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Book launch ‘The Splendour of Power’

01 December 2014
The book’s cover. © University of Groningen, Groningen Institute of Archaeology.
The book’s cover. © University of Groningen, Groningen Institute of Archaeology.

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.

Precious gold and silver gifts

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.

Kingdoms in the Early Middle Ages

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 barkhuis.nl or from local or international bookstores.

©: copyright is held by the institutions below.

Further information

Dr Johan Nicolay

E-mail: j.a.w.nicolay rug.nl

Tel.: 050-3636712 / 06-40988233

The Wijnaldum Fibula inlaid with red garnet (almandine). This gold brooch was made around 600 AD and was worn by a member of the royal elite. © Fries Museum, Leeuwarden.
The Wijnaldum Fibula inlaid with red garnet (almandine). This gold brooch was made around 600 AD and was worn by a member of the royal elite. © Fries Museum, Leeuwarden.
The Wieuwerd hoard, comprising gold coin pendants and other pieces of jewellery. The hoard is thought to have been buried around 625 AD and gives a good impression of the variety of jewellery that a king bestowed on his retinue. © Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.
The Wieuwerd hoard, comprising gold coin pendants and other pieces of jewellery. The hoard is thought to have been buried around 625 AD and gives a good impression of the variety of jewellery that a king bestowed on his retinue. © Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.
The Rijnsburg Buckle decorated with gold filigree and red gemstones, which was discovered in the grave of a wealthy man dating from the first half of the 7th century AD. © Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.
The Rijnsburg Buckle decorated with gold filigree and red gemstones, which was discovered in the grave of a wealthy man dating from the first half of the 7th century AD. © Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.
The reconstruction of kingdoms along the southern coasts of the North Sea, around 500 (above) and 600 AD (below). The blue symbols indicate the most important political centres. © University of Groningen, Groningen Institute of Archaeology.
The reconstruction of kingdoms along the southern coasts of the North Sea, around 500 (above) and 600 AD (below). The blue symbols indicate the most important political centres. © University of Groningen, Groningen Institute of Archaeology.
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