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Warrior and Musician

The Lyre from Grave 58 at Trossingen and its Owner


Barbara Theune-Grokopf

ZUSAMMENFASSUNG
Von der Leier aus Grab 58 von Trossingen haben sich
neben dem vollstndigen Resonanzkrper und seiner
Deckplatte auch der Steg und die Wirbel erhalten.
Der Austausch von Wirbeln, aber auch Reparaturund Abnutzungsspuren lassen erkennen, dass das
Instrument ber einen lngeren Zeitraum gespielt
wurde. Die vollstndige Verzierung der Leier durch
feine Schnitzlinien ist bisher einzigartig. Die Vorderseite ziert eine figrliche Szene aus zwei Gruppen von
je sechs Kriegern, zwischen denen sich eine aufgepflanzte Lanze befindet. Sie lag im linken Arm eines
3040 jhrigen Mannes, der nach verschiedenen
Dendrodaten im Jahr 580 bestattet worden sein muss.
Die Platzierung im Grab spricht fr eine persnliche
Beziehung des Bestatteten zum Instrument. Auffllig
ist die Lage des Schwertes im rechten Arm des Mannes als Pendant zur Leier. Bewaffnung und brige
Beigaben, wie kostbare gedrechselte Mbel, kennzeichnen ihn als berittenen Krieger, der in seiner
Gemeinschaft eine fhrende Rolle gespielt hat. Eine
entsprechende soziale Stellung scheinen auch die
Toten aus den brigen bekannten Leiergrbern aus
Skandinavien und vom Kontinent besessen zu haben.
Anders sieht es im angelschsischen England aus, wo
Leiern als Beigaben mit erheblichem Sozialprestige in
Knigsgrbern auftauchen, aber auch in vergleichsweise bescheiden ausgestatteten Mnnergrbern.
The Merovingian cemeteries of Oberflacht1, Trossingen2, and Neudingen3, famous for their wooden
artefacts, are concentrated in a small area between
the Black Forest and the Swabian Jura. The geological formation of the Black Jura in combination with
a high water table provides excellent conditions for
wood preservation in this region (Fig. 1).

site of the Hohner musical instrument factory at


Trossingen6, uncovered 12 additional graves, of
which number 58 is the deepest and richest so far
discovered. The fat and heavy clay-subsoil which
led to such excellent wood preservation made the
excavation itself difficult.
Because of bad weather conditions at the end
of the year, it was decided to bring the main part of
the grave in one block to the laboratories of the
archaeological services, where the burial of a man
was uncovered.
The wooden chamber contained a bed, which
was covered by a wooden roof, of which the ridge
took the form of a snake. Outside of the bed were
placed different pieces of furniture and tableware:
a chair, a three-legged table, a candleholder, a flask,
a bowl and a plate. The space between grave chamber and bed was filled with weaponry as well, consisting of a lance, a shield, a bow and probably part
of a saddle. Inside the bed coffin was found a
comb beside the mans head; the sword was placed
in his right and the lyre in his left arm (Fig. 2ac).

2 CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION, SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH


Particular emphasis was placed on documentation
and conservation of textiles7. The man was dressed
in a tunic and linen trousers with leather straps
around his calves. A coat or plaid of red and yellow wool was laid over his body. The unique,
complicated fabric was probably imported from
the Mediterranean area.
1
2
3

1 EXCAVATION
In 2001/2 archaeological investigation5 of the
long-known Merovingian cemetery at the former

5
6
7

Paulsen 1992; Schiek 1992.


Damm 1994; Theune-Grokopf 2004; Theune-Grokopf
2006a; Theune-Grokopf 2006b.
Brendle 2005.
Klug-Treppe 2002; Ebhard-Beinhorn/Nowak 2002; Theune-Grokopf 2002.
Buchta-Hohm 1996, 121122.
Ebhard-Beinhorn/Nowak 2002; Peek/Nowak 2003; Theune-Grokopf 2006a, 279280.

218

Barbara Theune-Grokopf

Examination of the skeleton revealed a thirtyto forty-year-old male with a height of 1.78 m. The
DNA analysis was unfortunately unsuccessful. A
stable isotope analysis to detect where the man
grew up and where he lived the last years of his life
is on the way; results are expected at the end of the
year8.
One of the main issues still in progress is the
cleaning, preparation, conservation and restoration of the different wooden objects9. Finding the
best conservation method is essential for good
results. The reason why most earlier finds were
destroyed is that wooden artefacts from graves
generally come from a wet environment, and their
capillaries are filled with water. When let dry in the
air which was done until the sixties of the 20th
century they will shrink and deform.
To avoid deformation of water-logged wooden
artefacts you have to substitute the water and
impregnate the object with a glucose compound to
stabilize the capillaries. After freeze-drying
(lyophilisation) the artefact is in a stable form.
This conservation treatment provided excellent
results for the Trossingen artefacts.
Dendro-analysis10 (annual-ring dating) was
performed on the three oak floorboards of the
burial chamber, the beech roofboards of the bed
coffin and the oak candleholder. According to the
results the man from grave 58 was buried between
May and June in A.D. 580.

3 GRAVE GOODS
The sword, still in its wooden scabbard, is decorated with silver inlay on its pommel-plate and crossguard. This being the most widespread 7th century
type of sword11, it must have been ultra-modern at
the time of the burial in A.D. 580.
The lance was completely preserved with its
iron spearhead12 and wooden hafting made of
hazel. With a total length of 3.60 m the lance didnt
fit into the grave, so the shaft had to be cut in half.
The enormous length tells us that it must have
been a horsemans weapon. A further indication
that we are dealing with an horsemans grave is a
wooden saddle bow. His weaponry is completed
by a shield and a bow. It should be mentioned that
almost all metal mounts and fittings, like the shield
boss, are missing. This was probably caused by the
acid soil.
For his afterlife the deceased was provided
with a chair with a decorative backrest13. All the
lathe-turned parts, chair legs and balusters, were
made of maple; the structural parts like crossbeams were made of ash. Another find was a latheturned three-legged table with a round table-top14,
the table-top being of maple, the legs of ash. The

furniture was accompanied by a flask, a plate and a


candleholder. A bone comb lay beside his head; a
(water) bowl stood under the bed.

4 THE LYRE (Fig. 3ab)


The most important of the grave goods is the
lyre15, complete in almost all respects with soundbox and cover both parts made of maple. Drilled
in the cover are 8 sound holes in the middle of the
body, and one in each arm. Yoke and arms and
sound-box are made in one piece. The bridge with
seven notches16 and the tuning pegs are also
preserved. The six pegs17 indicate a six-stringed
instrument.
Comparing it with the 6th and 7th century lyres
from the Sutton Hoo ship burial, the graves 37 and
84 at Oberflacht and grave P/100 beneath St. Severins Church18 in Cologne and the recent find
from Prittlewell19, the Trossingen lyre represents
the familiar model of the time, but with an outstanding preservation.
It is the first time that the bridge was found in
connection with the lyre body, and it is the earliest
wooden bridge as well20. The lyre was turned face
down, the bridge under the lyre in almost the correct position. This indicates that the instrument
was stringed when buried with the man. Maybe it
was contained in a bag. The material used for the
bridge is willow (Fig. 4). Until now the known
bridges were mostly made of bone, antler or

9
10

11
12
13

14
15
16
17
18
19
20

Studies conducted by J. Wahl, Landesamt fr Denkmalpflege im Regierungsprsidium Stuttgart, Arbeitsstelle


Konstanz, Osteologie. The recently provided results show
that he belonged to the local population.
Conservation and restoration conducted by Konservierungslabor Potthast/Riens, Konstanz.
Data raised by W. Tegel, Landesamt fr Denkmalpflege im
Regierungsprsidium Stuttgart, Arbeitsstelle Hemmenhofen, Dendrochronologisches Labor.
Menghin 1983, 77 (groupe E).
Spearhead of the type Trier A4: Bhner 1958, 148149,
Pl. 28. 49; Koch 1990, 182.
Similar are the chairs from a grave of a young boy in the
Dome of Cologne and from the graves 84 and 92 at Oberflacht: Doppelfeld 1964, 181183, Figs. 17, 2ac; Schiek
1992, 55, 61, Pl. 60, 65. 1, 66. 113; Paulsen 1992, 6467.
7581.
A similar table was found in grave 80 at Oberflacht:
Paulsen 1992, 83, Fig. 72; Schiek 1992, 52, Pl. 52. 2.
Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 102112, Fig. 8, 9.
Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 104, Fig. 10c, 15.
Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 103, Fig. 10a, 16, 14.
Bischop 2002a, Liste 240241, No. 9, 12, 13, 14; Bischop
2002b, Liste 226227, No. 9, 12, 13, 14.
Hirst et al. 2004, 22, 37.
There is a 10th century 6-string bridge from York: Bischop
2002a; 2002b, 228; Morris 2000, 23552357, Fig. 1161; two
wooden bridges from the 13th century are known from
Gamlebyen, Oslo. The one with seven notches is very similar to the Trossingen bridge: Kolltveit 1997, 6970, Fig. 1.

Warrior and Musician

bronze. It is interesting to see that the bridge has


seven notches, obviously one more than necessary
for the six strings.
The tuning pegs were plugged in from the rear,
the slits for the strings being on the front side. The
heads of the pegs are of different shapes and materials (Fig. 5ab), two made of hazel wood and four
of ash. This seems to be a clear indication that the
instrument was really played and that at some
point the broken pegs had to be replaced probably the original craftsman was not at hand21.
Another sign of wear and repair is the unequal
abrasion of the two lyre arms. The incised decoration of the right lyre arm seen from the instrument is still sharp-edged, while the decoration of
the left arm is flat and abraded. This applies to the
edges as well (Fig. 6ab). At the end of the right
arm the cover was fixed to the body by iron nails.
These are secondary attachments; originally the
parts were glued with animal glue22.
The distinctive abrasion of the left lyre arm is a
strong indication that the instrument was played
by a right handed person. It must have been the
same holding-position as shown in many medieval
manuscripts. Two fragments of leather straps
around the lower ends of the lyre arms are evidence of wrist-straps as shown in the 8th century
Cassiodorus Manuscript in Durham Cathedral
Library23. The putative straps of the Anglo-Saxon
lyres from Bergh Apton24 and Snape25 actually
receive their first Continental archaeological corroboration26.
The Trossingen lyre is not only completely
preserved, but completely decorated. The decoration was incised with a very sharp knife. The cut
lines were filled with charcoal to contrast with the
light background of the maple wood27 (Fig. 7ab).
The decoration portrays on the front side two
groups of warriors between which stands a lance
with small flags hanging from the spearhead. Both
arms and the back of the instrument bear ornaments, which comprise numerous, varied, interlaced bands in Germanic animal style II28. The
warrior scene is related to the warrior processions
on the helmets of the Scandinavian ship burials of
Vendel and Valsgrde from the 6th/7th century29.
The number of the twelve warriors is similar, as
well as their weaponry with downward-pointing
lances and round shields.
The lance and banner lance are well known
from archaeological evidence and iconographical
sources to be a symbol of leadership and power
both in mythology and in a secular context. It
may represent Wotan, Christ or any Germanic
chief. It is most likely that an oath-swearing ceremony is depicted, but whether a religious or a
profane meaning was intended cannot be determined30.

219

5 THE MAN
Although the conservation of the ensemble of
grave 58 from Trossingen is not yet completely
finished and although some metal artefacts might
have been destroyed by the acid soil, we are able to
draft a picture of the man who was buried there.
The weaponry characterises him as a warrior;
the saddle and riders lance as an horseman. The
image of the riding nobleman equipped with sword,
lance and round shield is a well known theme in the
contemporary Germanic art and was especially
popular in Alamannia31 (Fig. 8). His high social status is confirmed by his lathe-turned furniture, especially his big chair which would have provided him
with the equipment to preside at the banquet32.
Furthermore he was wearing precious clothes
imported from the Mediterranean. Grave 58 is so
far the most wealthy burial in the Trossingen cemetery so the man buried there must have been a
leading person in this/his community33.
But he also presents himself as a musician. The
position of the instrument inside the bed coffin, in
his left arm and on the side opposite the sword,
shows that he must have had a personal relationship to the lyre34. The signs of wear and repair at
the instrument indicate that it was not only a status symbol, but also really played and used.

6 BURIALS WITH LYRES


So far ten early medieval burials furnished with
lyres dating between the 5th and 8th century are
known, in which the position of the instrument is
close to the deceased35 reflecting probably an

21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30

31
32
33
34
35

Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 103, 109110.


Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 103, 110, Fig. 12.
Psalter MS.B.II.30, fol.81.verso, Durham Cathedral
Library; Lawson 1981, 241, Fig. 8; Salmen 2006, 403404.
Lawson 1978, 9295, Figs. 106108.
Filmer-Sankey/Pestell 2001, 7579, Fig. 101103; Lawson
2001, 217218, Figs. 140141.
Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 103, Figs. 9a, 13.
Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 113, Fig. 18ab.
Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 113120.
Valsgrde grave 7: Arwidsson 1977, 23.120; Bhner 1991,
721. Vendel grave 14: Stolpe 1912, Pl. 49,1.
Theune-Grokopf 2006b, 134135. The procession theme
itself was adopted from Late Antique Christian iconography: Theune-Grokopf 2005, 311313; Theune-Grokopf 2006b,135138.
Quast 2002, 275, 277, Liste d) Fig. 2. 1, 45.
Grodde 1989, 4546; Schn 2000, 235; Capelle 2002, 116.
Theune-Grokopf 2006a.
Lawson 2001, 221; Bischop 2002b, 223224.
Bischop 2002b, No. 3 Abingdon, No. 6 Bergh Apton, No.
7 Morning Thorpe, No. 8 Snape, No. 9 Oberflacht grave
84, No. 10 Schlotheim, No. 13 Oberflacht grave 37, No. 14
Kln, No. 17 Broa I Halla, No. 26 Trossingen; Lawson
2001, 221.

220

Barbara Theune-Grokopf

intimate relationship. They came from Scandinavia, Anglo-Saxon England and from the Merovingian continent.
These burials must be distinguished from three
royal burials in Anglo-Saxon England: Taplow, Sutton Hoo and Prittlewell36, where the lyre obviously
does not belong to the personal armament, but is
one of many prestige objects that are placed in
groups inside the burial chamber. Among the nonroyal burials there seem to be a lot of similarities,
although the differences in preservation conditions,
funerary practices and time must be considered.
Among these are only three burials without
weapons: the graves from Bergh Apton37 and
Morning Thorpe38, which were disturbed, and the
grave from Cologne St. Severin39, a church burial
from the end of the seventh century.
The five burials from the Continent with
weaponry: Broa I Halla40, Schlotheim41, Oberflacht42 with two graves and Trossingen, were
equipped with at least two different weapons, a
combination of sword and lance, which can be
supplemented by shield and bow. Four of them are
additionally characterised as those of equestrians;
three were provided with representative furniture;
in three graves evidence of precious clothes, textiles or fittings was found. This suggests that at
least the individuals from the Continent with lyres
had considerable wealth and high social status43
(Fig. 9).
This seems to differ from the Anglo-Saxon
observations. On the Continent the lack of royal

burials furnished with lyres is very noticeable, but


there is also a difference in the normal lyre burials
from cemeteries. In England these are modestly
furnished, if at all, with simple but functional
weaponry44 (Fig. 10). This archaeological evidence
caused Graeme Lawson to identify these latter
individuals with the Anglo-Saxon scop playing
and performing at his chiefs or kings banquet45.
The continental lyre player seems to represent
a different social status: a chief or leader of a limited community who played the lyre at the banquet
in his own hall or house amongst his retainers.
Lyre playing, the performance of heroic songs and
songs of praise in the mead hall was an important
tool for self-promotion in early medieval Germanic warrior society46. The decoration of the Trossingen lyre showing a procession of 12 warriors taking an oath at a banner-lance fits this picture
perfectly.

36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46

Bischop 2002b, No. 11 Taplow, No. 12 Sutton Hoo; Prittlewell: Hirst et al. 2004; Lawson 2001, 221.
Lawson 1978.
Lawson 1987.
Pffgen 1992, I 481f, Fig. 170; II 284; III Pl. 59. 5.
Salin 1922.
Behm-Blancke 1989.
Schiek 1992, 3740, Pl. 3034, 5556, Pl. 6061.
Behm-Blancke 1989, 207208.
Lawson 1978; Lawson 2001.
Lawson 2002, 221223.
Bischop 2002a, 237238; Bischop 2002b, 221223; Salmen
2006, 402.

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Die lteste Leier Nordeuropas aus einer germanischen Siedlung in Bremen-Habenhausen, in:
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BHNER, K. 1958
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223

Fig. 1 The distribution of wooden artefacts with dendrochronological


datings from the early Middle Ages in South-West Germany reflects the
excellent geological requirements for wood preservation in this
region (after Theune-Grokopf 2006b, Fig.1).

Fig. 2 Trossingen grave 58. Grave plan, different layers (Ch. von Elm, Tbingen) a: Layer 3/4 bed with roof, backrest
of the chair on top, different grave goods around the bed coffin; b: layer 5/6; c: layer 7, the deceased on the floorboard of the bed with the sword in his right and the lyre in his left arm.

224

Barbara Theune-Grokopf

Fig. 3 ab Trossingen grave 58. Frontside with pegs and bridge and rear side of the lyre after conservation.
Photo: Manuela Schreiner, Archologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Wrttemberg.

Fig. 4 Trossingen grave 58. The bridge with seven notches made of willow. Photo:
Manuela Schreiner, Archologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Wrttemberg.

Warrior and Musician

225

Fig. 5 ab Trossingen grave 58. The tuning pegs of different shape heads. Photographs: Konservierungslabor
Potthast/Riens; Manuela Schreiner, Archologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Wrttemberg.

a
Fig. 6 ab Trossingen grave 58. Signs of wear and repair on the upper ends of the arms of the cover
(Konservierungslabor Potthast/Riens).

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Barbara Theune-Grokopf

b
Fig. 7 ab Trossingen grave 58. Replica of the lyre (Harfenmanufaktur Rainer Thurau, Wiesbaden). The incised decoration contrasts very well with the light maple wood (Manuela Schreiner, Archologisches Landesmuseum BadenWrttemberg).

Warrior and Musician

Fig. 8 Phalera from Nendingen, 7th century, showing the picture of a


Germanic equestrian (Quast 2002, Figs. 2, 5).

Fig. 9 Oberflacht grave 37, plan. Burial with weaponry consisting of two swords and a harness
(Schiek 1992, Pl. 8).

Fig. 10 Snape grave 52, plan. Burial with weaponry consisting of a shield boss,
and the socket of a spear head (Filmer-Sankey et al. 2001, Fig. 56).

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