From Academic Kids

A bracteate (from the Latin bractea, a thin piece of metal) is a flat, thin, single-sided gold coin produced in Northern Europe predominantly during the Migration Period of the Germanic Iron Age, but the name is also used for later prouced coins of silver produced in Central Europe during the early Middle Ages.


Gold bracteates from the migration period

Missing image
The Vadstena bracteate, a typical C-bracteate.

Gold bracteates commonly denominate a certain type of jewellery, made mainly in the fifth to seventh century AD, represented by some spectacular gold specimens. Pierced or fitted with an eye, most were intended to be worn suspended by a string around the neck, supposedly as an amulet. The bracteates are believed to have started as one-sided copies of Roman coins but soon developed into jewelry.

The motifs are commonly connected to Norse mythology and are believed to be Norse pagan icons for divination and for this reason the bracteates are a target of iconographic studies by scholars interested in Norse belief systems. Several bracteates also feature runic inscriptions. The study of migration period bracteates are considered a interdisciplinary field of Germanic art, Norse art, numismatics, archaeology, iconography, Norse mythology and runology.


The typology for bracteates divide them into several letter-named categories, a system intoduced in a 1855 treatise by the Danish numismatist Christian Jürgensen Thomsen named Om Guldbracteatene og Bracteaternes tidligeste Brug som Mynt and finally defined formally by the Swedish numismatist Oscar Montelius in his 1869 treatise Från jernåldern:

  • A-bracteates (appr. 87 specimens): showing the face of a human, modeled after antique imperial coins
  • B-bracteates (appr. 88 specimens): one to three human figures in standing, sitting or kneeling positions, often accompanied by animals
  • C-bracteates (best represented, by appr. 400 specimens): showing a male's head above a quadruped, often interpreted as the Norse god Odin
  • D-bracteates (appr. 336 specimens): showing several animals
  • E-bracteates (appr. 280 specimens): showing an animal triskele under a circular feature
  • F-bracteates (appr. 14 specimens): as a subgroup of the D-bracteates, showing a illusionary animal
  • M-bracteates (appr. 17 specimens): imitations of Roman imperial bust-medallion


The German Karl Hauck, archaeologist Morten Axboe and runologist Klaus Düwel have worked since the 1960s to create a complete corpus of the early Germanic bracteates from the migration period, complete with large scale photographs and drawings. This has been published in three volumes in German named Die Goldbrakteaten der Völkerwanderungszeit. Ikonographischer Katalog.

Early medieval bracteates

Mideval silver bracteat portraying bishop  and .
Mideval silver bracteat portraying bishop Ulrichs von Halberstadt and Albert I of Brandenburg.

Silver bracteates are different from the migration period bracteates and were the main type of coin minted in German-speaking areas, with the exception of the Rhineland, beginning at around 1130 in Saxony and Thuringia and were taken out of circulation at about 1520. In some cantons of Switzerland, bracteate-like rappen, heller, and angster were produced during the 18th century.

Mideval silver bracteates may be large, but most are about 15 millimeters across and weighs about 1 gram.


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