The first copy of the book ‘The Splendour of Power’ will be presented on Tuesday 2 December in the Fries Museum. In this book Johan Nicolay is the first to describe the emergence of kingdoms along the coasts of the Netherlands, Northern Germany and Southern England in the Early Middle Ages. The main focus is the study of gold and silver jewellery and coins from the 5th-7th centuries AD. Nicolay is a lecturer and researcher at the Groningen Institute for Archaeology at the University of Groningen.
While the Frankish Empire gained shape further to the south, regional and later more sizeable kingdoms began to emerge around the North Sea. These kingdoms did not yet have fixed borders but comprised extremely dynamic networks of personal relationships between kings and their retinues. Such relationships arose through the bestowal of luxury gifts, such as gold and silver jewellery. Some of these gifts ended up in graves or buried in hoards that would later become archaeological finds.
The most striking examples of such precious objects are the Wijnaldum Fibula, a brooch inlaid with red garnet (almandine), the Rijnsburg Buckle, which is decorated with gold filigree, and of course the gold jewellery and silverware from the famous Sutton Hoo (England) ship-burial.
As luxury gifts were mainly bestowed by a king to members of his personal network, the geographical distribution of precious objects is a good reflection of a king’s sphere of power. Combined with historical data about the development of kingdoms in England, this gives a good picture of the political situation in the Netherlands in the Early Middle Ages. A period with relatively small, regional kingdoms (5th-6th century) was followed by a period in which these merged to form a number of larger, supra-regional kingdoms (7th century) with centres of power at the Rhine delta and in current-day Friesland.
From the late 7th century onwards, the Franks gradually annexed these kingdoms, and the Netherlands was absorbed by the powerful empire of Charlemagne.
The book is the result of research conducted by the author with funding from a VENI grant from Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). It can be purchased directly from
or from local or international bookstores.
©: copyright is held by the institutions below.
Dr Johan Nicolay
Tel.: 050-3636712 / 06-40988233
Faculty of Arts Lecturer of the Year 2019.
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