Nytt om runer 15 (2000; publ. 2001), 12–13

New Runic Find from Borgharen (Maastricht), the Netherlands

In september 1999 a bronze belt buckle with a runic inscription was found in a man’s grave in a small Merovingian linear cemetery (Reihengräberfeld) situated inside a former Roman villa, close to the river Maas. The excavation of the grave-field was carried out by the Dienst Stadsontwikkeling en Grondzaken of the city of Maastricht, under supervision of curator and archaeologist Wim Dijkman.

The site lies on the east bank of the Maas, to the north of the village of Borgharen, north of Maastricht, in the province of Limburg. The date is 600 or early 7th century AD. The shallow grave contained the skeleton of a man between fifty and sixty years old. The orientation of the grave was NW-SW (head in SW). The runes are on a bronze belt buckle, reading bobo; ‘o’ is *oþilan. Other grave gifts were a sword with an iron buckle, a short sword (sax), a green glass bottle, a green glass scale, a blue glass goblet, bronze belt fittings, two arrow-heads, another bronze buckle, remains of a shield and an umbo, remains of a wooden bucket and a gold coin which probably served as an obolus. Wooden bucket and obolus are regarded as typical Frankish gifts to the deceased. The grave is considered a ‘rich’ grave, perhaps a so-called founder’s grave.

At the man’s feet the bronze belt buckle with runes was found. The runes are clearly readable. Bobo may be regarded as the name of the owner. The runes may be labelled ‘Continental’ because of the form of the ‘o’ and especially because of the form of the ‘b’-runes, which have their pockets wide apart, such as can be found in inscriptions from Bavaria (e.g. the Schwangau S-fibula) and Alamannia (e.g. the wooden stave of Neudingen).

The runes are carved on the front of the object, which is a very rare phenomenon; compare e.g. the Pforzen (Bavaria) belt buckle, which also has its inscription on the front.

The name Bobo is well known in Merovingian contexts. Bobo is listed in Hermann Reichert’s Lexikon der altgermanischen Namen, vol. 1, p. 144. Gregory of Tours, in his Historia Francorum, mentions a dux Bobo as son of Mummolinus. Reichert writes about the name Bobo (pers. comm.): "Short names like this explode in Merovingian times among Franks, Visigoths, and later on they spread further. The fashion must have started among the Merovingian Franks."

Because of the location (Maastricht is close to Herstal, one of the centres of Frankish power), the grave gifts and the name Bobo, we may conclude that the deceased was a Frankish soldier (miles). Runes were known among the Franks, although very few runic inscriptions are known from Frankish regions, if confined to Francia proper. But after 500 the Franks increased their power to encompass (parts of) Alamannia, a date which, coincidentally or not coincidentally, corresponds with the occurrence of the first runic objects in the south of present Germany.

The buckle has a triangular fitting with three round rivets. A row of triangular notches runs along the edges. A parallel is known from grave 25, Normée, La Tempête, dep. Marne, France (see Wilfried Menghin, Das Schwert im frühen Mittelalter [Stuttgart 1983], p. 263). Also in Belgium and the Rhineland more or less similar buckles have been found. In Frank Siegmund, Das Gräberfeld der jüngeren römischen Kaiserzeit von Costedt [Mainz 1996], p. 698, the development of the buckle fashion is shown schematically; the type from Borgharen came into use from the third quarter of the sixth century AD onwards.

Tineke Looijenga
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Zernikepark 2
NL-9747 AN Groningen
The Netherlands


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