13th c. falconry figurine found in Oslo

A small statuette of a crowned figure with a peregrine falcon has been found in an excavation of the historic downtown of Oslo. The design of the hair and clothing dates the figurine to the 13th century, which makes it one of the earliest representations of falconry in Scandinavia, and one of only a handful of falconry-related art from the period found in all of Northern Europe.

Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) have been surveying the Middelalderparken (Medieval Park) site in Oslo’s Old Town since August, unearthing remains of the city’s medieval streets, buildings and infrastructure. Their heroic efforts continued into the Norwegian winter,

The figure is 7.5 cm (3″) high and made of either bone or antler. It is a long, flattish oval carved on both sides. The figure has a peaceful smile and neck-length hair. Its not clear if the individual is male or female, as the braided hair and long robe could have been worn by either a king or a queen. The crown is short and crenellated with holes in the center of the high sections.

The falcon is perched on the monarch’s right arm which is protected by a hawking glove. The bird’s feathers are carved in a grid pattern. Both human and bird have drilled holes for eyes. There is also a hole through the bottom of the figure, indicating that it may have been the haft of a knife.

It was discovered in a waste layer a stone’s throw from the Kongsgården, the royal estate in Oslo, which in the mid-13th century was expanded into a fortified castle by Haakon IV Haakonsson (r.  1217-1263). Haakon IV was literate and cultured. He consolidated the power of the Norwegian monarchy after years of civil wars and sought to pattern Norway’s court along European lines. Literate and well-educated from a young age, he commissioned the first Norse translations of the chansons de geste. His royal estates were modeled after the monumental palaces of Europe and his foreign policy was focused on building friendly trade relations with the rulers of neighboring countries in northern Europe, Haneatic towns and the Mediterranean.

As part of alliance building, he gifted falcons far beyond the European continent. Alliances were entered into and maintained through marriages and gifts. The most precious gift a Norwegian king could give was a falcon.

Since falconry was a common royal and noble practice throughout the Middle Ages, we cannot say for certain that the figure portrays King Håkon. However, dating and context indicates that it is a strong possibility.

4 thoughts on “13th c. falconry figurine found in Oslo

  1. Better buy original! 🐥️

    Indeed, falcons were considered –and traded all over Europe– as “luxury item” back then.

    My own mom was born in the Hanseatic town of Lübeck, while my dad has at least reasonable connections –it is notably all rather fuzzy and nobody hardly knows anything!– to the area of the Curionian Spit in the Eastern Baltic.

    Back from the times of the Teutonic Order state, however, until the mid 18th century, there was a Curonian falconry in business over there, trading off the birds to Lübeck and elsewhere, but is seems there were also falconries in Lübeck itself and also places like Norway. Thus, the falcons themselves, did not seem to care, where they were raised.

    In 1226, HRR Emperor –and in particular the author of ‘De Arte Venandi cum Avibus‘, on ‘the art of hunting with birds’– Frederick II elevated the Lübeck to the status of an Imperial free city and granted them trading rights, basically connecting the town to what is referred to as the Hanseatic League.



    PS: For reasons unknown to me –it is at least unsure if he bought a bird– the ‘Lowlanders’ at Lübeck are in possession of a letter in Latin from the ‘Highlander’ William Wallace, a.k.a. ‘Braveheart’, dated October 11th 1297, to the mayor.

    What the Highlander seems to have had in mind was some sort of “European Union”, which might have given some Londoners an argument to eviscerate and quarter the poor guy:

    Transcript: “Andrew de Murray and William Wallace, leaders of the army of the kingdom of Scotland, and the community of the same kingdom, to their worthy, discreet and beloved friends the mayors and communes of Lübeck and Hamburg, greeting, and increase always of sincere friendship.

    It has been intimated to us by trustworthy merchants of the said kingdom of Scotland that you by your own goodwill are giving counsel, help and favour in all causes and business concerning us and our merchants, although our merits had not deserved this, and therefore all the more are we bound to you to give you thanks and a worthy recompense, to do which we are willing to be obliged to you; and we ask you that you will make it be proclaimed amongst your merchants that they can have secure access to all ports of the kingdom of Scotland with their merchandise since the kingdom of Scotland, thanks be to God, has by arms been recovered from the power of the English. Farewell.

    Given at Haddington in Scotland on the 11th day of October in the year of grace one thousand two hundred and ninety seven.

    – Cf.: scottisharchivesforschools.org/warsofindependence/lubeckletter.asp

  2. Dr. E ,

    having found my penknife, I switched on the light, and had to find that I omitted the postscript in Wallace’s letter (with business recommendations for the merchants John Burnet(t) and John Frere):

    “We request moreover that you will see fit to forward the business negotiations of John Burnet and John Frere, our merchants, just as you wish us to forward the business negotiations of your merchants. Farewell. Given as before.” [Oct 11th, AD1297]

    –or in Latin–

    “Rogamus vos insuper ut negotia Johannis Burnet, et Johannis Frere, mercatorum nostrorum, promoveri dignemini, prout nos negotia mercatorum vestrorum promovere velitis. -VALETE. Datum ut prius.”

    :hattip: VALETE!

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