Diameter: 3.400 cm
Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
Northern Germanic, 6th century AD
Found on the island of Gotland, Sweden
In southern Scandinavia bracteates occur mostly as single finds or in hoards. However, they have also been found in graves as items of costume jewellery. Bracteates were probably made as amulets, as the runic inscriptions on some wish good luck. The designs on bracteates may illustrate scenes from myths. However, these scenes are not identified in the inscriptions and precisely what is shown is unclear.
The use of gold shows that bracteates had a very special significance. They may have been struck for offering at religious festivals. Animals shown on them could have been sacrificed to appease the gods and secure prosperity.
This gold bracteate pendant has a suspension loop decorated with filigree wire. The pendant is decorated with a punched border round a central disc. The decoration is in repoussé using a die with a bird, possibly a raven, and a human head above the figure of a horse. The horse is derived from Roman medallions showing the emperor and a chariot.
The human head, which has an elaborate hairstyle, is possibly intended to represent the supreme god, known as Odin in Viking times, though this has been disputed. The style imitates the heads of emperors on Roman medallions and coins. Until the middle of the sixth century, these coins entered Scandinavia as loot or payment to local leaders for their friendship and the provision of mercenary troops. Roman coins and medallions were a major source of the gold used by Scandinavian jewellers.
H. Tait (ed.), 7000 years of jewellery (London, British Museum Press, 2006)