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.

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More information

Bibliography

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)

Dimensions

Diameter: 2.300 cm
Weight: 2.240 g

Museum number

M&ME 1984,11-1,1

MCS5098

Location

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