Length: 51.200 cm
Diameter: 19.000 cm
Weight: 743.260 g
Prehistory and Europe
Silver 'thistle' brooch
Irish-Viking, first half of 10th century
From Newbiggin Moor, Cumbria, England
Found in the 'Silver Field'
This brooch was found by a boy in a field near Penrith in 1785. In 1989 fragments of other silver brooches were discovered at the same site, traditionally known as the 'Silver Field'. This confirms that this brooch originally formed part of a dispersed hoard of silver brooches, which also included another 'from Penrith' now in the British Museum.
Large brooches like this were probably worn by men to fasten heavy cloaks of wool or leather, with the dangerous pin pointing upwards over the shoulder. These thistle brooches seem to have originated in Ireland in a smaller solid form in the second half of the ninth century, but their popularity and size soon grew in the Viking Period. The impractical size of this brooch suggests that it was an important display of wealth and prestige. Silver jewellery was often cut up and used for payment by weight.
The brooch consists of an almost complete hoop passed through the ball-shaped head of a long pin. The terminals of the hoop and the pin head are both hollow-cast balls that have been filed and punched on the front to give them their thistle flower appearance. A six petal design has been lightly incised onto the back of the terminals and pin head.
K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)
J. Graham-Campbell, Viking artefacts: a select cat (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)
J. Graham-Campbell, 'Some Viking-Age penannular brooches from Scotland and the origins of the 'thistle-brooch'' in From the Stone Age to the Fort (Edinburgh, 1983), pp. 310-23
E. Roesdahl and D.M. Wilson (eds), From Viking to crusader: the S (Sweden, Bohusläningens Boktryckeri, 1992)