History of things: Secrets of a 13th-century child’s glass bracelet

History of things: Secrets of a 13th-century child’s glass bracelet
Children’s glass bracelet, late 13th – early 14th century. Museum of Moscow collection
This mos.ru story focuses on how a fragile object managed to survive for more than 700 years and how Moscow fashionable women wore glass bracelets in the Middle Ages.

This new article from the History of Things series is dedicated to a very rare, unique even, artefact. A well-preserved 13th-century glass bracelet found in the very heart of Moscow, Kitai-Gorod, is one of the oldest items in the Museum of Moscow’s archaeological collection.

Women’s glass jewellery was popular in ancient Russian cities. Recent research has confirmed that this jewellery was not produced in Moscow, which means all the glass rings and bracelets came from elsewhere. The tradition of making jewellery from glass traces back to Byzantium. First it came to Kiev and then spread to other Russian cities, with Kiev, Polotsk, Novgorod and Smolensk being its centres. Colourful bracelets, beads and rings looked stylish on single-coloured clothes of the 12th-14th century.

Archaeologists often find pieces of glass bracelets and rings during their excavations in Moscow. However, glass is very fragile, and medieval craftsmen could not fix glass jewellery like they could silver or bronze accessories. Several pre-Mongolian pieces of glass jewellery have survived to this day. And the only bracelet found in Moscow belongs to the Museum of Moscow’s collections.

There are two ways to wear bracelets. Large bracelets were usually put on the arm. However, medieval Moscow women used to wear them on their wrists judging from their size: an average bracelet was six to 11 centimetres in diameter.

Children’s glass bracelet, late 13th – early 14th century. Museum of Moscow collection

The Museum of Moscow’s bracelet is quite small: only four centimetres on the inside, which means it was worn by a little girl. It was found during archaeological excavations near the Epiphany Monastery in the Kitai-Gorod District. The high and bright Epiphany Cathedral can be seen near Ploshchad Revolyutsii metro station, between Nikolskaya and Ilyinka streets. It was built in the 17th century on the site where the white-stone Epiphany Monastery stood. The first church built there was wooden, and the first burials were made there in the 13th century. This is where the bracelet was found on a child’s arm. At that time, Muscovites gave up pagan rituals and buried their family members according to the Christian rite which did not require placing various objects in the graves as they had done only a century earlier.

The green-and-blue glass bracelet was made using a common method of that time: a glass string was twisted and bent into a ring with its ends then pressed together. This bracelet was not only a piece of jewellery but was used to hold the rather long gathered sleeves on women’s clothes.

In the second third of the 13th century, glass jewellery almost disappeared: the Tatar-Mongol raids nearly destroyed the production of it. The children’s bracelet of the Museum of Moscow dated to the late 13th – early 14th century by archaeologist Leonid Belyayev, who led the excavations at the Epiphany Monastery, is a rare example of traditional glass jewellery from the late Middle Ages.