Sunday, September 27, 2009

More on the Staffordshire Hoard

In comments on the previous post, a reader asks if the sword fittings might be pre-installation rather than post-removal, and whether this might be the hoard of a goldsmith.

I think this is very unlikely. The hoard contains no ingots, and only small fragments of wire and sheet. I would expect a goldsmith to have a significant amount of otherwise unworked wire and sheet on hand. I would expect that hilt and buckle plates would not yet have rivets in place, but several of the finds show this. 67 gold sword pommels is an insane amount of bullion tied up in inventory for a working goldsmith. How may swords with gold hilts could he hope to sell in the course of a year? And if you look at the photos of the finds, many of the hilt plates show exactly the sort of damage you'd expect if someone was trying to dismount them in the field with inadequate tools and time.

I also doubt that the hoard ever had time to mingle with the general treasury of the person who possessed it when it was buried. A reasonably successful warlord would have other wealth in their treasury at home: coins, and vessels and spoons of precious metal at least. And probably ingots and more jewelry, both female and male. All of these were absent from the hoard.

Here is what I think happened. A Mercian warlord, who may have been the king of Mercia himself, went on campaign, and won one or more battles. He killed or captured several hundred thegns on the other side, as well as lesser men unworthy of mention. To avoid discord or dissension in his own army, he immediately stripped all the gold and silver from his booty and shared it out by weight according to custom. We don't know what the custom was then, but in the army of Henry V it was a third for the Sovereign, a third for the captain, and a third for the other fighting men. I'd be surprised if the proportion was very different when the hoard was buried.

And now the luck of the Mercian warlord turns against him, and other enemies threaten him, and he wonders if he can get his booty home. So he takes his share of the loot he has won so far, which rides in his saddlebags. He owns a very nice large gold cross: perhaps his chaplain uses it, perhaps it was booty. Until now it had its own wood or leather case, but the case won't fit in the bag. With regret he folds it into a more compact configuration and stuffs it in, and buries it with the rest. And carefully remembers where he buried it, so he can come back for it later.

But he never comes back, so perhaps something unfortunate happened to him.

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