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Bead and Garnet Trade between the Merovingian, Mediterranean, and Indian Worlds

Abstract : As a result of the availability of new scientific methods, the archaeological evidence for long-distance trade in the Merovingian period is now better verified than in the past. This new evidence points to a continuation of important trade connections between western Europe, India, and Southeast Asia, connections that were first established in the Greco-Roman period. Long-distance trade, principally maritime but also overland, between India and the Mediterranean in the Greco-Roman epoch is well attested both by texts and archaeological evidence, albeit more of the latter for India than for the West (Suresh 2004, 2007). There are few written sources that attest to the survival of such exchanges with the West in the early Middle Ages, but one notable exception is Cosmas Indicopleustes’s Christian Topography (Wolska-Conus 1973), a sixth-century text by a Greek merchant who later became a monk. Indicopleustes, whose name literally means “traveler of the Indies,” reported making a trip by sea to the southern coasts of India and testified to the precious textiles, spices, and gems that still reached the Mediterranean (Doehaerd 1971). Indian and Persian, and later Arabic documents also attest to this activity (Banaji 2012; Christides 2013). Until recently, the evidence was similarly limited for material remains. Beyond some textile remains preserved in the treasuries of churches or found in exceptional excavations like those of the Merovingian burials in the basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris, material evidence for these exchanges was rare. This limited picture is no longer the case today thanks to recent excavations undertaken in western Europe and to pioneering laboratory work. It can now be confirmed that at the start of the Merovingian period, tiny glass “Indo-Pacific beads” and garnets from India and Sri Lanka were employed in large quantities in Gaul to produce decorative items. Both beads and garnets testify to the survival, at least until the end of the sixth century, of exchanges between the Indian subcontinent and the western Mediterranean world. This chapter focuses first on glass beads and then on garnets. It discusses the significance of recent advances in research that allows us to understand the sources of these materials, how far both kinds of artifacts traveled, and the purposes they served once they arrived in Merovingian territories. Glass beads are one of the most original and iconic artisanal productions of the Merovingian period. Despite their apparent profusion in early medieval graves, few production sites have been found up till now within Merovingian territories. This factor has led to lacunae in publications devoted to understanding the technology and mechanisms of the supply of this type of material. We are now closer to understanding some important aspects of these complex developments. Following a multidisciplinary study of glass beads (archaeological, archaeometric, and technological), several groups of beads have been shown to have distant origins, including Egypt and the Syro-Palestinian coast, the Middle East (probably Mesopotamia), and southern Asia (India and/or Sri Lanka). The first half of this chapter offers an overview of current research carried out on pulled glass beads found in Merovingian contexts. More particularly, it focuses on one category of beads—miniature beads (Ø ≤ 2.5 mm)—produced on the Indian subcontinent, which are found in quite large numbers in fifth- and sixth-century cemetery sites in Merovingian Gaul (Fig. 36.1). These tiny beads are commonly called Indo-Pacific beads in archaeological studies because of their wide distribution in the regions of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
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Contributor : Bernard Gratuze <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, September 29, 2020 - 4:42:00 PM
Last modification on : Friday, January 15, 2021 - 1:27:18 PM


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Constantin Pion, Bernard Gratuze, Patrick Périn, Calligaro Thomas. Bead and Garnet Trade between the Merovingian, Mediterranean, and Indian Worlds. Effros Bonnie et Moreira Isabel. Oxford Handbook of the Merovingian World, Oxford Handbook of the Merovingian World, Oxford University Press 2020, pp.819-859, 2020, Oxford Handbooks, 9780190234188. ⟨halshs-02952915⟩



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