Wyrtig

For gardeners with a sense of history
 

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312
.

  

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Medieval Baskets
 

 

In these days of cardboard and plastic, it’s easy to forget how important baskets were to medieval life. Woven of grasses, reeds or cane, rushes, or wicker (most often from the flexible branches of willow, hazel, or basswood), baskets ranged in size from tiny to enormous. Some, made to specific sizes, served as standard measures. Many were used to transport as well as store the produce of fields and gardens.

 

 

 

Man carrying a basket. 
Smithfield Decretals, BL
Royal 10 E IV
, c. 1330 CE

 

The continental Celts were known for their wicker work, though in an unusual context. Julius Caesar says in Commentarii de Bello Gallico,

 

            [The Celts] possess woven wicker figures

           of vast size that they fill with living people;
           which, being set on fire, the people are
           engulfed in flames and killed. (I.6. c. 16).

 

But the early Britons were renowned for their basketwork in a less alarming way. Writing in The History of Great Britain from the First Invasion, Robert Henry says,

There seems to have been only one kind of goods manufactured by [Britons] for exportation… baskets and other works made of osiers. These baskets were of very elegant workmanship, and bore a high price; and are mentioned by Juvenal among the extravagant expensive furniture of the Roman tables in his time.

The satirist Juvenal, who lived at the time when Rome first occupied Britain, was talking about the Roman love of luxuries, among them British baskets, when he wrote,

 

Adde et bascaudas et mille efecaria.
Add baskets and a thousand other dishes. 
                                      
Juvenal,
xii.46

 

Matre, from WelwynA contemporary of Juvenal, the poet Martial thought that the word "basket" was derived from British Celtic bascauda, "table vessel." Martial wrote,

Barbara de pictis veni bascauda Britannia
Sed me jam mavult dicere Roma suam.


I came, foreign, from painted Britons, a basket;
But me now Rome prefers to call her own.
                            CXCVII, book XIV, Ep. XCIX

Woven wicker was also used to make furniture. Small, fired pipe clay or terracotta deae matres (mother goddesses), found throughout the Roman Empire, are often portrayed sitting in wicker chairs that look very familiar.

 

But back to the kinds of baskets used to haul and store the produce of gardens and fields. Many types of baskets were known, and each region, then as now, had its own names for the various types. The Latin glosses (found in medieval glossaries and other manuscripts) for Old English basket names are interesting, but not always helpful -- as can be seen below:

 

Old English 

Latin Glosses

Bin
Basket

Glossed in Latin as

Cophinus, coffinus
Large wicker hamper

Caul, cawel,  ceawl, ceaul, ceofl
Wicker hamper, used for storage and for transporting goods

Gaelic cliabh, hamper

 

Donkey carrying creels, from Wikimedia Commons

Glossed in Latin as

CorbisCophinus, coffinus
Large wicker hamper
 

Corbes, corbis, cophinus, corves
Wicker basket with a conical shape; often used to hold fruit or fish. it sometimes had a hook so it could be hung from a branch, to make harvesting fruit easier.
 

Sporta
A hamper, or large rectangular basket, used for storage and                       Corbis
transportation.

 

Cyntell, wyntell Glossed in Latin as Cistella
Small basket

 

Cisefæt
Basket in which cheese curds are pressed to remove whey

Glossed in Latin as

Calathus
A vase-shaped basket used to hold fruit or flowers.

 

 

 

Calathus 

Cistula
Basket, chest made of rushes

Glossed in Latin as

Sporta
A hamper or large rectangular basket used for storage and transportation.

Cypa, cype
Basket

Glossed in Latin as

Corbes, corbis, cophinus, corves
Wicker basket with a conical shape; often used to hold fruit or fish. it sometimes had a hook so it could be hung from a branch, to make harvesting fruit easier.

Hyf, hyfa
Basket, bee skep, hive

Glossed in Latin as

Bee skepCanistrum or alvearium
May be a flat, circular basket, often carried on the head; also an apiary basket or bee skep

 

 

Bee skep, Luttrell Psalter
BL Add MS 42130
,
c. 1330 CE

 

Leap, lepe
Basket, also a measure of
about 2/3 of a bushel

Glossed in Latin as

Cophinus, coffinus
Large wicker hamper


Corbes, corbis, cophinus, corves
Wicker basket with a conical shape; often used to hold fruit or fish. it sometimes had a hook so it could be hung from a branch, making harvesting fruit easier.

 

Large, soft sided harvest basketLarge, soft-sided basket filled with grain;  Anglo-Saxon Calendar,   British Library Cotton Tiberius B.V. Part I; England, c. 1050

Lebr, leafer
Rush basket
From leafer, rush

 

Glossed in Latin as

Cophinus , coffinus
Large wicker hamper


Corbes, corbis, cophinus, corves
Wicker basket with a conical shape; often used to hold fruit or fish. it sometimes had a hook so it could be hung from a branch, making harvesting fruit easier.

 

Scirpea
Large rush basket

Mand
Basket

 

Glossed in Latin as

Cophinus , coffinus
Large wicker hamper


Corbes, corbis, cophinus, corves
Wicker basket with a conical shape; often used to hold fruit or fish. it sometimes had a hook so it could be hung from a branch, making harvesting fruit easier.
 

Sporta
Hamper, large rectangular basket used for storage and transportation.

Meoxbearwe
Dung barrow basket

 

Meoxwilige
Wicker dung basket

Glossed in Latin as

Cophinus, coffinus
Large wicker hamper

 

 

Large wicker hamper used to haul manure on a barrow.

Riscenne windel
Rush basket

Glossed in Latin as

Scirpea
Large rush basket

Sædleap
Seed basket

Man using a sædleap, Queen Mary Psalter,
British Library Royal 2 B
VII
,  England, c. 1315 CE

Glossed in Latin as

Satoria, saticula
Sower, seeder

 

Man sowing seed using a saedleap

Sowing a field, using a sædleap,
Luttrell Psalter BL Add MS 42130,
 
c. 1330 CE

Sperte, spirte
Rush basket

 

Glossed in Latin as

Cistum, cistula
Basket, chest; small basket
 

Fiscellus
Conical wicker basket used to drain cheese or salt.  

Spyrte biþ... of rixum gebroden...

Sperte are ...of rushes woven

                    Aelfric's Homilies

Sprincel, sprinclum
Wicker basket

Glossed in Latin as

Fiscellus
Conical wicker basket used to drain cheese or salt.  

Stictænel
Basket, often of rush

Glossed in Latin as

Fiscellus
Conical wicker basket used to drain cheese or salt.

Tænel
Wicker basket
From tán, twig

 

Woman feeding poultry from a taenel full of grain
A barefoot woman uses a small basket to hold grain for her poultry, Luttrell Psalter BL Add MS 42130, c. 1330 CE

 

 

Grape harvester with a small basket over his shoulder,  Zwiefalten monatsbilder, Zwiesel Monastery, Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v, Germany, c. 1150 CE

Glossed in Latin as

Canistrum, systrum
A wicker basket, sometimes carried on the head; also a bee hive or skep
 

 

 

 

 

Woman carrying a
basket of spinach
on her head,
Tacuinum Sanitatis
,
c. 1250


Capsulla

Small container
 

Cartallus
Basket used in harvesting fruit.

 

Cistum
Basket, chest
 

Corbes, corbis, cophinus, corves
Wicker basket with a conical shape; often used to hold fruit or fish. it sometimes had  a hook so it could be hung from a branch, to make harvesting fruit easier.

 

Crele cartallus

Basket creel, used for transporting goods
 

Fiscellus
Conical wicker basket used to drain cheese or salt.
 

Qualus
Wicker basket
 

Sporta
Hamper, large rectangular basket used for storage and transportation.
 

Sportella
Little hamper
 

Vas vinetum
Vineyard carrying basket

 

 

 

 

Vas vinetum , Queen Mary Psalter,
British Library Royal 2 B
VII
,
England, c. 1315 CE

Tænel, litel
Little wicker basket

 

Cherry pickers filling small baskets that have sturdy handles; Hunterian Psalter , Glasgow Library Scotland,  c. 1170 CE

Glossed in Latin as

Calathus
Vase-shaped basket used to hold fruit or flowers.

 

Quasillas
Small basket

 

Workers fill baskets with grape clusters,
Fécamp Psalter, Normandy, c. 1180 CE

Wilian, wilige
Wicker basket

 

 

Glossed in Latin as

Cophinus , coffinus
Large wicker hamper


Corbes, corbis, cophinus, corves
Wicker basket with a conical shape; often used to hold fruit or fish. it sometimes had a hook so it could be hung from a branch, making harvesting fruit easier.

 

Sporta
Hamper, large rectangular basket used for storage and transportation.

Wearpfæt Glossed in Latin as Calathus
Vase-shaped basket used to hold fruit or flowers.  

 

Quarellus
Conical wicker basket used to carry fruit, flowers, made of osiers or reeds

Windel, windlas, wintell
Wicker basket, and measure, about three bushels
From "to wind, to turn"

 

Wicker basket used during grape harvest

Fécamp Psalter,
Normandy, c. 1180 CE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glossed in Latin as

Cistum
Basket, chest

 

Cistella
Basket or small box, usually wicker

 

Corbes, corbis, cophinus, corves
Wicker basket with a conical shape; often used to hold fruit or fish. it sometimes had a hook so it could be hung from a branch, making harvesting fruit easier.
 

Calathus
Vase-shaped basket used to hold fruit or flowers.
 
 

Canistrum
A wicker basket, originally used in Roman sacrifices.

 

Cartallus
Basket used in harvesting, and having a volume of about three bushels
 

Fiscellus
Conical wicker basket used to drain cheese or salt.

 

Quarellus
Conical wicker basket used to carry fruit, flowers, made of osiers or reeds

Sources

Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (definitions, derivations, glosses)

British History Online: Trade Goods Dictionary

The Luttrell Psalter

Museums with basketry collections

From cradle to grave: Willows and basket-making in Somerset

 

_______________________________________

Medieval garden tools

I. Preparing

II.  Planting

III.  Cultivation

IV.  Harvest and storage

 

About the Astute Reeve

Medieval baskets

Sources

Medieval garden tools

I. Preparing

II.  Planting

III.  Cultivation

IV.  Harvest and storage

 

About the Astute Reeve

Medieval baskets

Sources

 
 


Home | Early gardens | Early plants | Growing heirloom plants | Garden folklore | Resources | Site map

 

Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt

 

Copyright ©2015 S.E.S. Eberly
All Rights Reserved

Contact us

Home | Early gardens | Early plants | Growing heirloom plants | Garden folklore | Resources | Site map

 

Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt

 

Copyright ©2015 S.E.S. Eberly
All Rights Reserved

Contact us