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Silver disc brooch of Ædwen

  • Back of the brooch

    Back of the brooch


Diameter: 14.900 cm

M&ME 1951,10-11,1

Enlightenment: Ancient scripts

    Silver disc brooch of Ædwen

    Anglo-Scandinavian, first half of 11th century AD
    From Sutton, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, England

    Inscribed with a curse

    A hoard of objects, which included coins, gold rings and this brooch, was discovered during the ploughing of a field in 1694. The objects disappeared, but the brooch was rediscovered in a private collection in 1951 when it was bought by the British Museum.

    The brooch is made from a hammered sheet of silver. The engraved decoration is based around four overlapping circles forming flower-like motifs. At the centre of these flowers are conical raised bosses, one of which is now missing. Within the circles are different animals, some four-legged, others like snakes, surrounded by stylized plant ornament in an English version of the Ringerike style.

    There is an inscription in Old English around the edge on the back. Uniquely, it tells us who owned the brooch. The inscription may be translated as: 'Ædwen owns me, may the Lord own her. May the Lord curse him who takes me from her, unless she gives me of her own free will'.

    The back of the brooch is also decorated and has a fragment of silver strip attached, onto which the fixings for the missing pin were mounted. This strip is engraved with seven imitation Anglo-Saxon runes which cannot be read. The nature of the damage may indicate that the brooch was torn quickly and with some force from clothing and then buried, perhaps at a time of danger.

    The bold but simple decoration, the size of the brooch and the inscription suggest that its owner was a woman of some status.

    R.I. Page, An introduction to English run, 2nd ed. (Woodbridge, Boydell, 1999)

    D.M. Wilson, Anglo-Saxon ornamental metalwo (London, The British Museum Press, 1964)

    R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, 'Late Saxon disc-brooches' in Dark-Age Britain-1 (London, Methuen, 1956), pp. 171–201

    J. Backhouse, D.H. Turner and L. Webster (eds.), The golden age of Anglo-Saxon, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)


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    On display: Enlightenment: Ancient scripts

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