Super-duper-humerals

theodora

Because seriously, look at that fabulousness!

One of the more puzzling things I’ve been researching have been superhumerals.  In the SCA, we have a tendency to make them out of fabric (because affordability), but I’ve now run into a second data point of what could be a superhumeral.

For those who don’t know what a superhumeral is, it is a collar worn over the shoulders, which has morphed into an ecclesiastic garment (now called the amice, which bears no resemblance to the Byzantine superhumeral, as it is a rectangular piece of cloth with religious symbols and two cords, one affixed to each front corner), with the only major commonality is in the name and location.  (Superhumeral meaning “over the shoulders” in Latin.)

Many SCAdians have looked at photos (or if you’re lucky, the actual mosaics at the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy) of Theodora and her ladies (see left) and have wondered how to make the jewelled collar that she and her ladies (there are two others besides our favourite dancing empress who are wearing them).  At a contemporary set of mosaics (The Procession of the Virgin Martyrs), each of the girls wear a superhumeral.  In that post, I discussed that no surviving superhumerals had been found.

I would like to retract that statement.

In Gold & Sapphire Necklace – Altes Museum, Berlin, I had discussed that it was certainly a possibility that this piece was possibly a superhumeral.  It is certainly listed as a necklace, and I suppose by all technicalities, it is one.  On the other hand, though, I’ve had a difficult time tracking down the provenance other than it’s 6th c, and possibly Egyptian, but the Altes Museum database doesn’t seem to have it listed.  (Hey, museum professionals.  I know, I’m just this chick, but it would be lovely if we could get information on weird objects like this!)  Anyway, after another dive down the Pinterest rabbit hole, I found what appears to be a second metal superhumeral.  There’s even cloisonné on a panel that bears a pretty good resemblance to the plaques on Theodora’s.  And while 3″ wide doesn’t seem huge, it’s still a sizeable piece of metal just under one’s neck.  (even the Mold Gold Cape is substantial, but it’s a cape, not a necklace.  It’s also Welsh, Bronze Age, and not otherwise related, but a lot of the upper-body mobility aspects still should be addressed.)  At the same time, I find I have difficulty in wearing my fabric superhumeral (made by the wonderful Anna of Anna’s Rome) as fabric moves quite a bit more than metal does.  On the other hand, these were court garments, and more than likely not worn in the same way we in the SCA wear our garments.  (Seriously, you try doing kitchen work in full court gear.  I.  Don’t.  Think.  So.)

Of course, two points do not conclusive data make.  On the other hand, I’m having far more difficulty in saying that fabric was ever used for this sort of use.  (Now, I’m not going to tell you to stop making them, because metal is expensive and can be difficult to work with.)  Also, as far as enameling a cheaper metal substitute (like brass), you’re going to have a bad time, since brass (really, the zinc in the brass) and glass don’t play nicely together.

So, I suppose this goes into the pile of “wishful thinking projects”.  This could be a lot of fun to enter into a display, or even just to attempt to make, and yet, it looks relatively simple.  It’s finding the analogues (because have you seen the gold prices lately?  $1,244.30 USD an ounce!  Eeep) and ways to work around getting the look for far less.

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About Konstantia Kaloethina

I belong to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and there, I'm known as Konstantia Kaloethina, an Eastern Roman (Byzantinian) woman of the sixth century from Constantinople. I am proteged to Master Gabriel andvaka Kjotvason. I'm an American of Irish, German, Burgundian, and Norwegian descent. I share Harry Potter's birthdate (July 31st, 1983). I typically score as INTJ (Myers-Briggs), and as a confirmed Five with a Four wing "Iconoclast" (Enneagram) type, with strong scores in Musical, Visual/Spatial, and Intrapersonal on the Multiple Intelligences test.
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4 Responses to Super-duper-humerals

  1. I’ve looked at the berlin piece as a possible project (i have no real pressing need for anything byzantine, it would be one of those projects to make for curiosity) it would work well enough in silver, which could be gold plated cheaply enough. I’ve always thought that finding the stone would be a tricky part, esp the dangly ones, even something like amethysts would be the best part of £50 at the wholesaler, and if they had anything that size in a better saphiree subsitute, like perhaps a decent blue topaz, it could get quite ouchy to the wallet

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    • Given that the extant Berlin collar has a ton of inclusions in the sapphires, and plenty of other extant pieces also have a ton of inclusions, I don’t see why one couldn’t use a lower quality stone.

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      • I tend to go for the lower quality ones anyway, and often better quality drilled stones are seen as lower value, so cost less, but because gem beads are often flat you can set them as stones (a lot of early stuff has drill holes through if you look carefully. I’ve got some lovely beryl beads that set nicely as stones) but even lower quality stones in that quantity are going to be pricey, even wholesale

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      • Honestly, I’ve picked up some rather inexpensive stones on this side of the pond, such as garnets, amethysts, and I even found $5 USD rubies (six, and I have a new coronet!).

        It’s about wisely sourcing them, and knowing your dealers. Sometimes, wholesale isn’t the way to go, but sometimes, it is.

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