Because Merovingians didn’t have zippers or velcro, they had to find other ways to keep their clothes from falling off. Brooches (Fibule – fibula – fibulae) were often used to keep clothes together. Fibula came in many shapes and sizes. Belt, garter and shoe buckles were a bit more limited due to their function.
I will post later on fibula, but today let’s talk about buckles. In Merovingian times, buckles were functional items used on belts, to hold up leg garters, and to fasten shoes. They ranged from small utilitarian items to something like this trinket from Sutton Hoo, housed at the British Museum. It is 13.200 cm in length and 5.600 cm in width, weighing 412.7n grams.
Some examples of other fine buckles are the pieces found with Arnegunde (515/520 to 565/570), a Queen who’s grave was found in the Cathedral of Saint-Denis, just north of Paris. Recent conservation work has been completed on the garments, which is a while ‘nother post entirely. The jewelry and metalwork (les bijoux, Aregonde) are quite beautiful. The most commonly discussed are the belt buckle, long pin, two round brooches and earrings pictures here.
In the 2009 April/May issue of Histoire et Images Medievales, the results of the recent re-conservation are presented. An artist, Marquita Volken, has provided some drawing of how the buckles would have been used, both on the belt and the leg/shoes. Marquita was very helpful when I was trying to figure out my first Merovingian shoe (well, first ever actually). Here are her drawings. I highly recommend you get a copy of the publication and support these amazing efforts.
There were two sets of small buckles found on Arnegunde. They seem to have come in sets of three parts: the claps, the facing plate(s), and the belt tip.
Again, here is an image produced by Marquita Volken in Histoire et Images, this time showing the leg garters and shoes. I’m not really clear on how the garters are going together, as it seems there is an extra set of belt tips of a larger and slightly more intricate design. If anyone wants to take a stab at translating the captions, feel free to do so in the comments.
The Leg garters of Arnegunde (Paire de garniture de jarretiere). The buckles are fairly plain, but the garter tips have cast designs in an interlace pattern. These are made of silver.
Here is a sketch I made of the large pendant belt/garter tips. (I still am not sure which they were).
The shoe set of Arnegunde
However, most of the buckles weren’t quite so bling-o-liscious. The following images give a better view on how buckles were put together.
In the following image (I need to find my source!), you can clearly see how the buckle is put together.
Raymond’s Quiet Press has a reproduction of these buckles and has helpfully provided an image of the back.I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it does give a good idea of one way to put the buckles together.