Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Staffordshire hoard

I've been resisting blogging about the hoard and its origins until I happened across A CommonPlace Book's post on the subject. And I cracked - can't resist putting my two cents in.

Like the man said - who has that many gold sword pommels?

Almost all the material is of AngloSaxon origin, but much has been made of the presence of the rolled up crosses and the gold helmet strip with a quote from the book of numbers being evidence of their being christianity in west Mercia rather earlier than previously thought - Mercia being considered to be a rather pagan sort of place in the seventh century.

I think the date of the find is the real key to its possible origin. If it dates from the late 600's/early 700's as some writers have supposed it dates from a time when Mercia was expanding westwards into the territory of the Welsh successor states, and it could be argued that the christian artefacts were booty from some frontier raid, and the raiders were themselves attacked - by whom is an open question, and the hoard buried for safe keeping, to be returned for later. Certainly 67 seems low for a large raiding party, but 200 - say sixty odd thegns and a couple of retainers each seems right for a large raiding party.

Push the dates back to the late 700's/early 800's when the frontier had stabilised around Offa's dyke the argument becomes difficult to sustain, especially as Mercia was though to be considerably less pagan by then. It doen't mean however that group A didn't engage in some attack on group B and were later attacked by group C - rather that the scenario built around a raid into the welsh lands is less likely.

However the presence of some christian material in the hoard does not imply anything about the beliefs of the hoard takers, only that there were some people about who professed christianity and had people around who could write in bad latin. If the possible earlier date for the hoard stands up, I don't think the people who made these artefacts were necessarily the same as those who owned the sword pommels.

But this is all just speculation - what the hoard reveals is how little we know of the development of Saxon settlement in Mercia.

1 comment:

tenthmedieval said...

It seems to me that the objects here stretch over a wide range of time, and that the deposition date must be late; the only tight dating evidence, however, is the palæography of the script on the gold strip with the Psalms quote on it, which is not that much less subjective, so the chronology is basically all up for grabs. However, the apparent spread and the amount of very rich material both make me prefer to see this as an accumulation over some time. I'd like to make that point, and the consequent one that just because it was buried in Mercia doesn't mean either that the objects were made in Mercia or that they were accumulated in Mercia. I could come up with some kind of scenario that would fit almost any set of events in the political scenes of any reign from Penda to Offa given those uncertainties...i