The Amber Trail in early medieval Eastern Europe
Paradigms and Methods in Early Medieval Studies, pp. 61-79. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, (2007)
Prestige goods of Scandinavian origin have often been excavated along the northern frontier of the early Byzantine Empire. For instance, several dress accessories (brooches and buckles) and bracteates found in sixth-century burial assemblages in Hungary display ornamental patterns that are most typically for the so-called Animal Style I, a tradition characteristic of the ornamental art of early medieval Scandinavia. Conversely, eagle-headed buckles produced in the region of present-day Hungary have been found on sites in Mazuria (northeastern Poland) that have been dated to the 500s. Artifacts from the Middle Danube region have also been found in rich warrior burials in the baltic lands, such as Tarapilis in Lithuania and Warnikam in the Kalingrad oblast of Russia. The focus here is on a different type of prestige goods: amber beads. Against commercial conceptions of an Amber Trail, this essay argues that baltic amber reached eastern Europe as a status marker acquired through inter-elite gift exchange.