“It looks like a collection of trophies”

Gold strip from Staffordshire Hoard

The Viking silver hoard found in 2007 dated to around the 10th Century, but the equally stunning 1,500 gold and silver Anglo-Saxon pieces found by metal-detectorist Terry Herbert in Staffordshire are believed to be older still. The treasure hoard, approximately 5kg of gold and 2.5kg of silver, shown in the BBC slideshow, may date back to the 7th Century. The gold strip pictured has the Latin inscription “Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate the be driven from thy face”, which can be sourced to either the Book of Numbers or Psalm 67, taken from the Vulgate, the Bible used by the Saxons. The Guardian has a further report and more images. Dr Michael Lewis, deputy head of Portable Antiquities Scheme, British Museum tries to answer the question of who it belonged to and why it was put there.

Some of the items will be on display at the Birmingham Museum.

And from the BBC report.

Dr Kevin Leahy, who has been cataloguing the find for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said it was “a truly remarkable collection”. He said it had been found in the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

“All the archaeologists who’ve worked with it have been awestruck,” he added. “It’s been actually quite scary working on this material to be in the presence of greatness.”

He said the most striking feature of the find was that it was almost totally weapon fittings with no feminine objects such as dress fittings, brooches or pendants.

“Swords and sword fittings were very important in the Anglo-Saxon period,” Dr Leahy added.

“The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf describes after a battle a sword being stripped of its hilt fittings.

“It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career.

“We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when.”

Here’s a dagger hilt found in the Staffordshire hoard. Photographs: PA

Dagger hilt from Staffordshire Hoard

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  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    Waht an absolutely brilliant discovery!

  • Dewi

    Fantastic – that entwined arms theme – is that a typical Anglo Saxon thing? Not seen it before.

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    “Fantastic – that entwined arms theme – is that a typical Anglo Saxon thing? Not seen it before.”

    Aye, but it is prevalent in Scandinavian metalwork too….. the Anglo-Saxons, Jutes, Friesians and Norse being kinda all the same gang!

  • Greenflag

    5 Kilos of gold at present prices of approx 1,000 dollars an ounce would equal 176,000 dollars .
    Add in the skilled labour input value of the craftsmen /artists , the difficult working conditions , political instability etc and it soon adds up to real money .

    This is perhaps a history changing find at least in perceptions of early Anglo Saxons in the 7th century . I’d never have thought they were that clever 😉 Wonder where they learnt the skills ? Is there evidence of similar finds ot the same antiquity in the lands the early Anglo Saxons came from ? If not they may have acquired their skills in situ or from the earlier peoples.

    I think the gist of the find is that despite mayhem and warfare in the 7th century life went on for most people. We can even see this in the world today . While millions of people are done away with physically and financially through various means across the world – stockbrokers in New York and elsewhere still watch the Dow Jones Index and ponder the short and long term futures of their retirement funds /ponzi schemes etc etc .And the local jeweller still advertises his gilded offerings for the spring wedding season .

    But for artistic creativity this archaelogical find beats the street as they Yanks might say .

    Thanks Pete for digging (no pun intended )up that gem of a story in of all places the Potteries . I’m now ‘off to Staffordshire in the mornin’ after I first purchase a metal detector and before the winter sets in !

  • dewi

    Hmmm – I’m beginning to doubt it…clever artwork, and Latin Christian quotes from 7th century Mercia? Let’s face it – the Pagan thieving Saxon bastards stole our gold !!!

  • Greenflag

    Have you been watching too many Foyle’s War reruns Chief Inspector Poirot. When did the Anglo Saxons ‘expose’ themselves to Christianity and I mean those of the early medieval period 500 – 800AD and not the present descendants in Tunbridge Wells ;)?

  • Greenflag

    Have you been watching too many Foyle’s War reruns Chief Inspector Dewi ;)?. When exactly did the Anglo Saxons ‘expose’ themselves to Christianity and I mean those of the early medieval period 500 – 800AD and not the present irreverent bastards resident in Tunbridge Wells and such other denizens of secular paganism ;)?

  • Dewi

    Mercia one of the latest bastions of Paganism IIRC GF. Penda who ruled to 655 was the last of the great English Pagan kings. After his death Mercia was converted. So I suppose it depends on when the stuff was buried. Here’s my wonderful hypothesis:
    At the time of Paenda’s death A Northumbrian raiding party took the Powys HQ of Pengwern (maybe at Shrewsbury) by surprise and slaughtered all except Princess Heledd who fled West. Some brilliant desolate Welsh poetry followed.
    Heledd’s elegy to her late Dad Cynddylan, King of Powys
    “stafell Gynddylan ys tywyll heno,
    heb dan, heb wely.
    wylaf wers; tawaf wedi.”
    “Cynddylan’s Palace is dark tonight,
    without fire, without a place to stay,
    I’ll cry a bit, and then I’ll shut up”
    Ok – Heledd had just had her family slaughtered so must have been upset but these things happened in those day. I think the presence of a Latin Chistian inscription amongst the treasure discovered in Stafford is conclusive proof that Heledd was also mourning the loss of the Powys treasury!!! Makes perfect sense?

  • Dublin Voter

    Sit mae Dewi (did I spell that right?). Good stuff. Raised a smile down here. Badly needed at the mo!

  • Dewi

    Sut mae DV – the only possible flaw in the hypothesis is those intertwined arms. I’ll need to use some imagination to explain those….

  • OC

    “those intertwined arms”

    Pictish influence.

  • Greenflag

    OC , thanks for the link . So they were all cleverer than we thought /assumed 😉

    Dewi ,

    ‘I’ll need to use some imagination’

    Aha the old reliable absence of evidence eh 😉

    Twas artistic imagination and symbolical conceptualization which gave Homo Sapiens his edge over our Neanderthal cousins back when the two hominoid cousins had to share the forests and foothills of pre glacial europe .

    Sometimes it takes imagination to break away from the deep ruts grooved in by history and old ways of thinking .

  • Dewi

    “Sometimes it takes imagination to break away from the deep ruts grooved in by history and old ways of thinking .”

    …Yeah – fantastic find though GF – I note that today’s papers are quoting dates of between 600-800AD – toward the latter period when Offa got a bit of English hegemony going would seem to make more sense – given the quality of the art, size of the discovery etc?

    Conjecture – don’t you just love it !!!

  • susan

    So, so beautiful. “Dark Ages” my ass. Is Hiberno-Saxon a word? That’s what they look like to me, in my completely uninformed opinion.

    Dewi, you know I’d miss your posts, but you really ought to get yourself blocked from Slugger for a few months and bang out one of those archaeology-inspired best selling novels, a la the clan of the cave bear woman.

    I’d buy it and so would Dublin voter, whoever he/she is, and we’re not remotely Welsh.

    But why would they bury all that hoard? Yesterday I kept thinking of that line from non-Welsh (as it is known) poetry, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” Why would you separate all those hilts from their swords? What became of the swords? Did someone think the gold was cursed, or were they hiding evidence of a theft or a massacre?

    YOu’re the only one who seems to know, Dew!

  • Admittedly, I’m drawing on my schoolboy history (and it was a long time ago now) but the later Anglo Saxon period was something of a high water-mark in terms of widespread prosperity and a fairly civilised governance. I recall that almost the only capital crime was ‘debasing the currency’ – if you mucked around with one of the local mints, they killed you slowly, but other crimes were treated fairly liberally.

    Quite like the idea of dire punishments for ‘debasing the currency’ by the way. I bet there are some people in the Republic, with NAMA looming, who’d like to make it painful and slow for a few bankers….

  • Pete Baker

    Re: the “entwined arms theme”

    Here’s what that theme reminded me of.

    In particular, Old Croghan Man.

    Image here, and slightly better [half] image here.

  • susan

    Those are very intense, disturbing links, Pete.

    Hmmm. The king’s son must die a slow, agonising tortured death in retribution for or to redeem his people. Rings a bell.

  • Pete Baker

    “Rings a bell.”

    Indeed, susan.

    That that conjecture was retrospective may be significant.

    But it’s what the theme reminded me of.

    I can’t help thinking that there is a connection, or echo, in the imagery.

  • susan

    Don’t make me say, “indeed” Pete. It is allegedly Friday night. But you may find this of interest:

    http://www.bartleby.com/196/65.html

  • Pete Baker

    I wouldn’t dream of it, susan.

    Interesting link.

  • Greenflag

    Susan ,

    ‘But why would they bury all that hoard?’

    They did’nt trust the banks then either 😉

    ‘Quite like the idea of dire punishments for ‘debasing the currency’ by the way’

    Actually our cousins across the smaller pond have a list as long as your arm in debasing the currency . Until we joined the Euro -the Irish version of sterling was dragged down along with the pound . From Wood’s halfpennies to the devaluations of the 1920’s/30’s to the post war period not to mention the Wilson/Callaghan years and later Mr Lamont’s drop and of course Mr Soros (an unelected Hungarian investor ) telling the British Prime Minister to do as he was told by the market and stop trying to delay the inevitable . And now it’s all up for grabs again:(

    The UK needs to join the Euro asap so that the longer term stability of it’s currency can be ons of assured or at least made safer from the predations of Soros and the like .

  • Greenflag

    ‘The king’s son must die a slow, agonising tortured death in retribution for or to redeem his people. Rings a bell.’

    Rousseau’s noble and peaceful ‘savage’ had more to do with Rousseau’s diet of mushrooms than with historical reality . As more and more ancient people’s and cultures come under the microscope it’s seen that man’s inhumanity (is that the right word I wonder ?) to his fellow man has been part of every culture to the present day .

    Can it be ever ended ? We can hope .

  • dewi

    What??? will you lot just wait till I find out the facts. (Note no links I’ll just decide my truth)

  • Guest

    Good man Dewi.The way it should be;

  • Pete Baker

    Greenie

    If you want a discussion, try to engage with what is being said.

    Dewi

    No offence.

    But I’m not that interested in your truth.

  • dewi

    Anyway – exibibition in Brum – I’m going next week…

  • dewi

    Come on Pete – conjecture? it’s fun?

  • dewi

    I’m interested in your truth Pete

  • Pete Baker

    “conjecture? it’s fun?”

    No it’s not, dewi.

    I’m not interested in anybody’s individually subjective “truth”.

  • dewi

    Sorry Pete no offence meant – brilliant post and I’m going to Brum to see the exhibition next week.

  • borderline

    Truth, eh Pete.

    Don’t go there.

    But if you insist, go here first……

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth

  • dewi

    Anyway slightly seriously.

    1) It must be a battle site. – almost a fact
    2) Slightly less sure but the victors were in a hurry to leave – these finds were in the topsoil -not buried deeply at all.
    3) Given the scale of the hoard it must have been a big battle,

    So what have we in Mercia 600-800AD?
    1) Big Battle of Maserfield in 642 ish when Penda of Mercia and Cynddylan of Powys beat Oswald of Mercia. Rejected because:
    a) Generally thought to have been at Oswestry and
    b) the home team won.

    2) Battle of the Winwaed about 655 when Penda was killed.
    a) Geography not right – Penda was on his way home from Northumbria – battle probably about Leeds way – rejected.

    3) Ellandun – now this is a possibility. It’s where Wessex beat the Mercians about 825.
    a)Location unknown but thought to be about Swindon -that’s not far from Staffordshire is it?
    b) It was a big battle and the victors, Wessex, were fighting away from home.

    Conclusive? Perhaps not…..

  • Greenflag

    Detective Chief Inspector Dewi ,

    I agree conjecture can be fun . It can aid on the finding of the Holy Grail i.e Pete’s objective scientific truth 😉

    Of course like everything else it can get out of hand . Some ancient conjectures and even some modern ones have even become worldwide religions and political doctrines which have shall we say left more than their mark on the human psyche, political systems and the worldwide economy .
    What is seen in retrospect as conjecture is often seen as ‘scientifically ‘ truth at the time . Ask any monetarist economist from the Chicago School of Truth . You could start with Friedman or Greenspan 😉

    But back to the case in question just one or two thoughts .

    1) It must be a battle site.

    Why exactly ? The hoard could have been buried quite a distance away from any battle site ?

    2) the victors were in a hurry to leave – these finds were in the topsoil -not buried deeply at all.

    Why would the victors be in a hurry to leave ? Usually it’s the losers who are in a hurry and need to bury their valuables quickly before being caught by the victors ?

    Your other conjectures seem fair enough and you seem to have command of the historical detail of that area ..

    Yours etc .

    PC Greenflag

  • Greenflag

    borderline,

    ‘Truth,

    Don’t go there.’

    It’s said to hurt also 😉

    ‘War is peace , Truth is Lies , Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength’

    Nowadays unlike in Orwell’s time it’s called ‘spinning ‘ 😉
    The trait is an evolutionary adaptation that helps it’s bearers climb to the top of the political and economic pyramid. Anyone actually telling the actual truth will quickly be told to amend the facts , water down the content and pour some sweet sauce over the smelliest parts .

  • dewi

    Just bought my train tickets to Brum on Thursday -I’ll let you know my findings…
    GF = once I find a plausible thereom favorable to Wales I’ll share it…..

  • I’m late to this debauch: apologies.

    Despite Dewi’s best efforts, we’re thrashing around in the dark. Until we have a truly indicative dating for the hoard (I hear 675-725 as the first guess), it’s all speculation. To which, of course, we are all entitled, especially here. I have to say my first assumptions were that the hoard would predate the christianisation of the Saxons.

    One clue is that desecrated crucifix. This must be the act of a pagan, which by implication implies one of those impious Saxons who hadn’t been got at by those Irish priests.

    Dewi discounts the Battle of Maserfeld (presumed to be near Oswestry). Pity that: pity would give us a very definite date (5 Aug 642). That doesn’t tally with the date of 675-725 — except, of course this one is not like Sutton Hoo. There everything was in situ: this seems to be a robber’s plunder. So it could be anytime after the date of the artefacts, particularly so were it from a single “take” — say, a grave robbery. Maserfeld was Saxon defeating Saxon: Penda (and his putative ally, Cadwaladr) seeing off Oswald of Northumbria. How could a pagan hoard of Christian material fit into that narrative?

    So we move on to Penda’s defeat at Winwaed (655). Nennius has it that Penda then had the support of British Celts, though presumably not Cadwaladr, who must have died previously (Nennius says the king of Gwynedd was Cadafael ap Cynfedw, who deserted Penda on the eve of battle). Winwaed was, arguably if not probably, on the River Went, near modern Leeds. Oswiu was then recognised as Bretwalda of the Saxons in succession to Penda, and he took the campaign on into Powys. Again, though, a crushing Saxon victory does not fit the back-story of that hoard.

    Three other (perhaps linked) possibilities jump to mind.

    After Penda’s death, one son, Peada, inherited Mercia. Another son, Merewalh, set himself up as a petty king in “Magonsaete” (which covered Shropshire and Hereford. That suggests a degree of instability and tension. There’s also the Hwicce (ruled by Eanfrith and Eanhere — both noted by Bede, and based on Gloucester), which seems to have briefly risen to the top. By the end of the 7th century the Hwicce is ruled by Osric, and back as a tributary to Mercia. More instability, especially as the Hwicche must have been a frontier operation, facing the British to West and South.

    A second approach is those atacks by Oswiu. Dewi could fill us in on Llywarch Hen. The bit I recall (and, of course, only in a degenerate translation) is the lament of Cynddylan’s Hall. What that’s about is the Saxons taking Pengwern (Shrewsbury) and settling the area.

    Wulhere (another of Penda’s sons) and his attack on Northumbria in AD 674. Wulhere imposed christianity on Mercia, but was dead by 675.

    Which brought Aethelred to the throne of Mercia in 675, who continued taking* the war back to the Northumbrians. We’re in promising territory here. Aethelred (whose wife, Osthryth was Northumbrian — and therefore suspected by the Mercians) defeated his brother-in-law, Ecgfrith, somewhere along the Trent valley in 679. Mercia around this moment seems peculaiarly unsettled: Osthryth was assassinated in 697 and Aethelred took himself off to monastic retirement in 704. About the only thing one can suggest there is that, since both Aethelred and Osthryth were buried at Bardsey Abbey, the artefacts were not entombed with them. The throne of Mercia then reverted to Coenred, Wulhere’s son.

    Berfore we get out of the 7th century, then, there’s a wealth of possibilities for the acquisition and secreting of a royal hoard (which this obviously is).

  • Greenflag

    Dewi .

    ‘once I find a plausible theorem favorable to Wales ‘

    I don’t ever doubt your eh objectivity 😉 . Good luck in Brum and we look forward to your findings.

  • Greenflag

    malcolm redfellow ,

    Now that sounds as if you were an embedded reporter with the Mercian armoured columns 😉 ?

    Better late than never:)

    ‘Before we get out of the 7th century, then, there’s a wealth of possibilities for the acquisition and secreting of a royal hoard (which this obviously is).

    That’s what I thought .

  • Dewi

    Brilliant Malcolm – I missed the desecrated crucifix – I’ll have to read again.

    GF – I’m not sure about moving the stuff – why move it and then not securely bury it instead of just under the surface. It sounds like a succcessful incursion party burying the spolis with an intent to return to salvage.

  • Dewi

    Interesting on Wiki – “Michelle Brown, Professor of Mediæval Manuscripts Studies in London, believes that, based on the use of uncial letter forms, the style of lettering used implies a date of 7th or early 8th century, whereas Professor Elisabeth Okasha of University College Cork, an expert on early medieval inscriptions, has identified traits in the insular majuscule script that are similar to later inscriptions datable to the 8th or early 9th century.”

  • This topic’s on page 2 of page 2, so not long for an active life.

    Before the thread is put down, then, a suggestion and a quotation.

    Taking Dewi’s last point, about the style of lettering, why should that indicate more than a terminus ad quem to the use of the items? The lettering would be added later, perhaps much later (decent Georgian silverware suffers from crude Victorian monograms and inscriptions, for example). So the lettering, at best, might suggest when the stuff went into the ground, not where it came from. Or is that thought totally misguided?

    Then, the quotation. I came across this today, sorting books:

    The Mercians had need of military colonies on their northern border, and some scores of earlier 7th-century warrior chiefs were buried in barrows in the Derbyshire and Staffordshire upland; several places in Cheshire are also named from English burial-mounds, though none have been excavated; and a few places that end in -bold derive from Mercian strongholds placed on the Northumbrian border. Similar names lie near the borders between Mercia and other English kingdoms, and Mercian names extend into the West Riding about Halifax; but there is no sign of defence against the Welsh until Eliseg’s time. The latest pagan burials stop short of the allied British borders, and suggest that significant English settlement had not begun when the burials ended, early in the 7th century. But before the middle of the century an incidental story reports English settlers on the upper Severn, in lands not conquered by the Mercians, while the place names of Cheshire and the north-west suggest that the British states admitted the peaceful immigration of their Mercian allies well before the middle of the century. Further south the names of the constituent peoples of Mercia, the Hwicce, the Magonsaete and others, penetrated into the border regions and beyond without sign of wars and conquest; by the 670s the English were well established in Bath and Gloucester, Hereford and Leominster, where many of the names of people and of places suggest and untroubled mixture of English and Welsh.

    That’s from The Age of Arthur, John Morris, 1993; page 310. The reference to Eliseg ties with the Colofn Eliseg genealogies.

    I appreciate the above is marginally relevant at best; but (until we are treated to more clarity from the “experts”) it’s the best I have on offer this dull London morning.

  • Dewi

    “incidental story reports English settlers on the upper Severn”

    Yeah, away from data but IIRC a Welsh priest heard Saxon spoken and ran away to Gwynedd. The Mercian / Powys / Gwynedd relationship usually quite friendly pre English unification.

    It’s the shallowness of the burial that suggests haste to me. It sounds like a battle site where the victors intended to return to recover the spoil. Buried it quickly, went back home intending to return. We’ll see…