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Gold bracteate


Diameter: 2.300 cm
Weight: 2.240 g

M&ME 1984,11-1,1

Britain, Europe and Prehistory

    Gold bracteate

    Anglo-Frisian, AD 450-500
    From Undley Common near Lakenheath, Suffolk, England

    Inscribed with the oldest Anglo-Saxon runes

    This early and unique bracteate was a stray find made by a farmer in Suffolk. The figural images were adapted from a Late Roman Urbs Roma coin of a type issued by Constantine the Great between AD 330 and 335. The coins have a helmeted head of the emperor on the obverse and Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf on the reverse, which the maker of this bracteate has conflated. Such coins were widely circulated and the artist must have copied an heirloom.

    Above the two images is a double spiral followed by a runic inscription that can be transcribed as 'gæ go gæ – mægæ medu'. Recent research proposes that the these may be read as 'howling she-wolf' (a reference to the wolf image) and 'reward to a relative'. The runes are Anglo-Frisian and it is likely that the bracteate was made in Schleswig-Holstein or southern Scandinavia and brought to England by an Anglian settler. Short runic inscriptions such as this are typical of the use and extent of writing in the pre-literate Germanic societies. In early Anglo-Saxon England, even after the introduction of the Roman alphabet, runes continued to be used on a popular level for magical and amuletic inscriptions, as well as for sophisticated riddles.

    M. Axboe, 'The Scandinavian gold bracteates', Acta Archaeologica, 52 (1982)

    J. Hines and B. Odenstedt, 'The Undley bracteate and its runic inscription', Studien zur Sachsenforschungen, 6 (1987), pp. 73-94

    S.E. West, 'Gold bracteate from Undley, Suffolk', Frühmittelalterliche Studien, 17 (1983)

    J. Hines, The Scandinavian character of, BAR British Series 124 (Oxford, 1984)