Axe-shaped amulets among the 11th- and 12th-century finds in the Carpathian Basin. Archaeological observations on miniature objects and on the issue of early Árpád-era Rus–Hungarian relations

Füredi Ágnes – Király Ágnes – Pópity Dániel – Rosta Szabolcs – Türk Attila – Zágorhidi Czigány Bertalan

Hadak útján. A népvándorláskor fiatal kutatóinak XXIV. konferenciája. Esztergom, 2014. november 4–6. Conference of young scholars on the Migration Period. November 4–6, 2014, Esztergom

MŐT Kiadványok 3.2 (2017) 413–463

DOI 10.55722/Arpad.Kiad.2017.3.2_20


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A tanulmány a 10–13. századi Észak- és Kelet-Európa egy jellegzetes tárgytípusának, a balta alakú amuletteknek a magyarországi leleteit, illetve azok kapcsolatrendszerét mutatja be. A lelettípusnak sokáig csak egy Kárpát-medencei példányát ismertük, az utóbbi években azonban ugrásszerűen megnőtt a hazánkban előkerült darabok száma, ami a legfrissebb kelet-európai elterjedési térképek alapján várható volt. A miniatürizált tárgyak, köztük a balta alakú amulettek használatának hagyománya valószínűleg Skandináviából indult ki a korai középkorban, de széles körű kelet-európai elterjedésük a 11. században egyértelműen a Rusz aktivitásához köthető. A tárgytípust a Kárpát-medence kora Árpád-kori hagyatékában a magyar kutatás eddig a Ruszból érkező zsoldosokhoz kötötte, mint importleletet. Jelen tanulmány minden eddiginél nagyobb adatbázis és nemzetközi szakirodalom alapján foglalja össze ismereteinket erről a korábban kissé egyoldalúan értékelt tárgyról. Az új darabok részletes közlése mellett dolgozatunk további értelmezési lehetőségeket is felvet a leletek interpretációja kapcsán.

Kulcsszavak: Skandinávia, Baltikum, Lengyelország, Kelet-Európa, Kárpát-medence, balta alakú amulettek, 10–13. század, Rusz és skandináv kapcsolatok, miniatürizált tárgyak


István Fodor published, at the end of 2014, the third medieval axe-shaped amulet from Hungary, Which has long been known but is a rare type of object among the 10th- and 12th-century finds in the country. Then, in just one year, the number of specimens known in Hungary increased to ten, whose detailed presentation and evaluation is the topic of this paper.

In Hungary, the first known specimen came to light in Szabolcsveresmart in 1885. In Hungarian archaeological literature, it is primarily István Fodor who has published on this object type, which otherwise has an extensive international literature.

In our country, the axe-shaped amulets spread in the Tiszántúl (east of the Tisza river) and in the Duna–Tisza köze region (between the Danube and Tisza rivers); no copies are currently known from Transdanubia. All of them are stray finds, but most of them are well connected to early Árpád-era sites. Single pieces have been found at a settlement and at an earthwork site. These surface finds do not allow for a dating prior to the 11th century; most of their northern and eastern parallels with known find circumstances are also dated to the 11th–13th century (although in some instances they occured in 10th-century environments too). In addition to those made of bronze, iron specimens are also known. Basically they can be divided into two types (Makarov I and II), which were found in roughly equal numbers – there is no significant difference between their numbers.

Opinions are divided on the pendants’/amulets’ function. They have been interpreted as simple child’ s toys or as miniature versions of real combat weapons. They have been linked to the cult of Thor-Perun-Perkunas as protective amulets against the storm god’s wrath. According to another assumption, the axe-shaped amulet was a kind of symbol worn by members of the Rus military escort, which is, however, contradicted by the fact that very few man’s burials have yielded such objects. Some hold the opinion that the druzhina warriors’ children wore them on their belts. Yet another assumption is that these amulets were linked to the cult of St. Olaf, whose attribute is the axe, suggesting in a way Thor’s continuity in Christian Scandinavia. This conjecture is thought to be supported by the depiction of a boat on a recently discovered piece, which leaves room for the assumption that some of these objects (those belonging to the Makarov II type) may be interpreted as stylized boats. Sailors honoured St. Olaf, canonized in 1031, as their patron saint, which may explain why few axe-shaped amulets can be dated prior to the 12th century.

In the current research N. A. Makarov’s typology, which distinguishes between two main variants, has become accepted. Lugged beard axes fall into Type I, whereas wide, fan-shaped, symmetrical axes that may be interpreted as boat representations fall into Type II.

The axe amulet itself, like the rest of miniaturized objects in Rus, is of Scandinavian origin. Its popularity undoubtedly spread to Eastern Europe through Rus, though it can no longer be linked to the military only. Most of the pieces are stray finds and often come from the area of forts. Those originating from graves were mostly found in women’s and children’s burials. An interesting parallel is that in Scandinavia the majority of Thor hammers occur in similar find circumstances. Specimens are known from the Baltics, Scandinavia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.

The recent pieces from Hungary, presented in this paper, fill the gap between the occurrence densifications in Poland and Bulgaria, which can only be explained by a research deficit in the Carpathian Basin. In Hungary, axe-shaped amulets can be clearly interpreted as imported objects. However, the previous conjecture that Rus mercenaries wore them should be reconsidered, since they are primarily known from women’s graves. It is quite likely that they came to the Carpathian Basin from Rus, but the question remains, who actually wore them, and how they were used. Their accurate interpretation and placement among Árpád-era items require further research.