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The Utilitarian Function of Selected Belt Fittings of the Przeworsk Culture People. The Case of Belt Hangers, Belt Pendants and Belt Fittings with a Pendent Ring
 
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Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, ul. Gołębia 11, 31-007 Kraków
 
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2016;LXVII:65–110
 
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In different areas of the Central European Barbaricum, the Przeworsk Culture territory included, there is evidence in the Early Roman Period of some a certain standardization of belt fittings attributed to the warrior class. This observation applies not only to belt fastenings and strap ends, but also to fittings attached to the perimeter of the belt. They served a decorative function but, presumably, even more so a utilitarian one. Found among them are fittings commonly understood to have served in suspending from the belt objects belonging to the so-called personal equipment of warriors, namely: belt hangers, belt pendants and belt fittings with a pendent ring. A special attention was paid to this type of belt fitting during analysis of warrior belts of Early Roman Period data found in site at Illerup Ådal in Jutland (J. Ilkjær 1993a). Belt hangers known from Przeworsk Culture assemblages come in several variants depending on the shape of the bar and rivet-plates which attached them to the leather strap. Depending on the differences in the shape of the bar three variants may be distinguished: 1. with a bar made of folded wire, approximately W-shaped (Fig. 1; List 1, Fig. 4); 2. with a U-shaped bar (Fig. 2; List 2, Fig. 5); 3. with a frame-like bar (Fig. 3; List 3, Fig. 6). The shape of the rivet-plates is not in a correlation with the shape of the bar. In the Przeworsk Culture territory belt hangers appear in phase B1 of the Early Roman Period (variants 1 and 2). Their largest number, irrespective of their shape, has been recorded in assemblages dated to phase B2b. All three belt hanger variants are documented in the Late Roman Period, chiefly in phase C1a. Elsewhere in the Central European Barbaricum analogous belt hangers have been recorded with the same frequency and within the same chronological confines (phase B1–C1a), as in the Przeworsk Culture territory. Metal belt sets of which belt hangers formed part have a similar character both in the territory of the Przeworsk Culture settlement as in other regions of the Central European Barbaricum. Most of them belonged to belts worn by warriors. In the Przeworsk Culture (Fig. 7:1) in phase B1, similarly as in the Elbian Circle, in the Bohemian Basin (Fig. 12:1) and in Lower Austria, belt hangers were used on belts fastened with buckles with an eight-shaped frame (group A) and fitted with profiled strap ends. In phase B2 there is an increase in the number of belts provided with belt hangers. Some of these belt sets are reminiscent stylistically to those of the preceding chronological period in that they include profiled strap ends (Fig. 8:1, 10:2). On the other hand, in phases B2b and C1a everywhere in the Central European Barbaricum belts with belt hangers (mostly variants 2 and 3), dissimilar in style design become widespread. These belts tended to be fastened with a buckle having a rectangular frame, mostly of type G16, and were usually fitted with a strap end type 4–6 or 9 (Fig. 7:3, 8:2.3, 9:1 11:1). Belt hangers were used in belts worn by the local elites (Fig. 13:2). In the outfit of the Przeworsk Culture warriors belt hangers (variants 2 and 3) appear also as an element of wide belts which were fastened with a heavy buckle of group G, with a double prong (Fig. 10:1). In phase C1a, in the Przeworsk Culture, we find a very small number of belt hangers forming part of new belt sets which include buckles with a D-shaped frame set on an axis, type D17 (variant 1; Fig. 7:2). Singly belt sets of this type, with belt hangers, variants 2 or 3, have been recorded in the Elbian Circle, the Luboszyce Culture on the one hand, and the territory of the Dollkeim-Kovrovo Culture on the other. From the territory of the Przeworsk Culture settlement we also have a record on belts fitted with belt hangers identified with women’s outfits dating to phase B2b (Fig. 11:2). A very small number of belts with belt hangers attributed to women has been recorded in the Elbian Circle, the Wielbark Culture and the Luboszyce Couture, as well as in south-western Slovakia. Moreover, belt hangers are an element of so-called Sambian belts, typical for women’s outfits in the Dollkeim-Kovrovo Culture. In the Przeworsk Culture territory belt pendants are much less frequent finds (Fig. 14, 15). They differ both in the proportions of their top part and the shape of their lower part, used for suspending objects, and have been distinguished on this basis into five variants: 1. with the top part passing to a rectangular frame (Fig. 14:1–4; List 4, Fig. 15); 2. with the top part passing to a single loop (Fig. 14:5.6; List 5, Fig. 16); 3. with the top part passing to a double loop (Fig. 14:7–11; List 5, Fig. 16); 4. with the top part passing to D-shaped loop (Fig. 14:12; List 5, Fig. 16); 5.with the top part in the form of a rectangular bar with a D-shaped loop (Fig. 14:13.14; List 5, Fig. 16). In the Przeworsk Culture territory belt pendants as elements of belts are more characteristic for phase C1a than for phase B2b, and are documented also in phase C1b (variants 1 and 2). A small number of earlier belt pendants dating to phases B2a (variant 2) and B2b (variants 1 and 5) originate for the most part from the eastern range of the Przeworsk Culture, whereas younger specimens are known primarily from the western range of that culture. Elsewhere in the Central European Barbaricum a small number of belt pendant finds have a similar chronological position as in the Przeworsk Culture. Specimens known at present represent all belt pendant variants known from the Przeworsk Culture, except for variant 4. On the other hand, belt pedants recorded elsewhere in the Central European Barbaricum (Fig. 17:1.2) lack analogies in the Przeworsk Culture materials. In the Przeworsk Culture territory, similarly as in other areas of the European Barbaricum, belt pendants were characteristic for belts worn by warriors fastened with buckles with a rectangular frame, group G, mostly type G16 (Fig. 18:1.2), often with strap ends. As in the case of belt hangers in the Przeworsk Culture environment belt pendants were also, on very rare occasions, attached to belts fastened with buckles with a D-shaped frame, group D (Fig.18:3.4). There is no conclusive evidence that belt pendants formed part of the outfit of women of the Przeworsk Culture people. Another form of metal belt fitting serving a function analogous to that of belt hangers and belt pendants are fittings with a single pendent ring. Not that these fittings were necessarily associated functionally with leather straps forming part of clothing, they could also belong to straps used for suspending drinking horns or in strapping swords. The main argument assisting the identification of fittings with a pendent ring as elements of belts is that they have been found in context with other metal elements of the belt set. In the Przeworsk Culture territory two variants of fittings have been set apart: 1. with a narrow fitting and a relatively thickset ring (Fig. 19:1–6; List 6, Fig. 20), 2. with a relatively small body fitting, usually lightly expanded at the top, and a relatively small ring (Fig. 19:7–9; List 6, Fig. 20). Belt fittings variant 1, mostly made of bronze, are recorded during phase B2a in the eastern zone of the Przeworsk Culture settlement; variant 2 (bronze or iron) are noted during phase B2 and in C1a. Bronze variant 1 fittings found in the Przeworsk Culture territory are a characteristic form used in women’s belts fastened with buckles, group D, type 1, without metal strap ends (Fig. 21:1). On the other hand, variant 2 belt fittings occur mainly in the male outfit, used in belts fastened with a buckle having a rectangular frame, group G (Fig. 10:2), or a D-shaped frame, group D (Fig. 8:1). Outside the Przeworsk Culture territory belt sets with belt fittings with a pendent ring, variants 1 and 2, have been recorded in areas of the Central European Barbaricum and were in use mostly in phases B2 and C1. The source of impulse which led to the emergence in the outfit of warriors of barbarian Europe as early as in phase B1 of belts with fittings which allowed for suspension of objects belonging to the so-called personal equipment is hard to pinpoint. Personal equipment is represented by fire striking sets consisting of a firesteel and a pin, or just one of these items (Fig. 22). In phases B2b and C1a in grave inventories in the Central European Barbaricum are seen to include assorted objects of which some could have been secured at the belt, e.g., knives in leather sheaths, awls, tweezers, whetstones. Some variant 3 belt hangers are very thickset, suggesting that even quite heavy objects may have been suspended from them. It may be conjectured that Przeworsk Culture warriors wore belts with pouches attached to them (Fig. 7:3). As for women’s belts, they may have had keys suspended from them (Fig. 21:1.2). Fire striking tools surviving in the Przeworsk Culture territory and elsewhere in the Central European Barbaricum dating to the horizon of phases B2b–C1a were fixed to belt hangers and pendants by means of short linking pieces which could have reduced the functionality of such a set (Fig. 11:1, 22:3–6). Consequently, its funerary purpose may not be ruled out. On the other hand, a very modest number of longer linking pieces has been recorded (Fig. 22:1.2, 23). It is remarkable that some belt hangers and belt pendants recovered in the Central European Barbaricum and dating to phases B2b and C1a include small fittings (Fig. 24:1–4) allowing introduction of narrow and long thongs and only on them suspension of e.g., firemaking tools, obviously making it easier to use them. Moreover, firesteels and tweezers found with a surviving fitting prove that they could have been attached to the belt on narrow straps, or suspended from them using the fittings discussed here (Fig. 8:2, 9:1, 18:1.3). Not to be ruled out either is that use was made of the loop of the firesteels themselves to wear them at the belt suspended on a narrow leather strap (Fig. 25:4.5). In discussing the functionality of belts with objects suspended from them (R. Articus 2004) other reconstructions have been put forward as well (Fig. 25:1–3). The greatest uniformity of belt sets associated with outfit of warriors and suspension from belts of the so-called personal equipment is observed in the Central European Barbaricum in phases B2b–C1a. It may be recognized with some confidence as the result of contacts between groups of warriors hailing from different cultural environment and their mobility. This could be related to settlement and culture shifts observed at this time, intimated also by the modest written sources at hand (K. Godłowski 2000, p. 26–30).
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