Anglo-Saxon Metalwork

Elizabeth Coatsworth

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Anglo-Saxon Metalwork

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology


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Interest in the design and structure of objects of metalwork of the pre-Conquest period can already be seen in the pioneering work of Brian Faussett between 1769 and 1773, exemplified in his detailed drawings and notes on, for example, the Kingston Down brooch in his surviving notebooks, published long after his death (Charles Roach Smith, Inventorium Sepulchrale, an Account of Some Antiquities Dug Up at Gilton, Kingston, Sibertswold, Barfriston, Beakesbourne, Chartham, and Crundale, in the County of Kent, from 1757 to 1773, London: privately printed, 1856). Although Faussett did not recognize his excavated material as Anglo-Saxon, thinking that he was investigating Romano-British graves, nevertheless his work (especially in his detailed recording of all finds, and therefore all metalwork objects, including toilet implements, weapons, and tools, as well as the gold jewelry) is in many ways a true starting point for two trends still working themselves out in the literature: the refining of work defining styles and dating the material, and the study of the full range of metalwork and its associated crafts. It is true, however, that objects of fine metalwork have excited the greatest interest, encouraged by spectacular finds from early sites such as Sutton Hoo and of hoards such as that from Trewhiddle, Cornwall (see Specific Sites). More recently, the 7th-century “Staffordshire hoard,” with its collection of gold and jeweled fragments, many from weapons and armor, has reinforced interest in the spectacular and also in the emphasis on the early period. It is likely that as studies of this new material come out, the history of early Anglo-Saxon fine metalworking (and its design and iconography) will be rewritten, although this process is already well on its way, with the huge increase in numbers brought about by the popularity of metal detecting and the working of the Treasure Act 1996 and the development of the Portable Antiquities scheme (for a short explanation of these, see Leahy and Bland 2009, cited under Staffordshire Hoard). The bias toward fine metalwork is therefore reflected here: nevertheless, the overall story of scholarly work on Anglo-Saxon metalwork has actually been more balanced, with studies of ferrous metalworking and other humbler metals such as lead appearing from early in the 20th century, and with the archaeology of early settlements, middle Saxon estates, and later towns showing the importance of metalwork studies in social and economic development. Much of the best of recent work has looked at the context in which the metalwork was made: its makers and their role in society, and the techniques and technology involved (including documentary and literary as well as archaeological sources). Evidence of comparative material and sites from Scandinavia and western Europe, and from Celtic and Viking sites within Ireland and the British Isles, has often proved illuminating for contemporary Anglo-Saxon practice, and the study of Style in particular requires knowledge of Germanic and Viking Age styles. Arising from all this work, the meaning of metalwork objects within the developing society—whether as treasure, functional objects (e.g., dress fasteners, tools, or armor), personal adornment, signifiers of ethnicity or personal status, or carrying in its iconography some deeper meaning (e.g., relating to religious beliefs or royal power)—has come to be seen as of equal importance to dating.

Article.  16656 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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