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The Berlin 'Chef militaire'. A luxurious grave of the early 5th century

Dr. Andreas Rau

A cooperative project of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte History) in Berlin, the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz and the ZBSA.

In 2007, the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin acquired a collection of finds of unknown provenance. The finds seemingly came from a male grave of the early 5th century AD. The deceased must have been buried with military equipment of a significantly opulent and symbolic character, together with riding gear and fine tableware. The assemblage appears to be both chronologically and culturally consistent so it is unlikely to be a spurious combination of unconnected items. However, given that certain elements that would otherwise be expected are missing, it is doubtful that the assemblage is complete. Nevertheless, the Roman glass, metal and ceramic tableware, the exclusive weapon parts and costume accessories suggest a high-ranking member of the late Roman military while certain items of clothing and equipment are clearly reminiscent of barbarian traditions. For example, the assemblage included a shield boss completely covered with gilded silver foil and a long, very broad Roman spatha with a solid-gold hilt and a silver-gilt scabbard mouth-band inscribed with incised runes.
Schwert

The almost 8 cm wide spatha with a gold hilt, the scabbard mouth-band, the fittings of the sword baldric and a facetted polished rock-crystal pendant as a so-called sword bead. On the back of the silver-gilt scabbard mouth-band is a rune inscription with an Old Germanic text (© Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Photograph: Claudia Plamp).


In a project lasting until 2016, this find complex is being analysed and will be published as a monograph. Participants in the project are Marion Bertram (Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Dieter Quast (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz) and Andreas Rau (ZBSA). Although the missing items and the unknown provenance are significant obstacles, the Berlin 'Chef militaire' (the term originated with a similarly luxurious grave excavated in the 19th century in Vermand, northern France) is an important starting point in the discussion of the self-presentation and self-conception of members of the late Roman military in the border regions of the Roman Empire facing 'barbarian' territory.

Schildbuckel

The iron shield boss is completely covered with gilded silver foil (© Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Photograph: Claudia Plamp).

 

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