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Merovingian Women’s Clothing of the 6th & 7th Centuries

Countess Dulcia MacPherson, OL OP OR

Where and what is “Merovingia”?

“Merovingia” isn’t a place, it’s period of time. The Merovingian Empire was a dynasty that ruled the Franks living in an area
commonly known as Gaul from c.457 CE to 751 CE when the last Merovingian king was defeated by Pepin, who founded the
Carolingian Dynasty.

Where were the Merovingian Kingdoms?

Why are they called “Merovingian”?

The term “Merovingian” comes from medieval latin (Merovingi), which means “sons of Merovech.” Merovech was the leader of
the Salian Franks whose son, Childeric I (reigned c.457-481) defeated the Visigoths, Saxons and Alemanni to establish the
Merovingian Dynasty. His son, Clovis I (r. 481-511) went on to unite most of Gaul north of the Loire.

The Merovingian kings were also sometimes referred to as the “long-haired kings” (reges crinite)by their contemporaries
because they symbolically wore their hair long and unshorn. This tradition had been handed down from the Frankish tribal
leaders who had worn their hair long in contrast to the Romans and the clergy.

r A (fairly) brief discussion of Merovingian life & times

In 498 Clovis converted to Christianity, along with some 3000 men in his army. His conversion established Christianity as the
state religion but it was also s diplomatic gesture. By converting, he secured the support of both the ecclesiastical hierarchy
and the Gallo-Roman Christians who represented the majority of the population throughout Gaul as well as the support of the
Byzantine Empire. The ties between the Frankish Merovingian Dynasty and the Byzantine Empire existed on multiple levels,
from royal marriages to religious leadership. In 469 Pope Simplicius made a pact with Clovis I, King of the Franks and
bestowed upon him the title of “New Constantine” which became better known as “Holy Roman Emperor”, in exchange for his
conversion to Roman Christianity.

Clovis did not even attempt to maintain the old Roman government. Under the Merovingians, the purpose of the government
was largely defense of the realm and conquest. The Merovingian kings developed a new system designed for these goals
and ushered in the age of feudalism by giving land grants to those nobles who proved themselves loyal to the Crown. Those
nobles eventually began to regard the land grants as their own personal possessions, rather than “loans” from the King. They
regarded themselves as more or less independent rulers of those territories, subject only to the authority of the King. They
took for themselves the Latin title “Dux”, or “ruler”, and so the institution of the Dukes and their areas of power, the duchies,
were born. By the 7th century those Dukes had become the real power in Frankish Gaul.

Another important change also occurred during this period – the cultural unification of Gaul. At the beginning of the
Merovingian Dynasty the population identified themselves variously as Franks, Gauls, Romans, etc. Many of the churchmen
especially had come from the Roman nobility and felt themselves to be separate from the Merovingian rulers and their
Frankish neighbors. By the end of the Merovingian period such ethnic markers ceased to be used and the people regarded
themselves as Franks.

In 507 the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius aided Clovis in a campaign against the Visigoth kingdom located south of the Loire.
Clovis’ land attack was carefully coordinated with Byzantine fleet movements off the coast of Italy which effectively prevented
the Ostrogoths from coming to the aid of their Visigoth allies. On his victorious journey homewards, Clovis was met in Tours
by emissaries of from Emperor Anastasius who presented him with an official document recognizing him as an honorary
consul. Clovis used this honor, which apparently included imperial recognition of Clovis’ kingdom and the symbolic adoption
of Clovis into the imperial family, to strengthen his authority over the newly won Gallo-Romans. He appeared in the basilica of
St. Martin of Tours dressed in a purple tunic and a chlamys (military mantle) and placed a diadem on his head [the traditional
attire of Roman emperors]. Later, in 511 the Emperor appointed Clovis to preside over the Christian Counsel of Orleans,
lending further legitimacy and Imperial backing Merovingian rule.

That same year, Clovis died and his kingdom was divided among his four sons according to the Frankish law of “Gavelkind”.
Gavelkind is the equal distribution of wealth and property among male heirs. The empire that Clovis had spent his lifetime
creating was thus split between his four sons; Thodoric I, Clodomir, Childebert I, and Chlotar I. This division resulted in bloody
competition between the brothers as each attempted to gain for himself a greater part of his father’s empire and power. As
each brother died, the survivors partitioned the newly available lands among themselves until finally, in 558 Chlotar reunited
the kingdom under his own rule.

Culturally, the society of the Franks was well established by the sixth century. Frankish society was built on a mixture of
Germanic and Roman traditions. In terms of the household structure, the Franks, like Germans and Romans, were strongly
patriarchal. Like the Germans, the Franks were also polygamous.

In Merovingian culture the father, as head of the household, had “munduburdium” (absolute authority of a man over all his
heirs and dependents, - literally to control their life and death) over all its members – wives, children and slaves. The
Merovingians recognized three kinds of “marriage”: formal marriage, informal marriage and concubinage (the keeping of

secondary wives of inferior rank). Formal marriage involved the transfer of property and munduburdium over the woman to
her husband. Informal marriage, called “friedelehe” (marriage not consecrated by the church or sealed by a formal contract
between the heads of household), did not involve the transfer of property and munduburdium. The woman remained under the
authority of her father and the legitimacy and munduburdium of the children was often in dispute. Concubinage was also a
form of “informal marriage”, though in the case of the concubine the woman frequently was given to the man rather than
entering into the arrangement willingly. Under Frankish law, a girl became a woman, and therefore capable of being married
and giving birth at age 12, the same age at which a boy legally became a man.

Merovingian kings preferred to select their wives and concubines from women of low birth rather than from among their noble
families. Marriage with the daughter of a noble meant contracting an alliance with the wife’s family and raising her male
relatives to political prominence. If the marriage was informal, the wife could also be used to put considerable pressure on the
king, either through the woman or through her children. Slaves and lowborn women, however, were not only free of political
associations, but if they failed to produce sons or fell out of favor, they could be put aside easily. On the other hand, those
queens who produced male heirs and showed themselves to be likable and intelligent rose to considerable prominence.

At the death of Chlotar in 561 the Frankish kingdom, which was now the most powerful state in the West, was again divided
into four portions for Chlotar’s sons; Guntram, Charibert I, Sigibert I and Chilperic I. Once again, this division resulted in
bloody competition, intrigue and family struggles between the brothers. The Frankish Kingdom was not united again until
Chilperic’s son Chlotar II took control of his uncle’s territories in 613. He decided on Paris as his capital and held a grand
council there where he gained the support of the aristocracy by recognizing their traditional prerogatives and confirming their
territorial lands. His son, Dagobert I, who ruled from 629-639, was able to preserve this unity but faced a serious problem of
continuity. After years of marriage he had still failed to produce an heir to the throne.

After Dagobert’s death the kingdom was again divided among multiple heirs, this time heirs who were still in their minority.
This set the pattern for the next century and by the time Sigibert III’s son Dagobert II was born, in 651, the power of the throne
had been dramatically weakened and the authority usurped by court chancellors known as Mayors of the Palace. The office of
Mayor of the Palace was originally created as an officer of the household appointed to supervise the maintenance of the royal
residence and retinue, but as the Frankish kings turned more and more of their duties over to these officers, the position
gradually became that of a regent or viceroy. The Carolingians gradually took over as Mayors of the Palace, whittling away at
the remaining power of the Kings until they had been reduced to little more than figureheads.

Sigibert III died in 656 and following the death of his father, the 5-year-old Dagobert II was kidnapped by the Mayor of the
Palace, Grimoald. Grimoald tried to put his own son on the throne by substituting his son for the rightful child king. Only
compassion saved young Dagobert from being murdered to insure the success of the plan. Instead he was exiled to Ireland,
only to return years later and reclaim the throne in 679. But the problems with the increasing greed of the Mayors of the
Palace continued. Apparently displeased with Dagobert’s lack of allegiance and devotion to the faith, the Church entered into
a conspiracy with Mayor Pepin the Fat. On December 23, while on a hunting trip in the Forest of Woevres, Dagobert was
lanced through the eye by his own godson, supposedly on Pepin’s orders. Pepin then passed his political power onto his son,
Charles Martel, making the office of the Mayor of the Palace a hereditary office and thus beginning the Carolingian dynasty
that would later become so famous. Then, in the winter of 751-2 the last Merovingian king, Childeric III, was deposed and the
Carolingian, Pepin the Short, was elected king in his place. His son, Charlemagne, would be anointed Holy Roman Emperor
in 800 AD by Pope Leo III, with the combined approval of both the Church and the Byzantine Emperor.

Merovingian Society

More than any other culture that rose out of the remains of the Roman Empire, Frankish society managed to preserve the best
of what the empire had in terms of government and infrastructure, while also adapting and innovating. The Franks were
probably the catalysts of Western culture and their society became the model for European social and political organization for
over 1,000 years.

The organization of Frankish politics and society occurred along two axis—the military, also called the “comitatus” (loyal
retainers) —and the family. The latter could be quite a complicated issue as the Merovingians were polygamous, and many
kings had more than one wife, and some had both wives and concubines. The Merovingians were brutal warriors, and it is
through warfare that they gained power. A good leader in the Frankish tradition rewarded his loyal retinue with land and
treasure. So, in contrast with the Roman Empire, where patriotism and loyalty to the State were the bonds that united people,
Merovingian society was held together primarily by bonds of personal loyalty. Merovingian leaders made clever use of Roman
administrative institutions though, like appointing a series of “comes” (counts) and delegating to them local administrative
tasks, such as tax collecting. This like the Roman system, but the taxes went straight to the king and not to the State. The
major problem for the Merovingians, however, was that their system of succession tended to dilute the power of the dynasty -
All property was divided equally among any and all surviving sons.

The best way to get a real sense of Merovingian society is to examine the lives of its leaders. For example, Clothar’s
campaign against the Thuringians in 532 CE:

The Thuringians were a loose confederation of tribes that lived in what is modern-day Germany, along the border
with the Czech Republic. There had been a truce between the Franks and the Thuringians, but the Thuringian leader
broke it in a pretty spectacular way— he murdered several Frankish women and children in and act of deliberate
provocation. In response, the Franks sought revenge. According to Gregory of Tours, the slaughter was so horrific
that the river was choked with the bodies of the Franks, and the Franks used the bodies of their fallen comrades as a
bridge so they could cross the river and continue their attack. Clothar and his brothers killed the entire Thuringian
ruling family, except for 6-year-old princess Radegund and her brother, whom they took as war booty (a common
practice in those days). Clothar's intent was to raise Radegund and then marry her when she came of age. This
would cement his claims to former Thuringian territory.

Radegund and her brother had already had a rather rotten time of things. Their father, King Bertechar, had been
murdered by his brother, Hermanfred who had then taken his niece and nephew into his own household to raise.
Now they were taken off by Clothar to be raised in his household where they converted to Christianity. When
Radegund turned 12 year old, Clothar married her and she became one of his six wives. Clothar was not a nice guy.
One of his wives, Guntheuca, has been married to Clothar’s brother Chlodomer and had born several children by that
marriage. When his brother died, Clothar forced the widow to marry him and then killed all of her children, so that
there would be no one to claim that brother's portion of the Frankish kingdom and those lands would then revert to
him. Years later, in 560, he put his own son, Chram, to death along with Chram's entire family because his son had
rebelled against the father.

In 550, Clothar killed Radegund's brother, which was the last straw for her. Radegund had long expressed a desire to
live a religious life, and luckily for her, she had not born Clothar any children. After the murder of her brother,
Radegund fled to a villa at Saix, which Clothar had given to her through the Frankish custom of the
“morgengabe”(literally "morning gift" - the practice of bestowing on one's wife a gift of property on the morning after
the consummation of a marriage). When she took up residence at Saix, she apparently browbeat the local bishop into
consecrating her as a nun, which was a dangerous thing to do while her husband was still alive!

Although she became a nun and an abbess, she never really relinquished her position as queen—she acted,
effectively, as queen of the convent and used her connections for things like obtaining a relic of the True Cross.
Having this relic in its position enhanced the status of the abbey at Poitiers, ensuring that pilgrims were certain to
travel there, and that donations to the community would increase. Far from renouncing the outside world, Radegund
worked hard at maintaining relationships with important people outside the monastery. This set the trend for many of
the Merovingian queens who retired to lives of apparent comfort and influence in Frankish convents after the deaths
of their husbands.

The attitude of Frankish men, especially among the aristocracy, was passive at best, but it was quickly embraced by
Frankish women. Princesses and widowed queens left the royal residences willingly to enter convents and devote
themselves to religion and learning. Not one Merovingian prince entered a monastery of his own accord, but their
wives, widows and daughters readily sought out religious life as a shelter against the brutality of life at court.

Nothing makes the power of Radegund's personality and social influence clearer than the events that occurred at her
abbey after her death. An internal dispute arose over how the abbey was being run, and two women, who were
members of the Merovingian royal family, actually led a revolt against the new abbess. Around 40 nuns joined the
revolt and ended up leaving the convent. Some of the nuns got pregnant. Some renounced their vows and married,
and some others hired mercenaries who attempted to break into their old convent and kidnap the abbess. It was
essentially an episode of nuns gone wild!

That world began to change significantly around the year 600. At this time, the ruling family of the Franks was increasingly
land poor—a result of bestowing large parcels of land on retainers to ensure their loyalty, and also the practice of dividing land
equally among all surviving sons. By 600, we have several very small kingdoms—the most important of which were Austrasia,
Neustria, and Burgundy. We also have a landed aristocracy that has more wealth and power than the kings themselves.

Social Classes

Merovingian society was composed of distinct gradations, with each man having his fixed price marked by the
“wergild” (the amount of money fixed by law as the compensation for the murder or disablement of a person, figured
on the basis of rank and value).
Royalty and high-ranking nobles

The Merovingian Dynasty was ruled by kings. The kingly office was hereditary and the sons succeed the father by an undisputed
right. Each son inherited equally, and the kingdom was divided up into as many parts as there were living sons. Daughters, who
were excluded from possessing land, could not succeed to the throne. The power of the king was almost absolute. The king
who made the law was also the supreme judge. He has his own court of justice, and all other courts derived their authority from
him. He could even bypass the ordinary rules of justice by ordering people he considered dangerous to be put to death without
trial. Anyone who committed a crime by order of the king was immune from penalty. The king made war and peace at will, levied
taxes at his pleasure, appointed all functionaries, and confirmed the election of bishops. All the forces of the State were in his
hands. All his orders, known as “banni,” had to be obeyed. Violating a banni was punished with the extremely heavy fine of 60
gold solidi. All persons belonging to the king's household were protected by a wergeld three times as great as ordinary persons
of the same class.

The king was aided by officials who held posts in the royal household and performed administrative functions in the State. These
royal officials included Referendaries who drew up and signed documents in the name of the king; the Counts of the Palace
who directed the procedure before the royal tribunal; the Cubicularies who had charge of the treasury; the Seneschals who

managed (among other things) the royal table; the Marshals who directed the constables and law enforcment, and were Masters
of the Horse; and, most important of all, the Mayor of the Palace.

The Mayor of the Palace began as the overseer of all the royal estates and was also charged with maintaining discipline in the
royal household. The Mayor of the Palace soon acquired political functions: If the king was a minor, it was the Mayor’s duty as
nutricius to watch over his education. The dukes and counts fell under his authority, and the Mayor could send them orders and
he could influence in their appointment. The Mayor of the Palace became the head of the administration, presiding over the
royal court of justice and commanding the army.

The kingdom was divided into districts known as “pagi.” At the head of each pagus was a count. The king appointed the counts
at his own pleasure, and could choose them from any class of society, sometimes naming a mere freedman. The counts were
chosen not only from all classes of society, but from all of the various races of the kingdom. In fact, there were more Gallo-
Roman counts than Frankish ones. Within his district, the count exercised almost every kind of authority. He policed it, and
arrested criminals; he held a court of justice; he levied taxes, made disbursements for public purposes, and payed the residual
each year into the royal treasury; he executed all the king's commands; and took widows and orphans under his protection.

To assist them in their numerous duties, the counts appointed "vicars." The vicar represented the count during his absence and
in some cases he administered a part of the district, while the count administered the remainder. Before long there were several
vicars to each county and it was regularly subdivided into districts called vicariates.
Sometimes it was necessary to concentrate administrative authority over several counties into the hands of a single
administrator. In this case, the king appointed a duke to hold administrative power over the counts. The duke was primarily a
military leader; he commanded the army, and the counts within his jurisdiction had to march under his orders. In general,a duchy
was a temporary administrative district, unlike the county. Once the situation, such as a war or territorial dispute, was resolved
the duchy usually disappeared. In certain districts however, such as in Champagne and Alsace, there were permanent duchies.
Common People
On the middle rung of the social scale were the freemen, who might belong either to the conquering race (the Franks) or the
conquered race (the Gallo-Romans) with the two races living under different laws. The Salic (Frankish) law fixed the wergeld
of a Frank at 200 solidi, and that of a Roman at 150 solidi. In legal cases, if both parties were Gallo-Romans, they were judged
according to the Roman law. When a Gallo-Roman was accused a crime by a Frank, judgment was still given according to the
Roman law. The case was reversed if both parties were Franks or if a Roman brought a case against a Frank – then the
judgement was rendered according to Salic law. The Franks admired the Roman civilization and endeavored to assimilate it;
they learned the common language of Gaul, which was in process of becoming Romanic and those with education prided
themselves on learning to speak pure Latin. The Gallo-Romans, on their part, adopted the military customs of the barbarians.
They frequently gave Germanic names to their children. Both nations were Christian, and the common faith contributed to
bringing them together. By the late 7th century, the two races had become so intermingled that they were no longer regarded
as distinct races.
In theory all these freemen were equal, but little by little distinctions arose among them. Men belonging to the ancient Gallo-
Roman senatorial families, who held vast estates and possessed great wealth, rose to prominence. It was from these families
that the king chose the great officers of state and the people of the cities chose their bishops.
In such dangerous and barbaric times as the Merovingian era, the poor and the weak could not depend on the protection of the
State. They sought protection from someone richer and more powerful than themselves. They put themselves under his
mundeburdis as it was called in Germanic, or to us the Roman phrase - they "commended" themselves to him. The patron
undertook to maintain his clients, to support them in law cases, to further their interests. In return, the client promised to serve
his patron on all occasions, to defend him if he were attacked, and to take the field along with him if he attacked anyone else.

To mark these new social conditions a new sense was given to ancient terms. The protector was called the “senior” and the
client was called “vassus.” Originally in Salic law the term vassal simply meant a slave attached to the personal service of his
master but with this new development the term came to mean a voluntary dependent. Those who felt the need of protection
could "commend" themselves not only to wealthy private persons, but also to royal officers, to the dukes and counts, to the
officials of the palace, and above all they could commend themselves to the king directly. In that case the sovereign exercised
a double authority over them: first, his public authority as king, and secondly a more special protection - that of the seignior.
In time, the strength of the king came to depend on the number of his vassals. Individual allegiance and service to the State
was replaced by a personal allegiance to the king, and the population of the country came to be composed of groups of men
bound to one another by personal ties - the building blocks of the feudal system.
At the bottom of the scale was the slave. After a war the prisoners were often reduced to servitude; many of these
unfortunates belonged to the Slav race, and the name “slave” gradually took the place of “servus”. There were also slave-
dealers who went to seek their human merchandise overseas; young Anglo-Saxons were much sought after because of their
beauty. Men who could not pay their debts, or a fine imposed by the courts, also fell into servitude, and a freeman who
married a slave lost his freedom. Slaves seen as chattels (a moveable article of personal property). The master could sell
them or give them away at his pleasure. Anyone who stole or killed a slave paid a fine of thirty solidi, the same amount as was
paid for stealing a horse, and this compensation was paid to the master. Slaves were not considered to have any family. The
Church took up for slaves by declaring unions between slaves which had been blessed by the priest to be legitimate, and
earnestly exhorting masters not to separate husband and wife, parents and children. Frankish law provided several ways for a
slave to become free, but even a freed slave remained in a position of dependence upon either the Crown, the Church or their
former master.
On the large estates there was another class of society, the “coloni,” or serfs. In theory the coloni were free, but they were
bound to the land and could not leave without the permission of the owner. If they ran away they were brought back by force.
On the other hand, as long as they paid their rent, they could not be expelled from their homes and could cultivate them as
they chose.
Ecclesiastical society
No one could become a member of the secular clergy without the permission of the king. Anyone who desired to join the church
must also give certain guarantees of his moral fitness: His conduct must be upright and pure, and he must possess a certain
amount of education. A man who had married a second time, or had married a widow, was barred from joining the Church.
Those men who were married had to break off all relations with their wives. Clerics were distinguished from laymen by their
tonsure, they wore a special costume, the habitus clericalis. They were judged according to the Roman Law. Every cleric was
attached to a specific church, which he could not to leave without the written permission of his bishop
The chief of the clergy was the bishop, who was the administrator over a diocese, or “parochia,” as it was called in the
Merovingian era. In theory, the bishops were supposed to be elected by the clergy and people of the city where they would
preside. Under the Merovingians it was actually the king who appointed the bishops. He might, of course, choose the man most
worthy of the post, but usually he was content to be bribed.
Above the bishop was the metropolitan. The metropolitan had the right to convoke provincial councils and preside at them. He
exercised oversight over the bishops of the province, and acted as judge among them. His title was simply that of bishop (the
title archbishop does not appear until quite the end of the Merovingian period). The authority of the metropolitans was
subordinate to that of the Frankish Church as a whole, which was governed by national councils. These councils were always
convened by the king, who exercised much influence in their deliberations. The Frankish Church honored the Papacy and
regarded the bishop of Rome as the successor of St. Peter, but the Pope had no effective power over the Frankish Church.

As early as the fifth century, many famous abbeys had been built in Gaul. Under Clovis and his successors, monasteries rapidly
increased in number. Monasteries and convents were placed under the authority of the local bishop, who visited them and, if
necessary, recalled the monks or nuns to their duty. At the head of the religious household was an abbot or abbess, generally
chosen by the founder of the community, his descendants, or in some cases elected by the community. The appointment of an
abbot or abbess was subject to the bishop's confirmation. Each monastery was independent of the rest, and had a rule — regula
— of its own, based upon principles borrowed from earlier religious writings. The abbeys did not yet form congregations obeying
the same rule, though this concept was introduced during the Merovingian era by the Benedictines.

Merovingian Garments
How do we know what we know?
The truth is that there’s a lot we don’t know for sure. As with the study of the clothing of any early culture, we have a very
limited amount of evidence to work with. When considering Merovingian culture especially, where women were so little
regarded, we have only a few contemporary documents describing women’s lives in any detail or works of art depicting
women. The bulk of our knowledge comes from studying a small collection of extant garments and from detailed analysis of
fiber remains in graves.

Extant clothing
Currently, I am aware of the following extant women’s garments from the Merovingian era:

late 5th cent. – Marseilles, France – sarcophagus of a young woman – Veil: primary material silk taffeta.

Late 5th cent. – Marseilles, France – sarcophagus of a young woman – Tunic: primary material is silk woven in a
weft-faced compound patterned tabby. Tunic is decorated with Clavi comprised of weft twining and silk braid
that had been embroidered with gold threads.

Late 5th cent. – Marseilles, France – sarcophagus of a young woman – Cloak: primary material silk. Cloak is
rectangular decorated with fringe at the warp ends.

late 5th cent. – Cote d’Azur, France – sarcophagus no. 20 – Cloak: primary material is silk. Garment is a rectangular
cloak with fringed ends.

late 5th cent. - Cote d’Azur, France – sarcophagus no. 20 – Tunic: primary material is silk, trimmed with gold-
embroidered silk bands.

6th cent. – St. Denis Cathedral, France – Queen Arnegunde – Veil: primary material is red and yellow pattern silk
samite. Thought to have been very long and square or rectangular based on locations of pieces of the textile
found in the grave.

6th cent. – St. Denis Cathedral, France – Queen Arnegunde – **Tunic: primary materials tabby wool (possibly red)
and possibly lined with linen or worn over a linen under-tunic.

7th cent. – Chelles, France – Queen Bathilde – Hair Ribbons: primary materials are silk and gold. Bathilde’s hair
was bound with ribbons made dyed in red, yellow and green.

7th cent. - Chelles, France – Queen Bathilde – Tunic: primary material white linen, only the front panel survives and
has erroneously been called a “chasuble”, it is embroidered around the neck in imitation of jewelry.

7th cent. – Chelles, France – Queen Bathilde – Coat: primary material is fine tabby weave linen. Known as “Le
Grande Robe de Bathilde”, it is open down the front and was probably worn with a belt. The body of the robe
was cut in a single piece with a center opening extending the length of the front and midway down the back.
Triangular gores add fullness at the hem and center back neck. The sleeves are overly long and may have
been secured with heavy bracelets in the Norse fashion. The collar is very unique.

7th cent. – Chelles, France – Queen Bathilde – Cloak: primary material is two-tone red and yellow silk taffeta. The
warp threads are red and the weft threads are yellow. The Cloak is a large half circle with long yellow fringe
around the outer edge. The fringe is made as part of a narrow braid sewn around the edge. The neck is
marked with a slight notch and a collar made in the shape of an isosceles triangle.

7th cent. – Chelles, France - ??? – Shoe: primary material is silk.

7th cent. – Thorsberger Moor – “Anglian” – Coat: primary material? The coat was dyed with imported indigo. The fabric
was estimated to have come from a very large piece.

Early 8th cent. – Chelles, France – Saint Bertille – Tunic: primary material is brown silk with yellow stripes woven
into the lower edges of the sleeves and body. The sleeves are also decorated with a tablet woven braid of
yellow, rust brown, and dark brown.

Le Grande Robe de Bathilde

Chelles, France

Photos of the museum display at Saint Denis Cathedral


A New Recreation of “Queen Arnegunde’s” Costume

Countess Dulcia MacPherson, OL OR (2003)

Almost nothing is known about the actual construction of Arnegunde’s clothing, it would appear that 7th century
Merovingian costume was more complicated in its construction than we have previously assumed. Construction
details that might be incorporated include sewn on sleeves, rather than sleeves woven and/or cut in one with the
body and the addition of gores to the side seams of garments to add width to the hem. The following construction
suggestions are based on the evidence cited in this article:

The smock is cut as a straight panel with the fold at the shoulder and the necessary width added to the hem
through the addition of gores at the side seams. The sleeves are sewn on at the shoulder with a straight seam and
are long and somewhat fitted. The neckline is a small, plain round neckline. The smock has a floor length hem.

The gown is cut as a straight panel with the fold at the

shoulder and the necessary width added to the hem
through the addition of gores at the side seams. The
sleeves are sewn on at the shoulder with a straight seam
and are long and slightly less fitted than the smock sleeves.
The neckline is a plain round neckline, slightly larger than
the neckline of the smock. The gown has a mid-calf or
ankle length hemline.

The coat can be cut in two ways. The first, or Arnegunde

style coat, is cut as a straight panel with the fold at the
shoulder and the necessary width added to the hem
through the addition of gores at the side seams. The
sleeves are sewn on at the shoulder with a straight seam
and are slightly shorter and fuller than the gown sleeves.
The neckline is a plain round neckline. The body is cut
slightly fuller than the gown to allow for the necessary overlap through the neckline and waist. The caftan has a
floor-length hem. The wrists of the coat are trimmed with embroidery or simple, geometric, metallic trim. The
second, or Bathilde style coat, is cut according to the plan shown on the previous page. This is a more
complicated construction but results in a very attractive garment.

There is no evidence of any kind of trim being used at the necklines, however the tunic of the Abesse Bertille and
the coat of Arnegunde both have embellishment at the wrists. The tunic of the Abess Bertille uses a narrow
brocaded band of tablet weaving around the wrist and a short distance up the arm, while the coat of Arnegunde
has applied bands of gold embroidered silk satin.

Although not all of the illustrations show this accurately, the evidence from the Arnegunde grave site, and other
sources which depict the wearing of these long coats, suggest that the decorated, double wrapped belts were worn
over the coat, rather than under it . Arguments could be made for wearing the garments either way.

Close examination of the remains of Queen Bathilde, which include hair, sections of “artificial” hair, and silk hair
ribbons, give us a good idea of the hairstyle the Queen wore at the time of her death. Her hair was gathered and
tied at the nape of her neck , then further divided into two sections which were wrapped with hair ribbons.
Bathilde’s hair was lengthened with extensions of false hair. The ends of these two sections were brought up and
secured again at the base of the neck. It seems highly probably that the resulting loops were, in life, wrapped
around the head rather than worn hanging at the back – other wise there would not be any need to extend the
length of the hair. Presumably this arrangement was held in place by a combination of hair pins, the brocaded
filet tied round the head, and the veil which was secured to the hair and filet with small pins.

Reconstructions of the Hairstyle of Queen Bathilde [Jean-Pierre LaPorte & Raymond Boyer -
Tresors de Chelles: Sepultures et Reliques de la Reine Bathilde et de l'Abbesse Bertille]

The Costume of Arnegund Revisited

By Patrick Périn and others,
Illustrations by Florent Vincent
Translated by Pam Perryman (Yseult of Broceliande, OP, OL, Baroness, An Tir)

The recent laboratory analyses of the funeral goods and the organic remains of Queen Arnegund have largely reworked the
interpretations formulated in 1961.

It was in 1959, during the excavation in the basilica of Saint-Denis, that Michel Fleury brought to light a sepulcher of a
woman that was of exceptional richness. It contained jewels and clothing accessories of high quality [Ill.1]

The stone sarcophagus, which has been in the basement of the church (founded in the 4th century on the site of the
present basilica of St.-Denis and enlarged by Saint Genevieve at the end of the 5th century) had been preserved from the
infiltration of rainwater, so that the organic remains -- the bones of the deceased, the rich clothes, even the leatherwork of the
accessories -- was in an exceptional state of preservation. Carefully removed, these organic remains were gone through and
studied by Albert France-Lanord in his laboratory in Nancy. It was thus that it was possible to reconstitute, with what was
thought to be great accuracy (in the publication of 1961), the costume of the deceased [Ill.2]. To her was attributed a shift of
wool and stockings held up by garters of which only the decorated ends were visible when they hung down below the gown;
that (the gown) of ottoman {see discussion #1 below} of violet silk, came down scarcely below the knees and was covered by
a long tunic of red silk of which the lower part of the sleeves was ornamented with a braid/border (galon) of gold threads which
created a frieze of rosettes. The deceased wore on her head a veil of which the sides were drawn onto the breast and fixed to
the mantle with a large pin. She was shod with leather ankle boots.

A problematic identification
Considering the privileged placement of this tomb in a necropolis that received, in the 7th century, the tombs of the
king Dagobert the 1st (628-639) and his son Clovis II (639-657), and considering the exceptional character of the grave goods,
Michel Fleury had concluded in 1959 that the deceased’s ring, with the inscription ARNEGUNDIS [ill.] and probably the central
monogram REGINE permitted him to identify her as the Queen Arnegund, mentioned by Gregory of Tours as one of the wives
of Clotaire the 1st and the mother of Chilperic the 1st, born about 537/9 (Gregory of Tours IV, 3). Postulating that she must
have had her son between the ages of 15 and 20 (and thus she must have been born between 520 and 525) and leaning
toward an age at death of about 45 (that age determined in part by the fragmentary bone remains), her date of death was
established as about 565/70, a date accepted by the scientific community in so much as the calculations appeared irrefutable.
Certain researchers considered, however, that this historical/biological date was too late to be compatible with the
archaeological dating of the funerary remains (the gold work of the large belt buckle and the shoe buckles), which were
estimated rather at 580, unless Arnegund had died at a much older age, which wasn’t verifiable since the remains of the
bones had apparently disappeared.
In a more radical fashion, other researchers proposed that this tomb, if it had been anonymous, would have been
dated by the funerary remains as being from the first decades of the 7th century, which prevented it from being that of the
mother of Chilperic. The deceased in sarcophagus 49 could thus have been a woman to whom Arnegund had give her ring, or
even another Arnegund not mentioned in the texts.

New analysis
The recent rediscovery of the skeleton of the deceased in tomb #49 as well as the organic vegetal and animal
remains that accompanied it have allowed us to reopen this dossier.

The question of the skeleton

The reexamination of the remains of the bones has confirmed the slenderness and the small stature of the deceased
(betw. 1.5 and 1.6 meters). This has allowed us to detect a hypoplasia of the right foot that might be the result of polio
contracted about the age of 4. Thanks to the method of dating from tooth enamel*, the deceased’s age is estimated as 61
years plus or minus 3 years (no longer about 45 years). [ * This method is based on the number of layers of enamel deposited
on the surface of the roots of the teeth added to the age of the first appearance of the tooth under examination.] Since new

historical work places the date of Chilperic’s birth in 534 (not 537/9), the death of Arnegund must have taken place between
572 and 583 (based on the variables of her age at the birth of her son and her age at death), with a high probability that she
died between 573 and 579.
This historical/biological dating is completely compatible with the archaeological dating of the objects in Arnegund’s
tomb, especially the decoration on her footwear. In effect, as the recent discoveries show, their designs in the “classic animal
II style,” if they diffused largely at the beginning of the late Merovingian period (1st third of the 7th century), is already present
episodically toward the end of the early Merovingian period (last third of the 6th century).

The question of pairs of objects

From their discovery in 1959, Michel Fleury drew attention to the disparity in technique and style between the
constituent parts of the pairs of objects of Arnegund’s ornaments: her earrings of gold, her disc-shaped fibulas in gold with
cloisonné set garnets, and her large silver garter tags. In view of the lesser quality of execution of one of the earrings [ill. 3]
and of one of the fibulae [ill. 4], he put forward the hypothesis that these are local copies of examples of better work, the nicer
of the two fibulae being perhaps an imported piece. He noted similarly the slight variations in the organization of the design of
the two tags (or strap ends) of a “firm (sure) execution” and equal wear. The recent studies and analyses done of these
objects have permitted us to determine the proportion of gold and copper in the alloys used to make these ornaments and to
source the origin of the garnets (India and Bohemia). This information confirms the presence of false pairs of objects in the
case of the earrings and the strap ends of the garters (one of the pair was replaced after the deterioration or loss of the
original), as well as in the case of the cloisonné fibulae (a local copy made of the original, which was doubtless imported, in
order to keep a matched pair). From looking at these slightly mismatched ornaments, which show many traces of wear and
repair, we can suppose that Chilperic, who died in 584, probably made the funeral arrangements for the old queen Arnegund,
choosing to have her buried with the jewelry that she had worn for a long time and that was undoubtedly familiar and dear to

The question of the clothing

As for the remains of animal or plant origin, a first plan of study by Antoinette Rast-Eicher has permitted us to
determine that the deceased was probably wrapped in a shroud of light cloth made from plant fibers, and which was closed by
at least one of the disc fibulae (which preserved on its back the remains of fibers fixed by the copper salts on the spring of the
tongue (pin?). Under this cloth was found a “fluffy” material, a textile in fulled wool. It is impossible to determine whether this
was a coat, a cape or even a mattress. The queen wore a silk veil, a red and yellow samite [ill.5; Samite - a term designating
a cloth including or made of silk (derived from the Greek hexamitum from the weave made of 6 threads). Its main side consists
of floats of weft tied in (woven?) serge 2/1. In “samit faconné” 2 or more wefts alternate, by the intermediary of the warp piece,
to make up the background and the design. In the 6th century silk cultivation was developed in the Byzantine Empire, which,
in the succeeding centuries, supplemented the importation of silk into central Europe. Despite that, rich silks were reserved for
the elites. {See Discussion #2 below}]. Under this cloth another silk fabric was found with a cardwoven geometric motif [ill.6;
Tissée aux planchettes - woven with the aid of cards with four holes through which pass the threads of the warp. The method
of turning the cards to change the pattern creates the different motifs.] This card weaving bordered the front opening of a
garment closed by the large belt. Remains of the border were found under the leather of the belt. The fabric of the garment
(called “violet” by Albert France-Lanord and interpreted by him as a dress or gown) is very poorly preserved; it seems to be
woven in wool perhaps blended with silk in the warp, and a (plant?) fiber now decomposed in the weft. From the armholes the
sleeves are of silk (after new analyses, of samite also, but of a different type than the veil), are decorated with a braid
embroidered in gold threads. Under this garment was found a fabric in wool that could have been the lining or a tunic.
The cardwoven border corresponds thus with the decoration of a piece of cloth and not with a different vestment / piece of
clothing as Albert France-Lanord had proposed, a fact which fundamentally changes the reconstruction [ill.49].
After a first examination led by Claire Chahine, the belt of the large belt buckle, as well as the secondary belt (which,
in reality, had been part of the large belt) is made of leather from a sheep or goat. The remains of the footwear appear to be of
sheep or goat fur.
Other questions remain to be answered, such as the length of the garment with the cardwoven trim and of the tunic;
whether there is a second knotted belt; the reconstruction of the garters, or further interpretation of the textile remains, not
identified by Albert France-Lanord. The colors of the textiles will be analyzed by a laboratory specializing in such things, as will
be the leather remains.


Translation Notes

galon = braid
jarretieres = garters

Discussion #1 – definition of “ottoman” quoted from A Textile Terminology: Warp & Weft by Dorothy K. Burnham, first
published in 1980 in Canada by the Royal Ontario Museum as Warp and Weft: A Textile Terminology.
In Appendix 2: Specialized French Terms, “Ottoman” is defined as “A type of cannelé with ribs of unequal width on both face
and reverse. Two warps are required, a flushing warp for the floats, and a main warp for the ground” (p.200).

“Cannelé” is defined as “weave with transverse ribs formed by warp floats. When the term is not qualified by an adjective, the
construction is an extended tabby repeating on two ends, but with two or more picks in each shed” (p.199).

Discussion #2 – definition of “samit” (English samite) quoted from A Textile terminology (see above for full citation). Samit is
the French term for “weft-faced compound twill” or “samite” which is described as “a weft-patterned weave with
complementary wefts in two or more series, usually of different colors, and a main warp and a binding warp. Through the
action of the main warp ends, only one weft thread appears on the face, while the other or others are kept to the reverse. The
ends of the binding warp bind the weft in passes, and the ground and the pattern are formed simultaneously. The entire
surface is covered by weft floats that hide the main warp ends. If the passes are bound in tabby, the construction is called
weft-faced compound tabby; if in twill, weft-faced compound twill” (p.180).

The article about Arnegund mentions “samit faconné.” A Textile terminology defines “taqueté faconné” as a tabby weave and
“samit” as twill. Perhaps “samit faconné” is used to emphasize that it is a pattern that is created by the manipulation of the two
sets of weft threads, not a fabric that has one color on its face and another on its reverse. This makes sense in looking at the
illustration on p.49, as the veil piece is a figured cloth of red and yellow.

Textiles and Costumes of the Upper or Early Middle Ages

By Antoinette Rast-Eicher, Archó-Tex, Ennenda, Switzerland,
Silk, cotton, linen, wool, fur . . . laboratory analysis brings to life the diversity of Merovingian textiles.

The textiles of the early middle ages are most often preserved in tombs placed in the ground or in churches. But
usually only small scraps of fabric remain conserved thanks to the oxidation of the metal that the fabric touched.
The fabrics found in the tombs also give us, in some cases, an idea of the type of clothing and their forms; in other
cases these fragments can only elaborate the statistics on the diversity and quality of textiles that accompanied the deceased
to the afterlife.

The first material

Sheep’s wool and linen are the fibers most often used for textiles, hemp and goat hair are much more rare. In the
tombs of the early middle ages we have found some unexpected fibers, but most of them were already known in Antiquity.
Rabbit fur, for example, called lana leporine in the tax code of Diocletian (about 300 CE), has been found in 7th century fabric,
in which it was the weft, the warp being sheep’s wool. Cotton, a fiber originating in India or Egypt, well known in Roman sites
in Egypt, is documented in some tombs from the 5th and 6th century in Germany and Switzerland. Another fiber that comes
from a distance is silk, which has only been found in very rich burials, like tomb 18 at Louviers or the Merovingian tombs at
Saint-Denis. It is, however, well represented among the textiles found in ecclesiastical contexts, but these are often poorly
Furs constitute another type of material similar to textiles and can be placed in relation to garments. A certain number
of them have been discovered in Merovingian tombs. There it has been a question of fox fur and martin and, more frequently,
sheep and goat.

Textiles and Weaves

The textiles of the early middle ages are characterized by weaves (or the crossing of threads) that are quite diverse
and which themselves form an important decorative element of the garments. The majority of these weaves were already
known in Roman times. Along with simple weaves, one finds more complex ones forming zigzigs, lozenges or stripes. One
common weave is that of a lozenge patterned serge in wool, known throughout Europe [see ill. 2]. In the Merovingian period
we know of deep blues (Switzerland, Germany) and reds (Saint-Denis (Paris), France). An imprint of lozenge weave visible in
the paint used in the Church of Saint-Jean at Müstair, Switzerland, dating from the first half of the 9th century is the sole
evidence of a late fabric from central Europe [see ill. 2]. It was probably the impression from a sleeve (perhaps the painters?).
From one tomb in Chelles in the Oise region comes a fragment of fabric that bears the stretch marks of a triangular
form on its front, under the buckle of a belt [see ill. 3]. This details bears witness to the presence of a pleat, perhaps similar to
that later in the shirt of St. Louis preserved in the Treasury of Notre Dame.
The lozenge weave fabrics were sometimes bordered with card weaving. These trims are important elements of the
decorations of period fabrics. It seems that, the richer the person, the larger these bands were. In the Merovingian tombs of
Saint-Denis (Ile-de-France) have been found variants in wool and silk, some of which include brocading with gold thread.

Caption of photos on p.50 – Mantle of silk discovered in the tomb of the queen Bathilde at Chelles (France).
Caption on p. 51 Textile fibers from the high middle ages seen through a scanning microscope: Soie = silk,
longitudinal view of the fiber. Coton = cotton]
Captions on pp. 52-3
[2] Different types of weaves. --> lozenged serge, from tomb 50, Saint-Denis
(downward arrow) imprint of a textile of lozenge patterned weave, (in the paint in) church of Saint-Jean, Müstair,
[3] Fragment of fabric found in the tomb at Chelles (l’Oise region): detail of the fabric at the level of the pleat
Box-- “Rippenköper” Weave. The weave called Rippenköper is a variant of 2/1 serge. It consists of weaving on one
side and then the other – thus the1/2 serge – with a small number of weft threads [most often 3 weft threads alternating
with each face of the serge].

[4] Clothing of Queen Bathilde from the tomb at Chelles (France). (upward arrow) detail of the “large dress” of linen with
a change or direction of the spinning (S and Z spun?)
(<--) Silk mantle, detail of the fringe

Women’s Garments
Fibulae, characteristic elements of feminine garb, allow us to distinguish two major style of garments: one using four
fibulae, two small and two large, worn in the 5th and 6th centuries, and the other of a cloak/mantle closed by one large disc
fibula which was in use during the 7th century (see the article by Patrick Périn, pp.38-45). The manufacture was still done
generally by piece for a garment and not by yard (meter) of cloth.
No pictoral documentation exists for the garb with four fibulae. For this reason it is the subject of heated discussion
among researchers. Despite the presence of textiles preserved with these types of fibulae in several graves, this costume
cannot be entirely reconstructed at this time. Nevertheless the textile remains give us some indications: at least one of the
small fibulae was situated near the neck, closing a fine fabric (in linen) bordered by a trim of cardweaving, while the large
fibulae seem to touch an edge or hem. Because they pass to the inside of the bracelets worn on the wrists (5 th century), we
think that the sleeves were narrow. Finally, following the tradition of antiquity, women wore a long garment – for the moment,
there is no proof that the dress or tunic was short.
As for the mantle held closed by the large disc brooch, it is represented in the Stuttgart Psalter (abt. 800 CE). Other
types of mantles were draped without a fibula. Fabrics closed by fibulae vary: it is of linen or wool of fine quality, woven with
simple weaves.

Rare but significant examples

The tomb of Queen Bathilde, who died at Chelles about 680 CE, provides one of the rare treasures of textiles found
in France, since all the fabric was very well preserved. These, henceforth to be dated by carbon14, consist of an embroidered
tunic and a long garment in very fine linen open in the front with a large shawl collar [see ill.6]. The textile was created in a
special way, for there is a change in the direction of the spinning in the warp and weft threads, which gives the effect of a little
checked pattern [ill. 4]. The mantle [see ill.1] is of silk and woven in a half circle with a tabby (Fr. taffetas) weave [ill.4]. Long
fringes were added to the bottom. The queen also had in her grave a piece of rectangular linen fabric decorated with a weft
loop weave {see Discussion #1 below}. This type of fabric is well documented among Coptic fabrics, but certain technical
details such as the direction of the spinning make us suspect an origin north of the Alps.
Archaeological method consists of removing the fragments while noting their exact placement in the tomb, which
allows us, if there are enough fragments, to make an interpretation of the garments. Tomb 189 in Baar-Früebergstrasse is a
good example from the 7th century [see ill. pp.36-7 – the lady laid out in a blue dress]. The woman who was buried here wore
a necklace, a belt, bracelets, a pin, and earrings. The garters (a wound strap that held a fabric around the legs) were fastened
by buckles to the shoes. A textile, forming small pleats, woven in Rippenköper weave [see box explanation], was found
preserved under the belt and along the chatelaine (the objects hanging from the belt). The pin, located on the chest, held a
linen textile which exhibited a change of direction in the spinning of the fibers (in one direction only, probably in the weft),
which gave the effect of thin stripes, in the same manner as the fabric of the long garment with the large shawl collar from
Chelles. From the skin still present on the interior of the bracelet, it had been placed on a bare arm. Thus the deceased was
not wearing tight sleeves.
A funeral stele/monument from late Antiquity from Zenica (Bosnia-Herzegovina) gives us an idea of this garment –
which corresponds perhaps to a fabric called phaltena in writing from the 9th century [ill. 5]. These fabrics with little pleats,
either in the Rippenköper weave or in a (“toile plissée”, literally pleated tabby or fabric) crinkle weave?, are well documented in
northern Italy (7th cent), in eastern Switzerland ( from the 5th century), in Germany (6th and 7th cent.), and even in Scandinavia,
but later there (in the Viking period, at Birka, for example). And it’s still being found – in the material exhumed by Michel Fleury
when he excavated at Saint-Denis (grave 48).
While the garments of Queen Bathilde represent a very simple type of costume since she died in the cloister of
Chelles and was buried very modestly, without jewels, the fabrics of the church of St-Denis, dated to the 6th century offer a
glimpse of the highest ranks. The grave of Queen Arnegund, who died about 580 CE is a good example. The textile analyses
show us textiles that were rare and of very high quality, in part without equal at present in Europe (see the preceding article).
Despite certain highly visible elements, a complete and certain reconstruction is difficult (“delicate”).

Caption for sculpture on p.53 – Funeral stele / monument from Zenica/ Bosnia-Herzegovina (Museum of Sarajevo),
published in Cremosnik I., Panonska nosnja na rimskim spomenicima u Bosni I drugim nasim krajevima. Bulletin of the

People’s Museum of the Republic of Bosnia & Herzogovina at Sarajevo, s.n.,13, 1958. The woman on the left wears a
tunic with little pleats, while the man wears this type of fabric draped as a mantle closed on the right shoulder by a

Caption p.54, cutting layout for Bathilde’s gown, the great/large dress or gown of Queen Bathilde, from the tomb at
Chelles. Schematic published in J.-P. Laporte, Le trésor des saints de Chelles, Chelles, 1988, fig. 18 & 19.
Pattern, cutting layout, plan for assembly. Below to the right: assembly for the collar/neck. P.55, reconstruction.
- - - - - = cutting line
----- = pleat or fold
white = original state
dotted areas = present state
black area = lost in cutting (= unused fabric?)
Col: Exterieur (endroit du vetement) = neck : exterior, right side of garment,
col plié = pleated or folded collar
Col: Interieur (envers du vetement) = neck: interior, reverse of garment/fabric
Soufflet = gusset

[in larger letters on p. 55] “2 to 4 millimeters – such is the diameter of the gold threads found at Saint-Denis”

Caption for ill. [7], p.55 -- a picture of the donor of the church, Mals, Italy.

Men’s Garments
Burials of men present differently than those of women: often the deceased are wearing neither belts nor arms.
Weapons are often placed beside or on top of the body. In addition, unlike the women’s graves which can include object
deposited with the deceased – for example in eastern Switzerland (Riaz, Canton of Fribourg), this type of deposition is rare in
men’s graves.
An analysis of the organic remains has to determine first whether clothing was worn or just placed in the grave, or
perhaps draped in the manner of a shroud. We can in any case assume that the deceased had his personal effects with him –
whether that means clothing or weapons.

The type costume

Iconography shows a “type” for the clothing that doesn’t seem to have changed much since late Antiquity and during
the entire early middle ages: the man is dressed in a tunic, a cloak closed on the shoulder, and pants or leggings that can be
held by garters. This type of costume is painted, for example, in the church at Mals (Italy) [ill.7, p.55]. The top of the garters
are visible, the bottom of the leg has not survived. Over the tunic the man wears a blue cloak fastened on his right shoulder.
Written documents mention tunics of wool or linen. Adalpirin, for example, offers his possessions to the cloister of St.
Gall (Switzerland) on the condition that they give him, as befitting his importance/status, a wool tunic and, every two years,
another of linen called a smoccho (the word smock persists today in English and means a blouse): “et uno anno tonica unum
solidum valentum, altero vero anno lineam, qui dicitur smoccho, duas tremissas valentem” (from Urkundenbuch der Abtei St.
Gallen, Teil I 700-840, n.506). Fifty years later, in 816, Cozpert demands, for the same reason, a garment in wool (laneum
vestitum) and two in linen (II lineos) six shoes (sex calciamenta), two gloves (II manices), a (camelot? Some sort of head
covering) (I camalaucum), some sheets (lectistramenta) and every two years a cloak (I sagellum) (ibid., n.221). In other texts
the cloak is a pallium, which corresponds to the garment known in Antiquity under this name, a large cloak of pleated (or
folded) wool closed by a fibula, and not the ecclesiastical pallium (the band worn on the chasuble) already in use in this

Cloaks and finery

In the men’s graves studied up to now, it is fairly difficult to interpret the textiles that are found under the objects
which have been placed in the grave. Belts are often placed on thick wool fabrics that resemble, in their quality, blankets or
cloaks rather than tunics (the fabric under the belts in the women’s graves are, in general, of a much finer/lighter quality).
Leather and furs seem to make up an important part of the outfits.
In grave 213 at Baar, the fur cloak has been very well documented. The sword was placed on the right are of the
deceased and a goat skin enveloped the arm as well as the sword [ill. 7]. The textile remains in this grave do not give any

information about the garments of the deceased. On the contrary: a miniscule fragment of linen was found on the sword and
thus couldn’t be part of the tunic. Another small fragment mineralized on the point of an arrow near the right arm remains
difficult to interpret. In Northern Europe, northern Germany, and Scandinavia, even in Ireland, cloaks of skins/pelts are
frequent and well preserved thanks to the acidity of the soil in these areas. These fur cloaks represent an important element of
the costume, which is not surprising considering the climate. They are only rarely found in the graves of our region [France]
due to their poor preservation in our soils.
As in the tombs of rich women, we have evidence of costume elements reserved to the elite. These are, for example,
silks, but also braid/trim [gallons] in gold thread like those found in Bavaria in which the gold thread was brocaded in the
cardwoven trim. The braid/trim from the tomb at Greding-Grosshöbing formed the border of an open cloak that passed behind
the neck and closed on the front. The other trim, found in a tomb in Straubing-Alburg corresponds to a decorative thread in the
crossed garters around the legs and fastened with two buckles on the shoes [ill.7]. These deluxe garters were quite visible
since the man wore a short tunic. Decoration with gold thread has been documented throughout Europe for the Merovingian
period. – but only in very rich burials. In the graves of Saint-Denis, two types of gold thread occurred: gold plates or lames
rolled around linen or silk thread and just gold plates (small, thin plaques of gold foil?). The majority of trim brocaded with gold
thread comes from women’s tombs, but in the masculine graves number 9, 16, and 18, discovered by Edouard Salin and
unfortunately pillaged, a few fragments of borders woven with gold thread were retrieved.
The archaeological analysis of Merovingian textiles that have come to us via these graves allow us to retrieve certain
characteristics of the garb of the period, by identifying the particular qualities of some types of fabrics as well as certain details
of the cut of the garments. The weaving techniques are very elaborate and the quality of the textiles is sometimes very high.
We should distance ourselves a bit from the models of the traditions of Antiquity or even Byzantium in order not to
overshadow the local traditions and creations.

Captions p.56: (single downward arrow, top photo below) Archaeological evidence of men’s garments: goat skin
(black) situated between the thigh and the sword, from grave 213 at Baar-Früebergstrasse (canton of Zoug,
(double downward arrow, bottom photo) garters with decorative gold thread , Alburg-Straubing, Germany.


Translation Notes

Discussion #1 – “decoré des boucles réalisées par la trame” -- Weft loop weave is a “weave with weft, either main or
supplementary, often a brocading weft, pulled up to form loops on the face. Used to produce an uncut pile or more frequently
in a sparser way for patterning. A manual technique with may variations” (p.182).
Or this could refer to bouclé yarn, “a yarn plied under different tensions so that one ply forms small irregular loops as
it is combined into the yarn” (p.12). Such yarn could be used in the weft.

Backes, Magnus and Regine Dölling. Art of the Dark Ages. Translated from the German by Francisca Garvie. New York: H. N.
Abrams, 1969. ISBN # 0810980231

Banck, Johanna. “Ein merowingerzeitlicher Baumsarg aus Lauchheim/Ostalbkeis – Zur Bergung und Dokumentation der
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