New Medieval Exhibition at Dutch museum to focus on the year 1000

This month, the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden) is going back in time over a thousand years with the exhibition ‘The Year 1000’. Over 400 items from the Netherlands and beyond will be on display.

The major exhibition takes visitors to the imperial residence in Nijmegen, the cathedral of Utrecht, the treasuries of Maastricht, the Rome of a thousand years ago and the wealth of Byzantium. On display are over four hundred archaeological finds, artifacts and manuscripts from the Netherlands and far beyond. A starring role is reserved for the ‘power couple’ Empress Theophanu and her husband Otto II.

Reliquary horn with fittings with animals and masks – Bovine horn and silver, l. 60,2 cm Scandinavia, 900-1000. This Viking drinking horn was fitted with silver fittings and later used as a holder for relics: the remains of saints. It contains three tiny fragments of bone from the apostles Andrew, Thomas and Judas Thaddeus. Those relics came from Rome. The silver strips with lions, masks and scrollwork give the impression that the horn was wrapped in precious textiles. This kind of pairing of lions is known from Asian textiles of this period, such as the famous “lion fabric” used to wrap relics of St Servatius. © Collection and photo: Maastricht, Basilica of Our Lady Treasury, F 2008-IV-63

In the period 900-1100, a ‘Netherlands’ emerged that is still recognizable today, with dykes around reclaimed land, a fortress after every river bend and church towers on the horizon. The exhibition tells the stories of the people who lived during this era, about their daily lives, their ideas about the world and their expectations of the turn of the millennium.

The Hoogwoud hoard – Four golden crescent-shaped earrings and two strips of gold leaf Hoogwoud, 1000-1050. Gold rings, pendants with precious stones, plaques with enamel… from the 10th and 11th centuries, a rich variety of gold jewellery and ornaments have been recovered, often with metal detectors. There is something beautiful in all regions, but the concentration in Frisia is striking. Added to this in 2021 was the find of the Hoogwoud hoard: four golden crescent-shaped earrings and two strips of gold leaf from the first half of the 11th century. The elite of the Netherlands clearly belonged to global networks with quite a lot of luxury to show off their status. Private collection, PAN-00127513, 00127519, 00127520, 00127521, 00127526, 00127535 © AWF_Fleur Schinning

Almost all important Dutch archaeological finds from the period 900-1100 can be seen in ‘The year 1000’. On display are, among other things, a Viking drinking horn from the Basilica of Our Lady in Maastricht and the famous Egmond Gospels from the KB, National Library of the Netherlands, swords, ship’s timbers, gold jewellery including the recently found treasure find from Hoogwoud, coin hoards, books full of precious stones, the pectoral cross of Saint Servatius, the oldest chess pieces in the Netherlands and a wooden ladder from a well.


Besides Leiden’s own collection, there are numerous loans from the Netherlands and abroad. These include important pieces from international collections such as the Castello Sforzesco (Milan), the National Museum of Finland (Helsinki) and the Landesmuseum Kassel. In addition, there are loans from more than forty Dutch museums, heritage institutions and private collections including the National Numismatic Collection (Amsterdam), Museum Catharijneconvent (Utrecht) and the Fries Museum (Leeuwarden).

Evangeliary, Ansfridus codex Manuscript on parchment, silver, gold and gemstones, 34 cm x 25,5 cm x 10 cm, St Gallen, 950-1000. “Adorned with sparkling gems and brilliant gold, I am a gift from Bishop Ansfried to St Martin.” This is what the 10th-century Ansfridus codex ‘says’. On the back, this text in Latin surrounds an image of Ansfried, bishop of Utrecht in the year 1000. The codex was donated by him to Utrecht’s St Martin’s Church (the Dom). The front of the binding dates from the 11th-13th centuries and bears a gold cross with filigree wire. Around it are 32 carefully chosen (ancient) precious gemstones and blue plates with the four evangelist symbols plus a queen and king, two angels with incense vessels and a deer. © Collection and photos: Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, ABM h2

The exhibition begins on October 13th and runs until March 17, 2024. Please visit the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden website for more details.

Sword with inscription + VLFBERTH+ and crutch cross – Iron and brass, l. 99,5 cm, Meuse near Lith, 950-1000. Swords from around the year 1000 are spathas (double-edged swords), often with a name on the blade and a decorated hilt. The best-known weaponsmith of the 10th century is Ulfberht, whose name appears on several types of swords. Swords are elite weapons and are carried by about 1 in 10 able-bodied men in the middle of the Middle Ages. © Collection and photo: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, inv. k 1984/8.1

Top Image: Disc fibula with man and corner pearls. Gold and enamel, 1,5 x 1,5 cm, Municipality Hollands Kroon, 900-1000. Private collection, PAN-00080197 © Photo: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden