Collection online

thistle brooch / penannular brooch

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Silver thistle brooch of ball type; reverse of the ball terminals incised with rosette.

    Graham-Campbell 1980
    Silver penannular brooch with ball-shaped pin-head and terminals, which have brambled fronts and compass-incised marigold patterns on the reverse; a further marigold is incised on the circular pin-top. The brambling was made by diagonal criss-cross filing, followed by punching to produce conical projections. The terminals are hollow-cast and fitted onto the ends of a hoop of circular cross-section; they are both damaged. They have three mouldings (plain, between a pair with transverse nicking/stamping) around their side-collars; these are repeated around the top and socket of the pin-head, but its side-collars are plain. The pin-head is socketed, into which the shaft has been inserted (modern join) at a lop-sided angle; in section it changes from circular to hexagonal, before becoming lozenge-shaped.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 10thC(early)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 511 millimetres
    • Diameter: 190 millimetres
    • Height: 36 millimetres
    • Weight: 678 grammes
  • Curator's comments

    Blurton 1997
    Some of the most demonstrative body jewellery of the early medieval period in western Europe was worn on its farthest western reaches. The Celts had developed a so-called penannular brooch type in the late Roman period, which, as time passed, became larger and ever more elaborate. Pieces such as these two were primarily intended as symbols of wealth and status as much as being functional or merely decorative items of dress. The intricate zoomorphic and geometric decoration on the front and back of the Londesborough Brooch is characteristic of the finest products of Irish Celtic craftsmen of the period.
    This brooch, made some one hundred and twenty years later, reflects the simpler, but even more showy tastes of the Vikings who had settled in Ireland and the Irish Sea area during this period, and who adapted this indigenous Celtic brooch form to their own traditions. These 'thistle' brooches are so-named now from their terminals which resemble the prickly flowers of that name. Their massive quality, coupled with a much simplified form and decorative vocabulary, reflect a need to carry bullion about the person in portable form. The many silver hoards of the Viking period testify to access to the silver riches of the Near East, and this new wealth is also routinely translated into dramatic jewellery. Brooches of this kind would have been worn by men, on an outer garment, with the pin pointing upwards to avoid unpleasant accidents.Graham-Campbell 1980
    In 1789 the pin is said to have measured 22in. (c. 56 cm), but it is now 51.2 cm overall. Neither it nor the hoop show much sign of wear, although the incised ornament on the reverse of the balls would seem to be mostly worn away, if it was originally incised as deeply as that on the pin-top.

    Single-find made in 1785 by a boy harrowing a field near Fluskew Pike on Newbiggin Moor. One of two such large 'thistle-brooches' found in the region of Penrith in Cumberland (Shetelig, H. (ed.) (1940): 'Viking Antiquities in Great Britain and Ireland III', Oslo, figs 15, 16), representing the fully-developed western version of this brambled 'ball-type' of penannular brooch. Such brooches can only have been worn with the heaviest cloaks or furs (with the pin pointing upwards over the shoulder), but even then they would have been exceedingly inconvenient, and can only have been made for display of silver; there is a pin-head from Ireland more massive even than that of this brooch (‘Viking Antiquities III’, fig. 90). The type originated in Ireland during the second half of the 9th century as much smaller brooches with solid terminals (Graham-Campbell 1979), such as ones represented by fragments in the Cuerdale hoard (registration no. 1841,0711.1-741). The type became greatly elaborated during the first half of the 10th century (as here) when it enjoyed widespread fashion (see Helsinki (NM): KM 11243 and Edinburgh, (National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland): IL 1), particularly in Norway where the great silver brooches, and their brambling, were copied in smaller sizes in tinned bronze (Oslo (Universitetet i Oslo): C.11285). In Scandinavia an eastern variant was developed (as Copenhagen (Nationalmuseet): 16370) with flat roundels on the balls, found notably in Sweden and Russia (Stenberger, M. (1959): Ringnålen från Gorodilov, 'Tor', v).

    Date: Middle Viking Period.

    Literature: R. A. Smith, 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries London', 2nd series, xxi (1906), 68 and refs; Shetelig, H. (ed.) (1940): 'Viking Antiquities in Great Britain and Ireland IV', Oslo, 46, fig. 15; Shetelig, H. (1948): The Norse style of ornament in the Viking settlements, 'Acta Archaeologica', xix, 76, fig. 5.


  • Bibliography

    • Marzinzik 2013 115 bibliographic details
    • Graham-Campbell 1980 195 bibliographic details
    • Blurton 1997 197 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2015-2017 20 Mar- 20 Mar, Falmouth, National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Viking Voyagers LT Loan 2014-2015 Jul-Jan, Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Vikings 2014 6 Mar-22 Jun, London, British Museum, Viking: Life and Legend 2013 21 Jun-30 Nov, Denmark, Copenhagen, National Museum of Denmark, Viking 2012-2013 Nov-Mar, Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2012 Mar-Jul, Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Treasures of the World’s Cultures 2009 11 Dec-2010 10 May, Madrid, Canal de Isabel II, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2009 1 May-20 Sep, Victoria, Royal BC Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures 2007 Mar-June, Beijing, Palace Museum, Britain meets the World 1992 26 Dec-1993 14 Mar, Denmark, Copenhagen, Nationalmuseet, Vikings and Christians 1992 1 Sep-15 Nov, Germany, Berlin, Altes Museum, Wikinger, Waräger, Normannen. Die Skandinavier und Europa 800-1200 1992 1 Apr-20 Jul, France, Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Les Vikings... Les Scandinaves et l’Europe 800-1200 1990 12 May-2 Sep, Liverpool, National Museums & Galleries of Merseyside, A Silver Saga 1982 3 Apr-31 Oct, York, Yorkshire Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland 1981 5 Sep-31 Dec, Denmark, Århus, Moesgård Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland 1981 11 Apr-16 Aug, Denmark, Copenhagen, The Danish National Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland 1980 4 Oct-1981 4 Jan, USA, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Vikings 1980 19 Feb-20 July, London, BM, The Vikings

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    found 1785

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


Silver thistle brooch; reverse of the ball terminals incised with rosette.

Silver thistle brooch; reverse of the ball terminals incised with rosette.

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Object reference number: MCS13433

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