You are here : Home -> English version of HP -> History of Saintonge, Aunis and Angoumois -> Archaeology -> Herpes - Courbillac (16) – a 6th century Frankish cemetery

Herpes - Courbillac (16) – a 6th century Frankish cemetery

D 21 March 2008     H 18:14     A Margaret     C 0 messages A 9758 LECTURES


All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

agrandir

In 1886, Philippe Delamain, a merchant from Jarnac, dug up a 6th century Frankish cemetery at Herpes in the commune of Courbillac, (16) Charente.
It was a remarkable discovery, but Philippe Delamain’s methodology left much to be desired in terms of scientific rigour - see below Archaeology or pillage?

Today, much of this fabulous treasure of arms, jewels, coins, pots and other objects from the daily life of the Franks has disappeared.

For more information, go to dispersal of the treasure from the Frankish cemetery of Herpes See also : An update on the whereabouts of the Herpes finds

This is a guided tour written by Philippe Delamain himself with many colour images.
It is a remarkable document as today, the collection of colour plate (lithographs) illustrations is almost as difficult to find as the cemetery treasure itself.

Source : Bulletin de la Société Archéologique et Historique de Charente, 1890-91 with supplement (plates)

A display at the British Museum of dishes and glasses described in this page.

Une vitrine du British Museum présentant les vases et verres décrits dans cette page

The dispersal of the treasure from the Frankish cemetery of Herpes


Episode 1: 1904-1905 Journal of the Société Archéologique et Historique de Charente - Mr. Mourier told the meeting that, apart from the pieces made of gold, the Delamain collection of objects from the excavations at Herpes had been sold by Me. Chevalier, auctioneer, rue Drouot on 18th March last (1905). An account of part of this collection was published in the Society’s journal.

Episode 2: The 1905 purchaser sold the acquisition on. The exact date is not known.

Today, some of this treasure is in the British Museum, London (see this site for an example)

Note: in its 1914 Journal the Museum of the Société Archéologique et Historique de Charente (Angoulême) published its catalogue (see online). This museum was largely set up with objects donated by members of the Society and communes in the department. On examination, only one object donated by Mr. Philippe Delamain can be identified: it is a cast of an ancient statuette of Diana found near Saint-Fraigne (16). Astonishingly there is nothing from the Herpes cemetery.

Archaeology or pillage?


Philippe Delamain’s archaeological methods were questioned by his colleagues from the Société Archéologique et Historique des Charentes (SAHC). For example, an obituary notice published in the SAHC Journal 1901-1902 following Delamain’s death in 1902, reads :

"... in future one must:
1. describe each grave separately with a list of the objects found in it.
2. collect together the bones from each grave for study by competent anthropologists.
3. make a sketch of the cemetery site with a number for each grave. When such research is complete and published, conclusions can be made that are based on known facts."

From this we can gather that Philippe Delmain’s excavations were carried out in such a way that much of the information that could have been learned given a minimum of scientific rigour was destroyed by the excavator’s shovel. It certainly resembles pillage more than scientific archaeology.

THE BARBARIAN BURIALS OF HERPES, BY PHILIPPE DELAMAIN

In January 1886 two ploughmen from the village of Herpes in the commune of Courbillac, canton of Rouillac (Charente) brought me some objects they had just turned up while rolling a field of alfalfa. These objects were glass beads, odd shaped axes and buckles made of silver and bronze. The buckle N° 83 on plate XIII, was one of these first finds.

It struck me that these objects were similar to objects of the same kind found at Marchelpot (Somme). I had seen drawings of them in the Revue archéologique (1886, t. VII, p. 96). I wrote to M. Lièvre who was president of the Société archéologique de la Charente, and to M. Bertrand, director of the Musée de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. They confirmed that my suppositions were correct and that the jewels, arms and implements found at Herpes came from the right era of Merovingian artwork. They encouraged me to excavate the fields where the objects had been found and to make a careful note of the conditions in which the discoveries took place.

I purchased, therefore, a plot of land neighbouring that where the first discoveries had been made, bought the licence to dig from my neighbours and began a methodical excavation of what I can now call the Herpes Cemetery. Todate I have explored just about the whole of the area thought to contain graves, and I have completely dug up about 900. I found several hundred objects of all kinds: arms, jewels, earthenware and glass vases and beads of every shape.

I would like to mention here that I have been actively and usefully seconded in this task by Lucien Marrot of Herpes, my faithful excavator, who has done this meticulous work on his own, and it is thanks to his care and intelligent work that I have been able to retrieve intact, fragile objects that handled carelessly or removed too quickly, would have surfaced broken or damaged. He has been of immense help for the whole of these excavations, and it is only fair to give him the credit.

Attached to these notes as appendix there is a plan of the site excavated taken from the land register of the communes of Courbillac and Herpes, merged during the reign of Louis-Philippe into one single commune, which gives an exact idea of the topography of this ancient cemetery.

SITE OF THE CEMETERY

A Roman road, paved and cemented, with a ditch on each side, crossed the cemetery lengthwise, and the graves were to the right and left of this road, over an area of 350 to 400 metres long and 15 to 20 metres wide. This road must have joined the major Roman road from Saintes to Limoges, which passes three kilometres south of the cemetery – and cuts across it at a right angle towards Jarnac. To the north, this road goes straight to Beauvais-sous-Matha: and it reappears at the place called Les Brousses in the exact direction of Beauvais.

TYPE OF BURIAL

The type of burial is perfectly uniform: beneath a layer of organic soil, which varies in depth between two metres and three-quarters of a metre, there is a kind of grey marl, very compact and hard; it is in this calcareous clay, at variable depths, that the graves were dug.

No coffins were used. The bodies, wrapped in a coarse cloth (and I found many fragments of it still attached to the buckles used to tie it) were put in these sort of troughs that had been dug in the marl, then covered with soil. Nearly always, at the edge of the grave a large stone was placed beside the body as if to support it. Sometimes the entire ditch is circled by stones In every case the orientation was strictly observed, with the feet to the east and the head to the west.

Nearly always, either to the right or to the left, there was an earthenware or glass jar; in two or three cases the jar was at the feet. But that was exceptional.

In several cases we found children buried immediately above their mother.. It is easy to identify the sex of the buried corpses; first, neither the men nor the children had jewellery or ornaments, whereas the women were always buried with more or less highly ornamental jewellery, beads, buckles, rings and ear-rings.

Furthermore (and I expect the specialised scholars will be able to assess this remark), Marrot told me he never made a mistake as the tibia bone of the women was a lot stronger and sharper than the men’s tibia. I have checked this many times and have to say he is right. His predictions, based on the nature of the tibia, were always correct.

Apart from two of three men who were extraordinarily tall (1m90, 1m93), the skeletons were all average in size and no different to the height of humans today. The shape of the skulls is normal. The teeth are small and fine and are remarkably good and healthy. The position of the corpse varies very little: the legs are straight, the arms placed alongside the body or the hands crossed over the pubis, the head inclined either to the left or right. The gap between the graves was sometimes no more than 40 to 50 centimetres.

THE MEN’S BURIALS

Nearly all the men had a large iron, or bronze, or silver buckle near the waistline. This buckle probably fastened a leather belt, which itself held one and nearly always two knives or daggers. The blades were found at the level of the left hip; the blades measured between 40 and 25 cm; they were enclosed in a strong wooden sheath and it was still possible to see its traces; they always have a single cutting edge and the hard wood handles are still visible.
There is often either a lance or javelin from 20 to 75 cm long placed on the right, including the socket (these lances were double edged, very pointed and made of iron,) or an axe.

ARMS

Axes - There were four axe shapes at Herpes: the first (Plate N° 1) is classic Frankish, exactly the same as the axe found at Tournay in Childeric’s tomb, and as those described by abbé Cochet in his work on this historic burial (abbé Cochet, Tombeau de Childéric Ier, p. 119 et seq); N° 2 is more solid and sharper; N° 3 and N° 4 have a crescent shaped cutting edge cut off at each end, the other side is in the shape of a hammer.

1 2
3 4

Otherwise these four types of axe are identical to the same kind of arms described in the works of abbé Cochet and of H. Baudot. These axes were found on the right of the skeletons at knee height and it is possible that the wooden sjafts, which have completely disappeared, were placed in the hand of the dead warrior. These axes and the arms shown on the slides numbered 1 to 12 are reproduced at exactly half their actual size.

Lances - The lances were found either alone or with the axe. N° 5, 6 and 9 show their shape which varied very little; the socket is more or less long, the iron more or less pointed, but the arm itself is always the same.

5
6
9

They were also placed on the right with the point at head height or by the feet, according to whether the arm had been placed with the metal up or down in the warrior’s tomb. The same position is found in the burials described by abbé Cochet p. 130 et seq).

Knives - If there are relatively few axes and lances in the barbarian burials of Herpes, there are knives everywhere; every male grave had them. As I mentioned above, the knives have one cutting edge; some very small ones must have been tools; others, which still carried traces of their leather sheaths, were real daggers (N° 8 and 11), and others were real scramasaxes.

8 11

We found arms identical to those described in the works of abbé Cochet (Sépultures pratiques et normandes, p. 147, 149 passim), and in Baudot (pl. I and II). Knife N° 12 is one of the smallest found at Herpes.

12

These knives were often found in pairs, one big and one small; hung from belt straps, they were always at the level of the left hip of the skeleton; the buckles that fastened them varied enormously in size and material.

27 21
29 24
32 26

The most common shape is represented by the buckles N° 27, 29 and 32; there are fewer of the buckle type N° 21, 24 and 26; N° 13, 14 and 15 were very rare at Herpes. Finally, the most rare were those made of iron decorated with gold and silver inlay and garnets (N° 16, 17 and 19). Unfortunately oxidisation has destroyed much of their beauty.

13 14
15 16
17 19

It would take too long to reproduce every type of buckle; suffice to say that the size varied from 1c. to between 8 and 10 cm. Many were made of silver and bronze, finely etched and often decorated with brightly coloured enamel, garnets and coloured glass. Plates VII, VIII, IX and X in the work of Baudot are illustrations of buckles resembling very closely the hundreds that were found at Herpes.

The goods found in the men’s graves also included metal buttons, and bronze and silver nails that were surprisingly varied. They were used to hold the leather straps together; at the base of the nails, found in all the warrior graves, were tenons pierced with a hole and often two tenons which strengthened and decorated the belts.

Buttons, made of etched or cut metal and decorated with garnets and glass beads, are also plentiful in the warrior graves; they probably decorated the leather of the belt and shoulder strap. In his work on Childeric’s tomb, pages 195, 230 and 280, abbé Cochet made drawings of buttons, nails and round brooches exactly like those at Herpes. H. Baudot (pl. X et XI) also gives similar examples. The buttons of Herpes are shown on plate VIII, N° 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 44, 45, 46 and 47.

34 35 36 37 38
44 45 46 47

We found in the men’s graves large and strong bronze needles, sometimes they were straight, sometimes slightly curved. These needles were very sharp and the head was pierced with a round or oblong hole; the largest were 8 to 9 cm long with a diameter of 2 mm; usually they were decorated with grooves at the head and in the middle. We do not know what they were used for, but they were certainly amongst the warriors’ tools.

Horseshoes were also found in the men’s graves at Herpes, but they were rare; I only have four. They were the usual shape and looked very like those used for modern horses.
One man’s grave contained a quite remarkable piece of jewelry; it is a small silver horsehoe, perfectly made with holes pierced in it. The piece is shown on plate N° 41.

41

We found no intact bits, only fragments of iron bit fasteners.

Once only did we find a strange iron horseshoe like the one described by abbé Cochet in Le Tombeau de Childeric, pages 152,153 and studied by M.J. Quicherat in his brochure: La Question du ferrage des chevaux en Gaule. He called them "hipposandals". The hipposandal from Herpes is exactly the same as the pictures made by the two aforementioned authors.

The last kind of object found in the men’s graves at Herpes were cut crystal balls. The two we found are shown on slides N° 107 and 108. The balls found at Herpes were either undecorated or any decoration had worn off. They were placed near the neck.

107 108

We mention them but do not know what they were used for. Similar balls are described in Tombeau de Childéric, by abbé Cochet, pages 299 to 307.

Different kinds of jars and glassware were also found in these graves. We will discuss them again later.

It should be noted that no shields, or German javelins or large swords were found.

The graves contained money, sometimes pierced for hanging, sometimes placed in the mouth and often at the waist as if they’d been placed in a leather purse of which all trace has disappeared.

WOMEN’S BURIALS

The grave goods in the women’s graves is a lot more sumptuous and varied. If jewellery is rare in the men’s graves and consists only of ornamented fighting gear, it is different for the women. It is as if they had buried with them their most beautiful finery and the things they valued or used on a daily basis.

Near the ankles we found tiny silver and bronze buckles, as if the ladies’ feet were wrapped in bandages or fine strips of leather and these little buckles were used to fix them; at the knee, we found the remains of small bronze or lead chains from which scissors were hung (Slide N° 7), bronze or silver toothpicks and earpicks, and a huge number of tweezers (N° 31). We show only one type of tweezers but the shape varied enormously and nearly every woman had them.

7 31

Finally these small chains held numerous small instruments for personal use which were hung from the right hand side of the waist and down to knee height, as if they were what our ladies today call "menagerie" or "chatelaine".

In his work on Frankish and Norman graves, pages 115 to 119, abbé Cochet described and made drawings of little objects exactly like those we found at Herpes.

In the hands, which were placed to the left or right of the body, or crossed over the stomach, we found rings, and these are illustrated on two whole plates (N° IX and X) and of which the Institute’s, M. Deloche, gave the expert description below. We can only add that many of these rings were broken; they were made of either silver or a metal so brittle and often so fragile that when we tried to clean them they fell into dust; others were just a simple ring or bronze band, sometimes, a small bronze Roman coin was soldered on to form a setting. These were the rings of poor women. The Roman coins were nearly always those of Tetricus, Postumus, Gallienus or Constantine. The rings were nearly always on the right hand, rings on the left hand was rare; sometimes, but very rarely, there were two or three rings on the same hand and, what is more, on the same finger.

Plates IX et X

Gold rings are very rare. In approximately 900 graves, I found only five gold rings; all five are shown in the first plate showing rings.

We found bracelets on the arms: - metal bracelets were rare at Herpes; I found only five, all made of silver; three of them are shown in N° 69, 70 and 71 XI; the two others are similar.

69
70 71

Much more common were bracelets made of beads of all shapes and all kinds of material: most beads were made of glass and enamel, some round, some square, some oblong, often of opaque glass paste and even black decorated with incrustations of a different colour glass paste; these beads are shown in N° 72 to 82, plate XII.

Plate XII

Sometimes the material used was red amber from the north, but these amber beads had become very fragile after their long stay in the earth, and although they are very common it is difficult to find them intact; however, I do have some completely intact necklaces and bracelets.

Exactly similar beads were found in the barbarian graves of Normandy and of Charnay in Burgundy (Baudot, pl. XVI, and abbé Cochet, pages 64, 65 et passim).

The part of the body between the belt and the neck is far and away the most decorated with jewels; it is there, in fact, that we find clasps of all shapes and sizes, which fastened and decorated the material the bodies were wrapped in. At Herpes these clasps were never found alone but were nearly always in pairs and placed one above the other on the chest; sometimes there were four on the same person, two small and two large, nearly always two, and when only one is found, it is probably because the other has been destroyed by oxidization.

These clasps, pins and brooches are without doubt the most interesting finds of our digs, because in Herpes we found clasps representative of almost every type known in Europe and even in Asia.
Indeed, we have at Herpes brooches from the Crimea and the Caucasus as described and shown in the work about barbarian art by Baron Baye (Athropologie, 1890, t. I, N° 4, p. 1 to 16); our illustrations N°: 20, 22 and 25, pl. VI.

20 22 25

Those described and illustrated by the same scholar in his work: Industrie anglo-saxonne, square-headed brooches, pages 53 to 57 and pl. III, which are remarkably like ours, N° 83, 87 and 89, pl. XIII and XIV. Those described and illustrated by the same author in his work l’Industrie longobarde, pages 40 to 45 and pl. V. Finally, those described and illustrated by J. Pilloy (Sépultures dans l’Aisne), H. Baudot (Sépultures de Bourgogne), abbé Cochet (la Normandie souterraine, le Tombeau de Childéric, etc.), shown in our Plates N° 84, 85, 86, 91, 92 and 93.

83 87
84 89
86 85
91 92
93

Baron J. de Baye, furthermore, in a note accompanying this brochure, has brought his own scientific authority to the study of this question of remarkable similarity.

Whatever scholarly opinion is on this matter, it is still astonishing to find at Herpes, hundreds and thousands of leagues from the workshops that probably produced them, even the same craftsman, brooches that are exactly the same type as those found in the Caucasus, in Italy, England, Scandinavia and the whole of northern France; and what goes for the brooches, also goes for the arms, the rings, the earrings, and beads of all type and size, the pots, and glassware of all kinds. In fact, we can say that the Herpes collection has examples of everything contained in barbarian artwork.

Next to the large brooch, with either a square head, finger-shaped or radiations, or with a full semi-circular head, we have two kinds of the small brooch so often found with the larger ones: these are the small brooches with bird-heads arranged in a round with three or four heads, full and round brooches and, finally the small brooches in the shape of a parrot, or bird, horse or salamander (N° 42, 43, 48, pl. VIII, and 94 to 104, pl. XV.

42 43 48 Planche XV

Once only did we find a fish shaped brooch (N° 90, pl. XIV), which is very rare. Baudot shows only one (pl. XIII, fig. 8), and I cannot find descriptions in any other of the books I have.

90

In Herpes, these small brooches, are nearly always in pairs, placed slightly above the larger ones, close to the neck; a lot of them were very thin and had been destroyed by oxidization.
Just like the larger ones, they are decorated with garnets, either as studs, or flat stones, sometimes studs and garnet plates on the same piece of jewelry like the squared clasp N° 39 in our plates, which is the only one of this type that we have.

39

We found none made of gold; nearly all of them were silver with just a few made of gilded bronze; often the silver had been gilded so well that the layer of gold is still visible. Often, fine black enamel was used to make very pretty decorations on the silver; however very often this enamel has almost disappeared and only a few traces are left (N° 84, 86, pl. XIII ; 91 and 93, pl. XIV).

84 86
91 93

The pin has also nearly always been eaten away by oxydisation and only rarely is it found intact.
Very often, fragments of material have been preserved by oxidization and are still attached to the inner surface of the brooch. Sometimes this material is fine, sometimes it is coarse.

Necklaces - Just above the clasp, we find the necklace. Many of the women were wearing them. We never found any made of metal; they were all made of enamelled terracotta beads, differently coloured glass paste, or red amber beads. Usually, these necklaces were made of small threaded beads, as in plate XII; sometimes a single large bead of enamelled glass or amber hung over the chest (pl. XVI, N° 109 to 118).

109 à 118

We found only one large bead made of enamelled glass paste hanging on a silver ring (pl. V, fig. 18).

18

These necklaces are the same as those found in Burgundy, in the Aisne and in Normandy (see Baudot, pl. XVI ; abbé Cochet, Tombeau de Childéric, p. 314 and 315).

Near the head we find the earrings, illustrated on plate XI. There are five different kinds at Herpes; the most common (N° 68) is an amber, glass or decorated earthenware bead on a piece of twisted silver or bronze wire. The wire is sometimes very slack and lets the bead hang quite low, others kept the bead closer to the ear.

64 à 68

N° 66 is an example of the second type. It is a faceted metal ball, silver or bronze, and forms the earring’s stud. The stud is on a stem made of the same metal and the other end is not attached to it, so the earring could be taken off and put on at will. It is also very common; we found it in all sizes, from one and a half centimetres to 4 centimetres in diameter.

The third kind is nearly the same, but the metal stud is hollow, beautifully worked and decorated with garnets and coloured glass set in the metal facets. These very elegant earrings (N° 64 and 65) are 4 to 5 centimetres in diameter.

The fourth type is the same as the previous one, but the ring is closed and sealed and the stud moves round the stem; in this case the earring was fixed and could not be taken off. The stud is also faceted and set with slices of garnet and glass.

These four kinds of earring are found in nearly all barbarian cemeteries, and we found illustrations in the works of abbé Cochet (Sépultures franques et normandes), pages 158, 173, 180, and Baudot (pl. XXVI).

The fifth kind of earring is a lot more elegant; there were only two found at Herpes; one made of silver, with a blue glass stud, but it is broken in five or six pieces. The second is made of gold and is intact. It is illustrated in our plate under N° 67. This pair of earrings looks almost modern, the gold is still yellow and in a remarkable state of preservation.

To end this methodical revue of the grave goods of a barbarian lady of Herpes, beginning with the feet and ending with the head, we would add that three or four times we found very lightweight, pure gold threads around the skull, which seem to have been woven with a material that time and damp have destroyed. They must have decorated a veil around the head.

Similar threads have been found in Normandy and in England under identical conditions – and abbé Cochet in his Sépultures franques et normandes, described them and made a drawing of them (p. 180) and gives them the same function.

We will not describe here the jars and glassware which were nearly always found in the women’s as well as the warriors’ graves, as they need a separate description because of the variety of shape and size.

FUNEREAL JARS

Nearly every grave in Herpes held a funereal jar, placed either to the left or to the right of the top of the head. The jars were either made of glass or earthenware; they varied in both size and shape. I found two graves where the jar was placed at the feet; it was therefore exceptional.

Earthenware jars were more common than glass ones, however the choice was not based on the value of objects found in the graves or on gender. I found very pretty glass jars and pots in graves that held otherwise few or low value objects, and coarse and undecorated earthenware jars in graves with high value objects. For example: the lady with the beautiful gold ring (N° 49), the silver ring (N° 58), the two fine bird-head brooches (N° 84), the two salamanders N° 102 and the buttons N° 44, the grave, that is, with the most high value goods that I discovered, had the bowl N° 127. Then the charming litte ewer N° 140 was in a grave that otherwise held a few uninteresting bits of iron.

49 102 84
58 44 127

However, I should mention that the glass and jars were never found together. So within an area of 100 square metres, only earthenware jars were found. Within another, neighbouring area of the same size, there was a series of graves with only glass jars, as if some families only used glass and others only earthenware.

There are only two bronze jars; metal jars were rarely used at Herpes.

Earthenware jars - earthenware jars are nearly always black; of the sixty or so intact jars that I have, only five or six are pale yellow; one (N° 126) is a very small red jar. The small black jars have three distinct but similar shapes (pl. XVII, N° 119, 120 and 121). There are two shapes among the large jars, with or without handles (pl. XVIII, N° 122 and 123).

126 119
120 121
122 123

All the black jars are decorated on the upper part with wheel patterns of an infinite variety, some are checks, some look like ferns or other plants; all these patterns are different, and among more than a hundred jars, whether intact or broken, I did not find two alike: each jar has a different pattern; but the decoration is always a variation of small squares, small triangle or small rings that make up the different patterns.
The same type of black pot found at Herpes is also found in Burgundy (Baudot, pl. XXIII), in Normandy (abbé Cochet, Sépultures franques, p. 349 and 350), with similar patterns, and in Belgium, as shown in the work devoted to this subject by M. Désiré Vanbastelaër: Les Vases de forme purement franque et leurs ornements à la roulette (Charleroi et Liège, 1891 ; pl. I, II, III and IV).

The yellow and grey pots from Herpes are a different shape and are nearly always undecorated (pl. XIX, N° 124, 125, 126 and 127).

124 125
126 127

The two bronze pots found at Herpes are shown in Plate XX: the first is very thick and heavy and is shown on the usual scale; the second (N° 129) is very delicate and the size as shown is only a third of its actual size.

128 129

It is possible that these pots were filled with some kind of liquid as is the case for the glass jars; however while traces of this liquid were perfectly visible in the glass jars, that in the earthenware ones left no trace whatever, probably because of their porosity: the black colouring was added. They are dyed black but when rubbed for a long time, or even better put in a glazing oven and heated to 5 or 600 degrees, the black colour disappears and the greyish or yellowish earthenware is exposed. So they were mourning jars dyed black and kept in reserve to use for funerals.

Glass jars – the jars in plates XXXI to XXVI are all shown on the normal scale: they fall into three categories: flasks, ewers and saucers.

The glasses as such fall into two categories, with or without feet; glasses with feet are a lot rarer and I only have two of the same type (N° 137); both are decorated with white enamel.

The jars without feet are simple cone-shaped, sometimes highly decorated (N° 130) or there are white threads, or they are undecorated; these are the most widespread (N° 134).

The other jar without feet is more elegant and finished with a white enamel button (N° 131), this shape is very rare.

A third sort, also without feet and shaped like a tulip, is decorated in relief with the shape of a cross (N° 132 and 133).

137 130
134 131
132 133

All the glassware is very fragile, light and as thin as our most delicate muslin glass. The colour varies from pale green to bright yellow. After so many years deep underground without, as far as we can see, anything to protect them, it is a miracle that some glasses, a dozen or so, are completely intact. As many again are so little damaged they could be repaired.

All the earthenware was coated inside with a dark red substance, as if they have been placed there filled with a red liquid which dried out little by little leaving just a residue on the surface of the glass. This substance, which is stuck to the glass, will come off in scales. So far I have not been able to analyse it well enough even to guess what the liquid was; I believe, in fact, that no one has yet identified what this coating although it has been found in the glassware of other barbarian graves in France.

The flasks are rarer than the glasses; they also have this coating inside of a red substance; the glass is also very delicate and there were four different shapes (N° 135, 136, 138, 139, 141, and 142).

135 136 138
139 141 142

I have put the charming little ewer with handle N° 140 in a category of its own. It was the only one found at Herpes and it is remarkably elegant and whatever abbé Cochet, H. Baudot and M. Pilloy and others say about similar ewers, they cannot match this one.

140

Cups without handles and saucers N° 143 and 144 are quite rare at Herpes and nearly always broken. I have only been able to keep two intact examples.

143 144

All the glassware found at Herpes is similar to that found in Normandy (abbé Cochet, Sépultures franques, p. 125, 171, 174) and in Burgundy (H. Baudot (p. XXI).

COINS

We found a large number of coins but right up until the end, and much to our surprise, they were all imperial Roman, large bronze, medium bronze, small bronze, silver and gold. In one of the last graves to be excavated we had the good fortune to find, in a man’s right hand, eleven barbarian coins, rough imitations of Roman coins, but with their own character. These silver coins have been studied by M. Maurice Prou, from the Medals department of the Bibliothèque Nationale and his report is attached as appendex to these notes. I will, therefore, leave their description to his authoritative hand.

The imperial Roman coins have different dates: the oldest is a silver Tiberian from the first century A.D., while the latest is Justinian who reigned in 565. The most widespread are: Postumus, Gallienus, Tetricus and the first three Constantines. None of them are rare; many are pierced and may have been used as amulets; others, as mentioned above, were soldered onto strips of bronze to make settings for rings.

Some objects were difficult to classify. I do not know how to categorize a leaf of cloudy jade (pl. XVI, N° 112), a pure white bead that looks, I think, like porcelaine (same plate, N° 113), nor the gilded pieces of bronze shown on plate VII, N° 30 and 33, and finally, the strange piece of bronze that had been gilded, N° 88, plate XIV. It is folded to form a curve and must have been fixed to a round stem with nails, and represents a woman with a halo or aureole. Is it a Virgin Mary? Is it a Byzantine empress? I leave that for competent archaeologists to decide.

112 113 30 33
88 100 106

The fine pin and the three little clover-shaped jewels on plate XI, N° 100 and 106 are also difficult to classify. Is the pin a hairpin? It was the only one found at Herpes and yet I do not see what other use it could have had. It is made of silver and ten pieces of garnet make the shape of a bird: a leaf of mother-of pearl and two leaves of glass are inserted into the metal.

To end, I would mention that several times I found objects and jewels in the shape of a cross, or with a cross as decoration. We may conclude that these graves contained a Christianised people living at Herpes; on the other hand, the fact that coins were often found in the mouth shows that paganism was still practised. I leave further conclusions to better authorities on the subject. I will go no further with my personal opinion and will not insist on the correctness of my hesitant conclusions.

PRESUMED DATE OF THE GRAVES

Two opinions have been suggested for the dating of these graves. They are undoubtedly Merovingian, or, more precisely, barbarian. But the Franks came in large numbers to the Aquitaine and came in two waves: the first with Clovis were to fight the Visigoths in 507, and the second came with Charles Martel in pursuit of the vanquished Saracens in 732. It is a question of which of these two groups, both known as Franks, belongs to the Herpes cemetery. I have no hesitation in thinking the first date is the correct one for the following reasons:

1. If the date were 732 we would have found Frankish coins. After two hundred years of Merovingian rule the kings would have struck coins in their name. However, if we accept a date from Clovis’ reign, the presence of coins only from Roman or pseudo-Roman times and rough imitations of the imperial coins of Constantinople would be perfectly normal as such coins would still be the only ones circulating in Gaul.

2. M. Bernard has written to me that, in his opinion, the jewellery is from the high point of Merovingian artwork. Now, in 507, we should expect, in fact, to find jewellery of real Merovingian character, whereas in 732 Merovingian artwork had lost something of its Germanic, or barbarian, character. Recent discoveries seem to prove that this artwork, known as Merovingian, was common amongst all the peoples who invaded the west when the Roman Empire collapsed.

3. I have asked M. Bertrand and M. Salomon Reinach about the singular name of Herpes as it is unusual in our region. M. Reinach replied: "I tend to think of Herpes as a Germanic name. In Germany there are towns called Herpa, Herpley, Herpel, Herper, Herpesdorf, Herpf. This would mean that the Frankish population of Herpes was quite large."

Now it is easy to see how the Franks who came with Clovis, with memories of their homes still fresh, would name the places in our country that they had settled after the towns their families had come from, or that maybe some of them had even once lived in. On the other hand it would be unlikely that companions of Charles Martel, who had lived in the north of France and the Ile-de-France for two hundred and forty years, would have thought of naming their new homes with the names of towns that had been forgotten for generations.

4. The coins found in the mouth show that pagan burial was still sometimes practised at this time, but the jewellery in the form of the cross shows there were also many Christians. This is far more probable in 507 than in 732 when it seems certain that everyone was Christianized in this part of the country.

In conclusion, therefore, I would tentatively propose that the evidence indicates the Herpes cemetery is 6th century and from the time of the first Frankish invasion of the Aquitaine under Clovis.
Notes
[1] The jars are shown on the plates at half their actual size.

Comment on this article

pre-moderation

This forum is moderated before publication: your contribution will only appear after being validated by an administrator.

Who are you?
  • [Log in]
Your post
Add a document

Follow the comments: RSS 2.0 | Atom

Les mots-clés de l'article

pour en savoir plus sur :

Chercher dans le site

Most read --- Les 50 +

1.  Calendrier révolutionnaire ou républicain - Conversion en date grégorienne

2.  Carte satellite des voies romaines, des chemins anciens de Saintonge, Aunis et Angoumois

3.  Conversion des monnaies d’avant la Révolution en valeur actuelle

4.  FAQ & R - Le Forum Aux Questions ... & aux Réponses

5.  Carte satellite Googlemap avec moteur de géolocalisation : rechercher une ville, une commune, un village


5 random articles

1.  1766 - Angoumois - Ruffec (16) - Nouvelles foires et marché

2.  1790 - Les Charentais viennent au secours de la Patrie en danger

3.  1559 - 1763 Synodes protestants : thèmes et représentants de Saintonge, Aunis et Angoumois

4.  Glossaire des mots oubliés

5.  1585 - 1586 - Marans (17) : Le siège de la ville par l’armée catholique de Gontault de Biron


Most popular --- Les 50 +

1.  Conversion des monnaies d’avant la Révolution en valeur actuelle

2.  1743 - Le commerce des étoffes à la Foire de Bordeaux

3.  Carte satellite des voies romaines, des chemins anciens de Saintonge, Aunis et Angoumois

4.  1844 - 1 - Le Comte de Luc crée la colonie agricole de La Vallade. L’administration enquête - Archives

5.  Carte satellite Googlemap avec moteur de géolocalisation : rechercher une ville, une commune, un village


Brèves --- All the latest news

1.  Au château de la Roche Courbon, fête de la préhistoire les 23 et 24 avril 2016

2.  Antiquité-Avenir. Réseau des Associations liées à l’Antiquité - Communiqué de presse

3.  Temples de la Saintonge Maritime : Une histoire mouvementée

4.  2.644.259 visiteurs sur Histoire Passion - Statistiques au 31/12/2013

5.  Archéologie et histoire du fleuve Charente à Taillebourg - Port d’Envaux