|Gough's Cave, Cheddar Gorge|
|Krum the Horrible|
Krum (the Horrible) of Bulgaria was said to have made a drinking cup lined with silver from the skull of the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus I (811 CE) after killing him in the Battle of Pliska.
The Russian Primary Chronicle records that the skull of the heroic Svyatoslav I of Kiev was made into a chalice by the Pecheneg Khan Kurya (972 AD). He likely intended this as a compliment to Sviatoslav; sources report that Kurya and his wife drank from the skull and prayed for a son as brave as the deceased Rus warlord.
According to Paul the Deacon, the Lombard Alboin defeated the Lombards' hereditary enemies, the Gepids and slew their king Cunimund, whose skull he had made into a jewelled drinking-cup, and whose daughter Rosamund he carried off and made his wife. She was later revenged, arranging his assassination in 572/3 CE.
There is, however, no documentary evidence that the Danes, Swedes or Norse practised this singular act of humiliation on their foes. The story may have come about via the writings of a 17th Century physician and antiquary, Ole Worm, who lived in Aarhus, Denmark. In his ‘Runer seu Danica literatura antiquissima’ (1636 CE) he wrote about Danish warriors drinking “ór bjúgviðum hausa” (from the curved branches of skulls, a typical kenning for drinking-horns). Unfortunately, this was translated into Latin as drinking ‘ex craniis eorum quos ceciderunt’ (from the skulls of those whom they had slain).
|Taplow Drinking Horns, Anglo-Saxon|
Gakk þú til smiðju, (34)
þeirar er þú gerðir,
þar fiðr þú belgi
sneið ek af höfuð
ok und fen fjöturs
fætr of lagðak.
En þær skálar,
er und skörum váru,
sveip ek útan silfri,
selda ek Níðaði;
en ór augum
senda ek kunnigri
'Go to my forge, the one which you built,
There find the bellows blood-bespattered.
I struck off the heads of your young cubs,
Under soot-blackened bellows their bodies hid,
'From both their skulls I scraped the curls
And set them in silver as a gift for Niðad,
Of their eyes I fashioned glittering gems
A message to my neighbour, Niðud's wife,’ [my translation]
Rather amusingly, the common toast in Scandinavian lands, "Skøl!" sounds, superficially at least, like the English ‘skull’. The latter derives from from the Old Norse skalli "bald head, skull," whereas skøl derives from the Old Norse skál - a bowl, via the Proto-Germanic *skéló.
Whatever the historical truth, the story of skull drinking-bowls is a fascinating one!