Viking trefoil brooch
Viking sword strap distributor

Viking sword strap distributor

viking sword strap distributor

Although restored at one lug - wich only was becoming sharp to see when the strap devider was cleaned professionally - one of the cornerstones of my collection.. first considered to be a classic trefoil brooch.. Until.. Until I showed my example to the author of a new book I was reading - Viking identities - Scandiavian Jewellry in England -, Jane F. Kershaw. She immediately responded to me:

'The trefoil brooch is actually not a brooch but a strap-distributor, perhaps for a harness, of a type known from Iceland and Scotland. The projections at the side near the central plate show that the design comes from Carolingian baldric mounts, which have a similar shape. The central hole will have original held a rivet. The art style is not Ringerike, but Jellinge, although it seems to have been misunderstood in places. I'd place it in the first half of the 10thC.'

She also sended me an intruiging article on these kind of trefoil mounts/strap distributors.

In this article - hereunder attached - there from 1997 there are two examples known found at Hafurbjarnarstadir and Holl in Iceland and one known (part of) example of Jarlshof at the Shetland Isles (found 1956), and two examples found in 1996 in Skipton-on-Swale, near Thirsk, North Yorkshire and Ewerby, near Sleaford, Lincolnshire.

Viking trefoil brooch

Viking trefoil brooch

Bronze, 8.50 grams; 38.53 mm. Circa late 9th - early 10th Century A.D. An extremely rare type of English Viking brooch (see ref.: a number of 43 in England is recorded until know) in an excellent state of preservation.

Most of these type of brooches are found as segments, broken due to choise of material or soil conditions.

This example has a very clear deep incised line decoration with a central triangle at the junction of the arms, with conventionalised plants derived from imported western European trefoil mounts These three tree-like objects form the outer decoration to form a spectacular design and an amazing piece of art. Complete with catch plate and perforated hinge plate on the reverse.

Found in Norfolk.

Ref.: Viking identities, Scandinavian Jewellry in England by Jane F. Kershaw (2013) page 79-91 Trefoil brooches, page 82-83 trefoil brooches with geometric decoration (Type G) Fig. 3.43

Image beneath: after the brooch had been cleaned professionally

viking trefoil brooch
How trefoil brooch

Brooches of this type were used to fasten a cloak or shawl on the breast. The form is modelled on Carolingian trefoil fittings from sword-belts of the ninth century, presumably either seized by the Vikings in raids on the Continent, or perhaps obtained peacefully through trade or the exchange of gifts. The decoration, however, uses animal rather than plant motifs, a style with which the Vikings were familiar. Simpler versions appear to have been mass-produced.

See also my blog

The trefoil brooch, where did it came from?

viking sword strap devider

My example is said to be found in York in 1976. The vendor where I bought it from, possibly sold another example - see image above - but cannot recall it in his memory (it has to be another example as the picture is different from mine example.

Apart from these 7 examples, I have seen a 8th  on display in the National Museum of Iceland.

A 9th example is published (also as a trefoil brooch) in Benet's second edition Artefacts of England & the United Kingdom - current values (2003) page 315, item no.: V-07-0202.

Ironically - as mentioned in the article - the trefoil mount from Hafurbjarnarstadir, Iceland was from a pagan burial where it was clearly worn in typical Scandinavian fashion as a brooch, with textile surviving attached to the lugs on its back. But this must have been a so called secondary use form. The Icelandic example aslo had an additional perforation through one of its arms, wich may suggest that the trefoil was worn as a pendant at some stage.

Just under 10 known examples - to me at least ! - a rare kind and type of viking artefact..

But who's counting ?

viking brooch
viking brooch
viking brooch
viking brooch

Images and drawing from viking trefoil brooch or sword strap distributor in National Museum Iceland (August 2018). Photo's : author.