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Old 17th April 2023, 10:59 AM   #1
LeonymusBosch
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Default A late 14th c. (1380-1400) cuisse from Croatia with gothic lettering

Hello, I'm a curator of the Croatian History Museum's Arms and Armour Collection and this is my first post on this forum. Hope it's not too much of a mess to understand as there's a lot to write about this and I tried to be concise.

The museum has (I believe) had an interesting item in their depot without them knowing what it was for more than a century.

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Between 1909 and 1913 there was a large archaeological excavation and dredging project in and around the ancient Roman city of Siscia (today Sisak in Croatia). The aim was to discover Roman artefacts, and many were.

However, during the river dredgings, plenty of items were found belonging to other eras, but they weren't of much interest and weren't documented well.

One of these finds was this piece of armour. It was found in the Sava river near Gušća, with another piece (supposedly a defense for the shoulder) in 1911, which is now lost.

I think I have correctly determined this cuisse to 1380-1400 as there are plenty of examples of northern Italian armours with almost identical decorations as can be seen on this copper alloy application.

i.e. this gauntlet in theBarghello museum in Florence:

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, the famous Churburg armour:
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as well as this bascinet from France:
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There's more examples, but it would be too many photos I think. Why am I posting this? Well I'm looking for a different set of eyes. While I believe the item is genuine, I want to dispelly my few suspicions as it's too good and rare of a find for Croatia.

However, the fact this item was found in a river supports the idea that it is a genuine medieval item. While it is possible fake items could have been planted for archaeologists to “discover”, there was no “pomp” made after finding them. After going through the “Siscia” files in the Archaeological museum, where one can follow the correspondence between people on the field and the museum, it is evident that the focus on the dredgings and excavations was on ancient Roman artifacts, being the only type of artifact that was properly documented and reported on.

Other items ranging from the 13th-19th c. were found. As this item was found in 1911, I have trouble believing a very well made Victorian copy of an armour found itself in a river like this.

The layering of iron, the hammering marks, the shape and measurements, as well as the location of rivets and holes support the idea that it's an authentic item.
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The condition of the item is unfortunate as it was overcleaned at some point in time during its 100 years in the museum which is why it looks so polished, and the "conservation work" is undocumented. This overcleaning probably resulted in a loss of information (perhaps a maker's mark). This was unfortunately common practice as the museum has plenty of bronze medieval maces which were overcleaned and polished in the same way.

The pattern and shape of the copper alloy application is very similar to some extant examples dated to the same decades:

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cuisse:
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The upper part of the application forms a rope or spiral-like edge for the entire length of the strip and slightly envelops the upper edges of the cuisse. this was all common practice. The suspicious part is that the middle part of the strip is decorated with two sets of gothic ”lettering”, which are most likely gothic minims, the building blocks of gothic letters. It is possible that the inscription is a combination of letters ‘I’, ‘M’, ‘N’ or ‘U’ but it is more likely that the illiterate craftsman wrongly copied an inscription or wrote (or rather drew) what he thought he saw. Minims used as decoration were a common thing to be found in manuscripts. This was popular because it only took one simple stroke to write, although such a reason doesn’t translate into chiselling on a metal surface.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minim_(palaeography)

Measurements:
length: 32-38 cm from the lowest lower point to the lowest and highest point of the upper part

width: 28 cm upper part / 9,5 cm lower part

1-2 mm thickness

Last edited by fernando; 17th April 2023 at 12:05 PM.
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Old 17th April 2023, 02:44 PM   #2
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A significant find and thank you for sharing it on this forum.
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Old 17th April 2023, 02:54 PM   #3
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Cool stuff! Thanks for posting.
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Old 17th April 2023, 03:56 PM   #4
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Oh wow! Im in love!
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Old 17th April 2023, 04:27 PM   #5
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Welcome to the forum and thanks for this interesting post. To me it is of special value, as it might solve an old riddle for me. Since I was a child I own this piece of metal with gothic letters, without knowing what it was used for. Now, when I saw your post it seems to be pretty mich similar to the applications of the harness you show. May I be tight with that?
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Last edited by AHorsa; 17th April 2023 at 07:04 PM.
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Old 17th April 2023, 04:41 PM   #6
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It would be interesting to know how these brass boarders were made. On lesser examples they appear to be die struck or stamped from quite thin material. Where the better examples lost wax castings as they seem very uniform and finely detailed. Attached from the Wallace collection. Perhaps LeonymusBosch could venture an opinion as to wether the boarders are stamped or cast ?
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Last edited by Raf; 17th April 2023 at 05:42 PM. Reason: suplementary question
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Old 17th April 2023, 04:48 PM   #7
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What an interesting and rare piece! Thank you for sharing it here. From what I can see I do not think there is any reason to doubt its authenticity. However rare, I don't think we need worry that finding it in Croatia is too good to be true. Actually, brass-trimmed armour in the Italian fashion can be seen in Hrvoje's Missal from the early 15th century.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hrvoje%27s_Missal

I know quite a few other examples of brass-trimmed armour from this period, but all of them have intelligible inscriptions or simply decorative designs, rather than this kind of pseudo-inscription. I did notice that on one piece from the Met the stippled background is rendered in a very similar way, by filling with small zig-zags.

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https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/35846

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Best,

Mark
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Old 17th April 2023, 05:24 PM   #8
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Its called wriggle work. Standard engraving technique created by rocking the engraver from side to side
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Old 18th April 2023, 11:00 AM   #9
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Does anyone know about the meaning of those letters? Are they epigrams or so?

On mine I read "IO VEM" or so. Not sure about the direction.

Kind regards
Andreas
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Last edited by AHorsa; 18th April 2023 at 12:02 PM.
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Old 18th April 2023, 12:04 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AHorsa View Post
Does anyone know about the meaning of those letters? Are they epigrams or so?

On mine I read "IO VEM" or so. Not sure about the direction.
Maybe IO VENI? Could mean something like "Look! I am coming."

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/io#Latin
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/veni#Latin
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Old 18th April 2023, 12:25 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reventlov View Post
Maybe IO VENI? Could mean something like "Look! I am coming."

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/io#Latin
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/veni#Latin
Thank you! That fits perfect. Looking at the images on a mobile / at wider distance I totally agee with your Interpretation! Are other inscriptipns documented and can be translated? I can't identify the letters ob the single strip that Leonymus posted
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Old 18th April 2023, 01:05 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AHorsa View Post
Thank you! That fits perfect. Looking at the images on a mobile / at wider distance I totally agee with your Interpretation! Are other inscriptipns documented and can be translated? I can't identify the letters ob the single strip that Leonymus posted
You're welcome.

One common inscription is the bible verse Luke IV:30, Iesus autem transiens per medium illorum ibat ("Jesus passed through their midst and went on his way"). This can be seen on many items, including armour, weapons, and jewelry, because it was believed to be a protective charm. You can see portions of this phrase on two of the pieces Leonymus shared. The inscription on his cuisse does seem to be nonsense though, and purely decorative.
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Old 18th April 2023, 01:26 PM   #13
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Great. Thank you very much!
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Old 18th April 2023, 01:45 PM   #14
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Welcome to the forum, Leonymus .
... And so good that our members helped you with your question .
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Old 18th April 2023, 02:08 PM   #15
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It looks as if the edge bead in Ahorsas fragment has been formed by wrapping it over a iron wire reinforcement. Looking at the arm harness posted above there is a bold edge moulding to the top of the arm which could have been formed in the same way .

Last edited by Raf; 18th April 2023 at 02:10 PM. Reason: clarity
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Old 18th April 2023, 02:35 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando View Post
... And so good that our members helped you with your question .
Sorry for abusing this thread a bit, but it is really an interesting topic. Ive never seen this sort of armour with inscriptions before.

To come back to the initial question on the authenticy of the river find: In my humble opinion I do not see any "red flag" on the iron part of the cuisse (I cannot judge the brass part): We have traces of hammer, we have laminated iron and we have the fact that it was found in a river, not in an historistic castle . In my eyes it is very unlikely that this is a copy.

Last edited by AHorsa; 18th April 2023 at 10:30 PM.
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Old 19th April 2023, 10:25 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AHorsa View Post
Sorry for abusing this thread a bit, but it is really an interesting topic. Ive never seen this sort of armour with inscriptions before.

To come back to the initial question on the authenticy of the river find: In my humble opinion I do not see any "red flag" on the iron part of the cuisse (I cannot judge the brass part): We have traces of hammer, we have laminated iron and we have the fact that it was found in a river, not in an historistic castle . In my eyes it is very unlikely that this is a copy.
Thank you for the opinion on the iron part !

Sorry I didn't answer before. Tough few days, I didn't get the chance to look at the thread at all.

I'm glad Reventlov helped, he's 100% right on the inscription I think.
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Old 19th April 2023, 10:26 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Raf View Post
It would be interesting to know how these brass boarders were made. On lesser examples they appear to be die struck or stamped from quite thin material. Where the better examples lost wax castings as they seem very uniform and finely detailed. Attached from the Wallace collection. Perhaps LeonymusBosch could venture an opinion as to wether the boarders are stamped or cast ?

I think you're on the right track. I have been studying dr. Goll's Iron Documents PhD thesis and he does say that all these applications on extant pieces of armour were made by lost wax technique and usually by different craftsmen, and not the armourers themselves.

Here's a little screenshot of the pdf (pp 124-125.). It's available for free online and it's an amazing resource for plate armour.
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Old 19th April 2023, 10:27 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando View Post
Welcome to the forum, Leonymus .
... And so good that our members helped you with your question .
Thank you! I'm glad they found the piece interesting. Hopefully, I'll publish a paper on it this year and put Croatia on the extant plate armour map finally.
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Old 19th April 2023, 10:40 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reventlov View Post
What an interesting and rare piece! Thank you for sharing it here. From what I can see I do not think there is any reason to doubt its authenticity. However rare, I don't think we need worry that finding it in Croatia is too good to be true. Actually, brass-trimmed armour in the Italian fashion can be seen in Hrvoje's Missal from the early 15th century.

Attachment 226149
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hrvoje%27s_Missal

I know quite a few other examples of brass-trimmed armour from this period, but all of them have intelligible inscriptions or simply decorative designs, rather than this kind of pseudo-inscription. I did notice that on one piece from the Met the stippled background is rendered in a very similar way, by filling with small zig-zags.

Attachment 226151
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/35846

Attachment 226152Attachment 226150

Best,

Mark
Yes! I didn't mean that no such armour here existed, I only meant that it's too good of an archaeological find because there's literally no actual medieval plate armour finds here. (There are some helmets in BiH).

Hrvoje's Missal is the perfect example of Italian armour usage in this area and period, and also perfectly fits because it's decorated in the same style basically.

Thank you for the picture, I was trying to remember which piece of armour I saw the pattern on and have been digging through files to find it haha!

What pains me is that the other part, supposedly the defence for the shoulder is missing. I am more akin to think it was actually a poleyn what they found, but simply didn't recognize it and determined it to be a shoulder piece.

Last edited by LeonymusBosch; 20th April 2023 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 19th April 2023, 10:41 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Raf View Post
Its called wriggle work. Standard engraving technique created by rocking the engraver from side to side

You're 100% right, thank you!
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Old 19th September 2023, 01:25 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reventlov View Post
You're welcome.

One common inscription is the bible verse Luke IV:30, Iesus autem transiens per medium illorum ibat ("Jesus passed through their midst and went on his way"). This can be seen on many items, including armour, weapons, and jewelry, because it was believed to be a protective charm. You can see portions of this phrase on two of the pieces Leonymus shared. The inscription on his cuisse does seem to be nonsense though, and purely decorative.
Can you remember where the single strip from the picture is from? Thanks!

[Edit]

Nvm, found it...

Last edited by LeonymusBosch; 20th September 2023 at 10:38 AM.
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Old 12th October 2023, 11:16 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AHorsa View Post
Does anyone know about the meaning of those letters? Are they epigrams or so?

On mine I read "IO VEM" or so. Not sure about the direction.

Kind regards
Andreas
Would you mind if I use this photo in a conference presentation? Perhaps the paper as well, but not sure about that yet.

You found it in Germany, right?
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Old 12th October 2023, 10:26 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LeonymusBosch View Post
Would you mind if I use this photo in a conference presentation? Perhaps the paper as well, but not sure about that yet.

You found it in Germany, right?
It would be an honour.
Sadly I dont know for sure where it was found - I got it from an old collector more than 25 years when I was child. It is very possible that it was found in Germany, as he had it with some German stoneware fragments as far as I remember. But he did also travel a lot, so I cant tell for sure.
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