Nécropole médiévale à Ichtratzheim - spoon with runic inscription

Spoon with Runes

A silver-spoon from the early Merovingian period with both Latin and Runic inscriptions was recently was found in an opulent female grave near the Rhine

Spoon after Conservation
Spoon after Conservation © Denis Gliksman

In the summer of 2011 archaeologists from INRAP excavated 55 burials on a site known as Niederfeld” in Ichtratzheim, 15 km. south of Strassbourg. The excavations uncovered a burial sequence from the late 6th century and into the early 10th century. One of the earliest graves dated from late 6th century held a female with an opulent set of grave-goods – a massive silver arm-ring, two gilt silver square-headed brooches, a gold finger-ring, a small silver buckle and appliques for a chatelaine to which belongs a rock crystal pendeloque with silver fittings and a pierced discoid foot of a 5th century Roman glass vessel, probably re-used as a spindle whorl. The outstanding grave-goods clearly indicate a high-status of the buried individual. Later her grave was surrounded by other graves, all West-East orientated plus a minor building. Whether to understand the burial of the grave as Christian hinges on how to understand yet another piece found in the grave, a typical pre-byzantine silver-spoon such as have been found in other high prestige grave, like e.g. Sutton Hoo and Prittlewell.

This spoon is especially remarkable because it has two engravings plus three different inscriptions. Both the engravings are found on the rectangular block between the blade and the handle and was obviously part of the original spoon. One engraving shows a leaf of wine, while the other shows a fine cross. On the top of the block is an inscription, + MATTEVS, probably pointing towards the evangelist. Later, however, a skilled rune-master has embellished the leaf of the spoon with two Runic inscription. The first one reads lapela – meaning in Pre-Old-High German: spoon. This identifies the object as a so-called talking object, named for what it was. The last inscription abuda is also clearly legible. However the understanding of this text is somewhat more complicated. A recent review of the spoon and its inscription executed by Svante Fischer from Uppsala, has however concluded that it in all probability is a personal name.

He writes that “from a runological perspective, this is one of the most important discoveries in recent times because it contains the oldest known case of a linguistically meaningful runic inscription containing the rare p-rune and some very archaic linguistic forms”.

The question remains, though, how to understand the ensemble of inscriptions. Was it a religiously motivated gift presented to the dead woman at her baptism? (It obviously started out as a religiously imbued object). Or was it rather a political gift to a high status woman from the end of the late 6th century? In either case it seems to have been “personalised” by her as a spoon “owned” by Abuda

The Early Byzantine Spoons, found in the “barbarian” graves of the Thuringians, the Alemanni and the Franks are believed to have been manufactured in Balkan and Italy. How to understand them, though, is another matter. Were they gifts presented to high-status persons at their baptism (as has been believed)? Or were they perhaps Gothic gifts to elite contacts in the “barbaric kingdoms” up North. Or were they just prestige goods acquired through trade?


An Inscribed Silver-Spoon from Ichtratzheim (Bas-Rhin)
By Svante Fischer, Matin Hannes graf, Carole Fossourier, Madeline Châelet and Jean Soulat.
In: Journal of Archaeology and Ancient History 2014, vol 11, pp. 2 – 24


Handelsgut, Geschenke, Subsidien. Zu den Vermittlungsfaktoren ostmediterraner und orientalischer Objekte im Merowingerreich
By Jörg Drauschke
In: Archaeologische Informationen Vol 31 No 1 &2, 2008 pp.33 – 43

Herkunft und Vermittlung “Byzantinischer Importe
By Jörg Drauschke
In: Zwischen Spätantike und frühmittelalter. Reallexikon der Germanische Altertumskunde Vol 57, pp. 367– 424.
Walter de Gruyter 2008

Les necropolis mérovingiennes d’Osthouse et de Matzenheim. INRAP 2009


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