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Tomb of emperor Frederick III in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Source: JoJan / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Micro Cameras Reveal Treasure in Emperor Frederick III’s Tomb


Researchers have used cameras to examine the last untouched royal tomb in Europe. Experts used tiny cameras to investigate the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. They revealed a stunning treasure of jewels, coins, fabrics, and a golden crown .

The tomb of Emperor Frederick III (1415-1493), in Vienna’s St. Stephen's Cathedral, is one of the most remarkable from the Late Middle Ages Europe. It is very elaborately decorated and has an effigy of the emperor in his full royal regalia . Because of the beauty of the tomb, no one has dared to open it for fear they would damage this remarkable piece of Late Gothic funerary art.

Rumors That Frederick III’s Tomb Was Empty

In the past, many claimed that Frederick III was not buried in the cathedral at all. In 1969 a small hole was drilled in the tomb to “to refute rumors that the grave was empty” according to Zeit Online . This was done in great secrecy and the researchers were able to establish that the emperor was indeed interred in the magnificent tomb .

Frederick III ruled the Holy Roman Empire for 53 years, the longest reign of any emperor. He was the sole Hapsburg emperor to be crowned by the Pope. He consolidated his family’s rule in Austria and laid the foundations for the Hapsburg domination of Europe in the 16th century.

Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor. (FDRMRZUSA / Public Domain)

Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor. (FDRMRZUSA / Public Domain )

In 2013 on the 500th anniversary, of the death of the emperor, researchers once again decided to investigate the tomb. They used medical endoscopes and GEODAR to look into the tomb and they were able to see the “actual coffin of glued, glazed ceramic plates and textiles” reports the Weiner Zeitung . Recently a team decided to once more investigate the tomb of the Holy Roman Emperor using the latest technology.

Amazing Images of Emperor Frederick III’s Tomb

This team used a small W-LAN-controlled camera and a smartphone, to take pictures inside the tomb. They were able, by means “of sophisticated lighting and suspensions threaded through the small hole” made in 1969, to take images of the contents of the tomb , reports the Weiner Zeitung . By using small cameras and the existing hole, they made sure that they did not damage what is a priceless work of art.

Close up of the art on the tomb of Emperor Frederick III. (JoJan / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Close up of the art on the tomb of Emperor Frederick III. (JoJan / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Despite the cramped conditions, the images that the team were able to take were amazing. They were stored on a laptop and shown to the curators of the cathedral. One of them, Franz Kirchweger, when shown the pictures, said he had a “feeling like Howard Carter , who first saw the riches in Tutankhamun's tomb ” reports the Weiner Zeitung .

A Treasure Trove Discovered in Frederick III’s Tomb

The images that were captured by the team demonstrated that the emperor was buried with a treasure trove of burial goods and the dead monarch had been interred in his full regalia. The team was able to take an image of the emperor’s crown, which was probably made of gilded silver .

Archaeology News Network stated that it “turned out to be the earliest surviving specimen of the type ‘Mitrenkrone’”. This coronet type of crown was adopted by many monarchs of the House of Hapsburg in later centuries.

Also found during the research was “a scepter and an orb that is located next to the corpse” reports Zeit Online . The researchers also identified “custom minted coins and a large crucifix with a statuette of Jesus” according to Archaeology News Network . They also took images of the gold handles of the coffin, inside the tomb.

There Are Precious Textiles in the Tomb of Frederick III

Researchers also took pictures of some stunning textiles . There are two resplendent sheets of velvet covering the body, that are stitched with gold and silver threads and probably were made in Italy. They are so well-preserved that even their patterns were captured by the cameras. Because of the velvet sheets covering the emperor, it is not known what he was wearing when he was buried.

The findings of the research were presented in Vienna last week and in December the images of the study will be published. It is likely that the contents of Frederick III’s crypt will only ever be known by these images. Even today, any attempt to open the grave would irreparably damage the remarkable funerary monument.

The tomb of Frederick III is an artistic funerary monument. (Uoaei1 / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The tomb of Frederick III is an artistic funerary monument. (Uoaei1 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Top image: Tomb of emperor Frederick III in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Source: JoJan / CC BY-SA 3.0 .

By Ed Whelan

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My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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