Hozzáadhatod e lapot a kedvencekhez
Tarsolybearers’ Homepage

Hungarian    The Tarsoly    English
Hozzáadhatod e lapot a kedvencekhez

Leather tarsoly



e-mail:e-mail me!

How they tell us about the tarsoly:

Gyula László: The People of Árpád - About the tarsoly-s
Gyula László: Magyars at the settlement age – Gold- and silversmith art
Csaba Nyers: The tarsoly cover plates: most typical and ancient metalsmith masterpieces of our ancestors László Révész: Remember the beginning of you way….

Gyula László : The People of Árpád - About the tarsoly-s

  Let us pick the tarsoly from all the accessories suspended from a 10th century Magyar warrior’s weapon-belt, as the others like the sabre, the bow, bow case and the arrows will be dealt with together with the armament, later. The tarsoly hung on a strap attached to the belt. Even this strap was ornamented with mounts. The strap also served as a closing appliance to the tarsoly. Flints, pieces of tinder, striking irons, things to strike-a-light were kept in the tarsoly. Quite a few types of tarsoly findings are known. It was István Dienes who engaged in a thorough research concerning tarsolys. There are cases where a striking iron and a flint was found ‘without the tarsoly’ near the right thigh-bone of the skeleton in a 10th century grave. In such cases it seems sure that the tarsoly buried in the grave crumbled into dust by now. Surely, a piece of striking iron could be very well hung by its longer parts attached to a strap. On the other hand, we cannot imagine the same of the flint and the whetstone! Some simple tarsoly-s had a mount in the middle, showing a four-sided, four-leave flower-cup with a hole in the centre. This centre mount was positioned in the middle of the tarsoly lid. A locking mount was pushed through the hole of this centre mount. Then the hanger strap was threaded through the locking mount. This is how the tarsoly was closed. Another beautiful example of tarsoly-s is the one restored from the Budapest-farkasrét burial by István Dienes. More, separate mounts decorated the centre and the border of this tarsoly.
The mount–ornamented belt of Nagykõrös - drawing of István Dienes

The cast silver mounts are gilded and a precious stone used to decorate the centre of the mounts. Nonetheless, the greater part of our tarsoly findings have lids decorated by a one-piece metal plate covering the whole of the lid surface. These cover plates show the best the great skills of our goldsmiths. From the simplest palmette buds these craftsmen wove an admirable variety of net patterns. In some cases, these net patterns still show us the signs of the centre mount of the locking unit and that of the threaded suspender strap. Our most cited tarsoly cover plate is the one of ‘Bezdéd’. It was made of a gilded copper plate by embossment and punching technique. A Greek cross is in the centre that is enclosed by a dynamic tendril of palmette leafs. A pair of Persian-type monsters above it are obviously guarding the cross. These animals are well known from the Persian mythology. They are simgurs (in another word dogbirds), and they also appear in the Onogur art, showing an even closer Persian relation as well (Bánhalom strap end). The design on the Bezdéd cover plate is slightly embossed. Its background is covered with small punched circles. Thus the design is not outlined by the light and shadow effect caused by the apparent relief but rather by the small sized punched circles of the background design. The closest parallel of this relief can be found on the relieves of the 9th century M’satta Palace (Berlin, Pergamon Museum). The Bezdéd tarsoly cover plate is the relic of that Christian-Mohammedan culture that we have already met the traces of elsewhere.

  Tarsoly cover plate findings can be divided in two parts as to the way of their preparation: those with designs and those with embossed designs. These two ways of preparation seem to have been two separate schools those days. Good examples for the one with designs beside the one of Bezdéd are the one of Bodrogvécs, Szolyva, Bana, Eperjeske. Small punched circles cover the mids of the scrolling palmette pattern on the Bodrogvécs plate. The same type of design is applied on the Szolyva plate, but here the design is outlined by wide neutral surfaces. The latter method of design can be seen on the Eperjeske plate, while palmettes are enclosed by a design of looped tendrils on the Bana tarsoly plate, thus separating the palmettes from each other making them simple filling designs of the net pattern.

  The same net of ribbons can be seen on the Galgóc plate but together with an embossed design with a light and shadow effect. The palmette leafs are enclosed by a thick border chased with a graver which may be a stylization of a needlework border decoration. The tarsoly cover plate of Tarcal similarly has the stylized needlework border at the palmette leafs, while the design itself is strongly embossed.

  In the case of the plates of Kecskemét-Fehéregyháza and Szolnok-Strázsahalom, the strong light and shadow effect of the embossed design of palmettes, endows the thick bush of palmettes almost a dramatic effect. On the latter plate there is a small knob around the place of stone inserts, giving a splendid rhythm to the crammed surface. One can observe the difference between the ‘design-workshops’ and ‘embossing-workshops’ at the palmette designs of other plates as well. The golden mount ornamented sabre of the Geszteréd treasure is designed and decorated with punched circles, while the background of the surface decoration of the so-called Vienna sabre is hammered back, showing light effects.

  Let us now return to tarsoly cover plates. Could it be true that only someone above a certain rank was allowed to wear a tarsoly with an ornamented cover plate among the 10th century Magyars? Most probably only the heads of clan had the right to wear such an insignia of rank those days. (There is another group of tarsoly findings where the engraved lid decoration shows a strong analogue to needlework designs.)

  Another question might be put, whether this beautiful, ancient system of decoration is a possible souvenir left by the Kabars, who merged with Magyar tribes before they settled in the Carpathian Basin? On one hand this theory is disproved by the situation of the finding provenances that does not coincide with the settlements of Kabars. On the other hand, if the ancient Kabar aristocracy brought along their own goldsmiths, they would certainly not limit their professional knowledge to the application of border-decorating palmette leafs (to plates) but would certainly apply their tradition of figurative decoration as well. Certain elements of palmette designs can be found among the rich human- and animal-figurative decorations of the Nagyszentmiklós treasure. Returning to the subject of the contents of a tarsoly: pieces of striking steel, flint stones and tinder can be found only in male burials. The exclusive ‘male nature’ of strike-a-light instruments shows a tradition where making up the fire was, and stayed a man’s job for a long time. Women’s job was to keep the fire alive from one day to another by covering the embers with ashes.

back to the top of the page

Gyula László: Magyars at the settlement age – Gold- and silversmith art

Gold- and Silversmith art

  Compared to the ancient hammersmith’s workshop, a goldsmith’s one can be called a 'mobile' type. Even now, Azerbajdjanian or Balkanian goldsmiths can prepare very fine jewels with such a few instruments. Of course, complicated techniques like enamelling, granulation or soldering need more complicated tools. By all means, there must have been steady goldsmith’s workshops operating especially nearby princely, leaders’ courts as well as wandering goldsmiths who set up their tents at marketplaces and prepared their earrings, bangles and rougher casts in front of the very eyes of their amazed audience. On the other hand, a steady workshop was needed for manufacturing finer pieces for example, by the technique bark casting. A few hemisphere forms filled with goldsmith’s pitch and a few pointer tools were enough for the preparation of the beautiful cover plates and disc-shaped dress ornaments.
  Up to these days these tools are made by the goldsmith himself who uses the instruments. All of them take good care of their pointer tools. It was partly on the traces of the ancient pointer tool sets that helped researchers to divide the precious Nagyszentmiklós treasure in two parts – and originate them from different manufacturing workshops. It seems sure, that wandering goldsmiths from Venice and Byzantine, and not always the best ones happened to come to us from time to time. But certainly there are some granulated jewels showing the handiwork of craftsmen with undoubtedly outstanding skills (Hencida, Tokaji treasure).

  Our ancestors were masters of gilding. The background of the main design was often gilded, thus outlining the lighter shade of the former.

    Accurate scales were indispensable part of the craftsmen’s workshop working with precious metals. A detailed description of goldsmiths workshops can be found in the Goldsmiths’ Book written by Theophylus Presbiter at the end of the 10th century. Hungarian goldsmiths have left some ‘schoolbooks’ behind, although from much later times. The most famous one of these books is the work of Péter Ötvös from Kecskemét. These books tell us of many traditional methods of goldsmiths’ art but also of so-called ‘wizard’ methods that made possible that alloys become perfect. Tarsoly cover plates, dress ornaments, headgear finials and iron inserts came from the workshops of our goldsmiths. Beside the technique of gilding there was another way to outline designs: to cover the background with punched circles leaving the main contours of the design plain. In some cases, the main design was also quite embossed so the surface of the plate showed light-shade effects thus again outlining the design. We can call these two methods of outlining the design a ‘drawing school’ and the ‘embossing school’. Other goldsmiths positioned semi-precious stones between the designs. Another way of ornamenting a tarsoly was to decorate the tarsoly lid by putting separate metal mounts on it instead of covering its whole surface with a plate. There are tarsoly-s where only the strap retainer hole of the closing strap is surrounded with cast mounts. The subject of composition methods will be treated later, at the artwork part of this text.
   Without a doubt, the most splendid collection of goldsmiths’ masterpieces of the late Avar (Onogur) age, and that of Árpád’s Magyars is the so-called Nagyszentmiklós treasure. The author has published a separate monography about this treasure, so let us not go further here than making a few remarks on the technical part of the goldsmiths’ methods used to prepare these fine pieces of art. First of all, the Nagyszentmiklós treasure is a real “treasure” that means the pieces are not the production of one and only workshop or age, but it was collected together intentionally, thus resulting in a quantity that is enough to cover two tables.
   The embossing method used by the craftsmen is practically the same as in the case of the preparation of the tarsoly cover plates. The only difference is that the master had to work on a spherical form while embossing a design instead of a plain one. These spherical forms might have been “pulled” from one metal plate or they may have been soldered together from smaller parts, but one thing is sure: not a slightest mark of soldering can be found on their inner surface. The foot and the neck as well as the handles later were, of course, soldered with only a few exceptions. The method used for embossing a design was the following: the body of the jug was filled up with goldsmith’s tar, then the drawing was prepared. Drawing background was hammered back. This way the result looked as if the embossment raised straight from the background. Goldsmith’s tar compressed during hammering was pressured under the drawings thus slightly pushing them outwards. This way a relief appeared on the surface. Later this relief was outlined by putting punched circles around it just like in the case of the tarsoly cover plates. On other pieces of the Nagyszentmiklós treasure we find openwork tendril design, the mids possibly once filled with enamel. Other pieces are decorated with original stones or stones made of glass paste. Writings made by punched circles or engraving were only partly deciphered so far.

   Signs of analogy of the workshop methods of the Nagyszentmiklós treasure reach out to the whole of Eurasia, China, to Mesopothamia in time and to the Causasian mountain in space, to Byzantine and up to the late Avar (Onogur) world. They unite a wide spectrum of civilisation just like the diplomacy of great nomadic princely courts. This coincidence might not by all means be accidental. In ancient times, a princely court like that of kagan Baján or that of our reigning prince Árpád, strove at maintaining Eurasian perspectives in their wide range of relations, where presentation was an essential part of the ceremony of greeting each other. This might give an explanation why the Nagyszentmiklós treasure has such a ‘cosmopolitan’ cross-section.

back to the top of the page

Csaba Nyers: The ‘tarsoly’ cover plates: most typical and ancient metalsmith masterpieces of our ancestors

Tarsoly cover plates were the symbol of rank to the splendidly dressed and armed ancient Magyar reigning princes and heads of clan.
The tarsoly: was made of woven textile, felt, but most of the times of leather, serving to keep small things and strike-a-lights: a piece of snapper steel, flint-stones and dry tinder in it.
The tarsoly lid: was decorated with cast mounts, or alternatively its whole surface was covered by a plate made of silver, gilt silver or copper.
Battling on horseback made essential that the warrior’s trunk must be moving freely. Thus the sabre, bow case, arrow case (puzdra) together with the tarsoly was suspended from the weapon-belt on the left side of the warrior.
Mythological illustrations are typical of the ancient treasures of the Magyars. Life trees, God trees, knowledge trees surrounded by looped tendrils of plant stems, leaves, and buds. The unknown Magyar goldsmiths decorated these palmetted, braid-ribboned ornaments by embossing, engraving, punched circles, background gilding and precious stone inserts. Then and there, these unique and beautiful decorations had a symbolic meaning, a message. Wisdom and a thorough knowledge of nature was the background of the code language of this distinguishing, unique and closed Hungarian art, which can serve as a deserved example to the whole Eurasia.
Tarsoly cover plates are very rare among archaeological findings, we only know about 26 of such. In our running age, the values of the Magyar past might easily get forgotten if we do not do something about it. Our ancestors send us a message, great force and belief through these decoration motifs. Respecting our roots strengthens the national feeling of Hungarians living all over the Carpathian Basin. Every Hungarian can be deservedly proud of the wonderful treasures of our thousand-year-old past. The ground has preserved the memory of our forefathers, our task is to bring it back with much respect into our everydays, and hand it over to the young generation.

back to the top of the page

László Révész: Remember the beginning of you way…

  Ancient Magyar men kept their iron strike-a-light, flints and smaller implements in a leather purse or tarsoly that was suspended from their weapon belt on the right side. In some cases, the lids of these tarsoly-s were decorated with bronze or silver mounts, in other cases with a metal plate covering the whole of the lid. Until today 25 pieces of such cover plates were found of which 10 pieces are unornamented, plain silver, but the rest are outstanding, and widely known pieces of the Conquest period Hungarian Art. During the pas 100 years, drawings and photographs of these findings became the essential illustration of many researcher or educational work, school-book with the subject of this era. As far as we presently know, these objects can be found uniquely in the inheritance of the Conquest age Magyar people. Though a few of such findings came to light in Cheremisland and Scandinavia too, these were presumed by researchers as artworks of ancient Magyar artists, or property of ancient Magyar warriors serving in stranger mercenary troops.

  It was only after a few decades of uncertainty when the purpose of these cover plates was clarified by researchers. The first example (maybe the most beautiful one up till now) was found in Galgóc, North-East of Nyitra during the digging of a trench in 1868. Though the positioning of this cover plate within the burial was not observed, Flóris Rómer in his very first account of the assemblage correctly guessed its function: “a silver shield-shaped plate, similar to the cover of the Hussars’ sabretache, riveted on to leather with rivets and small hooks.” ( F. Rómer, Galgóc. Archaeologic Newsletter 1./1868-69/105). While in the other end of the country, in the low Carpathian area, in Szolyva, Tivadar Lehoczky - a famous antiquarian of the neighbouring – opened a rich Conquest period grave where a metal cover plate laid beside the skull, therefore Lehoczky interpreted the finely wrought ornamental plaque as a headgear finial. It was only in the second half of the 1890-s decade, and in knowledge of the plates of the Bodrogvécs and Tiszabezdéd burials when it finally became sure that these objects did not serve as headgear finials, but the cover plate for tarsoly-s. Moreover, in the latter provenance some leather remains were found at the back of the metal plate, thus resolving all doubts about its function.

  In the following century hardly passed a decade without archaeologists discovering a new cover plate finding. The last two ones were those found in Karos in 1986 and 1987. Hopefully the forthcoming decades will bring new findings to light as well.

  The distribution of these rare insignia of rank, within the 10th century Magyar settlement territory is quite uneven. Almost two-third of them, 15 pieces altogether were found in the 11 cemeteries of the Upper-Tisza region. In some cases more cover plates were found in one burial (Karos, Kenézlõ, Eperjeske). There are pieces like the one from Tarcal, Rakamaz, and one of the Karos findings where form, way of ornamentation and decoration seem to be so close to each other one would presume they came from the same goldsmith’s workshop. Those days, these workshops must have been operating at important centres of power, providing the members of the military escort of the leader different types of insignia of rank. Let me call your attention to another important point of view: a plain, simple cover plate was found in the Karos burial No. 52., while a sophisticated goldsmith’s masterpiece laid in the grave No. 29. Examining the other supplements of the latter person, it came clear he must have been in a lower social position than the former one, spectacularly of leading rank. This means, it was rather the existence itself than the quantity of ornamentation of the cover plates that bore an important message of rank to people those days.

  As contrast to the Szabolcs and Zemplén territories rich in findings, not more than three cover plates came to light in the Kisalföld region, four pieces in the Middle-Tisza region and three in the band between the Danube and Tisza rivers. There is little chance for this proportion to change in the forthcoming decades. On the other hand, such objects are totally missing from the following regions: Southern territories of the Dunántúl, the whole Southern and Eastern part of Hungary, Transylvania, areas of the mountains Börzsöny, Mátra and Bükk. Practically, their appearance shows the same tendency as that of the mount-ornamented weapon-belts, sabres and other insignia of rank. Another difference in their place of finding is: while at the Upper Tisza region, tarsoly cover plates were found only in ‘rich’ graves of the military escorts of a leader, in other regions of Hungary these plates were found in smaller, so-called ‘family-size’ burials (Bana, Perbete, Szolnok-Stázsahalom). Other times the plates happen to appear as a supplement of lone graves (Izsák-Balázspuszta, Kiskunfélegyháza-Radnóti Street). They also appear in cemeteries where a rich family was buried together with their domestic servants (Tiszanána-Cseh farm, Dunavecse-Fejéregyháza). All these facts suggest that in the first half of the 10th century, communities living in the Upper-Tisza region were organised in a different way than in other parts of the country. By the middle of that century and not later than in its 60es or 70es all these objects were buried and we have no trace of their later use.

  Some typical features of our tarsoly findings make it clear, that workshops worked on the basis of different traditions in the Upper-Tisza region than those in the middle territories of the country. Even the form of the tarsoly-s themselves was different, i.e. their upper edge is not of plain surface but closes in a rising arch in the latter case of origin. Their designs are more definitely embossed by a more powerful hammering back of the background. Tarsoly cover plates were – similarly to disc-shaped braid ornaments – decorated by engraving the motifs by a sharp tool on the surface of the metal plate already cut to its definitive form. Then the background of the motif was hammered back with a graver of hemisphere end, later gilded, thus giving a beautiful contrast to the motif (left in its original silver colour). Earlier, a few researchers thought, there might have been a linear connection between the age of the findings and the flat (earlier) or the embossed (latter) surface of motifs. By now, it seems clear that these two different types of techniques possibly were used by craftsmen living in the same time period. Maybe their workshop traditions differed from each other. The way of decoration of tarsoly cover plates made in the middle of the country was different as well. There, the system of motifs is mainly symmetrical with real or imitation precious stone inserts at the corners and the middle of the plate. All this can be partly considered as an analogy to the late method of leather embossment, but one can unmistakably recognise the motifs of ornamentation copied from metal mounts and closing straps of the early mount-ornamented tarsoly-s on each cover plate as well.

  Only less than a dozen of tarsoly findings are decorated with mounts instead of a one-piece plate. With two exceptions (Budapest-Farkasrét and Przernysl, South-East of Poland) all such findings came to light at the Upper-Tisza region of Hungary. The existence of such type of tarsoly became known only in the past 50 years. About a century ago, such metal mounts (of tarsoly lids) were found at Újfehértó-Micskepuszta but their function could not be realised at that time. Another tarsoly with metal mounts was found in Karos during the excavation of the 1st cemetery, in 1936. Here the leader of the excavation Mr. Tibor Horváth did make a notice of the rightly imagined reconstruction only in the excavation memoranda, but did not publish the findings. Later, these – together with other pieces of the Sátoraljaújhely collection – were taken to Borsi, then got lost or still may be thrown about in a museum somewhere in Slovakia. The excavation of Bodrogszerdahely made a change in realizing the existence of the late mount ornamented tarsoly-s. In 1941, when the Felvidék was reannexed to Hungary, Mr. Nándor Fettich, Mr. István Méri and Mr. Gyula László opened an excavation here. What they found was a tarsoly, which had been decorated with bronze mounts on its suspender and closing strap as well as its locking strap. Later, Mr. István Dienes succeeded in the reconstruction of two mount-ornamented tarsoly-s: the one of Újfehértó and the especially interesting one of Budapest-Farkasrét, this latter waiting for discovery in a museum since the turn of the century. Its pressed bronze mounts cover such a large part of the lid of the tarsoly, they almost reach each other. These mounts illustrate well the process of the mounts getting bigger and placed closer to each other all this resulting in a one-piece metal cover plate covering the hole of the lid of the tarsoly.

  Mount-ornamented tarsoly-s were found in different shapes and with different decorations in Karos too. The most interesting of the ones found there, might be the one which has mounts not only at its suspender and closing strap and the four corners of the lid but all around its border as well. Its closest analogy was not found not even in Hungary but in a place called Martan Csu, in the Caucasian mountains. Some mount-ornamented tarsoly-s were found in the graves of the members of military escort (called druzsina) of ancient Viking warriors near Kijev. Such findings appeared in ancient Viking cemeteries in Scandinavia as well. One thing is hard to decide: whether they were brought and sold there by merchants or they came to light from the graves of Magyar warriors serving in mercenary troops there.

  Owners of mount-ornamented tarsoly-s and those covered with metal lids were members of the tribal aristocracy or the military escort of the reigning prince. According to other supplements found in their graves they must have been of rather different rank. Mr. István Dienes concluded that tarsoly cover plates and mounts served as signs of honouring rank to persons serving at princely courts. Beside weapon-belts, and tarsoly-s some weapons, mainly sabres fitted with golden and silver mounts and the richly ornamented bow cases showed the rank of their holder as well. If we want to see the full picture, we shall have to take a look at these symbols too.

back to the top of the page