sheath / seax / fitting
Silver gilt fitting, possibly from a seax sheath. The objects was apparently originally V-shaped, consisting of two U-shaped metal strips which converge in a three-dimensional animal head. Both strips are broken off, the lower one close to its junction with the animal head. The animal head has sharp, scrolled ears, blue-glass eyes and its tongue curls out between its fangs to touch the throat, which has a hatched collar matching scrolled hatching on its forehead. The longer strip is decorated or gilded on one side only and was riveted to wood or leather by triple rivet sets with domed heads; these were apparently arranged in alternating patterns of plain or knurled heads. The edge has decorative diagonal mouldings, and the face bears a runic inscription.
- Length: 18.8 centimetres
Inscription LanguageOld English
Inscription Transliterations b e / r æ d h t 3 b c a i / e / r h / a d / æ b s
Inscription CommentThis has not been satisfactorily interpreted.
Webster & Backhouse 1991
The function of the mount has been much debated, though the absence of decoration on the back of the upper strip, and its apparent V-shaped configuration indicate that it was fitted on a pointed wood or leather object designed to be seen from one side, most plausibly a knife or seax scabbard. It would appear to be a development of seventh-century seax-scabbard fittings with similar rivet clusters and asymmetrical chapes, such as that from Ford, near Laverstock, Wilts. (Evison, V.I. 1969, The seax and belt fitting, in J.W.G. Musty, The excavation of two barrows, one of Saxon date, at Ford, Laverstock, near Salisbury, Wilts., ‘Antiquaries Journal’ XLIX, 114-116). Page suggests the inscription may be amuletic which would be perfectly appropriate in such a context.
There is nothing very like this striking piece in the corpus of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, though the closest parallels to the animal head, as Wilson has pointed out (Wilson 1973, 138) are the heads on the late eighth-century St Ninian's Isle chapes (National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh, inv. nos FC 282 and FC 283), which also show similar use of hatching and ribbed mouldings. It is perhaps significant that these too are scabbard fittings.
Select bibliography: Wilson, D.M. 1964, ‘Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork 700-1100 in the British Museum, Catalogue of Antiquities of the Later Saxon Period’, I, London, cat. 45, 15-16; Page, R.I. 1964, Appendix A. The Inscriptions, in D.M. Wilson, ‘Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork’, 77-9; Wilson, D.M. 1973, The Treasure, in A. Small, C. Thomas and D.M. Wilson, ‘St Ninian’s Isle and its Treasure’, Oxford, 138, pl. LII b.Wilson 1964
Dietrich's (1869) provenance 'from the Thames at Aylesbury' may be dismissed, as based on secondary evidence. Cuming, however, makes a statement which seems eminently reasonable as it was made, presumably on the authority of its then owner T. D. E. Gunston(e), in England within two years of its discovery. Cuming writes that it was, 'dredged from the gravelly bed of the Thames, near Westminster Bridge in 1866', a statement repeated, without question, by R. A. Smith (VCH London, i, 166).
See pp. 10, 15, 16, 31, 65, 69, 71, 77-79 and pl. XXV.
Bibliography: Cuming, H. S. (1868): 'On a Runic Epigraph found in the Thames', Journal of the British Archaeological Association, xxiv, 178-82 and pl. 31, 1; Stephens, G. (1866-1901): The Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England . . ., London/København, ii, 892 and iii, 204; Dietrich, F. (1869): 'Fünf northumbrische Runensprüche', Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum, xiv, 115-18; Winkelmann, E. (1883): Geschichte der Angelsachsen bis zum Tode König Alfreds, Berlin, 176-77 and fig. 8; Stephens, G. (1884): Handbook of the Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England, London/Copenhagen, 147; Bugge, S. and Olsen, M. (1891-1924): Norges Indskrifter med de ældre Runer, Christiania, i, 120 and ii, 230; [?Romilly Allen (1904a), 275 and figs. 3 and 7]; 'Victoria History of the Counties of England: London', i, 166-7 and fig. 30; Grienberger, T. v. (1913): 'The Thames Fitting', Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie, xlv, 47-55; 'British Museum: A Guide to Anglo-Saxon . . . Antiquities . . .', London, 1923, 118 f. and fig. 152; Vulliamy, C. E. (1930): The Archaeology of Middlesex and London, London, 266; Arntz, H. and Zeiss, H. (1939): Die einheimischen Runendenkmäler des Festlandes, Leipzig, 37; Arntz, H. (1944a): Handbuch der Runenkunde, (2nd Ed.) Halle/Saale.
Not on display
2016 11 Mar- 25 Sep, Edinburgh, National Museum of Scotland, Celts. 1999-2000 08 Sep-09 Jan, London, Museum of London, 'Alfred the Great 849-899: London's forgotten King'
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
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Object reference number: MCS275
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