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Kolti in the Medieval Byzantine Empire

Kolti were in use throughout the Byzantine empire, including Kyivan Rus’

Kyivan Rus’, founded by Scandinavian travelers and traders moving along the eastern European river systems, was the largest polity in medieval Europe. It had connections throughout Europe, made manifest by trade ties, marriages, and religious connections. Like most medieval polities, Kyivan Rus’ appropriated imagery from the medieval Roman Empire (Byzantium) to demonstrate its connection both to the Roman past and to the richest polity in western Eurasia. Kolti can be connected to traditions more broadly in Europe with examples from the Ottonian Empire of the tenth and eleventh centuries to the Serbian Empire of the fourteenth century.

Kolti are impressive pendants that hung on chains from the hair or from a cap along the side of the face. The large size and convex sides of kolti have suggested that their hollow interiors might have contained perfumed cloth or cotton, the scent of which would permeate the air as the kolti swung with the movement of the wearer’s head. This interpretation is uncertain, however, and we also do not know if kolti were worn by both men and women. To date, only one archaeological find shows that they were attached to the flaps of a man’s cap.

Learn and more about the Kolti in the Dumbarton Oaks collection here and here.

above: One of a pair of Kolti with busts of Christ, obverse on left, reverse on right; BZ.1950.4.1