th century basket shaped earrings developed into huge biconical, openwork ornaments made of filigree wire, which hung almost down to the shoulders. The overgarment or veil was held together by large pins in the middle of the chest, thus, the former role of disc brooches was taken over by pins, which on the other hand were originally used to secure the headcloth in the early Avar period. The size of these pins has also increased and a ‘baroque’ ornament was added to their upper third. Bracelets, which occured – although rarely – in the case of Avar women, here became compulsory elements of the costume, often several pairs were worn parallelly. Beside bracelet types common in Avar context, in women’s graves of the Keszthely culture peculiar specimens also appear, the patterns of which can be derived from Roman bracelets with snakehead terminals.

Nevertheless, the stubborn traditionalism of women and their division from the Avars were by no means characteristic of men living in the same community: they carefully integrated themselves into the Avar society. Their belts, as well as their horses and horse harness buried along with them were exactly the same as those occuring in any late Avar grave. Only the lower number of weapons can be mentioned as an apparent difference.


Relics of the Carolingian Costume from Mosaburg

The material culture and costume of the Carolingian Empire’s eastern confines reaching from the Morava river basin to the Adriatic Sea can be considered quite homogeneous. Although we can count with several influences originating inside the Empire, women’s costume was more conservative, less fashion-forward than that of men; it has not shown much change compared to women’s appearance at the end of the Avar Period. The most typical of its elements preserved to us are jewels, preeminently, head jewellery. Bunch-of-grapes earrings as well as the four hollow spheres earrings can be considered as the most representative earring/pendant types of this period. These ornaments which come to light on the two sides of the skull, usually in pairs and occasionally forming multiple garnitures, were probably worn hooked to textile or leather straps hanging from both sides of a headband. Nobles fancied silver of gold jewels, while in the cemeteries belonging to villages for serving people simple variants of these occur made of cast bronze or bent bronze wire.

Another characteristic element of women’s attire was the string of beads. These strings were mainly assembled of simple green, blue and yellow beads, dark blue, yellow, white or silver coloured segmented beads, blown glass beads and occasionally of colourful mosaic-eye or millefiori beads. All of these bead types were of Western European origin. Strings of beads mainly occur in the graves of female children and young girls. The girls who were laid to rest in the cemeteries surrounding the church in Zalavár-Vársziget most probably wore full strings during their lifetime, while in the poorer burials of the surrounding villages only a few beads represent the necklace. Nevertheless, this jewel type is missing from the graves of the truly elite families’ female members and children.

Ornamental buttons, usually worn in pairs on the shoulders, refer to an overgarment. The sheet hollow buttons of mostly pressed spherical form were traditionally considered to be elements of Moravian costume; they were made of precious metals: gold or silver. Their surface was decorated with granulation, pearl wire or either a geometric pattern, a palmette, or a bird figure over a punched background. Simpler, common variants made of bronze or glass are also known.


Women’s costume in the Hungarian Conquest Period

The accessories of the ornate costume visible on the picture came to light in one of the graves in the cemetery located in the vicinity of Orosháza. Similar rosettes adorned the headpiece and the open front khaftan of the approximately 60-years-old lady buried here. Based on the finds only, the exact form of the contemporary headdress cannot be recostructed, as the metal fittings which came to light close to the skull could both have adorned a headband, a hat, a cap, a headcloth or a veil. Below her khaftan, the deceased woman was dressed in a shirt, the neckline of which has been sewn in a V-shape with rhomboid fittings. Probably, the fittings of shirts and khaftans were first attached to leather straps and then sewn onto the garment together. This way the cleaning of the clothes could have been easier. Mainly women’s graves yield clothing decorated with fittings, men’s graves barely include anything similar. Only a few textile remains have been preserved from this period, therefore in order to imagine contemporary costume, beside archaeological finds made of enduring material we have to rely on Steppean and ethnographic parallels and written sources.

The Hungarian Passage of the Ğayhānī-tradition, Gardizi:

“18. These Hungarians are handsome and pleasant looking.

19. Their clothes are brocade and their weapons are plated with silver and embedded with pearl.


23. They have a custom in asking for a wife that when they ask for a wife they take a bride-price in accordance with her wealth consisting of more or less horses. And when they mount up to take the bride-price, the girl’s father thakes the groom’s father to his house and whatever he has by way of sable, ermine, grey squirrel, weasel, and underbellies of fox he brings together with a needles and brocade to the amount of then fur-coats. He wraps (these) in a bed roll and ties (it) on the groom’s father’s horse and he sends it off toward his home. Then, whatever is necessary by way of the girl’s bride-price consistiong of cattle and moveable chattels and household furnishing, which have been deemed appropriate, is sent to him (the bride’s father) and only then is the girl brought to the (groom’s house).”

Although in the Conquest Period both women and men wore various jewels, jewellery – similarly to ornate costume – was more characteristic of women. Perhaps one of the most popular jewel type among wealthier women was the earring with bead-row pendant. In the graves, these are found around the skull; in some cases it can be assumed that instead of being worn in the ears, these jewels could have been attached to some kind of a headdress. The earring consisting of a ring and an attached pendant has several variants; it could be made of bronze or silver, less frequently of gold. This jewel type was particularly popular with Steppean peoples. Researchers consider it possible that our predecessors came to know the type already in the territory of Magna Hungaria.

The earrings depicted in the picture came to light from a female grave in the Tiszaeszlár-Dióskert cemetery, where they were situated next to the skull on either side. Interestingly, chainlets were found close to the earrings. In the Conquest Period chain jewels can be considered very rare, however their occurrence is not unprecedented. Probably the chainlet has served to connect the pair of earrings, and it was led behind the back of the head or otherwise, in front of the chest.

Boots, being essential elements of the horse-riding way of life, were by all means common with our ancestors. Based on parallels it is likely that both women and men wore soft sole, side-seam boots, which adjusted perfectly to the curved footplate of contemporary stirrups. However, only women’s boots were decorated with metal mounts. Often, the position of the small ornaments does not only draw out a decorative pattern, but also the form of the boot. The toe could either be pointed, upturned or rounded.

The fittings found at Csongrád-Vendelhalom represent this latter variant. The round and flower shaped fittings made of gilt silver adorned the foot part of the boot in a semicircular pattern. However, based on various parallels it seems likely that beside boots, Hungarians of the Conquest Period were also familiar with other types of footwear.





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