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Cosmopolitan Claims: Islamicate Spolia

During the Reign of King Henry II,


Gia Toussaint*

Unlike any other Western ruler before him, Kingand later EmperorHenry
II (reg. 100224) relied on the ostentatious display of valuable objects of
Eastern, and often Islamic, provenance. Used as spolia, they decorate works,
such as the ambo of Aachen and book covers (the Gospel Book of Henry II,
the Bamberg Apocalypse), which still exist today. The ambo in particular,
with its Islamic and Byzantine spolia, is closely associated with Henrys
ultimately successful attempt to assert his royal dignity. The specific pattern
on the ambo, especially the arrangement of several chessmen, seems to have
been inspired by the wish to demonstrate the legitimacy of his claim to the
throne. In addition, the spolia used serve to express a wider, cosmopolitan
claim that Henry had as yet to realise in political practice. In fact, nothing
is known about Henrys contact with the Fatimids, and his connections with
Byzantium remained tentative. Yet, through his ostentatious display of spolia,
he sought to demonstrate his power, and associate his realm with powers
beyond the borders of his empire. As can be seen from the fact that all the
spolia were employed in the service of conveying the Christian message,
moreover, Henry may not only have wished to demonstrate his leadership
of the empire, but possibly also his superiority to people of other faiths.

Many medieval objects of art reflect the practice of the conspicuous display
of spolia from distant and foreign countries; such objects were frequently
incorporated into already existing or newly created artefacts. Architects

*Institute of Art History, University of Hamburg, Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, 20146 Hamburg,

Germany. E-mail:

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never hesitated to use spolia from various regions and eras for the
embellishment of representative buildings. Well attested from Carolingian
times, the use of spolia in Western Europe has a long tradition.1 For the
building of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, Charlemagne had ancient
columns from Rome and Ravenna brought over the Alps; he also set up an
equestrian statue of Theodoric from Ravenna in the city. By conspicuously
displaying spolia, Charlemagne sought not only to demonstrate the quality
and extent of his international relationships,2 he also sought to furnish proof
of the continuity of his own rule with the Roman state, which had been
famous for its antiquity and prestige. The practice begun by Charlemagne
was followed by many of his successors. As can be seen in the Ottonian
emperors use of spolia in the building of Magdeburg Cathedral and in
the remarkably intense secondary use of artefacts in the making of small
objects of art, Charlemagne had actually created a tradition.3
Contact between Byzantium and the West was established not only
through several Ottonian military campaigns in Italy, but also and
especially through Otto IIs marriage with Theophanu, the Byzantine
princess. Diplomatic contact was regularly accompanied by the exchange
of presents,4 such as precious Byzantine textiles and ivories, or objects
that use metal, crystal or gems. In the West, many of these expensive and
sophisticated objects were reused: they were integrated into new artefacts
such as book covers, altar crosses and reliquaries. In many cases, the
foreign items were placed prominently. Byzantine objects often formed
the centrepiece of an ensemble.5 Such conspicuous display was meant to
demonstrate a rulers good relationship with the Byzantine Empire, reputed
to be inexhaustibly wealthy, and to show the continuity of his rule with
the no longer extant Roman Empire. The use of spolia expressed political
claims and fostered a sense of identity.

Brenk, Spolia from Constantine to Charlemagne.
With his use of spolia, Charlemagne advertised his good relationships with the authorities
that had either authorised the removal of the building materials, or had given the artefacts
as diplomatic gifts. ibid: 10809.
See, for instance, Klein, Aspekte der Byzanz-Rezeption im Abendland; Westermann-
Angerhausen, Spolie und Umfeld in Egberts Trier; Stamm-Saurma, Die auctoritas des
Zitates in der bernwardinischen Kunst.
See Schreiner, Diplomatische Geschenke zwischen Byzanz und dem Westen ca.
See especially the many book covers that have Byzantine ivories placed in the centre.
Cf. Steenbock, Der kirchliche Prachteinband im frhen Mittelalter.

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The use of spolia is well attested in art dating from the time of King
Henry II. In contrast to his predecessors, however, King Henry seems
to have had very few direct contacts with Byzantium and the East. Only
at the very beginning of his reign, in 1002, did he receive a Byzantine
delegation, which was sent by the Emperor Basileios II.6 Coming to
Frankfurt to assess the political situation, this delegation offered lavish
gifts: two garments of the Blessed Virgin, relics of the apostle Andrew and
two gold crosses.7 Not until two decades later, in 1020, and in the context
of territorial conflicts over southern Italy, do we hear of substantial contact
with the Greeks; but during the whole of Henrys reign, there is no evidence
of contact with the Fatimids. However, many of the large crystal vessels
that were used in Henrician art originated in Fatimid workshops. Given
Henrys apparent lack of contact with the Fatimid world, the question
is why the artisans who worked during the early years of Henrys reign
made such conspicuous use of artefacts coming from Byzantium and the
Islamic East. It is precisely the lack of contact that makes this question
so interestingand unavoidable.
King Henry II was ostentatious in his presentation of oriental art objects
in royal donations: his munificence was unprecedented among previous
Western rulers. Looking at artefacts like the ambo in Aachen or the book
covers of the Gospel Book of Henry II (and the Bamberg Apocalypse
manuscript, see the following), we are captivated by the use of spolia
coming from the Islamic world: crystal work from a Fatimid workshop, a
gem with an inscription, presumably in Arabic letters, and a large, flat agate
bowl of Eastern provenance. Oriental artefacts may appear in conjunction
with other spolia or in isolation, as is the case with King Henry IIs chalice
(now kept in the treasury of the Munich Residenz).
The ambo in Aachen is the earliest example of a conspicuous reuse of
oriental artefacts in a Western, Christian context (Figure 1).8 Today, this
opulently decorated ambo, 1.46 metres tall, can still be seen in the Palatine
Chapel in Aachen. It was not, however, originally intended for its current
place (beside a pillar of the octagon); it was initially positioned directly in
the bay leading to the choir. Inside the sanctuary itselfbehind the ambo,
in other wordsthere was the sepulchre of Otto III, Henrys predecessor,

Weinfurter, Heinrich II.: 242.
Tinnefeld, Mira varietas: 12930.
Shalem, Hybride und Assemblagen in mittelalterlichen Schatzkammern: 303.

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Figure 1
Aachen Cathedral, Palatine Chapel, Ambo of Henry II, c. 1024, 1.46 m

and behind that was the altar of the Virgin Mary. Charlemagnes throne
stood in the gallery by the entry to the choir on the opposite, western side,
directly opposite the ambo: in other words, the ambos original location
made it easily visible from all sides.
The ambo was part of the decoration, but it was also an exhibit, andas
the restoration findings suggestits wooden core was designed from the
first to hold the spolia that were mounted onto it (Figure 2). Although the
central object has been lost (later being replaced by a ribbed Roman glass
bowl), artefacts of very diverse provenance still determine its form. It is
possible that the large famous eagle cameo from Vienna was originally set
at the centre of the ambo, in place of the ribbed glass bowl.9 Vessels made
of semi-precious stones are grouped in a cross shape around this central

Appuhn, Das Mittelstck vom Ambo Knig Heinrichs II. in Aachen.

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Figure 2
Ambo of Henry II, wooden core

area. Above and below are two large agate bowls, probably Byzantine in
origin; other bowls of this kind can be found elsewhere, for example in the
treasuries of Saint-Denis, San Marco or in Munich.10 Two objects, a cup
and a saucer-shaped dish, both of Fatimid origin (Figures 3 and 4), which
once formed an ensemble, are mounted to the left and right of the centre.
The decorative application of both vessels here in no way respects their
original function. Their function as hollow forms is completely abandoned
in favour of the presentation of their precious crystal carvings. The same
is true of the agate bowls; these are also displayed foremost for their
precious material. Large openings in the wooden core of the ambo behind
the bowls point to the fact that light was supposed to fall onto the bowls

For the bowls, see Bianchini (ed.), Ex. cat. Byzance: 29397 (nos 20710); as well as
Alcouffe, Le Trsor de Saint-Denis: 15659.

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Figure 3
Ambo of Henry II, rock-crystal cup, Fatimid, tenth century

Figure 4
Ambo of Henry II, rock-crystal dish, Fatimid, tenth century

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and illuminate them effectively (Figure 2). In contrast to the other panels
of the ambo, these four panels with the vessels are further characterised
by other decorative work from the East: grouped around them are figures
from an incomplete game of chess, which I return to in the following.
All these elements have been similarly de-functionalised and presented
to convey the greatest possible aesthetic impact.
Grouped in a cross shape around the central point of the ambo, the spolia
resemble large jewels, creating what could be seen as a gemmed cross. This
cross is flanked in the corner fields by four gold reliefs with depictions of
the four Evangelists, of which only the portrait of Matthew in the top left
is original.11 On the outer margins of each side, framing the ambo to the
left and right, are three ivory figures dating from late antiquity with pagan
motifs, each 26 cm high: two portraits of a naked Bacchus, a naked water
nymph, two warriors and one figure of Isis. Besides these larger objects,
the ambo was once decorated with 498 precious stones, of which 329
have been lost over the course of time and replaced in the modern era.12
The inscription framing the ambo at the top and bottom is also striking:
Hoc opus ambonis auro gemmisque micantis/Rex pius Heinricus, celestis
honoris anhelus/Dapsilis ex proprio tibi dat, sanctissima virgo/Quo prece
summa tua sibi merces fiat usia (Desirous of heavenly glory and generous
with what he owns, pious King Henry dedicates this ambo that shimmers
with gold and precious stones, to you, most Holy Virgin. May he receive
his reward through your most powerful intercession.).13 The words Rex pius
Heinricus, set in the top centre, give an important indication of the ambos
date, as it is the word rex, not the actual name of the donor, which defines
the central axis. Henry became king after the death of Otto III in 1002. In
1014 he was crowned Emperor in Rome and would have called himself
cesar afterwards.14 This means that we can date the creation of the ambo to
between 1002 and 1014, and we have good reason to assume that Henrys
donation for this site took place directly after his royal coronation, and that
it was placed in this exact location together with the selected artefacts.
What did Henry wish to demonstrate so forcefully and unambiguously
with this unusual selection? A look at the situation at the beginning of

The others were added in the 1930s: Schomburg, Ambo: 33.
Buchkremer, Ambo: 100.
Latin text in Weinfurter, Heinrich II.: 285.
For the title, see Baumgrtel-Fleischmann, Der Einband: 166.

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his reign helps provide an answer.15 When Otto III died unexpectedly in
Italy at the beginning of 1002, he was without an heir, and a struggle for
the succession and the rule of the empire broke out among the dukes. The
man who succeeded as Henry II, Henry IV of Bavaria, had no greater
claim to the throne than many other dukes; and, at least at first, he was
not considered an actual descendant of the Ottonians. It was his own
decisive action, however, that enabled him to become king. When Otto
IIIs funeral procession arrived in Bavaria on its way back from Italy, he
requested that the imperial insignia be handed over. But the holy lance, the
most important element of the insignia, was missing, because Archbishop
Heribert of Cologne had wisely arranged for it to be sent on in advance
to the Palatine Duke Ezzo. In order to force him to surrender the object,
Henry held the archbishops brother hostageand soon obtained the lance.
In order to demonstrate his power still further, the Bavarian duke Henry
had Ottos intestines buried in St. Afras Church in Augsburg; at the same
time, he made rich donations from his own inheritance to the church, to
ensure it cultivated the memory of the dead king.
It was only after this that Henry released Ottos corpse, reputedly
carrying it to the borders of his dukedom personally.16 None of the
important individuals who followed the funeral procession to the site of
burial in Aachen wished to back Henrys claim to the succession, although
he had attempted to persuade them and to impress them with his deeds.
When Otto III was buried in Aachen, the vote of the assembled dukes
was clear: no one wanted the Bavarian duke as the new kingonly the
Bavarians and the Luxembourgers supported him.17 Nevertheless, Henry
who had voiced his claim to the throne in Augsburg and expressed it clearly
through his reclamation of the insigniawas able to assert himself through
bold action. Generous promises succeeded in convincing the powerful
imperial Bishop Willigis of Mainz, who favoured him anyway, to crown
him:18 before the dukes had been given the chance to call an assembly to
elect the king. In June 1002 Henry had himself anointed king in a surprise
manoeuvre in Mainz. Subsequently, he had to win over the nobility of the
kingdom, especially the Saxons. He travelled through the country to claim
obeisance from the dukes of the kingdom, who took an oath of loyalty

Cf. Rogge, Die deutschen Knige im Mittelalter: 913.
Weinfurter, Heinrich II.: 39.
Ibid.: 41.
Ibid.: 48.

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to Henry nolens volens; since no election had taken place, it was a case
of recognition in retrospect of a king who had long been practising in
office.19 It was not until the beginning of September 1002, after he had
finally been recognised as king by the Archbishop Heribert of Cologne, that
Henry II ascended Charlemagnes throne in Aachen. This was on the day
of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, a feast day particularly important to the
new sovereign. Henry, in fact, also dedicated the ambo to the patroness of
the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, the Virgin Mary: the words rex and virgo
in its inscription are placed in the middle of the central axis.
Henrys battle for the royal throne seems to be reflected in the Aachen
ambo, as can be inferred from the conspicuous grouping of the agate and
chalcedony chessmen around the four bowls (Figure 5 and sketch). This
set of figures, originating from the East, is part of the earliest material
evidence of the game in the West.20 Chess was considered a royal game;
its name in German, Schach, is derived from the Persian word for king
shh. This royal game becomes the kings game on the ambo: indeed, it
becomes a form of competition between kings.21 The arrangement of the
chess pieces with their alternating colours is reminiscent of the alternating
colours of the chessboard, but the result is not a realistic layout from a
proper game. Strikingly, a total of three kings stand face-to-face in the
uppermost and lowest squares. Between them are the peoplepawns,
bishops and castlespieces that have to be arranged skilfully in the course
to checkmate one king and help the rival king to victory. It is possible to
read the tension between the claimants to the throne in the layout of this
game of chess; it is unlikely to be a coincidence that two kings are mounted
directly below the word rex in the inscription of the ambo.
As if in reference to their shared origins, most of the chess pieces
embellish the rock crystal vesselsa cup and saucer-like dish to the right

Weinfurter, Heinrich II.: 53.
Schomburg, Ambo: 95. Shalem, Islam Christianized: 41, mentions the fact that Otto
III played chess. It is not clear whether the chessmen were made in an Islamic country or
Byzantium. As is well known, Harun al-Rashid was a dedicated chess player. Ninth-century
literary sources from Byzantium also refer to the game, but there is no further evidence. When
the game came to the West, Byzantium may have functioned as the intermediary; however,
the language associated with the game seems to indicate it was directly imported from the
Islamic world. See Kluge-Pinsker, Schachspiel und Trictrac: 14. The notion that the chessmen
on the Aachen ambo derive from Theophanus dowry is pure speculation; ibid.: 34.
For general reflections on the chessmen mounted on the ambo, see Cordez, Images
ludiques et politique fodale.

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Figure 5
Ambo of Henry II, agate and chalcedony chessmen

and left of the central area (Figures 3 and 4). Like the chess pieces, these
crystal vessels are also splendid objects of non-Christian origin, used for
secular purposes. It is not easy to determine whether the large agate bowls,
probably originating from Byzantium and cut from semi-precious stones,
were intended simply to evoke an opulent lifestyle, since we also know of
Byzantine chalices with agate cuppa. Unfortunately, only the uppermost
of the agate bowls is original. This piece was already slightly damaged
when it was incorporated into the ambo; it would originally have had two
handles on the longer sides.22 The bottom bowl has been substituted, but
remains exist of the frame for the missing piece, and these allow us to

Schomburg, Ambo: 32.

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conclude that an agate bowl with eight pleats was previously inset at the
bottom.23 This bowl was probably similar in appearance to the one kept
in the treasury of Saint-Denis.
The bowls are transformed from profane to auratic objects through
their cross-shaped arrangement on the ambo and their illumination
through openings in the wooden core. The opaque light emanating from
the bowls on the ambo must have fascinated the original audience, not
only because of the skilfully cut stones, but especially because of the
cross-shaped arrangement, which is reminiscent of a gemmed cross. The
spolia were woven into a liturgical functional context and so placed in
the service of the orthodox Christian message. Such a conspicuous and
propagandistic display of Eastern objects seems to make sense given the
conflict between Eastern and Western Christianity, a conflict that led, in
1054, to the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the
Eastern Orthodox Church.
The ambo was probably one of Henrys first major donations. The
place chosen for it, the Palatine Chapel of Aachen, was the symbolic
heart of the empire. It was traditionally where the kings of the Franks and
Saxons were crowned, and it was where Otto III had been laid to rest.
Henry, however, had not yet won over the empire completely; only a few
months before, the princes had spoken out against him at Ottos burial.
Although he had forced them to swear allegiance to him, he wanted to
create an outstanding symbol of his legitimacy as king, and the ambo
may be understood as the object that fulfils this role. Its symbolic value
was enhanced by its placement in the chapel, between the grave of his
predecessor and the royal throne.
With the placing of the chessmen, the new ruler, Henry II, seems to
indicate his personal triumph over his competitors.
It is also possible to interpret the use of the spolia as a visible expression
of Henry IIs cosmopolitan claims. In this regard it can be discussed
whether Henry IIby, for example, arranging the Eastern objects in the
shape of a crosswanted to demonstrate symbolic superiority or whether
his aim was rather to demonstrate close relations to most powerful reigns
of the time. In both cases the mise-en-scne of the objects serves as an
anticipation of the cosmopolitan power politics that Henry, the former
duke of Bavaria, had yet to put into practice.

Buchkremer, Ambo: 103.

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What was the source of this huge range of spolia that Henry drew upon
at the very beginning of his reign? The Byzantine delegation of 1002,
mentioned at the beginning of this article, did not offer him these artefacts.
It is equally unlikely that a merchant would have offered oriental objects
of this quantity and quality. There is evidence of extensive diplomatic and
commercial exchange between Byzantium and the Fatimid court during
Henrys reign; but diplomatic contacts between the Fatimids and the central
European powers seem to have been marginal.24 Only in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries did relations between the Islamic countries and the
areas north of the Alps intensify.25
There can be little doubt that Henry could draw upon the collections
of his Ottonian predecessors.26 The Ottonian treasury, which included
skilfully worked vessels of gold, silver, bronze, glass and ivory, was well
furnished from the gifts that Otto the Great had received from Emperor
Constantine Porphyrogennetos in 955, as well as from a delegation of
the Saracens. Moreover, numerous exotic animals, including monkeys,
camels and ostriches, were offered to the court.27 Unfortunately, the source
does not distinguish between Greek gifts and Arab gifts, but it is at any
rate very likely that the glass vessels that Henry used come from these
presents and were originally brought as gifts by the Arabs.
We cannot determine whether contemporary onlookers would have been
able to identify immediately the objects displayed on the ambo and assess

See Cutler, Les Echanges de dons entre Byzance et lIslam (IXeXIe sicles).
Hoffman, Pathways of Portability; Grabar, Trade with the East and the Influence of
Islamic Art on the Luxury Arts in the West.
According to Schramm and Mtherich, within two decades Henry II gave an almost
unbelievable amount of gifts to the Church. These authors suggest that Henry drew upon
the treasures left by Otto III. Schramm and Mtherich, Denkmale der deutschen Knige
und Kaiser: 96.
Widukind von Corvey, Res gestae Saxonicae: 56: Unde plurimos legatos suscipit,
Romanorum scilicit et Graecorum Sarracenorumque, per eosque diversi generis munera,
vasa aurea et argentea, aerea quoque et mira varietate operis distincta, vitrea vasa, eburnea
etiam et omni genere modificata stramenta, balsamum et totius generis pigmenta, animalia
Saxonibus antea invisa, leones et camelos, simias et strutiones; omniumque circumquaque
Christianorum in illo res atque spes sitae. (For this reason, he [the Emperor] received many
delegationsfrom the Romans, Greeks and Saracens; and from them received gifts of many
kindsvessels of gold and silver; also ones made of iron and ones that were skilfully made
in all kinds of shapes, vessels of glass, ivories, all kinds of carpets, balm and spices of many
kinds; also animals that the Saxons had never seen beforelions and camels, monkeys and
ostriches. Christians far and wide looked at him with high hopes.).

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their relevance, but unquestionably theses objects value, and strikingly

foreign character, must have furnished a subject for consideration and
debate. The gifts had been given to Otto only 50 years before, so it is
possible that people would have been familiar with the provenance of the
individual objects. Alternatively, because the Greeks were commercial
partners of the Arabs, the vessels were thought (wrongly) to be Byzantine.
Was everything brought from the East thought Byzantine? This question
could only be answered if we knew whether the Byzantines made the
provenance of the Fatimid vessels they gave as gifts clear. Whatever the
answer to this, Henry was well aware of the value and the aura of the
oriental vessels, as their prominence on the ambo shows. The question
of whether he knew their precise provenance cannot be answered with
certainty. However, it would seem that artefacts originating from the
Islamic sphere were actually perceived as Islamic, as is suggested by the
example of a small gemstone, to which I return in the following.
It is unlikely that Henry, when king, would have had the opportunity
to extend the collection of oriental objects brought together by his
predecessors. His rule focused more on domestic political disputes and
wars against Poland than on international politics. He concentrated his
attention north of the Alps, and saw himself duty bound to pursue the
renovatio regni Francorum, the renewal of the Franconian realm that he
demanded, in contrast to the renovatio imperii Romanorum pursued by
his predecessors. Henry may or my not have used the objects from the
Ottonian treasury as a reference to his Ottonian legacy; he also may or
may not have known of the oriental provenance of the artefacts; but at
any rate he used them in a very obvious way to suggest that his power and
connections extended far beyond the borders of the empire.28
As his reign progressed, Henry frequently acted as a donor: his most
prominent donation was the cathedral of Bamberg with its rich furnishings.
Henry donated an object similar to the cup on the Aachen ambo, although
slightly bigger, to Bamberg, so that it could be transformed into a chalice
(Figure 6).29 This Fatimid work, which is framed in silver-gilt, displays
floral carving reminiscent of the object on the ambo. A metal handle,
corresponding to the crystal cups original handle, was reproduced on the
opposite side of the chalice to ensure its symmetry. The transformation

On this see also Mathews, Expressing Political Legitimacy and Cultural Identity.
Schomburg, Ambo: 69; Shalem, Islam Christianized: 205.

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Figure 6
Double-handled chalice, Munich, Schatzkammer der Residenz

of a decorative cup into a chalice was an obvious step; the valuable

material and its fine artistic work would make it seem predestined for the
purpose.30 As with the Aachen ambo, Henry exploited here as well the
translucence of the material. In its present museum setting though, the
object conceals the sophistication of the idea. Filled with wine (the blood
of Christ, according to Christian doctrine), the skilfully cut crystal chalice
must have seemed striking.31 Thus, the Fatimid crystal work was adapted
to the needs of the Christian liturgy: its preciousness made it worthy to
hold the blood of Christ.
Henry seems to have been less concerned with material splendour
when he commissioned the reuse of another Islamic object, a small gem

A similar crystal chalice, though of later manufacture, formed part of the treasures of
Saint-Denis; cf. Alcouffe, Le trsor de Saint-Denis: 16062.
A similar effect was produced by the numerous vials made of carefully cut rock-crystal,
in which the blood of Christ was kept as a relic. Frequently, a piece of red silk cloth was
inserted into the vial to enhance the visibility of the few drops of blood. See Toussaint,
Blut im Flakon.

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that came to be placed in the centre of the cover of a Gospel Book dating
from 1010, which was probably donated to the cathedral of Bamberg.32
The cover, richly decorated with precious stones, is encased in filigree
gold. Beaten gold plates in four fields show mythical creatures interwoven
with spiralling foliage. The centre of the cover is taken up by a large oval,
dark-bluish sardonyx; in the concave centre of this gemstone, there is a
small brownish sard, into which letters, difficult to decipher, are engraved
(Figure 7). It is possible that they read baraka (blessing in Arabic).33
However, an alternative reading may be more likely. The letters cannot be
identified easily: the first may be read as either ( ha) or ( mim), and the
second as - - ( za, ra or waw). This leads to several possibilities, but
the letters may also form a meaningless pseudo-inscription. One possibility
to consider, however, is to interpret the inscription as a sequence of two
letters , mirrored and turned by 180 degrees, to be read hwa hwa
(He He, a common Arabic formula referring to God). The second
hwa is inverted and mirrored, so that the ends of the letter waw ( )meet
at the centre of the gemstone. In calligraphic writing, it is often used in
this mirrored form. While this line of thought is generally plausible, it
must be said that the relevant Arabic formula, much used in later times,
would be isolated in the eleventh century.34
It is very likely that this piece was originally an Islamic amulet. Before
its reuse by Western artisans, it would probably have been treated the same
way as other ancient gemstones were: being purified and consecrated by
a priest and thus made into an object that could function in a Christian
context.35 It was thought to retain its inherent powers, but these were,
in a manner of speaking, redirected. The decision to use this modest
gemstone suggests it was known it had a protective function, and this
was deliberately put to Christian use. The stones power was combined
with the blessings believed to emanate from both the Gospel Book and
the words written in the Gospel Book; the setting of Bamberg cathedral
added a further layer of divine protection. We must realise, however, that
only experts would have recognised how subtly an Islamic spolium was

This object is discussed in Kirmeier (ed.), Ex. cat. Kaiser Heinrich II.: no. 135; Shalem,
Islam Christianized: 306.
The reading baraka is suggested by Shalem, Islam Christianized: 306.
I owe the discussion of the Arabic letters and their interpretation to Isabelle Dolezalek
and Simon Rettig.
See Toussaint, Heiliges Gebein und edler Stein: 4345.

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314 Gia Toussaint

Figure 7
Gospel book, cover, detail, 1010, Munich Staatsbibliothek: Clm 4452

employed in this case. It is true that it takes pride of place in one of the
most precious of Ottonian book covers, but it has actually been robbed
of its original function. The clear intention was to use the amulets power
to bless and protect in a different Christian setting.
Quite apart from this interpretation it may be conjectured that the
(pseudo-)Arabic letters suggested to contemporaries a provenance from
the Holy Land. In this case, it would have been considered a kind of relic
or memorable object. Its supposed provenance would have secured its
prominent placing on a sacred book, and its supposed protective power
would be thought to combine with that of the book itself.36
A similar purpose may be suggested for the large agate plate that
once dominated the cover of the Bamberg Apocalypse manuscript, an
object now no longer extant (Figure 8). The manuscript had probably
been donated by Henry and his wife Kunigunde on the occasion of
the consecration of Bamberg Cathedral in 1020. The oval chalcedony
or agate plate, once framed by a further 46 precious stones, measured
23 x 16 cm, although it was only 1.5 cm thick. It would certainly have
come from the East, although a lack of suitable pieces for comparison

Cf. also Anna Bchelers text in this volume.

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Cosmopolitan Claims 315

means that the exact place of origin is still a matter of controversy.37

Why did Henry choose this particular plate for the decorative cover of
an Apocalypse manuscript? There is no other book of the Bible in which
precious stones play such an important part as in the book of Revelation,
at the end of which the heavenly Jerusalem is described in great detail,
and as embellished with precious stones. One of the foundation stones
of the new heavenly city is a chalcedony, and agate also belongs to this
family of stones. So the foundations of the Christian faith and its hope in
an afterlife rest on this stonethe material of the plate, which was once
framed by other gemstones.

Figure 8
Agate plate, formerly on the cover of the Bamberg Apocalypse manuscript.
Munich, Schatzkammer der Residenz

For recent commentary on the agate plate, see Shalem, Die Achat-Platte vom
ursprnglichen Einband; Suckale-Redlefsen, Einband der Bamberger Apokalypse.

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316 Gia Toussaint

As is also the case with the Gospel Book, the ambo and the chalice,
Henry placed artefacts originating in the Islamic world at the service of
the Christian message. In so doing, he acted differently from those who
ruled before him. He was seeking to demonstrate his zeal for the faith,
a zeal that was actually perceived by others, since he was canonised in
1146. In addition to demonstrating his Christian faith with these gifts,
Henry also sought to display his royal wealth, his supposedly far-reaching
connections, his seemingly inexhaustible heritage, and not least his
sovereignty and power as a Christian king. The Islamic treasures emerge
as symbolic, as well as real, capital. The use he made of them accentuated
his difference from his predecessors and helped to establish the prestige
of an initially controversial sovereign.

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Figure 1 Aachen Cathedral, Palatine Chapel, Ambo of Henry II, c. 1024, 1.46 metre.
Figure 2 Aachen Cathedral, Palatine Chapel, Ambo of Henry II, wooden core, c. 1024,
in Appuhn, Horst. 1964. Das Mittelstck vom Ambo Knig Heinrichs II. in
Aachen, Aachener Kunstbltter vol.32: 71, fig. 1.

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318 Gia Toussaint

Figure 3 Aachen Cathedral, Palatine Chapel, Ambo of Henry II, rock-crystal cup, Fatimid,
tenth century.
Figure 4 Aachen Cathedral, Palatine Chapel, Ambo of Henry II, rock-crystal dish, Fatimid,
tenth century.
Figure 5 Aachen Cathedral, Palatine Chapel, Ambo of Henry II, agate and chalcedony
Figure 6 Double-handled chalice, so called Henry chalice, rock crystal, silver-gilt and
precious stones, h. 13 cm. Rock-crystal: Fatimid, around 1000. Mount: probably
German, twelfth century. Munich, Schatzkammer der Residenz: 7. Mnchen,
Schatzkammer der Residenz.
Figure 7 Gospel book, cover, detail, beaten gold plates and sardonyx, 1010. Munich
Staatsbibliothek: Clm 4452. StaatsBibliothek Mnchen
Figure 8 Agate plate, formerly on the cover of the Bamberg Apocalypse manuscript.
Munich, Schatzkammer der Residenz.

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