A farm located in the small town of Vindelev in Jutland, Denmark likely housed a very prominent and internationally connected individual, according to a new investigation by the National Museum of Denmark into the Vindelev Treasure, recently published in the research journal International Numismatic Chronicle.

The lead researcher, Helle Horsnæs, examined the four Roman gold medals that make up part of the treasure and can conclude that the medals, as far as all evidence suggests, were used as dowries or gifts within a European network of important women and men in the non-Roman parts of Europe. Surprisingly, someone from this network was housed on a farm in Vindelev during the Nordic Iron Age (which ended in the early Middle Ages), because that is where the treasure was discovered.

Horsnæs states There have been other exciting gold finds in the area of Eastern Jutland, but Vindelev is simply larger in every aspect. We have no signs that there was a power base in Vindelev at this time, so we are surprised to find objects that not only show local power, but also European connections. This really puts Vindelev on the map and places the owner at the highest level of Europe.

The pieces of the Vindelev treasure
The pieces of the Vindelev treasure. Credit: Konserveringscenter Vejle

The Vindelev Treasure is one of the most important gold finds in Danish history. It was discovered in December 2020 by Ole Ginnerup Schultz and Jørgen Antonsen and includes, in addition to the four gold medals, 13 Nordic gold armrings in a joint depositional find. Never before had four medals been found together in Denmark.

Horsnæs says Finding four medals together is enormously significant, and really shows that there must have been a connection with the European elite. I do not think they could have had that contact without being part of the elite themselves.

The large gold medals were generally considered gifts from the Roman emperor to prominent Roman senators and generals, while the slightly smaller medals may have been gifts for members of the Roman equestrian class. But the four gold medals from the Vindelev Treasure travelled far. They were issued by four different emperors in the 3rd century AD and, among other things, rings were added outside the Roman Empire so they could function as pendants for a woman.

Roman medallion from the Vindelev treasure
Roman medallion from the Vindelev treasure. Credit: Nationalmuseet

Therefore, it also seems that it was not a direct gift from the Roman emperor to the powerful person of Vindelev, but that the medals have been exchanged several times, as has occurred with other medals in Northern Europe, and may have been inherited as a kind of family jewelry of Vindelev.

One medal in particular attracted the attention of Helle Horsnæs. It turns out to be marked with exactly the same stamp as a medal found in Zargozyn, Poland. Therefore, the two medals travelled together outside the Roman Empire, after which rings were added in the same workshop and they were transformed into pendants. Then, one of them may have taken the path to Zargorzyn, Poland, and the other to Vindelev, Denmark.

Horsnæs states This demonstrates that the European network in this era of the Iron Age was highly branched and that the European elite were already connected to each other.

The Vindelev treasure is on display at the National Museum of Denmark in the exhibition On the Hunt for Danish History
The Vindelev treasure is on display at the National Museum of Denmark in the exhibition On the Hunt for Danish History. Credit: Joakim Züger / Nationalmuseet

The Vindelev find contains the largest gold armring in the world. The medals were issued by the Roman emperors Constantine the Great (306-337 AD), Constans (337-350 AD), Valens (364-375 AD) and Gratian (367-383 AD). It has been suggested that the treasure was deposited as an offering in relation to the 536 climate catastrophe or was buried in a long house in relation to a time of crisis such as the Justinianic Plague in the 540s.

In addition to the Vindelev medals, two large medals, two medium medals and one small medal have previously been found in Denmark. The latter was found in Gudme and likely formed part of a treasure with several Roman gold coins, while the others were found individually. All four Vindelev medals were transformed into pendants in workshops outside the Roman Empire. There is a great difference in the state of wear of the medals. This highlights that they were not kept together as a single piece of jewelry but were likely exchanged several times.

Roman gold medals and coins were models for locally produced imitations, and in the north inspired Nordic armrings. There are several examples of Roman coins transformed and Nordic armrings found together in the same deposits, and therefore were used in the same way in the north.


National Museum of Denmark

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