Staffordshire Hoard…need I say more?

Alright, we’ve all been rather excited about this for a couple of days. 1500 new (to us, anyway) items to salivate over and study. I just thought I might put down some of my observations after looking through the initial hand list of objects. This can be found, in its 108 page entirety, by following the links on the Anglo-Saxon Archaeology Blog, whose own link can be found to your right. Remember, these are only initial responses. 

The dating of the hoard, based on stylistic elements of some of the objects, is roughly c.650-750. The location, coupled with this putative date, places this find in the context of the Mercian conflict with Northumbria or East Anglia. My first guess would be after 676, when Aethelred turned his attention from his raid on Kent to targets further north. Of course, if this is not the spoils from a single battle or campaign, if it was, as Kevin Leahy points out, the collected treasure “of a long military career,” then some of the pieces could well have come from Kent (Leahy, 6). First glance analysis points to Kent as the possible place of manufacture for a few pieces. This would at least put the beginning of the collection in Wulfhere’s reign, 658-675, or maybe a bit before. I like the “collection” idea, even though I have no idea why it was ultimately planted. Still, we cannot discount the idea that these objects represent the fruit of a single campaign or battle. If this is indeed the case, perhaps the hoard was hidden in response to a pursuing army or force.

I am struck by the absence of coins. I have been through the entire hand list  and found not a single coin. That really puzzles me. Archaeologists, however, have yet to uncover the artifacts from over one hundred “earth lumps.” Jonathan, if you read this, do you have any thoughts on the matter? No coins might seem to lend credence to the collection theory. A few coins would certainly aid in dating the find more firmly. 

Enough for tonight. Be forewarned, as this topic will be taking up a lot more space on this blog. Hopefully, it will drive me to finally learn how to post photos as well!

Leahy, Kevin. Staffordshire Hoard: Discovery and Initial Assesment. (Why won’t my italics work?) URL forthcoming.


7 Responses to “Staffordshire Hoard…need I say more?”

  1. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    You called? Indeed, no coins, which is not as surprising as it might be once the nature of the deposit becomes clear. That is, it’s all wargear fittings, except perhaps the crosses and the inscribed strip but I think they were probably helmet or shield fittings too; the inscription reads like a battle charm even though it’s from Number. So coins would be unexpected, though they were certainly around the area as other detector finds make clear. After that interpretation gets tricky and I’m going to put a full post about it up at Cliopatria, but I will say that I think that eighty-odd really high-quality swords is too many for one battle. I also think that if this were battle loot it would still be on the swords and so on, to be handed out to members of the comitatus. The fact that it’s been robbed, in the technical sense, from its context, suggests to me a more deliberate purpose, as does the selectiveness of it. Still brooding about what that might be but as I say I will write it up.

  2. heptarchyherald Says:

    We should also remember that there are over one hundred “earth lumps” with unrevealed objects. It’s early days yet. This will keep us guessing for years to come…

  3. brendan flynn Says:

    Having seen part of the hoard at Birmingham Museum it seems to me that the inscribed bar was part of the shaft of the cross that was found folded and bent. It has been suggested that it was a battle standard, possibly Northumbrian. The quotation from Numbers 10:35 would be very appropriate – and the deliberate mutilation of the cross and inscription quite understandable if the victors were pagan Mercians. Looking at the condition of the sword furniture it is obvious that they were wrenched unceremoniously from the blades- a Saxon custom that Kevin Leahy reminds us is described in Beowulf. Many of the rivets and pins are still in place and the precious stones from the cross, which were obviously dislodged by the bending, were recovered as part of the hoard.
    The absence of coins is understandable as there were not that many in circulation in 7th century and any looted coins are more likely to be pocketed by the despoilers in the aftermath of battle. Maybe some will emerge from the remaining blocks of earth. The sheer quantity and quality of the objects is astounding and are a wonderful tribute to the skill of those Saxon goldsmiths who have left our Birmingham jewellers breathless with admiration.

  4. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    Ah, I was trying to think of way the cross might belong in battle, and yes, a standard would do nicely. I also agree that the strip could have come from it, though I’d still rather on a purely personal basis consider it part of someone’s own armour.

    I’m not expecting coins, I have to say. Everything else (just about) can be explained as war-gear fittings, coins couldn’t and I don’t think they would belong here. There were coins enough in circulation that they do get found; although the Early Medieval Corpus reveals precious little early gold from Staffordshire, it does have some. However, they weren’t exactly pocket change, and I don’t think one would have taken them into battle unless one expected to have to pay off some pretty fierce valkyries or something…

  5. heptarchyherald Says:

    Man, I have so much to learn…still, let us throw this against the wall and see if it sticks. Jonathan, I agree about the coins if this is, indeed, a collected hoard and not the product of a battle or campaign. I do, however, have a difficult time believing that no one carried coin onto the battle field, stashed away in a pouch or something. I know that coins were relatively rare, as money, but plenty of finds point to their use as decorated jewellry of some type. I’m not sure, though, about the cross as a “standard.” It just does not seem big enough for that, but then, my metric to pesky American measure metre is broken right now. 117 cm…how many inches is that? 🙂 Perhaps I would be more convinced if we identified a mechanism with which the cross could be held aloft on a long pole. I don’t see any indication of that in the photos. Otherwise, could it not be part of a portable altar? Presumably, the Christian troops would want a priest present as they went into battle?

  6. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    That cross is about four and a half inches tall (2·54 cm to the inch…), and if you look at the pictures it’s got rivet holes in it, it was pinned to something. One website I saw was considering it a reliquary cross, it could also be a processional type in which case you could process with it into battle all right. It would be on a wooden body stuck on a pole, if that’s what it was. It’s certainly not terribly big but would have done as the head of a pole that might have carried a Roman-style banner, a tufa; Bede mentions King Edwin of Northumbria having one of these carried before him when travelling in state, and they seem to be one of the devices on early Saxon pennies. I still think it could equally well be a shield adornment however.

  7. “þa Gewiton Hi Swa Swa Smic” « @Number 71 Says:

    […] finds to deepen and change our understanding of their correspinding (if currently still rather vague and disputed) […]

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