Welcome to the penultimate in our ‘Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands’ lecture series. Today I’m happy to welcome Doctor Sue Brunning from the British Museum. I’ll begin first by saying “Midlands Viking Symposium”: if you want more Vikings in your life after the lecture series has finished, on the 28th of April here at Nottingham, we shall have the Midlands Viking Symposium, and you should all have had a flyer and if you don’t you can grab one on the way out. So today’s speaker is Doctor Sue Brunning; Sue is curator of the British Museum's European Early Medieval Collections, in the Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory. She tells me that she basically has responsibility for everything but the Vikings! She's currently working on a monograph based on her PhD about swords in Northern Europe, and she's also writing up the Bedale sword-hilt, the subject of today's lecture for publication in the British Museum's forthcoming book about the Vale of York Hoard, which will also include other more recently discovered hoards, so I think that one’s going to be worth looking for, so I’ll pass you over to Sue Brunning. Thank you very much and thank you also to the organisers of this spectacular series, it’s been fantastic, for inviting me to join in the fun, so it's really lovely for me to be here today and to see such a full room with everybody engaged with early medieval archaeology, which is just top-notch. So welcome everybody. So yeah I'm delighted to be part of this this program for this kind of festival of Vikings that's happening in Nottingham the moment, it's really good fun and of course there's the exhibition over the way that was developed in association with York Museums Trust and the British Museum which is obviously where I work. And over there one of the star attractions is the Bedale Hoard, there's the location of where the hoard was discovered in 2012 by metal detectorists, and where we are today in Nottingham. Some of you may remember when this was in the news; it made quite a big splash in the news at the time that it was discovered and Yorkshire Museum launched a fundraising campaign to acquire the treasure, which they did in 2014. The hoard was probably buried in the late 9th to early 10th centuries. It contains a group of silver ingots, complete and cut up neck- and arm-rings (what we refer to as hack silver), and also parts of a sword which you can see circled there. Now ingots and pieces of jewellery that have been cut up are quite typical in Viking period hoards from Britain, but the presence of a sword is unique. Now, the sword fittings themselves are almost unique, being an incredibly rare example of this time of a sword that has gold decorations attached to it. So what is this particular sword doing in this particular hoard? Now, my talk today will share my progress in researching the Bedale sword fittings for publication, as has already been mentioned. So I'm going to describe the pieces, contextualize them a little bit, and propose some interpretations for their inclusion in the hoard. I'm also going to talk a little bit about what I think the sword might tell us about ‘value’, the value in broadest sense, of swords in early medieval Britain, a little bit more towards the end. The Bedale sword fittings include an iron pommel, iron upper and lower guards, four gold grip mounts in the form of rings (in the middle there), and six gold rivets that are probably associated with the sword itself, and all of these parts come from the hilt or the handle of the sword, which is the part that's held in the hand. There was no blade discovered in the hoard, so it seems likely that the hilt was removed for deposition and the blade went off somewhere else, but that's another story that I won't be delving into today. Mineral preserved textiles and wood were adhering to the surface of the hilt fittings which seems to suggest that they were wrapped carefully in cloth before being placed perhaps in a box along with the rest of the hoard, and then everything buried in the ground. The pommel is of this particular shape that we often refer to as tri-lobed, that basically means it has these kind of three knops as you can see quite clearly here, and a rather nice curved base. As you can see it's decorated extensively with thin gold foils in a sort of arrangement around on top of the surface of the pommel there, and the design on both sides of the pommel appears to be the same, although as you've seen with the previous slide, that's kind of slightly obscured, but it looks like it conforms to the same layout, so perhaps a symmetrical design on both sides. The design centres around a disc in the middle here, which you can see, and that contains a rather acrobatic animal in the late Anglo-Saxon Trewhiddle style which I'll come back to a little bit later on. The rest of the pommel is decorated with plant stems and leafy motifs and these differently shaped panels and little applique shapes there, a few of them just pointed out for you there, that you can see, these leafy shapes and plants, sort of tendrils. The lower edge of the pommel is sheathed in a gold sheet and that's containing interlacing animals a lot like the one that we see in the central disc in middle of the pommel. The curved upper guard is decorated with very similar motifs that we see elsewhere on the rest of the pommel here, and these are arranged in gold foils that create this kind of rectangular motif that’s made up from a lozenge in the middle and then these four triangles on the outside, so kind of like an exploded sort of lozenge-rectangular motif there. Even the underside of the pommel and the guard is decorated, again with these leafy plant-like stems just like we've seen on the rest of the pommel. Now the lower guard was probably also decorated in this way with these applied gold foils, but it’s very highly corroded and encrusted again with these mineralised materials so we can’t really see – you can just see sort of like little areas where there might be little pieces of gold foil poking out from underneath. The four gold rings that were found associated with the hilt are probably from the hand grips, so they're probably the part from directly underneath where the hand is holding. We also see here on the side the six very tiny gold rivets which may have fixed additional foils perhaps to that hand grip around where the rings were encircling; and the hand grip was probably made of some kind of organic material like bone, or antler, or horn which is quite typical for swords of this period. Now, the overall shape of the hilt is quite a distinctive shape with a sort of lobed top and the curved guards; this is quite familiar to us and it's categorized under a title that we were first to quite glamorously as ‘Petersen's type L’, which is named after the Norwegian archaeologist who categorized swords from this period that were discovered in Norway, and this particular type is known for having these three lobes on the pommel and these curved guards. Now Petersen type L swords are often decorated with silver foils or plating like the ones that you can see on this slide. I know they're black and white so they obviously do look like silver but you can take my word for it, all of those sort of metallic decorations that you can see on these swords are silver rather than gold. Now, many of these swords also have a series of grip mounts, so that's what I was referring to as the part that's being held in the hand; you can see the rings in the middle between the lower guard and the pommel on these examples here. And these are often decorated in the same way to match the other fittings on the rest of the parts of the hilt. Usually we find two of these mounts, some of these swords have three, and occasionally there are more, so the sword from Gilling West, which I believe is also over in the exhibition at the moment, has five of these mounts. Now, the decoration on these swords, when they are decorated, is usually in the Anglo-Saxon Trewhiddle style which is a name that we give to a particular style that we find at this period, which is distinguished by quite characteristic panels of plant ornament, animal ornament, geometric ornament arranged in these little panels; and this particular style dominated Anglo-Saxon art during the 9th century and into the early 10th century in parts of northern England. So this kind of stylistic dating, according to what we can see that's decorating the particular sword, along with the archaeological contexts of the type of sword, these Petersen type L swords, has dated the type of sword overall to the mid-9th to 10th centuries and it also supports the somewhat prevailing view (that's being questioned a little bit more now), this sort of overall view that these types of swords are probably Anglo-Saxon in origin; and the dating of the swords also correlates quite well with when we think the Bedale Hoard itself was deposited in the ground. So, I'm not expecting you to read all this small print, this is just an example! There are quite a large number of these swords; now, when I drew up this slide there were around 70 but I've since discovered an article written in Norwegian that adds a few more to the batch, so its slightly out-of-date but there are a good number of these swords, probably around the 100 mark, that we know of to date. Now this excludes several stray finds of pommels and fragments of guards that have been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, so I'm focusing more on the complete swords that we have from archaeological contexts here, but there might be a few more represented on the PAS database. Most, as you might be able to see, do come from Britain with significant numbers also from Norway and rather fewer from Sweden and Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. So, this is the overall context to which the Bedale sword fittings belong. They also have several quite interesting typological, stylistic and kind of regional features that make them also stand out a little bit from the rest of the pack of these types of swords. I'm not going to be able to linger on those issues today, just because we're sort of short amount of time, but I would like to take just a few moments to talk about one or two of them because I think they're quite interesting; but if you are interested in learning more detail about that, then this will be discussed further than the publication, so you can have a look there if you’d like to follow up. So first of all I want to talk a bit about the decoration on the fittings. Now as I've mentioned it's clearly in this tradition of the Trewhiddle style, but it's also idiosyncratic in a couple of interesting ways, so I'm going to take the animal motifs rather than the plant motifs as a case study here, just because I think that early medieval animals are always really fun to look at; they're always very energetic and lively and it seems that the maker quite enjoyed working with them too as we’ll see. So first of all we’ll take a closer look at the roundel, or the disc in the centre of the pommel there. So can everybody see an animal in this, in this roundel? It's a little bit difficult to see - the trick with Anglo-Saxon animal art is often to try and find the extremities of the creature first, so you can look for the nose, the snout, the eye is often a good one to look for because it's often just a little drilled hole, or kind of like an almond shape or something like that, that's often quite good to find; or sometimes the tail and the feet, you can find those, and once you've got those extremities you can kind of work your way through the rest of the animal and try and find it there. And this particular animal is really hard to unravel because it's somewhat of a contortionist! It took me quite a long time with a few highlighter pens to actually discover exactly what he was doing in here, but we're gonna have a little look together so you'll now be able to see the wonders of my craft with Microsoft Paint in order to decode our creature here. So first of all, good that's working, we have the creatures head. You can see that it has a rather blunt snout with a quite nice little peaked nose, and again that drilled eye, that's quite clear to see there, and that helps you to find the head of the creature, and it has a very interesting (you'll see why it's interesting in a little while) triangle shape behind the eye there, which is probably representing the ear pointing backwards. So, it has a slender neck which kind of follows the lower edge of the disc before dividing into the creature’s body and foreleg. If we follow the foreleg, it's a very thin elongated foreleg which is extending from a kind of a rounded hip, sort of like a pear shaped hip there, and it weaves through the creatures own body, tail and hindleg into the disc’s centre and then reaches the upper left edge as you can see it here, to kind of terminate right in front of the creatures jaw there. Next, the body: this is tapering from quite a deep chest, a deep breast which is arching upwards through the disc’s centre and then down back again towards the right edge as you're looking at it, where it splits into another one of these broad hips and a thin tail. So here we have the tail, which is lacing back again towards the left from the hip, and it passes under and over the beast’s body in a kind of loop before ends in what we refer to as either a nicked or a notched point at the lower right edge down there. And last but not least the hindleg - it's extending kind of diagonally back downwards through the body of the creature there, passing over it and under the tail to terminate in a curled foot that's just nestling under the sort of neck, the snout of the creature there, under the jaws there, just kind of curling back on itself, rather nicely sort of wedged in there. So the snubbed snout and that sort of nicked or notched body and the backward-looking stance of the creature and it's interlacing limbs, all of these things fit quite comfortably within the Trewhiddle style which I've been talking about, but I just want to talk a little bit more about that notch which is representing the animal’s ear just behind its eye there. So the same kind of feature is sported by other beasts on the grip mounts of the sword, so it shows that the hilt pieces do seem to be matching with each other as I've mentioned, and that they were probably all made to be on the same weapon, which is not always a given for early medieval swords, but that's completely another story so I'll just park that wrong there for now. But usually Trewhiddle style beasts, as you can see on these strap ends on the left-hand side of the slide there, they have quite smooth heads, sometimes they're earless or they might have little rounded or pointed ears which are kind of poking out of that rather smooth head, but the Bedale beast’s ear, as you can see, is quite different, it's like this little sunken triangle set behind the eye there, and I found this to be quite hard to parallel, I haven't been able to find anything that looks quite like this; and it's possible that this little detail might represent an innovation, a stylistic innovation, on the part of the maker of this this design. Let's look also briefly at the animals around the band at the base of the pommel, so this part just along here. Now the Trewhiddle style, as I've mentioned, it usually puts its animals in little arched frames or little rectangles, kind of these little sort of arcades, and the animals fill the space almost like they're in some kind of little zoo, you know, they have their own little space there. But on the Bedale pommel, I hope you can see on the slide here, they were allowed to extend much more freely through much longer panels; they have this kind of sinuous space that they can kind of weave their way through, and this rare arrangement again I found quite difficult to parallel. The main one that I found is on another sword from the River Meuse at Wessem in the Netherlands, which I hope you can see, is sort of similar bands along the lower part of the pommel here which has these creatures kind of free to move throughout the whole of the space there. Now what this might say about the sword and where it was made is sort of quite difficult to answer, but I will be speaking a bit more about that in the publication, so they'll be a little bit more information available; but for now I just wanted to illustrate that the Bedale Hoard is this really interesting mixture of quite typical and the form - we find these good parallels for the shape of the of the actual sword hilt there - but even down on a micro level it has these little idiosyncrasies, little unusual elements, these really interesting little different features that sets it apart from those of other swords in the corpus of these Petersen type L weapons. So I'll just take a quick drink. So now I want to move on to the main focus of my paper, and that's what I think are the most curious, the most interesting, aspects of these sword fittings. First of all the use of gold instead of silver which I've alluded to already in their decoration, but also their very presence in one of these hoards. I think the two of those things are actually directly related to each other, and I think it's here that hopefully the title of my talk today will start to become a little bit clearer. But I'm going to take the second one of those things first: so what is this particular weapon, these particular pieces of a sword, doing in one of these hoards? Now the epic poem Beowulf, which I'm sure is known to all of you, I’m sure we read it all every weekend and we quote it all at length, I know that I do in my daily life, this poem survives in a manuscript of around 1000 but probably contains older elements that date back to much earlier than that. This poem refers to swords inside hoards in a couple of different contexts, so one of those is in the assemblage of material that is in the lair of Grendel the monster’s mother, under the mere, and the other one is in the dragon's hoard which you can see a nice picture on here, you can see an actual sword in there, sort of matching what we find in the poem, so we do find in this poem a couple of instances where swords are buried inside hoards. There's also a rather interesting illuminated manuscript, that’s an illustration from an illuminated manuscript, from the 11th century which shows a hoard that's being used by Satan, and you can kind of see his clawed foot down here, to tempt Christ with his not-clawed foot over there, and one of the elements of this hoard is a sword. You can see that there, a different type of sword, not one of these Petersen type L swords, but still has one of these curved guards, it’s a later type. There's also, which caught my eye, this rather weird object up here, which I wanted to be one of these pommels, like “aaah, it’s like the Bedale pommel inside this hoard”, but as you can see it has rather a slightly outsized proportion compared to the other things which have a sort of more regular looking proportion, including these really nice twisted neck- and arm-rings which are just like the types of twisted neck and arm rings that we find in these hoards, just like them, the ones that we find archaeologically, so that’s rather nice. So I think sadly it's probably not one of those pommels, it's something else that that's a little bit difficult to identify. So these references that we have to swords in hoards in the poetry, in the imagery here, these actually come from quite heightened scenarios, so epic poetry and the Bible there; they didn't seem to have a foundation in contemporary practices in late Anglo-Saxon England because despite the significant number of hoards and the growing number of hoards that we have from the period, none of these so far have contained a sword. As we've seen instead, these hoards tend to look a bit like this: there's a selection of these hoards for you there. So we have coins, we have ingots, we have hack silver that’s made up from these neck and arm rings, from brooches and some other items; mostly, and I say mostly, not exclusively, but mostly in silver. Now, some more recent hoards have kind of increased the diversity profile of some of these hoards, so for example, the Vale of York Hoard had a gold arm ring, other gold pieces have been found in previous hoards but it's a very nice example of a gold piece in that particular hoard, and of course the Galloway Hoard which was found very recently, very big in the press, you’ve probably seen, that's just, there’s lots of weird things inside there, lots of many different things but again that really is another story so we can't we can't go into that sadly, but there’s a much more unusual content in that hoard. But interestingly and crucially for our purposes here today, none of those seem to contain a piece of a sword. There was a bit of a false alarm a few years ago when pieces of a sword were found in a large assemblage from a riverine site near York which was publicized at the time as the ‘Ainsbrook Hoard’, you may remember there was a ‘Time Team’ special about it as well, but this assemblage is now understood to be a Viking winter encampment most probably, so this sword can be counted out as a potential sword in a hoard. Now the Staffordshire Hoard, of course, showed dramatically that sword fittings might be hoarded in the early Anglo-Saxon period, so in the 7th, 8th century whenever the dating for that hoard is finally sort of bottomed out when the publication comes out later on. We could see that these types of sword fittings are being hoarded earlier on, but there doesn't seem to be evidence for it happening later on, so we'd be tempted to infer from this this evidence, from the poems and the biblical illustrations that we're looking at, thate perhaps they're preserving an ancient remembered practice of hoarding these swords, perhaps it’s something that was done in the past but that maybe wasn't done any more. So that's why the discovery of the Bedale Hoard was quite interesting, because it shows us, it has this sort of first substantial real-life evidence, that swords might in fact find their way into hoards in this later period, and it’s helping to take us from poetry to reality, which is why I sort of called my talk that rather nice title there. Now the rarity of sword parts in these later hoards may not be so surprising if we think about it. This is an earlier sword, you can see it’s in the British Museum from a site at Market Rasen, with solid gold fittings and some garnets on the side, and this is one of these later swords so you can see that earlier sword fittings might be made from, they might have fittings that are made from solid silver or gold, but later ones, their fittings are typically made from iron, and if they have any precious metal decorating them it's normally limited to something like sheet plating or these foil appliques that we're familiar with from Bedale, or inlaid wire, or wire wrapped around them, those sorts of things; and this kind of, this sort of method of precious metal is arguably less useful as bullion than the coins or the chunks of jewellery that typically populate hoards of this period. So the question then is how best to interpret the hoarding of sword parts at Bedale, and I think that the answer lies in that other sort of very interesting aspects of the fittings that I mentioned earlier and that's the gold that adorns them. Now several literary sources refer to golden hilted swords during this period in later Anglo-Saxon England, and we usually find them in the hands of rather exclusive folk. So they're the armaments of kingly retinues, that's something that Alfred the Great mentions in his translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. We find the West Saxon Kings, Athelwulf and Eadred, giving them either as gifts or as bequests in their wills, and the rather sadly doomed elderman of Essex, Byrhtnoth, who fought at the Battle of Malden in AD991, was said to have gone into that battle carrying one of these golden hilted swords according to a poem that was written about the battle. But my favourite one is the old English poem Maxims I which quips that “gold is fitting for a man’s sword”, to which I always want to answer, “well of course it is”, and any number of these references could be to fittings that are made with or decorated with solid gold. It could also refer to gilded sword fittings as well, but for now let's just give the benefit of the doubt and assume that these references are to hilts that have solid gold elements or at least were perceived as having solid gold elements. So despite the apparent familiarity with golden hilted swords that is emerging from these texts, these weapons are actually almost entirely absent from the 10th to 11th century archaeological record. We only really find tiny bits of gold on swords from this later period, so here's an example of one, which is one of these type L swords, and this is a lower guard, it's the part that sort of next to the blade on the hilt, and you can see that it has these rather nice inlaid foils here which are alternating between silver and gold, again using that Trewhiddle style decoration there. It was also said that a gold foil was found with the fantastic and massive sword from Abingdon, which is now on display in the Ashmolean Museum, but if that foil was indeed found, as is recorded, with the sword when it was excavated, it's unfortunately now been lost, so it's not there anymore. So this seems to correlate with the established wisdom that gold metalwork was in general quite rare in the late Anglo-Saxon archaeological record; and this may be due partly to fewer material survivals in general after the period of furnished burial, which marks the early Anglo-Saxon period, went out of use in the later 7th century onwards; we just have less material from the later period, so that would explain perhaps that there's less gold, but experts do tend to agree, or certain experts agree in any case, that there probably was a move towards silver and copper alloy in metalwork during this period, whereas gold seems to have - solid gold - seems to have been limited to making these rather small portable deluxe artefacts like these finger rings that you can see on this slide. Now I should caveat all of this by saying that this picture might change, and indeed seems to be changing to some degree, as more gold artefacts from this period are being discovered by metal detectorists and are being recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme and are going through the treasure process, that sort of thing; so for example to take one instance, one type of artefact - gold ingots, which were previously quite rare, now less rare, and there's increasing discoveries of these ingots are showing that this metal, gold, was actually circulating in similar formats to silver at this time. But crucially for our purposes today, I think we can still safely say that gold artefacts and in particular gold decorated swords do look as if they were particularly rare during this period; and indeed a historian called Ann Williams who was writing about golden hilted swords several years ago now, concluded from those literary references that I mentioned, about these golden swords in the later period, she's wondering whether they might actually be referring to heirlooms from the earlier period, so quite old swords that are still being used centuries later on in the later period; that these are much older weapons rather than weapons that were made at the time. The Bedale fittings, therefore, very helpfully for us, demonstrate that actually these magnificent swords that are trimmed with gold decorations did actually exist in true life and we only have one of them so far that has the most extensive use of gold on it from this period that we know of to date, and in the context of their time these sort of fittings would have been exceptional and very valuable, and as such that's why I think they may have been hoarded for the worth of their gold decorations. But I'd like to think about one of those aspects that really interests me about all of this, and that's what type of worth was this, what type of value was this? So let's first consider the most obvious form of worth, and that's economic worth, economic value. As I've mentioned, gold seems have been rare at this period, which would have made it commercially valuable as bullion, and very highly desired, it would've been great to be able to get hold of a chunk of gold during this period. Now the four gold grip mounts from the Bedale sword fittings each weigh several grams, and it seems like they're quite chunky as well, it seems like they probably would have been quite good actually as bullion, and there's a small hint, I think, that they may have been used as such. One of the mounts, that you can see on the top left, this one here, is slightly larger than the other ones, and it has quite a flat ledge like edge whereas the other ones are more rolled around their sides, they're much more like kind of proper rings whereas this one has one edge that's sort of flat, and I think that that was like that so that it would abutt one of the guards of the sword, so that would have been at the top of the handle, perhaps, or the bottom, and would have sort of nestled against one of the guards, either at the top or the bottom like that; and if I'm right about that, then I think there might have been a twin for that one, so there might have been a fifth one of these rings, another one that had one of these ledges, that would have sat on the opposite end of the grip and abutted the other guard, so you would have had one of those at each end and the more rounded ones filling out the middle there. So perhaps once upon time the whole arrangement looked a little bit like this, with the greyed out one being the kind of potential twin for the other one. Now, five grip mounts is quite a lot for these swords, there's usually much fewer than this, but interestingly there is a nearby precedent, oops, from Gilling West, which I've already mentioned, which does have five grip mounts and it's not quite so far away from Bedale itself. So if the Bedale sword did have five grip mounts, I'm wondering if it's possible that the fifth one, the potentially missing one, may have been used as bullion in a transaction of some kind. Now the applied gold foils that we have on the rest of the fittings here, I think, are probably too tiny, too delicate, too thin and flimsy to have had much potential as bullion. Obviously we can see that some of those foils are missing, but I think it's probably less likely that they were removed for some kind of exchange, they’re very firmly soldered down, and I think they would have been quite difficult to remove without completely obliterating them, so it doesn’t really seem like there’s that much point in doing that. Now the little rivets which I showed a slide of earlier, they could be the remains of extra foils that were maybe attached to the handgrip, as I've mentioned, and they would be more easily removed, you could just prise out the rivets perhaps and take those extra foils away, and quite possibly there may have been some extra rivets that did not make it into the hoard that may have been exchanged; they're slightly more, you know, they're still very small but they’re slightly more kind of accessible possibly as bullion, but overall I think that the rest of the gold ornaments on the hilt fittings here are probably not really of sufficient size and robustness to be of any kind of real commercial value. So I think we need instead to entertain the idea that the hilt fittings in the Bedale Hoard were not necessarily hoarded primarily as bullion. So perhaps instead we should think a bit about their social worth. We've already seen from the literary sources that I've mentioned, that gold hilted swords are associated with the highest ranking men in society from the ealderman Byrhtnoth at the Battle of Maldon to the very Kings of Wessex, so owning a gold decorated weapon at a time when they were exceptionally rare would actually have made a very powerful statement about the owner, about who this person was, about his standing in society, and as such having a weapon like this would be something that you would, you know, you’d quite like to have. Another perhaps more sort of symbolic factor, I think, may have increased the worth of this sword and that's its visual individuality. Now as I've mentioned swords of this period might have similar shapes and forms, the handles might look quite similar in their outline, they might be decorated using similar styles, but few of them, if any of them, are identical - all of them are individuals. Now it's possible, it becomes possible when you work on these weapons, to recognize specific swords on sight, instantly, quite a lot like you sort of recognise a human face, ah yes that's the sword from Gilling West, ah yes, that’s the Abingdon sword, you recognize it based on what it looks like outside, and I think that in the early medieval period it may have been the same as this. There's a very interesting episode again from Beowulf where we find a son reopening a feud with an enemy group when he recognizes a sword, his father's sword, being worn at the hip of one of the enemy that they have a sort of truce with, and just seeing sight of this sword, his father’s sword which by rights he probably should have received himself, being won by the enemy, the person that killed his father, is powerful enough, this memory is powerful enough, for him to actually reopen the feud and break the truce and everything kicks off again, so that's quite an interesting episode there. So I think that the Bedale sword would have really stood out from the other weapons that were around at the time, because it was shining with this bright lustrous gold, while they were glinting with rather nice silver or copper alloy, but it's not gold is it, it's not really gold. It also had these five, I'm going to say five, fat grip mounts on the handle there, while the other swords may have had none or maybe one or just two, and even its ornament, as I've mentioned, if you get right down up close to it, has these little idiosyncrasies that sort of set it apart from some of the other more typical types of decoration on these weapons. So we can well start to imagine that a weapon like this may have become renowned amongst the people that encountered it, the people that sort of knew the person that owned it, it may have acquired this this reputation of its own. I'm going to add one more just consideration that gold as a material, irrespective of what objects it adorns or which objects it's created, this material itself may have had some kind of symbolic powerful value. Recent studies of gold in the early medieval period have made arguments that this metal may have possessed some kind of potent symbolic or even magical dimension in certain contexts, fuelled perhaps by its rarity, its high value, and its incorruptibility. So gold as a metal doesn't corrode like copper alloy, like iron, it doesn't tarnish like silver, it basically kind of stays this beautiful gold colour as if it were made yesterday. So these sorts of properties made it sort of quite special, quite apart from its material value as well. So if we combine these aspects of value, the economic, the social, the symbolic, we can start to see that the Bedale hilt fittings would have been extraordinarily desirable on multiple levels, and as a unit rather than simply for the little individual pieces of gold that are adorning them. Their destiny, I think, may still have been as commercial exchange, but not in the sense of this payment by weight system like the hack silver in the hoard where you kind of cut pieces up and you weigh them out and you find the right price and then you make your transaction. I think instead they may have been kind of offered perhaps as a purchase at a specific price, that was far away and above all the little individual embellishments on it could fetch on their own. Now whoever acquired these fittings may have been able to fit them onto a new blade and create for themselves an outstanding weapon, whose splendour would completely eclipse most weapons that were available at the time I think. So for these reasons I'd like to propose the hilt as sort of like a hack sword, perhaps the first one that we have from this later period to date, and the first clear archaeological evidence that we have joining those hints in art and literature that I referred to earlier, that special swords might find their way into hoards in Viking period Britain. Thank you very much. [Applause]
From Poetry to Reality: The Gold-Trimmed Sword Hilt in the Bedale Hoard
The Bedale Hoard is a late ninth or early tenth-century hoard that was found in 2012. It includes necklaces, arm rings, hacksilver, ingots, and fittings from a sword hilt. The hilt included gold bands, gold rivets and a pommel inlaid with gold foil. Dr Sue Brunning of the British Museum will discuss the gold-trimmed sword hilt, and explain what ownership of such an item might have meant in Viking Age England.
Dr Sue Brunning
Wednesday 21 February 2018
- Viking Talks