1,400-year-old iron folding chair found in Bavaria

An extremely rare iron folding chair dating to around 600 A.D. has been discovered in the Bavarian region of Middle Franconia. It is only the second folding chair from the early Middle Ages ever found in Germany, and one of fewer than 30 found anywhere in Europe. It is one of only six made of iron.

Archaeologists unearthed the chair during the course of construction of a business park. It was discovered six and a half feet below the surface in the grave of an adult woman. The chair is 28 by 18 inches in its folded position and was deposited at her feet. The bone of an animal (probably the rib of a cow) was next to it. This was likely a meat offering. Remnants of paneling suggest she was laid to rest in a covered wooden chamber with a west-east orientation.

Initial osteological examination indicates she was around 40-50 years old at time of death. She wore a necklace of glass beads and chatelaine on her belt with two bow brooches, a disc brooch, a spindle whorl and a large millefiori glass bead.

Folding chairs included as grave goods have been interpreted as special indicators not just of social status or wealth, but of political office. The X-shaped chair, the sella curulis, was a potent symbol of rulership and magistracy in ancient Rome, and its association with aristocracy goes back even further to Pharaonic Egypt. Intriguingly, almost all of the 29 early medieval folding chairs found in Europe were discovered in women’s graves.

A second grave was discovered next to hers in a parallel orientation. This one belonged to an adult male who was buried with a rich array of grave goods as well, including a full set of weapons (lance, shield, spatha sword), a bone comb and a belt with a pouch and a bronze buckle.

The chair was removed from the grave in a soil block so that it can be excavated in the restoration workshops of the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments near Bamberg. It will be X-rayed to give archaeologists an excavation roadmap and to reveal the chair’s condition before it is fully exposed to the air.

3 thoughts on “1,400-year-old iron folding chair found in Bavaria

  1. The territory of “Austrasia” bordered on Thuringia to the east, Swabia and Burgundy to the south and to Neustria to the southwest. At the time the more or less important lady with her “curulis chair” was buried, the Merovingians extended into Thuringia. Apart from that, the west-east orientation of the grave is maybe worth noticing.

    Characteristic of Frankish colonisation are certain suffixes associated with the founding of settlements. These include -heim, -hausen/-husen, -rod, -ingen and -weiler/-wiler. After 780 AD no new villages are founded with these suffixes. “Endsee” appears in records in 798AD, while the nearby town of Burgbernheim might have been of importance.

    In Upper Franconia, Würzburg had been the seat of a Merovingian duke from about 650 and was christianized in 686 by Irish missionaries Kilian, Kolonat and Totnan, who were “martyrized” there in 689. On St. Kilian’s Day, a glass case with their three skulls is paraded through the streets before large crowds, and put on display in Würzburg Cathedral.


    PS: Already Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD in Egypt gives the –highly distorted– coordinates for Würzburg (cf. ‘Geography’, Bk.10, Fourth Map of Europe). However, instead of ‘Segodunum’ (Σεγόδουνον, arguably Bad Wimpfen), the place to be may have been ‘Bergium’ (Βέργιον). According to others, ‘Bergium’ may have been the Schwanberg near Kitzingen. ‘Menosgada’ (Μηνόσγαδα) is clearly Staffelstein.

  2. Since the “chair” does not appear to have a back rest in modern usage it would probably be called a stool. The construction is similar to modern camp stools where the frame is held together with fabric, often cnavas, where the fundament of the sitter is placed.

    It should be noted that in the early middle ages iron was a fairly expensive material and to have a stool made of iron was a demonstration of wealth/authority.

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