A bracteate (from the Latin bractea, a thin piece of metal) is a flat, thin, single-sided gold medal worn as jewelry that was produced in Northern Europe predominantly during the Migration Period of the Germanic Iron Age (including the Vendel era in Sweden). The term is also used for thin discs, especially in gold, to be sewn onto clothing in the ancient world, as found for example in the ancient Persian Oxus treasure, and also later silver coins produced in central Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

Bracteate from Funen, Denmark (DR BR42)
Bracteate DR BR42 bearing the inscription Alu.

Gold bracteates from the Migration Period

Vadstena-brakteaten, Nordisk familjebok
The Vadstena bracteate, a typical C-bracteate.

Gold bracteates commonly denote a certain type of jewelry, made mainly in the 5th to 7th century AD, represented by numerous gold specimens. Bead-rimmed and fitted with a loop, most were intended to be worn suspended by a string around the neck, supposedly as an amulet. The gold for the bracteates came from coins paid as peace money by the Roman Empire to their Northern Germanic neighbors.[1]


B-bracteate of the B7 or "Fürstenberg" type, found in Welschingen (IK 389), interpreted as depicting Frija-Frigg.

Many of the bracteates feature ruler portraits of Germanic kings with characteristic hair that is plaited back and depictions of figures from Germanic mythology influenced to varying extents by Roman coinage while others feature entirely new motifs. The motifs are commonly those of Germanic mythology and some are believed to be Germanic pagan icons giving protection or for divination.[1]

Often depicted is a figure with a horse, birds and sometimes a spear – that some scholars interpret as a representation of the Germanic god Wodan – and aspects of the figure that would later appear in 13th century depictions as Odin such as the Poetic Edda. For this reason the bracteates are a target of iconographic studies by scholars interested in Germanic religion. Several bracteates also feature runic alphabet inscriptions (a total of 133 inscriptions on bracteates are known, amounting to more than a third of the entire Elder Futhark corpus). Numerous Bracteates feature swastikas as a common motif.[1]


The typology for bracteates divides them into several letter-named categories, a system introduced in an 1855 treatise by the Danish numismatist Christian Jürgensen Thomsen named Om Guldbracteaterne og Bracteaternes tidligste Brug som Mynt and finally defined formally by the Swedish numismatist Oscar Montelius in his 1869 treatise Från jernåldern:

  • A-bracteates (~92 specimens): showing the face of a human, modelled after antique imperial coins
  • B-bracteates (~91 specimens): one to three human figures in standing, sitting or kneeling positions, often accompanied by animals
  • C-bracteates (best represented, by ~426 specimens): showing a male's head above a quadruped, often interpreted as the Germanic god Woden.[1]
  • D-bracteates (~359 specimens): showing one or more highly stylized animals
  • E-bracteates (~280 specimens): showing an animal triskele under a circular feature
  • F-bracteates (~17 specimens): as a subgroup of the D-bracteates, showing an imaginary animal
  • M-'bracteates' (~17 specimens): two-sided imitations of Roman imperial medallions


More than 1,000 Migration Period bracteates of type A-, B-, C-, D-, and F are known in total (Heizmann & Axboe 2011). Of these, 135 (ca. 11%) bear Elder Futhark inscriptions which are often very short; the most notable inscriptions are found on the Seeland-II-C (offering traveling protection to the one who wears it), Vadstena (giving a listing of the Elder Futhark combined with a potential magical inscription) and Tjurkö (featuring an inscription in scaldic verse) bracteates.

To these can be added the ca. 270 E-bracteates (Gaimster 1998), which belong to the Vendel Period and thus are slightly later than the other types. They were produced only on Gotland, and while the earlier bracteates (apart from a few English pieces) all were made from gold, many E-bracteates were made from silver or bronze.

The German historian Karl Hauck, Danish archaeologist Morten Axboe and German runologist Klaus Düwel have worked since the 1960s to create a complete corpus of the early Germanic bracteates from the migration period, complete with large scale photographs and drawings. This has been published in three volumes in German named Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit. Ikonographischer Katalog. A catalogue supplement is included in Heizmann & Axboe 2011.

Early medieval bracteates

HMF Brakteat 12Jhd
Medieval silver bracteates (hollow pennies), with depictions of Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, 12th century, Frankfurt am Main.
Brakteat Dohna aus Hermann Grote, Tafel II., Bild 11
Medieval silver bracteate minted by the Burgraves of Dohna; the earliest minted from ca. 1200.
1371 Hohlpfennig
Medieval silver bracteate, hollow one-penny (Hohlpfennig), 15th century, Hamburg.

Silver bracteates (in German Brakteat, also called "hollow pennies": Hohlpfennige) are different from the migration period bracteates. They were the predominant regional coinage type minted in German-speaking areas (with the exception of Rhineland, Westphalia and the Middle Rhine region) beginning at around 1130 in Saxony and Thuringia and lasted well into the 14th century. From a currency point of view, bracteates were a typical "regional penny" currency of the time.

Medieval silver bracteates are one-sided, embossed pennies from thin silver sheet, with a diameter of 22 to 45 mm. The coin image appears in a high relief, while the back remains hollow. The large area left much room for artistic representations. Usual were three denominations, a two-penny (Blaffert) with elaborate image, a one-penny (Hohlpfennig) with coarse image and hollow coins worth half a penny (Scherf).

The bracteates were usually called back regularly, about once or twice a year, and must be exchanged for new coins (Renovatio Monetae). For example, receiving three new coins for four old coins. The withheld 4th coin was called strike money and was often the only tax revenue of the coin mint-master. This system worked like a demurrage: People wouldn't hoard their coins, because they lost their value. So, this money was used more as a medium of exchange than for storing value. This increased the velocity of money and stimulated the economy.

This disruption disturbed the business interests of all those who were involved in the then money economy, namely the merchants who dominated in the German city leagues. The city leagues then introduced from 1413 a so-called Ewiger Pfennig (eternal penny).

The last bracteates were "traveller bracteates", embossed medallions worn as a pendant, that served as a type of presence mark for pilgrims and were in use until the 17th century.

In some cantons of Switzerland, bracteate-like rappen, heller, and angster were produced during the 18th century.


  1. ^ a b c d Poul Kjærum, Rikke Agnete Olsen. Oldtidens Ansigt: Faces of the Past (1990), ISBN 978-87-7468-274-5

Further reading

  • Axboe, Morten; Düwel, K.; Hauck, K. & von Padberg, L. (1985–89). Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit. Ikonographischer Katalog (in German). Münstersche Mittelalterschriften 24, München, 7 vols.
  • Axboe, Morten (1982). "The Scandinavian gold bracteates". Acta Archaeologica (52).
  • Axboe, Morten (2004). Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit: Herstellungsprobleme und Chronologie (in German). Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-018145-6.
  • Axboe, Morten (2007). Brakteatstudier. Nordiske Fortidsminder Serie B (in Danish). Copenhagen: Det Kgl. Nordiske Oldskriftselskab. pp. 9–11, 93–123.
  • Gaimster, Märit (1998). Vendel Period Bracteates on Gotland : on the Significance of Germanic Art. Almqvist & Wiksell International. ISBN 91-22-01790-9.
  • Hauck, K. (1970). Goldbrakteaten aus Sievern. Spätantike Amulett-Bilder der "Dania Saxonica" und die Sachsen-"Origo" bei Widukind von Corvey. Münstersche Mittelalter-Schriften (in German). München.
  • Heizmann, Wilhelm & Axboe, Morten (2011). Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit: Auswertung und Neufunde (in German). Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-022411-5.
  • Nowak, S. (2003). Schrift auf den Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit (PDF) (in German). Diss. Göttingen.
  • Starkey, K. (1999). "Imagining an early Odin. Gold bracteates as visual evidence?, Scandinavian studies". The Journal of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study. 4 (71): 373–392.
  • Simek, Rudolf (2003). Religion und Mythologie der Germanen (in German). Darmstadt.
  • Pesch, Alexandra: Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit – Thema und Variation (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007).

External links

Alu (runic)

The sequence alu (ᚨᛚᚢ) is found in numerous Elder Futhark runic inscriptions of Germanic Iron Age Scandinavia (and more rarely in early Anglo-Saxon England) between the 3rd and the 8th century. The word usually appears either alone (such as on the Elgesem runestone) or as part of an apparent formula (such as on the Lindholm "amulet" (DR 261) from Scania, Sweden). The symbols represent the runes Ansuz, Laguz, and Uruz. The origin and meaning of the word are matters of dispute, though a general agreement exists among scholars that the word represents an instance of historical runic magic or is a metaphor (or metonym) for it. It is the most common of the early runic charm words.The word disappears from runic inscriptions shortly after Migration Period, even before the Christianization of Scandinavia.

It may have lived on beyond this period with an increasing association with ale, appearing in stanzas 7 and 19 of the Old Norse poem Sigrdrífumál, compiled in the 13th century Poetic Edda, where knowledge of invocative "ale runes" (Old Norse ölrúnar) is imparted by the Valkyrie Sigrdrífa.

Theories have been suggested that the unique term ealuscerwen (possibly "pouring away of alu"), used to describe grief or terror in the epic poem Beowulf, recorded around the 9th to 11th century, may be directly related.


In botany, a bract is a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis or cone scale. Bracts are often (but not always) different from foliage leaves. They may be smaller, larger, or of a different color, shape, or texture. Typically, they also look different from the parts of the flower, such as the petals or sepals. The state of having bracts is referred to as bracteate or bracteolate, and conversely the state of lacking them is referred to as ebracteate and ebracteolate, without bracts.

Flemingia strobilifera

Flemingia strobilifera, commonly known as the luck plant or wild hops, is a perennial flowering plant in the legume family, Fabaceae, and subfamily Faboideae. It is native to South, East and Southeast Asia.


*Frijjō ("Frigg-Frija") is the reconstructed name or epithet of a hypothetical Common Germanic love goddess, the most prominent female member of the *Ansiwiz (gods), and often identified as the spouse of the chief god, *Wōdanaz (Woden-Odin).

Grumpan bracteate

The Grumpan bracteate, designated as runic inscription Vg 207 by Rundata, is a gold type C bracteate found in Västergötland, Sweden in 1911. It is dated to the 6th century.


In Norse mythology, Gungnir (Old Norse "swaying one") is the spear of the god Odin.


An inflorescence is a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch or a complicated arrangement of branches. Morphologically, it is the modified part of the shoot of seed plants where flowers are formed. The modifications can involve the length and the nature of the internodes and the phyllotaxis, as well as variations in the proportions, compressions, swellings, adnations, connations and reduction of main and secondary axes.

Inflorescence can also be defined as the reproductive portion of a plant that bears a cluster of flowers in a specific pattern.

The stem holding the whole inflorescence is called a peduncle and the major axis (incorrectly referred to as the main stem) holding the flowers or more branches within the inflorescence is called the rachis. The stalk of each single flower is called a pedicel. A flower that is not part of an inflorescence is called a solitary flower and its stalk is also referred to as a peduncle. Any flower in an inflorescence may be referred to as a floret, especially when the individual flowers are particularly small and borne in a tight cluster, such as in a pseudanthium.

The fruiting stage of an inflorescence is known as an infructescence.

Inflorescences may be simple (single) or complex (panicle). The rachis may be one of several types, including single, composite, umbel, spike or raceme.

Mucuna bracteata

Mucuna bracteata is a leguminous plant. It is a nitrogen-regulating plant that is used in agroecosystems operating around certain types of agricultural plant systems including: rubber trees, oil palm, citrus and coconut. M. bracteate is a cover crop which helps to cover and shield the soil from weeds or plants, as well as providing rapid growth for existing agricultural crops, preventing soil erosion, and providing nitrogen fixation. The Mucuna bracteata crop grows about 10–15 cm/day in conditions similar to those that rubber and palm oil plants thrive in.Mucuna bracteata grows in a warm and humid ecosystem, at a temperature of about 20-35 degrees Celsius, and consistent annual rainfall. Originating in the North Eastern areas of India, M. bracteata has been introduced into Hevea rubber plantations in India and oil palm plantations in Malaysia. This plant has the potential to increase soil fertility and health through the processes of natural soil fertilization and aeration, furthermore, providing a sustainable water retention level for the soil beyond the current conditions of the rubber and palm oil plantation fields.


Petrosaviaceae is a family of flowering plants belonging to a monotypic order, Petrosaviales. Petrosaviales are monocots, and are grouped within the lilioid monocots. Petrosaviales are a very small order (one family, two genera and four species were accepted in 2016) of photosynthetic (Japonolirion) and rare leafless achlorophyllous, mycoheterotrophic plants (Petrosavia) found in dark montane rainforests in Japan, China, Southeast Asia and Borneo. They are characterised by having bracteate racemes, pedicellate flowers, six persistent tepals, septal nectaries, three almost distinct carpels, simultaneous microsporogenesis, monosulcate pollen, and follicular fruit.

Pliezhausen brooch

The Pliezhausen brooch (also known as the Pliezhausen disc, Pliezhausen bracteate or Pliezhausen disc brooch) (German: Reiterscheibe von Pliezhausen) is a gold disc decorated with figures that was discovered in 1928 during excavations in Pliezhausen, in the county of Reutlingen in Germany, in the grave of a wealthy Alemannic woman dating to the early 7th century and which was the front of a disc fibula. It is one of the few artifacts of the Early Middle Ages which portrays the figures of people.


Ponthieva (commonly called shadow witch) is a genus form the orchid family (Orchidaceae). They are named after Henry de Ponthieu, an English merchant of Huguenot ancestry who sent West Indian plant collections to Sir Joseph Banks in 1778.

Ponthieva is widely distributed in the southeastern United States, the West Indies, and Latin America from Mexico to Argentina.They are mainly terrestrial plants with sympodial growth, but some are epiphytes. Their fibrous root show long and soft hairs. Some of the branches are thickened. The simple stem grows from rhizomes and carries thin, basal leaves with a slight to a somewhat longer stalk. The few to many, erect flowers grow on bracteate peduncles in a terminal raceme. Their dorsal sepal is slightly joined to the petals at the apex. The petals are free or sometimes fused to lower flanks of the column. The lateral sepals are distinct or joined.The clawed lip is fused to the base of the short column. This is semiterete, i.e. in the form of a cylinder, rounded on one side and flat on the other. It is slightly winged towards the pointed apex.There are four, yellow, club-shaped pollinia that are joined in pairs.

Salix sericea

Salix sericea, also known as silky willow, is a shrub in the Salicaceae family that grows in swamps and along rivers in eastern United States and Canada. It is 2 to 4 m (6.6 to 13.1 ft) tall and has long, thin, purplish twigs.

The leaves are 6–10 cm long, 7–8 mm wide, lanceolate, acuminate, serrulate, dark green and lightly hairy on top, and light green and densely covered with white silky hairs underneath. Mature leaves are glabrous. The petioles are 1 cm long. Catkins are sessile and usually bracteate. S. sericea blooms in May and fruits in June.

Salvia oxyphora

Salvia oxyphora is a herbaceous perennial that is endemic to the foothills and lower eastern slopes of the Andes in Bolivia. It is found growing in disturbed rocky slopes above streams in moist subtropical forest at 300 to 2,200 m (980 to 7,220 ft) elevation. It is widespread from the Peruvian border, in the Andean cordillera, to the Santa Cruz area. The plant apparently needs disturbed ground to become established, as it is not found growing in undisturbed areas. In spite of its wide distribution, distinct populations tend to be very small, typically only one to ten plants. Observed plants, both herbarium specimens and wild plants, apparently do not have seeds, possibly due to loss of its native pollinator. For that reason, the wild populations of the plant are vulnerable, though many nurseries carry the plant as of 2012.S. oxyphora grows to 1 to 1.5 metres (3.3 to 4.9 ft) high, with lanceolate to ovate leaves that are 7 to 22 cm (2.8 to 8.7 in) long and 3 to 7 cm (1.2 to 2.8 in) wide. The inflorescence consists of terminal bracteate racemes that are approximately 7 cm (2.8 in) long when young, extending to a 20 cm (7.9 in) long spike. The corolla is red, 3 to 4 cm (1.2 to 1.6 in) long, with fine hairs that can be sparse to dense. The flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds, similar to most red-flowered Salvia species, thought it differs from other Salvia in that the anthers are within the upper lip of the corolla.S. oxyphora was first collected by German botanist Otto Kuntze in 1892 in the Corani area near Cochabamba, Bolivia, and described by John Isaac Briquet in 1896. A surviving S. oxyphora specimen from Kuntze is held at the New York Starr Virtual Herbarium.


Seeland-II-C (Sjælland bracteate 2) is a Scandinavian bracteate from Zealand, Denmark, that has been dated to the Migration period (around 500 AD). The bracteate bears an Elder Futhark inscription which reads as:

hariuha haitika : farauisa : gibu auja : tttThe final ttt is a triple-stacked Tiwaz rune. This use of the rune is often interpreted as three invocations of the Norse pagan god Tyr.The central image shows a male's head above a quadruped. This is the defining characteristic of C-bracteates (of which some 400 specimens survive), and is often interpreted as a depiction of the god Odin healing his horse.

David W. Krause translates the inscription as: "Hariuha I am called: the dangerous knowledgeable one: I give chance." farauisa is interpreted as fara-uisa, either "danger-wise" or "travel-wise". Erik Moltke translates this word as "one who is wise about dangers". The giving of "chance" or "luck" in the inscription is evidence of the use of bracteates as amulets.

Tjurkö bracteates

The Tjurkö Bracteates, listed by Rundata as DR BR75 and DR BR76, are two bracteates (medals or amulets) found on Tjurkö, Eastern Hundred, Blekinge, Sweden, bearing Elder Futhark runic inscriptions in Proto-Norse.

Two-barred cross

A two-barred cross is like a Latin cross with an extra bar added. The lengths and placement of the bars (or "arms") vary, and most of the variations are interchangeably called either of cross of Lorraine, the patriarchal cross, the Orthodox cross or the archiepiscopal cross.

Undley bracteate

The Undley bracteate is a 5th-century bracteate found in Undley Common, near Lakenheath, Suffolk. It bears the earliest known inscription that can be argued to be in Anglo-Frisian Futhorc (as opposed to Common Germanic Elder Futhark).

The image on the bracteate is an adaptation of an Urbs Roma coin type issued by Constantine the Great, conflating the helmeted head of the emperor and the image of Romulus and Remus suckled by the she-wolf on one face. With a diameter of 2.3 cm, it weighs 2.24 grams. It may have originated in northern Germany or southern Scandinavia and been brought to England with an early Anglo-Saxon settler.

The inscription reads right to left around the circumference of the obverse side, terminating at the image of the wolf:

ᚷ‍ᚫᚷ‍ᚩᚷ‍ᚫ ᛗᚫᚷᚫ ᛗᛖᛞᚢ

g͡æg͡og͡æ mægæ meduThe o is the earliest known instance of the os rune ᚩ contrasting with the æsc rune ᚫ. The three syllables of the initial word gægogæ are written as bind runes, with side-twigs attached to the X shape of the gyfu rune to represent the vowels æ and o.

The words mægæ medu are interpreted as meaning "meed for the kinsmen", i.e. "reward for relatives", referring to the bracteate itself. The word gægogæ appears to be some magical invocation or battle cry, comparable to the g͡ag͡ag͡a on the Kragehul I lance-shaft.

Vadstena bracteate

The Vadstena bracteate (Rundata Ög 178) is a gold C-bracteate found in the earth at Vadstena, Sweden, in 1774. Along with the bracteate was a gold ring and a piece of gold sheet: all were nearly melted down by a goldsmith who was stopped by a local clergyman. The bracteate was stolen in 1938 from the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities and has not yet been found.

The bracteate is believed to have been made about AD 500. In the middle of the bracteate is a four-legged animal with a man's head above it, and in front of this a bird separated from the other images by a line. This image is commonly associated with the Norse god Odin in bracteate iconography. The bracteate is most famous for containing a full listing of the Elder Futhark runic alphabet. The runes in the futhark are divided by dots into three groups of eight runes which are commonly called an ætt. The entire inscription reads:

tuwatuwa; fuþarkgw; hnijïpzs; tbemlŋo[d]The last rune (d) is hidden below the necklace holder piece that has been molded on top of the bracteate, but archaeologists know what it is because a duplicate bracteate was found in Motala (image) which read:

(t)uwatuwa; fuþarkgw; hnijïpzs; tbemlŋod.The first part of the inscription is not yet understood but is assumed to be associated with magic, however this is a common stock-explanation for runic text that has not yet been interpreted.The Motala bracteate was struck with the same die and was found at a nearby town in the same province, Östergötland, in 1906. When it reached the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities, however, it was erroneously catalogued as deriving from Mariedamm in the adjoining province Närke (Nä 10). This misattribution lives on sporadically in the literature. Another persistent misconception regarding the Vadstena bracteate (probably also inspired by the 1906 find) is that two identical bracteates were found in that town, bringing the total number of extant specimens to three.


*Walhaz is a reconstructed Proto-Germanic word meaning "foreigner", "stranger", "Roman", "Romance-speaker", or "Celtic-speaker". The term was used by the ancient Germanic peoples to describe inhabitants of the former Western Roman Empire, who were largely romanised and spoke Latin or Celtic languages (cf. Valland in Old Norse). The adjectival form is attested in Old Norse valskr, meaning "French"; Old High German walhisk, meaning "Romance"; New High German welsch, used in Switzerland and South Tyrol for Romance speakers; Dutch Waals "Walloon"; Old English welisċ, wælisċ, wilisċ, meaning "Romano-British". The form of these words imply that they are descended from a Proto-Germanic form *walhiska-.

It is attested in the Roman Iron Age from an inscription on one of the Tjurkö bracteates, where walhakurne "Roman/Gallic grain" is apparently a kenning for "gold" (referring to the bracteate itself).

History of the Germanic peoples
Pagan society
(until about
Early Middle Ages)

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