Anglo Saxon Necklace
Jewellery As Status – The Anglo Saxon Necklace
Anglo-Saxon clothing was mostly made with wool and linen, dyed with woad to make blue, weld to make yellow, or madder to make red. Very wealthy people could afford imported fabrics like silk but the best way to display status was often with jewellery like brooches, pendants, necklaces, and bracelets. Anglo-Saxon jewellers used copper alloy, iron, silver, gold, or a combination of metals with techniques such as casting, engraving and inlaying to make pieces like this Anglo Saxon necklace. Casting was probably favoured for more common items because the same mould can be used many times. Techniques like inlaying and engraving were used to produce custom pieces, likely for high-paying, wealthy clients with deep pockets.
The shape and motif of this Anglo-Saxon necklace bear some similarity to the same features on the Strickland and Fuller brooches, both circular objects made from sheet silver, niello and gold. The artistic output of Anglo-Saxon England is shaped both by their neighbours who remain Celtic cultures, and the influence of the Britons who came before them. The knotwork, Celtic crosses, and spirals all bear striking resemblance to Celtic work of a similar time.
A significant influence on Anglo-Saxon art and jewellery also came from central Europe, which was once the home of these people. A careful examination of history usually indicates that our ideas of fixed, culturally distinct groups replacing each other in a timeline are generally incorrect. Celtic people, Anglo-Saxon people, Norsemen, and Germanic people may all have overlapped at various times and places, influencing each other with the exchange of ideas, materials, and technology.
The Celtic culture that preceded the Anglo-Saxon arrival in Britain also existed in some of their countries of origin, no doubt influencing their artistic output in some way. This Anglo Saxon necklace is a reflection of all these influences but retains a distinctive character.
The Anglo-Saxon cultures, though themselves descended from the intermingling of indigenous British groups and earlier Germanic raiders, are credited with establishing the Kingdom of England, and over half English words have their roots in Anglo-Saxon (or Old English as it’s commonly known). This was also an area of study for a certain John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, who would later write a popular book series in part inspired by the myths of the Anglo-Saxon people.
The 7th and 8th Centuries are considered the high watermark for Anglo-Saxon art and design. Archaeological evidence points to these being the most prolific periods for producing material culture. In this time, Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths became sought-after by the rich and powerful. Gold was used primarily to indicate rank, and the fact that those skilled in goldwork were extended freedom to move around the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms gives us some indication of their importance. Creating work like this Anglo Saxon necklace was a highly-prized skill and something valued in society.
Spearhafoc – Rogue Jeweller
Spearhafoc was an 11th Century Anglo-Saxon goldsmith, jeweller, artist and craftsman whose skill in illuminated manuscripts brought him into contact with the royal family. King Edward appointed him Bishop of London in either 1047 or 1048. In addition to his great learning and artistry, it’s thought a miracle he performed in Canterbury added to the idea that he was suitable to the post. But when the previous Bishop of London and newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury returned from overseas, he refused to consecrate Spearhafoc, claiming that the Pope had forbidden it. The jeweller eventually fled abroad, taking with him treasure from the church stores and gold and jewels intended for King Edward’s crown.
Typical Items Of Jewellery
Anglo-Saxon decorative work was widely admired in the ancient world, with the church even commissioning work for St Peter’s church in Rome. Necklaces and bracelets were made of metal, glass beads, amber, and amethyst. Several examples of waist-hanging jewellery for women survive but their purpose is not clear. Some have speculated these items were a way of indicating rank and only worn by the woman of the house.
Men wore belts for practical purposes but Anglo-Saxon belt buckles could get large and ornate to indicate wealth. The golden Sutton Hoo belt buckle is considered one of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon metalwork. Created with several separate pieces, the brooch is a hinged box with a triple lock mechanism. The ornate decoration includes snakes, birds, and long-limbed animals. Niello backgrounds and raised areas help the viewer pick out the animals from the confusing, chaotic swirl of the pattern.
Alfred the Great
One of England’s best-loved Anglo-Saxon historical figures, Alfred, is remembered for his love of education, mercy, level-headedness, and for improving the legal and military structures of England and the lives of his people. In contrast to many inaccurate, historical portraits, this one appears to ring true from the sources available. According to monk and historian, Asser, Alfred won a beautifully-illustrated book of poetry from his mother aged six, after she’d offered it as a prize to the first of her sons to memorize it. Alfred could read by age twelve (uncommon even for kings at the time) and in 853 he travelled to Rome where the pope “anointed him as king” according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Victorian historians give this a mystical quality, suggesting the pope saw in him the future King of Wessex. But modern scholars dispute this idea, citing how his father was still alive at the time as were his two older brothers. He likely accompanied his father to Rome where the Pope confirmed him.
It’s believed that Alfred’s father put him in the position of secundarius, second in line after his older brother, Æthelred. The king probably recognised in his youngest son qualities that would make him a great leader and wanted to avoid a conflict over succession should his oldest son fall in battle. This practice of appointing a second, closely associated with the reigning monarch, may have been a practice carried over from the Celtic culture that inhabited Britain before the Anglo-Saxons. One culture rarely completely wipes out another – details are worked into the dominant culture and their origins are forgotten. The Celts appointed a tanist or heir-apparent to work alongside the reigning monarch.
A Time Of Vikings
Alfred came to power at a time when Viking raids on the English coast were coming to a head and Viking colonies on English soil were beginning to take root. Alfred, knowing that he had little hope of driving the invaders from his lands, sought to make peace and he along with the kings of Mercia and other lands probably paid tribute to the Vikings to avoid attacks. Several Viking hoards that line up with the dates and places of these events have been found.
Drawn into Conflict
Alfred was finally forced into open conflict with the Norsemen, winning many decisive victories all while reforming education, law, and military structures. He’s remembered as much for his contribution to humanity as for any military achievement. The “great” title was added to his name later in history in recognition of his influence over the English national identity.
The church from the Medieval period onwards told a tale of St Augustine bringing the word of Christ to the heathen British isles in 596AD. But many historians contend that missionaries from Ireland and other places had already brought Christianity to many Anglo-Saxon people before this date, and when the pope’s mission arrived, they found a church already established. The Augustine Gospels, an illuminated book brought to England by this expedition in the 5th century, is still in the city of Cambridge to this day. And however it first arrived, Christianity in Britain is first associated with its Anglo-Saxon people.
Men Of Culture
“This was the happiest time for the English people,” writes 8th Century English historian Bede, discussing a time when Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek-speaking former Syrian refugee, and Hadrian, a Libyan, were sent to England in 668 to restore order to the failing English church. Theodore was the leader of a monastic settlement near Rome and Hadrian a refugee, learned in the wisdom of the Greek east. Both were monks who had fled west after the Arab conquests in the 630’s. These two men brought poetry, biblical commentaries, grammar, theology, and a litany of saints. St George (originally a Syrian), would later become the patron saint of England. they worked tirelessly, teaching Latin and training priests and imparting the wisdom of Greek and Latin civilisation. Bede describes Hadrian as “a man of African race” and he is amongst the most influential figures in early English history, and certainly one of the most important in terms of the nation’s cultural identity.
Material: Anglo Saxon Necklace is made from Sterling Silver .925
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