Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 PAS object type to be used
- 3 PAS classifications and sub-classifications to be used
- 4 Terms to use in the description
- 5 How to take dimensions
- 6 Brooches of the Roman period and earlier
- 7 Early-medieval brooches
- 7.1 Early Anglo-Saxon brooches
- 7.1.1 Cruciform brooch
- 7.1.2 Great square-headed brooch
- 7.1.3 Small square-headed brooch
- 7.1.4 Small-long brooch
- 7.1.5 Radiate-headed brooch
- 7.1.6 Equal-arm brooch
- 7.1.7 Supporting arm brooch
- 7.1.8 Annular brooch
- 7.1.9 Penannular brooch
- 7.1.10 Disc brooch
- 7.1.11 Button brooch
- 7.1.12 Cast saucer brooch
- 7.1.13 Applied saucer brooch
- 7.1.14 Jewelled disc brooches
- 7.1.15 Brooches of other shapes (bird, S-shaped etc)
- 7.1.16 Early Anglo-Saxon brooches made from lead
- 7.1.17 Summary of chronology and classification for early Anglo-Saxon brooches
- 7.2 Middle and Late Anglo-Saxon brooches
- 7.3 Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches
- 7.4 A note on bird brooches of middle and late early-medieval date
- 7.5 A note on the distributions of middle and later early-medieval brooches, and their possible meanings
- 7.6 Medieval brooches
- 7.7 Post-medieval brooches
- 7.1 Early Anglo-Saxon brooches
A brooch is essentially a pin with something (a plate, a frame etc) joining the two ends, effectively keeping the pin from falling out of the costume. It can be used for fastening things together, or just for decoration.
PAS object type to be used
Use BROOCH for all brooches, whether they are bow brooches, plate brooches, penannular or annular brooches, etc.
Modern low-status brooches are often called ‘badges’, but this has a particular meaning for portable antiquities (see BADGE for details). If it has a pin, and something joining the two ends, it’s a BROOCH.
PAS classifications and sub-classifications to be used
Because BROOCH is such a huge category, the classification and sub-classification fields are of great importance in searching and analysing the data. Please try to fill in these fields correctly.
Specific guidance will be given below, but as a general rule the common name of the brooch goes in the classification field (e.g. Polden Hill, cruciform, cogwheel) and any specific typological classification goes in the sub-classification field (e.g. Mackreth 3.b, Martin type 3.2.1, Weetch type 15.B).
Terms to use in the description
The terms to be used in the description vary from period to period and in some cases from brooch to brooch, and so there is much more detail below. There are some terms that are used across all brooches, though, and these are described here.
There are two main forms of brooch, the kind with a pin which swivels on a frame, and the kind with a pin which hinges or is sprung behind a solid element. The frame brooches normally divide into annular and penannular brooches, and the others normally divide into bow and plate brooches.
Annular and penannular brooches have a pin and a frame. The pin has a loop, a shaft and a tip. Annulars may have a pin constriction or pin hole around which the pin is fixed, and a pin rest where the tip of the pin sits. Penannulars have terminals to keep the tip of the pin in place.
Bow brooches have a head and a foot, and the bow is the part in between. The pin runs from a hinge or spring at the head, to the catchplate at the foot. The catchplate is curled over to provide a pin rest. Plate brooches are similar, but generally there is no distinction between the head and the foot. The pin is normally hinged.
Pins can be made from the same metal as the rest of the brooch, or can be made separately from a different metal. Most Iron Age, Roman and medieval brooches have pins made from the same metal, and these often survive well. Most early-medieval brooches have pins made from iron, which do not survive well.
There are major differences in the pin arrangements used in each period, and these are useful in dating brooches. They are described fully in the period-specific sub-sections below.
How to take dimensions
Length is normally measured parallel to the pin, and width perpendicular to the pin. The thickness is much harder to define; it may include the pin arrangements on the reverse, or not.
Because brooches come in so many shapes and sizes, it is difficult to be consistent. Please explain how you have taken the dimensions of your particular brooch, in the Object Description field.
Brooches of the Roman period and earlier
This part of the guide is still in development and will be added as soon as possible. Until it is available, please carry on recording brooches using Mackreth 2011, Bayley and Butcher 2004 and Hattatt 2000, and of course other PAS records.
The range of early-medieval brooches depends very much on the sub-period. It is essential to add the sub-periods to records of early-medieval material. This part of the guide is divided by sub-period and then by brooch type.
Early Anglo-Saxon brooches
Although early Anglo-Saxon brooches are almost as complicated as Roman brooches, there is no equivalent to Mackreth 2011 for this period – no single source that covers everything. Instead, specific types have been studied in isolation, and a wide library is needed to cover them all in detail.
An alternative is to try to source a copy of MacGregor and Bolick 1993, the catalogue of the early Anglo-Saxon objects of non-ferrous metal in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Copies are now scarce, but it’s a very useful book. It has summaries of all the relevant research up to 1993, and lots of useful photographs of objects from the Ashmolean’s collection. If you use this book in conjunction with existing PAS records, then you will have most of the information you need to make good new records.
There is also a good overview of research in Lucy 2000, 25-40, which covers both the practical results of work on brooches from graves, and the theoretical perspectives used. This is an essential book for anyone planning their own research on early Anglo-Saxon material.
Another very useful source of Anglo-Saxon objects is West 1998, now available to download free from the East Anglian Archaeology website, although this is more useful as a source of parallels and less useful as a signpost to research.
Whatever books you have, this guide aims to give a quick overview of the commonest types of early Anglo-Saxon brooches, and how they should be recorded on the PAS database. Most early Anglo-Saxon brooches are either ‘long’ brooches (bow brooches) or circular brooches, and these will be looked at in order, starting with the commonest long brooches.
This is the commonest early Anglo-Saxon brooch on the PAS database. Its name is unfortunate, as it is not at all cross-shaped. It can be defined as having a horse-head terminal, although in some rare cases the horse-head is also, or alternatively, a human face. Put ‘cruciform’ in the classification field, and if possible the Martin type (see below; e.g. ‘Martin type 3.1.2’) in the sub-classification field.
The best source for information on cruciform brooches is Martin 2015. This is based on Toby Martin’s PhD thesis (Martin 2011) which is available to download free from Ethos, but the thesis contains few of the illustrations available in the book.
A cruciform brooch looks daunting to describe, but the trick is to divide it up into three – the head, bow and foot – and take each part individually.
The names of the parts of a cruciform brooch are detailed in the illustration below. PAS terminology largely conforms to Martin 2015, but there are some differences. Martin’s terms worked well for cruciform brooches, but our terms need to be consistent across all early-medieval brooches, and if possible across brooches of all periods.
The head can be divided into headplate and knobs. The headplate often has a slightly raised central panel and slightly thinner wings. The knobs usually consist of a base, a waist and a dome.
The two side knobs were originally functional, with drilled holes in which the ends of the iron pin bar were held. The side knobs were then fixed on to the edges of the headplate via a slot or, less commonly, a tab.
Most cruciform brooches have top and side knobs made to match. They come in two basic shapes, known as full-round and half-round. The general trend is for full-round knobs to be earlier than half-round knobs.
Normally the PAS deplores the use of an imprecise term like ’round’, but here it’s quite helpful, as full-round knobs can be circular or oval in cross-section, and half-round knobs can be semi-circular or semi-oval in cross-section. A full description, as well as the shorthand term, is therefore necessary. The illustration below will give you all the terms you need to describe the knobs fully.
Knobs can also be cast in one with the headplate; it is not unusual for top knobs to be cast in one but the side knobs still to be made separately.
The rest of the head, apart from the knobs, is the headplate. This is usually divided into a thicker raised central panel and flatter wings, but sometimes the headplate is just a simple rectangle.
There are often vertical lines of small stamps or punchmarks down the edges either of the wings or of the central panel – look hard for these, as they can get very worn. You can record these in the Object Description field using the words ‘stamp’ or ‘punch’ (or perhaps both, ‘stamped punchmarks’) but please also use the drop-down ‘Stamped’ in the Surface Treatment field, so that we can guarantee to be able to find all the stamped examples.
On the reverse there is usually a single pin bar lug, occasionally a double lug, and this is always set longitudinally, in line with the pin.
The bow is the next element of the cruciform brooch and is the hardest to describe. There is little established terminology and the shapes can be complex.
Above you can see the commonest form of bow found on a cruciform brooch. It has a rectangular-section area to top and bottom, and in between these, the front of the bow is curved or angled from side to side (transversely). If the reverse of the bow is flat, this can be described as D-shaped in cross-section or triangular in cross-section; if the reverse of the bow is hollowed, this area could be described as C-shaped in cross-section, or V-shaped in cross-section.
Bows also obviously curve from top to bottom (longitudinally) and they can vary in how highly they are arched.There is a tendency for designs to get flatter over time (see below).
Decoration down the centre of the bow is common, often grooves or lines of stamped punchmarks. Decoration can wear off in the centre of the bow, so check the top and the bottom carefully for traces.
The word ‘faceted’ should be avoided, as it’s difficult to know which facets are being referred to. In the examples above, the centre of the bow has two facets, but the rectangular-section ends also have little facets where they meet the centre.
Less commonly, bows similar to those on great square-headed and small-long brooches can also be found on cruciforms. These include bows with central ridges or bosses, and very simple bows.
The foot of a cruciform brooch can be divided into the flat panel at the top and the terminal below this. Lappets can project from the flat panel, and these can carry relief decoration, usually of predatory birds’ heads with eyes, headframes and curling beaks.
The flat panel is often undecorated, but may be divided into two or three parts with transverse grooves and ridges, may have bevelled edges and may have lines of stamped punchmarks.
On the reverse of the flat panel is the catchplate, which has a pin rest which almost always curls the same way. This is described as you view it from the reverse, so it almost always curls to the left. Often the pin rest is missing, but if it is in good condition and uncurled, it generally means that the brooch is unfinished. Unfinished brooches are very interesting, and so it is worth ticking ‘Find of Note’.
The proportions of complete catchplates can be very hard to describe. A ‘deep’ catchplate might run for a long distance down the foot, but not project very far from it; or it might be the other way round. This is the same for other words you might reach for – wide, long, short, narrow, or shallow. Make sure that what you are saying can only be interpreted in one way. This may well mean a longer description.
The terminal is almost always in the shape of a long animal head, thought to be a horse; on occasional late brooches it may develop into a human/animal hybrid or a human face. The horse does not have ears, but has rounded relief eyes, a nose which usually has a curved or angled front, and nostrils. The nostrils can be oval or circular, or sometimes comma-shaped. Between the nostrils there can be a flaring projection, which has been interpreted as the horse’s tongue or long top lip.
Classification, chronology and distribution
Several general trends can be observed in the development of the cruciform brooch. They tend to get larger overall, and especially wider and flatter, over time. Knobs start off made separately and are full-round; over time they become half-round and cast in one with the brooch, and then become flatter, to accommodate relief decoration.
Cruciform brooches were the first Anglo-Saxon brooch type to be studied in depth, by Åberg (1926). His classification has proved amazingly resilient and is still used and quoted. It was the basis for other work by Reichstein (1975) and Mortimer (1990), but all these have now been superseded by Martin (2011) and Martin (2015).
Martin divides his brooches up into four Groups and then these are sub-divided into Sub-Groups and then Types. For ease of entering data and searching, we use the word Type for all of these. Use ‘cruciform’ in the classification field, and the Martin type in the sub-classification field, in this format: ‘Martin type 3.1.2’.
It is easier to allocate a type if you have a complete brooch, but you can often get a rough idea even if you only have a fragment. There is a handy summary of dating in Martin 2015, 126-8.
Type 1 brooches are small and narrow, with no or very small wings. They normally have full-round knobs, and often have long catchplates extending down onto the reverse of the terminal. Oval nostrils are most common, but sometimes these are joined to form a single heart-shaped element. Type 1 cruciform brooches are in use from c. 420 to c. 475 AD.
Type 2 brooches are larger, broader examples of the same basic form, but tend to have half-round knobs. Wings are medium-sized and rectangular. Comma-shaped nostrils can be found as well as oval nostrils. Small, simple punchmarks are often found on Type 2 brooches, but there are no lappets or large projections at the end of the foot. Type 2 cruciform brooches are in use from c. 475 to c. 550 AD, but were probably commoner in the earlier part of this date-range.
Type 3 is the commonest type, and is again a bit larger and a bit more elaborately decorated. Wings are larger and can flare to a trapezoidal shape. Feet often have lappets at the top and projections at the bottom. Punchmarks are common. Type 3 cruciform brooches are in use from some time after c. 475 (perhaps around 480) to c. 550 AD.
Finally, Type 4 are the ‘florid’ brooches, with relief Style I ornament. They come into use at the same time as Style I, whose start date is still not fixed absolutely. The earliest ones were perhaps in use by 480 AD and the fashion continued until c. 570 AD; to narrow down this long date-range, you will need to be able to identify the sub-type of the brooch concerned.
The distribution map of PAS records of cruciform brooches shows that they are commonest north and east of a line drawn between Felixstowe and Derby, then northwards along the Pennines. This area is sometimes thought of as the area of ‘Anglian’ culture in England (as opposed to ‘Saxon’). There is also a separate group of cruciform brooches in Kent.
There is then a lighter scatter of finds across all of southern England east of a line drawn southwards from Derby to the New Forest. A very few in the West Midlands are outliers to the main distribution.
Great square-headed brooch
Again, the traditional name of this brooch type is inaccurate, as the head is very rarely square; it is more often rectangular. Hines 1997 is by far the best source of information, but it is out of print and not cheap or easy to find second-hand. Alternatively, there are now nearly 300 records of great square-headed brooches on the PAS database which can be used to help set your particular brooch in context. Put ‘great square headed’ in the classification field, and the Hines type if possible (see below; e.g. ‘Hines group XVI’) in the sub-classification field.
Great square-headed brooches are quite large and heavy, usually about 100-150mm long when complete. They are usually made from copper alloy, but about 1 in 20 are made from silver. The most common surface treatment is gilding (about half seem to be gilded), but silvering or tinning is also known. A thin white-metal coating is usually tinning, but sometimes they were decorated with soldered-on silver plates. These rarely survive well in the ploughsoil, but you can sometimes see the patches of solder, as here on FAKL-0F4D67. Because the silver plates don’t survive well in the ploughsoil, they are not a proper component and so should not normally result in the brooch being considered as Treasure.
One of the reasons that we have so many records of great square-headed brooches may be that, like the cruciform brooches, they tend to break up very easily into lots of fairly recognisable, highly decorated fragments. Here are some hints on how to recognise fragments.
The headplates of great square-headed brooches can be recognised by their concentric zones of relief decoration, divided by flat-topped ridges which are often undecorated. The corners are usually emphasised in some way. There can be inlays of garnet or, more rarely, enamel. The relief decoration can include Style I animals and simple human masks (see FAKL-4E7F95, pictured below with a group of bows, for an example of a mask on a headplate).
On the reverse, there can be one or two lugs to hold the pin bar, always set vertically (parallel to the bow).
The bows of great square-headed brooches also tend to have relief decoration. Two bands of decoration are common, sometimes separated by a raised strip down the centre. These can be deep longitudinal grooves, or panels of Style I. Roundels on the bow are found more rarely, and can occasionally develop into separately made discs fixed to the bow with a rivet (e.g. YORYM-F0C9C7). These discs can be hard to recognise when detached.
The feet of great square-headed brooches are basically lozenge-shaped, often with the corners emphasised or enlarged so that the foot is almost cross-shaped. The upper edges of the lozenge have profile animals above, with wide-open jaws springing from the top of the footplate and curling around to fill the space above the lozenge.
Many feet have a vertical ridge down the centre, and some have an openwork triangle to either side. On the reverse there will be a catchplate, set close to the top of the foot. These are normally integrally cast, but can occasionally be made separately and soldered on.
Chronology, classification and distribution
Hines 1997 has proved a very robust and useful classification. The groups are defined by shared similar elements, and if enough of the brooch survives, it is usually quite straightforward to allocate a Hines group. If you do not have Hines, it is perfectly acceptable to simply describe the brooch well, paying particular attention to the decoration. The Hines group can always be added at a later stage.
Great square-headed brooches were dated by Hines to c. 500-570 AD (1997, 229-30) and this date-range still seems to be valid today.
They occur in the same parts of the country as the main concentration of cruciform brooches; east of the Pennines, and north of a line roughly between Felixstowe and Derby.
Small square-headed brooch
The smaller variants of the square-headed form are called small square-headed brooches. Like the great square-heads, they are usually made from copper alloy, but there many more silver examples among the small square-heads (about 1 in 6 of the PAS examples are silver). They are again usually gilded, and relief-decorated. They are normally less than half the size of most great square-headed brooches, with the commonest size of PAS-recorded examples perhaps 40mm long. Put ‘small square headed’ in the classification field.
There should not normally be a problem in distinguishing great square-headed brooches (with Hines types) from their small square-headed relatives.
There is no useful, up-to-date study of small square-headed brooches. Leigh 1980 is the only comprehensive source, an unpublished PhD which can be downloaded free from Ethos (link here). Leigh divided his material – about a hundred brooches – into three classes, I, II and III. Class I were “the finest and largest silver brooches”; Class II were “also of silver, but generally of smaller size and lesser quality”. Class III were all the copper-alloy brooches, about a third of the total (Leigh 1980, 3, 11 and 110). Leigh’s work is perhaps a little too broad-brush and it is not necessary to add Leigh classes to the sub-classification field.
Other research on small square-headed brooches can be found in two cemetery reports. The ten small square-headed brooches from the Kent cemetery of Mill Hill, Deal, were discussed by Birte Brugmann in a useful short study (Parfitt and Brugmann 1997, 35-39). Brugmann distinguished two types among the Mill Hill material, which she called ‘Kentish-continental’ and ‘Jutish-Kentish’. The ‘Jutish-Kentish’ type is rare; it is larger and better-made, with more individualistic designs. The ‘Kentish-continental’ type is far more common; it is less than 60mm long, and with simple, stereotyped relief decoration. Both types occur in both silver and copper alloy.
Twelve small square-headed brooches from the 1994 excavations at Buckland, Dover, are discussed by Brugmann (in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, 78-80) where (unfortunately) the larger ones are termed ‘great’ square-headed brooches.
In contrast to Leigh’s broad-brush work, Brugmann’s individual studies are perhaps too detailed for us to apply more widely. In the absence of anything in between, it is not necessary to add anything to the sub-classification field.
The terminology for these brooches follows that of the cruciforms and great square-heads. Again, of course the headplates are usually not square but rectangular, and they usually have relief decoration set in concentric zones, often with a raised, fairly plain (but not necessarily undecorated) band separating them. The relief decoration can include Style I animals, or can be simple geometric shapes.
Bows often have relief decoration too, generally in two long narrow panels. Feet generally have a lozenge- or cross-shaped design, often with shapes derived from profile animals in the spaces above, showing their relationship to the great square-headed brooches. The pin bar lug is normally single, and thecatchplate can be located anywhere from right below the bow to the centre of the foot. Silver examples often have inlaid niello, and exceptionally can have inlaid glass or garnets.
Leigh’s thesis is entitled The Square-Headed Brooches of Sixth-Century Kent, because he believed that they were all made in Kent; his hundred examples were concentrated in Kent and, to a lesser extent, the Isle of Wight. Because of this, the brooch type is also occasionally called the Kentish square-headed brooch. The PAS database avoids this term in the classification field, using ‘small square headed’ instead.
PAS records show that in addition to the traditional concentrations in Kent and the Isle of Wight, they were also commonly used (albeit in lower numbers) across the area south and east of Oxford, and there are occasional examples over much of the rest of Anglo-Saxon England.
Leigh dated small square-headed brooches to c. 500-570 AD (Leigh 1980, 474-83). This dating has since been thoroughly tested and confirmed by Brugmann (in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, quoting Brugmann 1999, table 3.2; absolute chronology can be found in table 3.3).
The small-long brooch is essentially a kind of small imitation of a cruciform and/or a great square-headed brooch. This probably explains the rather enigmatic name – if cruciforms and great square-heads are ‘long’ brooches, then these are the small variants of the long brooch. Put ‘small long’ in the classification field.
Fragments of small-long brooch can be distinguished relatively easily from fragments of square-headed brooch, both large and small, because small-longs never have any relief decoration. Decoration is confined to incised lines or simple ridges, and stamped motifs. But distinguishing a fragment of large, well-made small-long from a bit of a small cruciform brooch can be difficult. Here are some tips.
Generally cruciforms will be larger and better made. The headplates of cruciforms normally have central panels and wings; small-longs tend to have headplates designed with a single rectangular area. The bows of cruciforms are more standard than small-longs (see below for the variety of small-long bows), and the same generally holds true for the flat panel at the upper part of the foot. Of course cruciforms are defined by their horse-head terminals, so there won’t be any problem if the only part surviving is the terminal.
There will always be difficult cases where you cannot be sure of which type of brooch you are dealing with. If you cannnot decide, add both possibilities to the classification field – enter ‘small long or cruciform’.
No classification of small-long brooches has yet been successfully carried out, although the challenges are no greater than for any other early Anglo-Saxon brooch. MacGregor and Bolick (1991, 124-147) illustrate the range, and comment on scholarship up to 1991. Since then, small-longs have been included in the chronological work of Penn and Brugmann (2007) who concur with MacGregor and Bolick (1991) in allocating a date-range of c. 450-550 AD.
Penn and Brugmann (2007, 24-5, 70-2) then divide small-longs into three types (sm1, sm2 and sm3) based on head shape and lappets. The presence of lappets puts a brooch into type sm3, which is dated to c. 480-550 AD. If you want to cite Penn and Brugmann’s types, please do, but beware of the non-standard terminology used in the descriptions of the types on p. 25.
Small-long brooches are found across most of England west and south of the Pennines. As with cruciform brooches, there is a higher concentration in the traditionally ‘Anglian’ areas of England (yellow dots below), with smaller concentrations in Kent, the Isle of Wight and Hampshire.
As with the other ‘long’ brooches, small-longs can be considered in three parts: head, bow and foot. There is some evidence that this is the way that the early Anglo-Saxons conceived their brooches, so it isn’t an entirely artificial exercise.
The basic shape of a small-long headplate is square or rectangular. This is often embellished, most commonly with U-shaped cut-outs or with flat projections. Cut-outs and projections can merge into one another, and it can be hard to know whether it’s best to describe the parts that have been removed or the areas that are still left. The answer is to do what’s clearest and easiest for the individual brooch and don’t strive for consistency at the expense of clarity. There is no standard terminology for these brooches yet, and simply describing the headplate as (for example) trefoil, or cross potent, will not capture the complexity adequately. Put all the detail in as well as the shorthand words.
See above, under ‘Cruciform brooch’ and ‘Bow‘, for how to describe a bow.
The bows on small-long brooches are more variable than those on cruciform brooches. In addition to the common type found on cruciforms, with a rectangular-section flat panel at top and bottom and a V-shaped cross-section in the centre, there are three other common forms. One has a triangular facet at top and bottom, and a long trapezoidal facet on each side; another is V-shaped in cross-section throughout, with a long facet on either side which continues to a point at either end; and finally there is a very simple bow, oval or perhaps semi-oval in cross-section. There will always be oddities and minor variants, but these four types are by far the most common.
Feet come in two main types. The commoner type has a narrow flat panel at the top and a flared terminal; the other, much less commmon, is broadly lozenge-shaped but can end in a flared or circular terminal.
Flared feet can have a straight or curved edge at the bottom, and later examples can occasionally have simple lappets projecting from the flat panel. The presence of lappets is used by Penn and Brugmann to define their type sm3, which is their latest type, dated to c. 480-550 AD (2007, 24-5, 71-2).
Whether the foot is flared or lozengiform, the catchplate will be at the top, just below the bow. When a break has removed the catchplate, and you only have the terminal, the fragment can be difficult to identify as part of a brooch. We have far fewer small-long foot fragments recorded on the database than we should, so keep an eye out for difficult examples.
How the elements are combined
The pictures above include some more-or-less complete examples, but here are some more combining head, bow and foot. While the flared foot is often combined with a trefoil or cross-shaped head, and the lozengiform foot normally has a rectangular head, there are no hard and fast rules about how the elements are combined.
More unusual shapes can be unusual combinations of standard elements, or can have heads, bows and feet that are unusual in themselves. You won’t come across many of these, but here are a few oddities to illustrate the range.
Radiate-headed brooches are small brooches with semi-circular headplates and decorative knobs that radiate from the headplate. Their feet can be of various shapes and they normally have relief decoration. They are usually made from copper alloy, but 1 in 6 on the PAS database are made from silver. They are often gilded. Put ‘radiate headed’ in the classification field.
There are a surprising number of radiate-headed brooches recorded on the PAS database, given how few have been found in excavations of early Anglo-Saxon graves. Because they are rare in graves, they lack the good contexts that help us understand them, and English finds haven’t received much study so far. A welcome exception is Brugmann in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, 80-2.
Radiate-headed brooches are much more common in graves in Continental Europe, mainly in France but with variants all across Europe. The commonest French type normally has five integrally cast knobs around the head, and a parallel-sided bow and foot decorated together with hardly any break between the two. Examples can be found in museums which include collections of Continental material, such as the Ashmolean (AN1909.646) or the British Museum (try this search for the BM’s collection of over a hundred radiate-headed brooches).
The Frankish type is not common on the PAS database. A few examples are pictured below. The heads are easy to recognise, but the bows and feet are harder.
The type of radiate-headed brooch most often recorded on the PAS database has three knobs. The heads are again generally semi-circular (sometimes triangular or oval) and the knobs are again cast in one piece with the headplate; sometimes they are so small as to be vestigial. The feet are usually triangular or lozengiform. Sometimes these are called ‘miniature bow brooches’, but as they resemble the Frankish type of radiate-headed brooch so closely, we should stick with this name and put ‘radiate headed’ in the classification field.
The distribution map of radiate-headed brooches shows that they are found thinly spread over most of Anglo-Saxon England, with a slightly higher density in East Anglia, Kent and Hampshire.
The only readily-available discussion of the three-knob variety appears to be by Brugmann, who discusses one from grave 102 at Mill Hill (Parfitt and Brugmann 1995, 39, fig. 54.d) and one from grave 408 at Buckland Dover (Brugmann in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, 80, fig. 10.57). Mill Hill grave 102 is dated to Brugmann’s Kentish Phase III (in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, 80) which is allocated the calendar dates of 530-570 AD (Brugmann 1999, 51, table 3.3).
Brooches with identical head and foot are found from the Roman to the late early-medieval periods, and the shapes and terminology differ slightly from period to period. In the early Anglo-Saxon world, equal-arm brooches have triangular heads and feet, and three different variants have been identified so far.
This type is large and heavy, with a wide triangular head and foot tapering towards the bow. They are the best-studied type, having been looked at by Dot Bruns, now Dot Boughton (Bruns 2003), and before that by Vera Evison (1977). The wide equal-arm brooches are also found on the Continent, and the art on them is sometimes called the Saxon Relief Style.
There are not very many records of wide equal-arm brooches on the PAS database. Bruns 2003 identifies several separate types, and these can be added to the sub-classification field if desired. In order to leave the sub-classification free, please add ‘wide equal arm’ to the classification field rather than simply ‘equal arm’.
The terminals of the wide equal-arm brooches are not always identical – there are sometimes small differences in size and/or design.
There is also a version of the wide equal-arm brooch which doesn’t have relief ornament – the surfaces are flat instead, with ring-and-dot or stamped designs.
Wide equal-arm brooches can have idiosyncratic pins and pin fixings. The pin bar lugs are usually double and widely spaced, to support a sturdy spring and pin holding a large and heavy brooch, but oddly there are also some which have far weaker separately made and soldered-on pin fixings. NMS-82BE20 has, exceptionally, a copper-alloy spring and pin.
The Anglian equal-arm brooch is not commonly recorded on the PAS database, but it is occasionally found in graves and is briefly discussed by Hines (1984, 253-9). It is normally undecorated. Its name comes from its distribution, which is restricted at present to ‘Anglian’ areas of England. In the unlikely event that you record one, use ‘Anglian equal arm’ in the classification field. They date to c. 500-570 AD.
Another type of equal-arm brooch is rarely found in graves, so before the PAS began recording them they were almost completely unknown. They are now much more common on the PAS database than any other sort of equal-arm brooch.
These brooches are generally substantially longer than they are wide, and the terminals taper the opposite way to those on the other two types – they taper away from the bow. Until now they have not had a precise name, but ‘long’ would seem to fit well as a contrast to ‘wide’. Therefore, please add ‘long equal arm’ to the classification field.
As with the wide equal-arm brooches, the terminals of long equal-arms are not always identical – there are sometimes small differences in size and/or design. In particular, the foot is often slightly longer than the head.
We now have so many recorded on the PAS database that English design and manufacture is suspected. The unpierced pin bar lug on IOW-A1F47D (pictured above) appears to confirm this.
As the range shown above indicates, long equal-arm brooches can be made from silver (KENT-028FFE) or copper alloy, and can have gilded relief decoration. They are quite small, usually about 40mm long. Much of their inspiration seems to come from the footplates of small-long or small square-headed brooches, and Barry Ager has suggested that they may be the result of casting two footplates together with a bow (in Annable and Eagles 2010, 27). Consequently, detached foot fragments can be difficult or impossible to identify with certainty. The knobs on HAMP-5F30D6, however, show that elements of cruciform brooches were also being used.
There is some scope for confusion with ansate brooches, which also have identical or near-identical terminals. Diagnostic features can include the pin fixings; both the pin bar lug and the catchplate are always in line with the pin on long equal-arms, and the pin bar lug is normally single. Ansate brooches can have the pin fixings set transversely, and often have double lugs. Other things to look out for on long equal-arm brooches include stamped or relief decoration in early Anglo-Saxon style.
A useful excavated parallel to PAS finds comes from grave 26 at Blacknall Field, Pewsey, and is discussed by Barry Ager (in Annable and Eagles 2010, 27-28) who lists other excavated examples from Alfriston 29, Lyminge 24, Stapenhill, and East Shefford grave 18. One from Frilford, now in the British Museum, could be added to this list (1867,0204.8).
Other equal-arm brooches
There are a very few equal-arm brooches which appear to be made by casting two headplate elements together, one either side of a bow. We have one which appears to combine two small-long headplates (NMS-192D40) and one which appears to combine two radiate-head headplates (WILT-BA0E35). Detached headplates from this type of brooch would be difficult or impossible to identify. In the unlikely event that you record one, simply add ‘equal arm’ to the classification field, and be sure to tick Find of Note.
Supporting arm brooch
This is one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon brooches, and is clearly a development from Roman brooches. The type was first defined in Germany, and the name ‘supporting arm’ is a direct translation from the German Stützarmfibel. Put ‘supporting arm’ in the classification field.
The ‘supporting arm’ is in fact wings, each with a perforated lug on the reverse to hold the pin bar, around which the spring is wrapped. There can be a third or even a fourth perforated lug in the centre. The foot is normally short and slightly flared, with transverse grooves and bevelled edges.
In 1993 these were described as ‘comparative rarities in England’ (MacGregor and Bolick 1993, 150), but the PAS has now recorded over 50 supporting-arm brooches.
Evison (1977, 127-130) defines the two main sub-types first isolated by Bӧhme (1974); the wider Mahndorf type, with head width of 25-30mm, and the narrower Perlberg type, with head width of 12-22mm. Many PAS examples fall into one of these two categories, and the sub-type can be put in the sub-classification field if so; but a surprising number fall between the two types, and are between 22mm and 25mm wide.
This brooch type is clearly derived from Roman brooches, with a catchplate at or towards the bottom of the brooch. But it also has many Germanic features, with a foot which is reminiscent of the flat panel at the top of the foot of most cruciform brooches, many small-longs and some equal-arms.
Because the foot can look so like the top of a cruciform foot, it is important to note whether it is complete, or whether it may originally have had a terminal which is now missing.
MacGregor and Bolick (1993, 150) summarises the current state of research. A date-range of c. 400-c. 450 should be approximately correct.
An annular brooch has a closed frame or ring (always circular in the early Anglo-Saxon period) and a pin. These brooches are not particularly easy to use, as the layers of fabric have to be pushed through the frame before the pin can go through them. Straightening the fabric pulls the pin back against the frame to secure it. Put ‘annular’ in the classification field.
Annular brooches are another type of early Anglo-Saxon brooch that suffers from a lack of scholarly attention. Brief studies have been carried out by Leeds (1945, 46-49; clarified by Ager 1985, 1-2), Hines (1984, 260-269) and Penn and Brugmann (2007, 25). Although Leeds’s overview used the letters (a) to (g) for various forms, and Hines gives an ‘outline of the range’, neither of these is a formal typology, and Hines concluded by stating that ‘The sources and history of the annular brooch in Anglian England remain largely obscure’.
The situation has not changed much since, and it is often difficult to date an annular brooch within the early Anglo-Saxon period, or even to distinguish an early-medieval brooch from a later medieval brooch. There is a great deal of scope for more research.
Many annular brooches are not particularly well made or skilfully decorated. Because fragments can be very hard to recognise, we think that early Anglo-Saxon annular brooches may be under-recorded on the PAS database.
A good range of annular brooches is illustrated in MacGregor and Bolick (1993, 82-93). Many are from graves, so are definitely early-medieval rather than medieval.
When recording an early-medieval annular brooch, you will of course describe the outline and the shape in cross-section, but please also remember to record the width of the frame from exterior to interior (this can be called the ‘band’ if necessary), any gloss present (see below), and the material of the pin (if it survives). As you will notice, there is no standard way up to photograph an annular brooch.
The sub-headings below are an attempt to make it easier to find information on the particular type of annular brooch you have to record. They do not constitute a typology. Leeds’s types can be put in the sub-classification field when they fit well to your particular brooch, but they are not necessary.
Flat annular brooches (Leeds type g)
The most common early Anglo-Saxon annular brooch has a flat circular frame, usually between about 35mm and 65mm in diameter. The frame is nearly always of copper alloy; the pin is usually of iron, but can occasionally be of copper alloy. There is usually a constriction or a hole to hold the pin; sometimes the hole is long, and so is better called a slot. Penn and Brugmann (2007, 25) see pin slots as being earlier than circular pin holes, although an absolute chronological date for this change is not obvious.
The frame is generally flat and wide, often with a low D-shaped cross-section. Sometimes they can instead have a wedge-shaped cross-section, with the point of the wedge always towards the inside of the brooch. This feature can be difficult to show in a photograph and needs careful description.
Decoration of stamps and transverse grooves are common, and can help to identify a fragment; but many annular brooches are undecorated. Penn and Brugmann examined the designs on brooches from four Norfolk cemeteries, and could not find any obvious patterning in terms of chronology or group identity (Penn and Brugmann 2007, 25). Some have a curious gloss to their surface, which has presumably been caused by polishing against clothing, but does not appear on other early Anglo-Saxon brooch types.
They can be made either from a closed frame, as shown above, or an open band with overlapping ends which each have a hole and are riveted together to close the frame. Occasionally the holes in the ends are simply kept together by the pin passing through them, as below on CAM-0B11E1.
The flat brooches with groove and stamp decoration appear to go out of use at the end of the Migration Period, perhaps c. 570 AD, so they have a life of about a century.
Broad-framed annular brooches (Leeds type e)
Occasionally a small annular brooch with a wider frame was used in the early Anglo-Saxon world. We do not have many on the PAS database, but examples include SF-965DBD and BERK-D25D70, both with copper-alloy pins, as well as several from the Ashmolean Museum such as MacGregor and Bolick 1993, nos. 10.2-10.4, 10.7, 10.11.
Chunkier annular brooches with ribbed decoration (Leeds type f)
A less common type of early Anglo-Saxon annular brooch has a chunkier oval or D-shaped cross-section, and cast decoration, with transverse ridges. It is hard to find a complete, unambiguous example of this on the PAS database, but some incomplete examples are shown below, and there is a complete example from Icklingham shown in West 1998 (fig. 56a no. 5). These are not easy to date within the early Anglo-Saxon period and a broad range of c. 475-c. 700 AD may be appropriate. The exception is when the grooves and ridges alternate with undecorated areas; this decoration appears to be confined to the late 6th and 7th centuries (see below).
Late 6th- and early 7th-century annular brooches
At some point in the late 6th century, the broad flat brooches (Leeds’s type g) go out of use, but the thicker ribbed brooches (Leeds’s type f) continue in use. During the late 6th and 7th centuries, annular brooches start to show a trend to smaller sizes, although larger examples still exist (up to about 42mm external diameter). Cross-sections remain relatively thick and narrow, either circular, rectangular or D-shaped.
Many are undecorated (and so hard to recognise and date) but occasionally they can have characteristic late 6th- and 7th-century decoration such as Style II animal heads and groups of transverse lines. Some examples and discussion of annular brooches in late 6th- and 7th-century graves can be found in Geake 1997, 52-54.
Unusually for a 7th-century fashion, these annular brooches are concentrated in East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, with only very occasional examples found elsewhere.
The quoit brooch is a particular kind of annular brooch. It has a closed frame, but a notch in the inner edge of the frame through which the pin can pass, and a ridge or boss on either side to stop the pin falling back out through the notch. This makes it easier to fasten than an ordinary annular brooch, because the pin can be pushed through the fabric without bunching it up, and then passed through the notch and secured.
It works more like a penannular brooch, but Ager (1985, 5) argues persuasively that the quoit brooch is a development from the annular brooch, and is not related to the penannulars. Because they are really a sub-type of annular brooches, we record them with ‘annular’ in the classification field, and use the word ‘quoit’ in the sub-classification field.
Leeds (1945, 46-49) and Hines (1984, 260-269) both included quoit brooches in their studies of annular brooches. Leeds’s observations were summarised and illustrated in Ager (1985) who carried out further study on the smaller, less elaborate types. Ager divided quoit brooches into two types, one with a shorter pin which could pass through the notch (type D) and one with a longer pin which could not, and so must have been used in the same way as normal annular brooches (type E). This division does not work for us, as we so rarely have pins surviving, and although his article is fascinating, it is not necessary to use Ager’s types in the sub-classification field.
Ager also examined the dating of these small, simple quoit brooches (Ager 1985, 16-17). They appear to have come into use in the 5th century (Ager suggests the middle of the century) and a single example (Castle Bytham) is known from the early 7th century, with Style II decoration and cabochon-cut garnets. A date-range of c. 420 to c. 620 AD would seem sensible.
We have very few quoit brooches on the PAS database, but the group is homogeneous, with circular pin holes and concentric rings of stamps. Fragments of these quoit brooches would look very much like any other fragment of annular brooch. The stops are made either from bent-up parts of the frame, or from thicker ridges.
PAS examples are concentrated in the Midlands, with examples from Leicestershire to Gloucestershire. There are eleven more in the Ashmolean catalogue, from Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire (MacGregor and Bolick 1993, nos. 10.1, 10.5, 10.6, 10.8-10, 10.14-16, 10.20).
The more elaborate silver quoit brooches are few in number and come mainly from Kent and Sussex; there is only one example on the PAS database, IOW-0F3813. The art on these has given the Quoit Brooch Style (QBS) its name, but QBS is now known from more belt fittings than brooches (Suzuki 2000, 8-11).
A penannular brooch has an open or discontinuous frame, ‘penannular’ meaning ‘almost annular’. There is a tendency on penannular brooches for the pin to slip round the ends of the frame and fall through the gap, so the penannular brooch has a terminal at either end, which act as stops and prevent this happening. Put ‘penannular’ in the classification field.
Very unusually for an early-medieval brooch type, penannular brooches are also found (and are in fact more common) in the Iron Age and Roman periods. Perhaps because of this, they have been neglected for decades until Anna Booth’s recent PhD (Booth 2014) which can be downloaded free from Ethos here. Booth’s work covers penannular brooches of all dates up to 700 AD. Her early-medieval work is based on Fowler 1960 and Fowler 1963, but with significant changes, and so Booth types rather than Fowler types should be added to the sub-classification field.
Booth’s Figure 4.1 gives a visual summary of the types, with more detail in Figure 4.42 (Booth 2014, 116 and 197-8). The types are largely based on the forms of the terminals, but it is difficult to find precise descriptions and definitions. Types A-D are mainly Iron Age and Roman in date; Types E, I, J, L, M and O are mainly Roman in date. Information on these types can be found in the Iron Age and Roman brooch guide (forthcoming);
The two commonest early-medieval types are Type F and Type G. Type F has zoomorphic terminals, and is large (between c. 55 and 75mm in diameter; Booth 2014, 83, fig. 3.8). It can be difficult to decode the animal detail on the terminals, and in particular to work out which way the heads are facing; YORYM-7713B8 is exceptionally clear and shows that the frame emerges from the animal’s mouth (rather than being its neck).
Type G is the most numerous type in post-Roman contexts. It has solid cuboidal terminals, often with corners cut off to form lozenge-shaped faces, which can be decorated with dots. It is smaller than Type F, at between 15 and 40mm diameter (Booth 2014, 83, fig. 3.8), and is usually chunky with a ribbed frame.
Type H is a less common type with large expanded flat triangular terminals. It comes in a wide range of sizes, but we have recorded very few on the PAS database. WILT-5682E4, LVPL2035, YORYM-06B5C2 and GAT-9271F5 are rare exceptions.
Unusually, pins from penannular brooches are occasionally recognisable even when detached. These later brooches have straight pins, in contrast to the bent shafts of earlier examples; they have tubular loops with grooved decoration. Examples include HAMP-2773FB.
The chronology of penannular brooches is extremely peculiar and complicated (Booth 2014, 195). Types F, G and H are of post-Roman manufacture, although Type G is also known from late Roman contexts. Types A-E seem to be mainly Iron Age and/or Roman, but are occasionally found in early Anglo-Saxon graves; some of these brooches may have been old when buried, but probably not all.
There seems to be little dating evidence for Types F and H, but they are currently given a tentative range of c. 400-700 AD (Booth 2014, 195, fig. 4.40). Type G seems to have been made over a very long period of time (c. 100-700 AD), but the type is most common in the 6th century AD (Booth 2014, 195, fig. 4.40).
There is a small number of penannular brooches found in Conversion-period graves, which includes several small examples of Type C (with rolled-up terminals) decorated with transverse grooves, similar to BERK-EE2C16 and BH-7D0F30; there is also a penannular variant of the type with paired Style II birds’ heads (Geake 1997, 52-54, fig. 4.13).
Early-medieval penannular brooches are found across most of the country, not just in traditionally Anglo-Saxon areas.
Incidentally, there are two broken penannular brooches on the database (SUR-3D35C5 and DOR-91E293) which show that solid items like these do not have to be cast, but can be made by folding and hammering strips of metal together. This occasionally also happens with middle Anglo-Saxon pins (e.g. SF4659, BERK-435E07 and SWYOR-0E81D8), which break in an L-shaped pattern showing that the shaft was made by doubling a thin strip and hammering. (and any strap-ends?).
Penannular brooches do outlast the 7th century, but are only made in Irish, PIctish and perhaps Welsh styles. See below, under Middle and Late Anglo-Saxon Brooches, for details.
Although the term ‘disc brooch’ is often loosely used for any flat circular brooch, the early Anglo-Saxon disc brooch is a very specific form. It is normally a sturdy, quite thick disc, flat or very slightly convex, with a limited range of decorative motifs. Put ‘disc’ in the classification field.
Decoration may consist of any or all of the following: concentric circles, central dots which may pierce the brooch, ring-and-dot motifs, stamps, and indentations around the edge. They often have a white-metal coating on the front, and when this has been analysed, it is generally of tin. Some appear to have been completely undecorated.
Disc brooches have not received much study. Tania Dickinson carried out some work in the 1970s, partly in her unpublished thesis (Dickinson 1976, 118-34; downloadable free from Oxford University’s Research Archive here) and partly in an article which is now difficult to get hold of (Dickinson 1979).
Dickinson (1976, 120-1) has pointed out that all of these decorative motifs can be found among late Romano-British metalwork, and both Leeds (1945, 49) and Dickinson have stressed the similarity of this simple decoration on disc brooches to that on annular brooches.
Dickinson (1976, 123-134) gave a classification for disc brooches, with seven Groups (and several sub-groups) all based on decoration. It is not necessary to add the Dickinson group to the sub-classification field, although it might in future become a good way of dividing up a larger dataset.
Dickinson (1976, 118 and fig. 7a) noted that the size of the Upper Thames examples was very consistent, with most between 32 and 42mm in diameter. PAS data is rather different, with two peaks, one centring on 26mm and the other on 36mm. This difference is probably due to the wider geographic origins of the PAS dataset; in particular, it seems possible that the disc brooches of the Isle of Wight are smaller than others.
The distribution of early Anglo-Saxon disc brooches on the PAS database is very different to that noted by Leeds (1945, fig. 30) and Dickinson (1976, 1979). Leeds’s distribution covered central-southern England only, stopping abruptly at a line between the Severn and the Wash and along what is now the M4; there were none in Norfolk or East Suffolk either, and few from Kent. The biggest concentration was in the Upper Thames, around Oxford; the major concentration among PAS material is in Hampshire, Sussex and the Isel of Wight, which are almost blank on Leeds’s map.
There are a few potential pitfalls when recording an early Anglo-Saxon disc brooch. Firstly, undecorated disc brooches can be difficult to date securely, and there is a possibility that some brooches currently dated to the early-medieval period may in fact be Roman. There are similar disc brooches recorded on the database as Roman (compare WILT-9EF290, WAW-6BA33F, ESS-7B349A, LANCUM-58DE68, LANCUM-DD6F67, YORYM-F65A88, SWYOR-896690, LEIC-D4B1B1); conversely, some of those currently recorded as early early-medieval have double lugs and copper-alloy pins and generally have a rather Roman tinge to them (e.g. YORYM-E60C83 and LANCUM-8E2BB6, both found in unusual places for an early Anglo-Saxon brooch). Dickinson (1979, 49-51) lists the then-known Roman precursors to disc brooches, and this work could profitably be repeated using Mackreth 2011 to see if we are conflating Roman and Anglo-Saxon examples.
Secondly, it can be difficult to distinguish the cast backplate of an applied saucer brooch (see below) from a corroded disc brooch (see, for example, IOW-0CA342 and NARC-F2BE75). It is worth looking hard at corrosion to see if it is different on the front and on the back, and whether it might be corrosion product from solder rather than just the tinned surface or the copper alloy of the brooch.
Disc brooches are generally dated to the century 450-550 AD (Dickinson 1979, 42).
Openwork disc brooch
This is a less common variant of the disc brooch. They tend to be large (most around 45-50mm in diameter), and are often decorated with ring-and-dot motifs or stamps. Their most obvious feature is their cut-outs, often of T, L or V shape, making a reserved cross or swastika. There are fewer than a dozen of these on the PAS database, but it is still worth distinguishing them; put ‘openwork disc’ in the classification field.
Leeds’s distribution map (Leeds 1945, fig. 31) showed a restricted midlands distribution around the Cambridgeshire Ouse, the Nene and the Warwickshire Avon, but PAS examples fill in gaps in East Anglia, Yorkshire and, unusually, Lancashire. They appear to be of much the same date-range as other disc brooches, say 450-550 AD.
Button brooches are small cast circular brooches, generally about 20mm in diameter, which nearly always have the same decoration of a relief human face looking out at the observer. This is normally set within an upturned rim, or at least a bold groove around the edge giving the effect of an upturned rim. Because they are small and chunky, they are tough, and tend to survive in reasonably good condition, but the rim often erodes away in the ploughsoil. Put ‘button’ in the classification field.
Button brooches are always made from copper alloy, and are usually gilded. Although two lead versions are known, these are thought to be models used in the casting process.
There are two studies of button brooches. Avent and Evison 1982 is reliable and easy to use; it was revised and updated by Suzuki 2008, which is complicated and not always easy to use, but includes some PAS data.
Suzuki’s classification, based on Avent and Evison’s, divides the standard type of button brooches into classes A to L.
The face has several elements: helmet (or hair), eyebrows, eyes, eyerings, nose, moustache (normally combined with the upper lip), lower lip, and cheeks (Suzuki 2008, 3 and 13-28). The brooch can be embellished with stamped punchmarks, using the same repertoire of stamps as other early Anglo-Saxon brooches (see above, under Cruciform brooches, for how to record these).
When photographing a button brooch, you will obviously show the mask on the front the right way up. When you turn it over to photograph the reverse, be careful to keep the orientation the same, to show how the pin fixings relate to the decoration. You can describe the locations of these in the same way as measuring the die axis of a coin; with the decoration on the front the right way up, hold the brooch at the top and bottom (12 o’clock and 6 o’clock) and swivel it round to see the reverse. Then describe the locations of the pin bar lug and catchplate using o’clocks.
Suzuki’s distribution maps (Suzuki 2008, 5-7) give the traditional distribution; concentrated in the south-eastern corner of England, with a scattering further north as far as south Norfolk. There are also 23 examples known from France; it is unusual for influences to spread south, rather than north, across the channel. The PAS distribution extends this; while confirming the concentration in south-eastern England, it adds rare examples from the Somerset Levels, south Wales, north Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.
Suzuki gives a date of c. 480 to c. 550 AD for button brooches (Suzuki 2008, 319).
There is a theoretical risk of mis-identifying small saucer brooches as button brooches. The two are distinguished by their decoration. Button brooches are defined as including a design based on a single human face (Suzuki 2008, xxv). If the design does not include a single human face, then it is a saucer brooch, even if rather a small one.
Cast saucer brooch
Traditionally there have been two types of saucer brooch, one made from several elements of sheet metal (the ‘applied saucer’ brooch) and one cast in one piece (the ‘cast saucer’ brooch). Recently some brooches have been recorded on the PAS database that suggest an intermediate type (see below, under ‘Applied saucer brooch’). Put ‘cast saucer’ in the classification field.
Cast saucer brooches are similar to button brooches, with the upturned rim that gives them their name, but they are larger and with more varied decoration. They were worn in pairs, so in graves it is normal to find two very similar, but not mould-identical, brooches together.
Tania Dickinson is the doyenne of saucer brooch studies, with three major articles on different aspects. Dickinson 1991 covers those with running spiral decoration, and Dickinson 1993 is a general preliminary overview; neither are easy to get hold of. Dickinson 2002 is an article on Style I as shown on saucer brooches, and is ideal for understanding Style I in general. A pdf of this article can be downloaded here.
Cast saucer brooches are generally bigger than button brooches, most recorded on the PAS database being from about 25mm to 50mm in diameter. A few really large ones can get up to 80mm in diameter. It seems that the ones that look later are often larger, but this needs to be established more firmly by detailed analysis. There are smaller examples (such as ) but unless they have a single human face in their design, even brooches as small as these are defined as saucer brooches.
They have a restricted set of designs, often in chip-carved style. Chip-carving is a term derived from woodworking, and does not mean that the design was carved into the metal, but rather that it is made up of V-shaped grooves and ridges.
No convenient typology has yet been developed, but we can use key words in the sub-classification field, based on the names used by Dickinson (1993). These are summarised, with dates, in the table below.
Many of the designs on cast saucer brooches are based on Late Antique geometric motifs (Dickinson 2010, 181). The commonest design is the running spiral, so called because each of the spirals is linked to the next and they run around the brooch, normally with a pellet in the centre. The commonest number of spirals is five or six, but there are occasionally more; HAMP-D30EE2 has twelve.
Dickinson divided the five-spiral brooches into several Series for the purposes of looking at their design relationships. If you want to try to allocate a Series, the easiest way is to use Dickinson’s illustrations (Dickinson 1991, figs. 13-16), and the relevant series can be added to the description field.
Other designs include the star, which can be five point or six point. Four point stars are also known, and can be difficult to distinguish from the variety of designs based on crosses. The floriate cross is very standardised, but other cross designs are quite variable. The most complex motifs are the Style I designs, which can be simplified to become sets of lines at right angles to each other, known as ‘basketwork’.
There is also a small group of saucer brooches which have got imitation jewelled inlays. These tend to be large and with wide rims, and are clearly influenced by keystone garnet brooches (see below). LEIC-6554A7 is a good example.
Saucer brooches are mainly found in central southern England, what’s thought of as the ‘Saxon’ culture-province. Dickinson 2010 looked at the change in distributions over time, and found that later finds tended to confirm this distribution. In late 2018 the distribution map of PAS-recorded saucer brooches looked much the same.
Applied saucer brooch
Applied saucer brooches would have looked very similar to cast saucers. They are circular and concave with relief decoration, but they are made up of several different parts, some or all of flimsy sheet metal. They are called ‘applied’ because the decoration is separately applied rather than cast, but a better name would be ‘composite’ saucer brooches because they are made up of many separate components. For now, however, put ‘applied saucer’ in the classification field.
Applied saucer brooches were developed in the earlier 5th century in Germany and the Netherlands (Dickinson 2010, 181) and seem to have inspired the development of the cast saucer brooch in England. We give them a broad date-range of 400-550 AD.
Evison (1978) is the best source of information on applied saucer brooches. This paper appeared as two articles in the same volume of the Antiquaries Journal; part I is pp. 88-102, and concentrates on the Continental brooches, and part II is pp. 260-278, and concentrates on the English examples. There is also a good summary in MacGregor and Bolick 1991, 32.
Because the components are fragile, applied saucer brooches do not survive well in ploughsoil. Fragments are also hard to recognise, particularly when the applied decoration is missing. We do not have many applied saucer brooches recorded on the PAS database, and several of these are uncertain examples.
The basic form should have a backplate, often of sheet metal with slots cut for the insertion of pin lug and catchplate. A strip is bent around the edge of this to form the rim of the saucer, and this is probably attached with solder and/or rivets. More solder is used on top of the backplate to attach an applied decorative element. This is normally made from stamped foil (the Pressblech technique) but Dickinson (2010, 181) also refers to cast decorative plates being used on applied saucer brooches, and we may have one recorded at CAM-1DFBE1. The decorative foil can have any of the designs of the cast saucer brooches.
The PAS database has very few examples of the backplate with slots; the best is NCL-08F6E7. It contains several possible examples of a cast backplate, the most persuasive being LIN-A6943E, which has an elegantly concave shape, and WAW-F41664.
It is possible to mistake the backplate of an applied saucer brooch for an undecorated disc brooch. Look for a large amount of decayed white metal on the front, which could be solder from a missing applied plate.
Another complication in identifying incomplete applied saucer brooches is that disc brooches are also known with a composite construction (MacGregor and Bolick 1993, 68, nos. 4.64-4.66; there is a clearer drawing and discussion of the Berinsfield example in Boyle et al 1995, 77 and 193). It is hard to know how one might distinguish the cast backplate of applied saucer and disc brooches apart, unless possibly the former might be concave and the latter flat. It is therefore important to photograph your brooch from the side, as well as the front and the reverse.
Jewelled disc brooches
This category yokes together three related but distinct types, the keystone, the plated and the composite brooches. All are occasionally known as ‘Kentish’ disc brooches, especially by those working in Kent, but this term is not helpful and should not be used in the classification field. The jewelled disc brooches include some of the most beautiful works of art ever created, and therefore must not be confused with the plain disc brooches.
What needs to in the classification field depends on the type. Put ‘keystone’, or ‘plated’, or ‘composite’ in the classification field, or use ‘jewelled disc’ if you are unsure of the type. The best source for them is still Avent 1975, and if you can establish the Avent class, put this in the sub-classification field.
Quite a lot of keystone brooches found outside Kent do not fit well into Avent’s classification, and more work is needed to establish a classification and chronology for these. If you are having trouble deciding on what to put in the classification field, make sure to tick Find of Note as well.
Avent’s dating (Avent 1975, 62) has been re-worked by Brugmann (in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, fig. 8.16, 8.17 and 8.19) and Hines and Bayliss (2013, 221-2, 460, 570). The arguments are very complicated, particularly for keystone brooches. Taken together they suggest a date for Class 1 and 2 keystone brooches in the middle of the 6th century (perhaps c. 525-575 AD), Classes 3 to 7 a little later (c. 550 to 600 AD), plated brooches later still (perhaps c. 580-620 AD), then composite brooches with gold cloisonné (c. 600-650 AD). Composite brooches with copper-alloy cloisonné, usually with slightly inferior workmanship, are the latest of all, dating to the middle of the 7th century, perhaps 640 to 670 AD.
The keystone brooch is cast in one piece and includes garnet (or occasionally glass) settings alternating with panels of relief decoration, sometimes recognisable as Style I animal elements such as heads, legs and bodies. We record roughly equal numbers of copper-alloy and silver examples, usually gilded.
The plated brooch is made from a circular silver backplate with a raised rim, and a central circular setting is soldered on to this. A gold frontplate then is fixed to the front, with a circular hole through which the central setting fits. The frontplate has decoration of filigree and cloisonné settings. We do not have many plated brooches on the PAS database, and most that we do have are from Kent. They date to the late 6th and early 7th centuries, perhaps 580 to 620 AD.
The composite brooch is a remarkable work of art, although we are hampered in our knowledge of exactly how it was made, because of an understandable reluctance to take complete examples apart. They seem to be made from three plates, a backplate, middle plate and front plate, all held together by rivets which pass through the central setting and the four subsidiary settings. Composite brooches are quite thick, because there is a layer of plaster-like filler between the middle and front plates. The plates can be of gold, silver or copper alloy. For more detail, see Avent 1975, 19-21, or Scull 2009, 80-7, 88-91.
Generally the earlier composite brooches (dating to c. 600-650 AD) have cloisons (cell walls) made from gold, and the later examples (dating to c. 640-670 AD) have cloisons made from copper alloy. We have very few recorded on the PAS database, mostly as parts of grave assemblages; complete examples from LON-BAF907 and BERK-545C74 and fragments from YORYM-48DACA and BERK-EABAD8.
There are a few other jewelled disc brooches that do not fit into any of these types; they are not clearly of keystone, or plated, or composite type. At one extreme, where the jewelled settings are replaced by skeuomorphs in metal (e.g. BERK-D0201B, below left) these brooches can shade into saucer brooches such as LEIC-6554A7. At the other extreme, they may have been influenced by circular harness mounts with Style II decoration, such as BUC-B1B9A6 and YORYM-7186F7; Avent 1975 includes one of this type, from Winnall in Hampshire (Avent 1975, 55, no. 186).
For these brooches, it is difficult to give hard and fast rules about what to enter in the classification field. It is important to tick the Find of Note box.
Examples of unusual brooches which do not fit into any of the normal types of jewelled disc brooch. Left, BERK-D0201B (above) and WAW-F604A2 (below). Right, BERK-9AE538 (above) and BERK-C89FDA (below).
Brooches of other shapes (bird, S-shaped etc)
Other shapes of brooches, not long bow brooches and not circular, are rare in the early Anglo-Saxon period. The main ones are bird brooches and S-shaped brooches; put ‘bird’ and ‘S shaped’ respectively in the classification field.
The eleven then-known S-shaped brooches from England were discussed in Briscoe 1968; over a dozen more are now recorded on the PAS database. Most are in fact of reversed-S shape; some tend towards a figure-of-eight shape (e.g. NLM-908608). One (KENT-344345) is of silver, but more often they are made from copper alloy, sometimes gilded or tinned. They are often decorated with predatory bird-head terminals with curved beaks, or heads with wide-open jaws or beaks which may be birds or may be other animals.
Combining the distribution maps of Briscoe 1968 and PAS examples, it is clear that S-shaped brooches are found thinly spread across the whole of early Anglo-Saxon England, from Harrogate to the Isle of Wight and all areas to the east. They are more common on the Continent, particularly in Frankish and Lombardic areas (Briscoe 1968, 47). In England they cannot be dated any more closely than to the fifth or sixth centuries, probably c. 450-550 AD.
Bird brooches are more common on the Continent, and the English finds have received little study. Some useful information on German and French examples can be found in MacGregor (1997, 86 and 144-7).
Those recorded on the PAS database are all in profile looking to the right. They come in two main forms, one where the body is horizontal and one where the body is vertical. The vertical type all seem to be predatory birds, with curved beaks, but the horizontal type are different; they have been suggested as ducks and doves, and may have been intended as a variety of species.
Both types can have relief decoration or flat surfaces ornamented with stamps, and both types have the pin lug is on the reverse of the tail and the catchplate on the reverse of the head.
All of the Continental examples in the Ashmolean Museum have vertical bodies and raptors’ beaks (MacGregor 1997, 86 and 144-7) and it has been suggested that the horizontal birds are of English manufacture (Arnold 1980, 57).
The distribution of PAS-recorded examples covers south-eastern England, from south Norfolk to Berkshire to the Isle of Wight. The vertical raptor types are probably to be dated to the first half of the sixth century AD; the horizontal bird brooches cannot be dated more closely than to the Migration Period, c. 420-570 AD.
Early Anglo-Saxon brooches made from lead
The PAS database has several fragments of early Anglo-Saxon brooches made from lead. They are normally small, due to the softness and fragility of lead. They are thought to be models, used in the process of casting a copper-alloy brooch, rather than brooches in their own right. To confirm this, when recording a brooch, be careful to look at the pin bar lug and catchplate to check whether they have been finished for use as a brooch (pierced and bent over respectively) or not.
The fragments include button brooches, small square-headed brooches and especially cruciform brooches, including Martin Group 4s (the florid cruciforms).
Summary of chronology and classification for early Anglo-Saxon brooches
Most early Anglo-Saxon brooches are dated from their occurrence in graves. We can assume that all the objects in a single grave were in use together. Over the life of an object type, it will occur in graves with earlier types at first, and later types towards the end. With enough object types, a relative sequence can be worked out, showing which types are earlier and which later. This dating technique is known as seriation.
It is harder to add absolute calendar dates to the sequence. From Roman times onwards, calendar dates usually come from coins, but there are no coins in regular use in the early Anglo-Saxon world. Several different strategies have been used to overcome this problem, with varying results. There are some coin dates on the Continent, and attempts have been made to fit the English sequences to Continental evidence. Correspondence analysis (a statistical method) has been used to improve the precision and reliability of seriation (Penn and Brugmann 2007). Advances in radiocarbon dating have been used in conjunction with Bayesian statistics (Hines and Bayliss 2013). None of these techniques have proved completely reliable, or easy to use, and so there are still arguments over calendar dates.
One major change in artefact types during the early Anglo-Saxon period comes when most brooch types suddenly go out of use. This occurs at the end of the Migration Period (broadly 5th and 6th centuries) and the start of the Conversion Period (broadly 7th century). A convenient date of c. 600 AD used to be quoted for this transition, but this now seems to be too late; c. 570 AD is the currently used date, but it may change again in the future.
Another major change comes at the end of the early Anglo-Saxon period, when grave-goods stop being put in graves. Again, the absolute calendar date of this change is disputed. Hines and Bayliss have recently suggested a date in the 670s or 680s (2013, 471-2). At this point we do have a few coins in graves, and established numismatic chronologies across Europe suggest a date for the last coins in graves (B series sceattas) as c. 700 AD (Archibald in Hines and Bayliss 2013, 505-6). Given that the discrepancy here is only about twenty years, it seems sensible to quote the latest possible date for an item known from graves as rounded to c. 700 AD.
Below is a list of common types, with what to put in the classification and sub-classification fields for each one. It is divided into bow brooches, circular brooches, and other shapes. The database prefers no hyphens in the classification and sub-classification fields (so use equal arm, small long) but the use of hyphens for clarity is fine in the description field (so equal-arm, small-long can be used here).
NEW VERSION NEEDED OF THIS
Middle and Late Anglo-Saxon brooches
Rosie Weetch’s PhD thesis, Weetch 2013, covers all of the non-Scandinavian brooches found in England from the 8th to 11th centuries. It therefore includes some Continental and a very few Irish brooches. For Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches of early-medieval date, see below.
Weetch 2013 is very easy and quick to use to find types, parallels and dating evidence. This guide simply aims to give a quick overview and reminder of the commonest types of middle and late Anglo-Saxon brooches.
Middle and late early-medieval brooches can have a variety of pin arrangements on the reverse, which may indicate the place of manufacture. Please remember to describe the pin fixings on the reverse in detail.
Safety-pin brooches and Strip brooches (Weetch type 31)
Safety-pin brooches are a rare and flimsy type of 7th-century brooch designed to lie flat, like modern safety-pins, with the pin to one side and the bow to the other. The bow is generally slightly widened and can be minimally decorated. See Speake (1989, 46-9) and Geake (1997, 54-5) for examples.
At the start of the 8th century these develop into strip brooches, with wider bows in the conventional place in front of, not next to, the pin. Strip brooches are Weetch’s type 31, and can be made in one of two ways. Either the brooch is in one piece, with one end extended into a spring and pin and the other bent into a catchplate; or the plate has a separate riveted-on spring, pin and catchplate. It is possible that some of the rivet holes on strip brooches may be repairs, but most appear to be original features.
Strip brooches can have narrow bows with little decoration, or wide lozengiform bows with relief decoration.
Strip brooches with riveted construction are made in the same way as the more artistically complex circular brooches allocated by Weetch to her types 10-12 and 16 (see below, under Circular Brooches). Most of these also have pin gear riveted on (e.g. BUC-ABA063, BH-685AA3).
The one-piece construction is also found on occasional cross-shaped brooches (e.g. WMID-BDAA38) or circular brooches (e.g. CAM-C37AC3). These do not fit well into Weetch’s typology, but can be grouped by adding ‘one piece’ to the classification field.
Note that WMID-BDAA38, here called ‘cross-shaped’, could alternatively be seen as circular with four oval perforations. This is also true for Elmsett-type brooches, Weetch type 16, of which there are several on the PAS database including NMS-22D466 (with one-piece construction) and BH-685AA3 (with riveted-on pin gear). See below for more on circular brooches.
Ansate (bow) brooches
Weetch 2013 follows Hübener 1972 and Thörle 2001 in dividing ansate brooches into 12 basic types, numbered I-XII, with an additional Type XIII covering those that do not fit into any other category. A summary of these types is given below. All of the ansate brooches should have ‘ansate’ added to the classification field, and the Weetch type added to the sub-classification field in the following format: Weetch type II.Aiii
80% of the ansate brooches catalogued in Weetch 2013 fall into one of just four types: Type II, Type X, Type XI and Type XII.
Circular brooches (non-enamelled)
Weetch 2013 divides non-enamelled circular brooches into 17 types, some of which have common names. The common name, if any, should be added to the classification field. The Weetch type should be added to the sub-classification field in the following format: Weetch type 15.B
85% of the circular brooches catalogued in Weetch 2013 belong to one of six types: type 1, type 2, type 4, type 5, type 13 and type 15.
There are four types of 11th-century brooch (Weetch types 23-26 inclusive), which are mainly found in London. All are made from lead or lead alloy. A few Type 25s (lobed) have been recorded on the PAS database from outside London (see list of search results here) and also some Type 26s (shield) (see list of search results here). The other London types do not yet appear on the PAS database.
Penannular brooches are rare after the 7th century AD, but Irish, Pictish and possibly Welsh examples do occur during the 8th and 9th centuries. The latest penannular brooch on the PAS database is currently LVPL-368972, the date for which extends into the early 10th century AD. Youngs 1989 is a good source for parallels.
Enamelled circular brooches
Several of Weetch’s types have enamelled decoration: type 8, and types 18-22. Only three are common, type 18, type 19 and type 20.
Type 18 have cross designs and are almost all made in champlevé. Type 19 are decorated with facing human busts; the presence of a halo or nimbus around the head has given these the common name of ‘saint’ brooches. Both champlevé and cloisonné techniques are used for saint brooches.
Type 20 have designs of stars, flowers or other geometric motifs, and are always made in cloisonné enamel. There are three main variants. Type 20.A has projecting lobes around the circumference which, when complete, have glass settings on them. Type 20.B does not have lobes, but has a beaded collar. These are both normally circular, but other shapes are known (e.g. ESS-BD2421, which is an oval type 20.B, and KENT-C63F33, which is a sub-triangular type 20.A). The third type is not numbered by Weetch, but called ‘hybrid’.
All are made with a separate central cloisonné disc. Type 20.A is then given a backplate with lobes to make a type 20.A; type 20.B is given a narrow collar (normally beaded) and sometimes a backplate, and the hybrid type is given a wide flat collar, often decorated with glass settings and sometimes with lobes as well. All the surfaces are gilded.
Two techniques of enamelling are used on these brooches, both with French names: champlevé and cloisonné. Champlevé means ‘raised field’, and the technique normally involves casting shallow sunken cells into the thickness of the metal, ready to be filled with enamel. Cloisonné means ‘partitioned’, and here the cells are made by soldering vertical cell walls to a backplate.
Objects decorated with champlevé enamel are generally cheaper, simpler objects; objects decorated with cloisonné enamel can be of the highest craftsmanship and, like the Alfred Jewel, perhaps commissioned by those of the highest social class.
NB: if you are searching on champlevé or cloisonné, be aware that the PAS database will not find any record which uses the words champleve or cloisonne (without the accents on the final e). It is probably safest to search using champlev* and cloisonn*, which will pick up both spellings.
Brooches of other shapes
Weetch 2013 allocates four types to brooches of other shapes, three of which are fairly common.
English bird brooches come in two types, both with the bird seen in profile.
Type 30.B is of middle Anglo-Saxon date. It is in the shape of a dove, with curved breast and small drooping beak, and has a cross above its back which normally touches the back of the head. Type 30.B brooches appear in graves in France and Germany, and from these they are dated from the years around 800 AD (Pedersen 2001, 64; Weetch 2013, 206); a date-range of c. 750-850 AD seems sensible for English finds. They come both in high-status (gilded silver and inlaid with niello) or simple copper-alloy versions.
Type 30.A is considerably later, perhaps 11th century. It has a three-pronged crest and a triangular tail separated from the body by a ridge. All known examples are facing right; they have their left wing (away from the viewer) raised above the body, and their right wing (towards the viewer) folded along the body. All are made from copper alloy, and have engraved decoration. These birds may be intended as cockerels, peacocks, or lapwings. They are dated by their similarity to bird brooches without crests, found in 11th- to 12th-century contexts in Denmark (see below under Scandinavian brooches).
There are other middle and later early-medieval bird brooches, apparently of Anglo-Saxon rather than Anglo-Scandinavian inspiration, which do not fit into either category and so must be given a broad date-range. These are grouped together as Weetch type 30.C. There is a group of four brooches within Weetch’s type 30.C which have very similar characteristics; DENO-484737 (illustrated below), NLM4341, YORYM-55D1F7 and a pre-PAS find from Ealand, Lincs (Kershaw 2010, no. 503).
It can be difficult to separate bird brooches of Anglo-Saxon inspiration from those of Scandinavian inspiration, and so the whole group is considered further below, at the end of the Scandinavian brooches.
These brooches are broadly defined as being decorated with Scandinavian-derived art. The best published source is Kershaw 2013. This is the published version of Jane Kershaw’s doctoral thesis, with an on-line catalogue available via the ADS here. The earlier unpublished version, Kershaw 2010, is difficult to get hold of, but the catalogue is fuller and easier to use. Note that there are differences in the type names used in the unpublished and published versions; where there have been changes, we use the later published names.
This guide aims to give a quick overview of the commonest types of Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches, again divided into circular brooches and brooches of other shapes.
There are several types of circular brooches with Scandinavian art. They can be broadly divided into Anglo-Scandinavian (slightly larger and flatter, with pin lugs set parallel to the edge of the brooch) and more purely Scandinavian (smaller, domed and with a double pin lug, sometimes with a suspension loop as well). Pin arrangements, however, do not always follow the rules and must be carefully described.
There are four main types of circular brooch (below), most of which have variants. Several have Jansson classifications, from Jansson’s study of the brooches from Birka in Sweden (Jansson in Arwidsson 1984). Those with Borre-style animal heads are Jansson type II, and those with Jelling-style animals are Jansson type I. The Terslev-style brooches and the East Anglian series complete the group of circular Scandinavian or Anglo-Scandinavian brooches.
By far the commonest Scandinavian or Anglo-Scandinavian brooches – of any shape – are the East Anglian Series. These are flat and circular, and vary between 26 and 32mm in diameter. All are decorated with a highly standardised motif of a relief concave-sided lozenge, with sunken circle at its centre, each corner extending outwards into a double-strand ribbon which loops around itself in a loose knot and then ends in a rounded dot. The knots give a whirling clockwise effect to the ornament.
Much of the time, though, this ornament is very worn and difficult to see clearly. The wear may be hiding minor differences, so be sure to describe anything you can see in full. Although the motif is highly standardised, the pin and catchplate arrangements on the reverse can vary, so again a full description is needed. Put ‘East Anglian series’ in the classification field.
Over 60% of the brooches of the East Anglian series recorded on the PAS database were found in Norfolk. Their distribution seems to be restricted to East Anglia, the East Midlands and eastern Yorkshire. Because of their flat shape, and because their pin lugs are normally parallel to the edge of the brooch, they are thought of as Anglo-Scandinavian.
The next most common circular brooch is Jansson type II. This type is small, domed and often has Scandinavian-style pin arrangements. The decoration on the main type, Jansson type II A, consists of three Borre-style animal heads which look out at the viewer. They have large rounded ears and noses, and are often thought of as cat-like, or resembling teddy-bears. The animal heads are separated by three rounded loops bound by transverse bands.
There are also some uncommon variants of Jansson’s type II. Type II C has four animal heads, type II D again three, and both are combined with geometric decoration. If you record one of these, as a bare minimum put ‘Jansson Type II’ in the classification field. If you can get further than this using Kershaw 2013, 52-56, then add the precise code, e.g. ‘Jansson type II C’.
Terslev-style brooches are decorated in a highly geometric version of the Borre style. The patterns generally include three or four C-scrolls (called ‘volutes’ by Kershaw) which can have their curved backs towards the centre or the edge of the brooch. The scrolls are bound together by circles or squares. Put ‘Terslev style’ in the classification field.
Most Terslev-style brooches will fit into one of Kershaw’s motif types (2013, 70-8) but not all, and it is not always possible to read a worn design. So if you can, add the motif type to the sub-classification (in the form ‘Kershaw type II’), but don’t worry if you can’t.
Lastly there is a group of circular brooches with Jelling-style decoration, known as Jansson Type I brooches. The animal art on these can be difficult to decode; it often helps to colour in the identifiable elements, either in Photoshop or with a felt-tip pen on paper. Here are some examples.
For all of these, put the Jansson type in the classification field.
Jansson type I A brooches have a single animal with a narrow looping body and spiral joints; the rear foot grips the foreleg. There is an oval element around the head which tends to be interpreted as a ‘lappet’, which in Viking-age art is a kind of curl or tendril behind the ear.
Jansson type I D brooches have a single animal in profile, looking to the left, with the body forming a reversed S shape. The tongue comes out of the mouth and goes over the body and under the rear leg. The feet are hooked, and the body has transverse ribbing across it.
Jansson type I E brooches have two identical S-shaped animals. An element between their jaws is either a tongue or a tail; the feet grip the legs and necks.
Brooches of other shapes
Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches come in several other shapes, but only three are common on the PAS database: trefoil, openwork lozenge, and bird.
Trefoil brooches are the commonest non-circular Anglo-Scandinavian brooch type, but this may partly be because they are prone to breaking into several easily recognisable pieces. Their ultimate inspiration was 9th-century Carolingian harness mounts and strap distributors, decorated with symmetrical plant ornament based around the acanthus leaf motif; compare NMS-10A1E1, SF-93D943, PUBLIC-B801A4, NMS-1E32C1, etc. The brooches can use this type of geometric or plant ornament, or one of the classic Viking-age art styles. Put ‘trefoil’ in the classification field.
The terms used for the parts of a trefoil brooch do not appear to have been standardised yet. Kershaw uses both ‘arm’ and ‘lobe’ for the three divisions of the brooch; ‘arm’ is most commonly used on the PAS database and seems acceptable.
It is not immediately obvious how to take the dimensions of a complete trefoil brooch, nor how best to record the dimensions of fragments so that they are comparable to complete examples. Firstly, please state how you have taken the dimensions, so that the photograph can be checked against the scale (e.g. on DENO-E9A0F5 it is explained that the dimensions were taken with the lobe with the catchplate at the top). Secondly, please record the width of the upper arm as well as the overall length and width, so that complete brooches can be compared with fragments.
Trefoil brooches from Scandinavia have been classified on the basis of their decoration by Maixner 2005, and this typology was then used by Kershaw in her study of the English examples (2010, 212-233; 2013, 79-91). If you can, put the Maixner type in the sub-classification field in the following format: ‘Maixner type G 1.3’.
The commonest type is type G, with geometric decoration; specifically, Maixner type G 1.3. The arms of this type have a motif consisting of V-shaped ridges, sometimes described as fir-tree or herringbone ornament but really a stylised acanthus motif. In the centre is a triangular panel which can have decoration or can be left blank.
Maixner type P brooches have plant ornament, often interpreted either as acanthus leaves in the Carolingian style, or as a vine scroll; the two are not always clearly distinguishable. There are no complete brooches of Maixner type P on the PAS database, only fragments.
Maixner type E brooches have Borre-style interlace ornament; there is only one complete type E on the PAS database, NMS-56E967.
Maixner type Z omits the interlace, so has purely zoomorphic ornament, as on BERK-CD5492 and WILT-9A5AE7. In most cases the animals will be in the Borre style, but on NLM5243 there is a mix of Borre and Jelling styles.
Kershaw has added a further type to Maixner’s typology, type D (Kershaw 2013, 90-1). Note that although Kershaw’s sub-types I and III do indeed seem to be trefoil brooches, her sub-type II is now thought to be the tip of an Aspatria-type strap-end of Thomas Class E. See NMS-5AB1A7 for an example, initially thought to be a brooch fragment and catalogued by Kershaw as her no. 420; and YORYM-FDF9D2 for a complete example of a strap-end with the same decoration. There are as yet no examples of type D trefoil brooches on the PAS database.
Distinguishing fragments of trefoil brooch from fragments of Thomas Class E strap-ends can occasionally pose a problem, as with the Type Ds in the preceding paragraph. As Class E strap-ends are much more common than trefoil brooches, the likelihood is that any tricky fragment will be from a strap-end. So if you can find a parallel within trefoil brooches, excellent; but if you cannot, then your fragment is more likely to be part of a strap-end.
Openwork lozenge brooches
Openwork lozenge brooches are made up of four little Borre-style animal heads, looking outwards, with slender necks which meet to form a cross in the centre. The best-made examples (such as CAM-69EB68) have double-strand circles with which the necks interlace to form the kind of closed knots characteristic of the Borre style. There have been attempts to divide the openwork lozenge brooch into two types, Type I with beading along the necks and Type II with double ridges, but as most of our examples are very worn, it will not be possible to identify the type.
A note on bird brooches of middle and late early-medieval date
It is difficult to distinguish Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian inspiration on bird brooches, and so it is worth considering all middle and late early-medieval bird brooches together. They fall into a few easily definable types, and there is a small group of other forms.
Weetch 2013 defined two main types, 30.A (with engraved decoration and crest) and 30.B (with cross above). Weetch’s third type, 30.C, covered a disparate group of ‘other forms’, out of which one other definable group can be extracted; this consists of four examples, NLM4341, YORYM-55D1F7, DENO-484737 and one pre-PAS find illustrated in Kershaw 2010 (no. 503). See above, section 7.2.5, for details on these brooches.
Kershaw (2010, 168-70; 2013, 122-5, nos. 498-504) divided her seven bird brooches into three groups: Urnes/Ringerike-style, semi-realistic, and stylised. The Urnes/Ringerike group is exemplified by a brooch from Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk (Margeson 1988; Kershaw 2013, 123-4, fig. 3.74, cat. no. 500). It has both Ringerike-style elements (an engraved spiral marking the shoulder) and Urnes-style elements (a closed beak with a tendril-like curl projecting above). The Ringerike style is otherwise rarely found on brooches.
Similar brooches recorded on the PAS database include LIN-39FB8D and NLM5638. Two more, SF-6E8BFE and NMS-556A43, have patches of corrosion on the reverse, presumably where the pin fixings were soldered on, and another with this characteristic from Harworth, Notts., is recorded by Kershaw (2010, cat. no. 502).
The semi-realistic group includes one idiosyncratic bird brooch (DENO-0604D2), and the example from Harworth, Notts. (Kershaw 2010, cat. no. 502), which is very close to the Ringerike/Urnes group. The stylised group is the same as the group of four similar brooches in Weetch type 30.C (NLM4341, YORYM-55D1F7, DENO-484737, etc).
For all of these, put ‘bird’ in the classification field. If there is a Weetch type, add this in the sub-classification field.
The classic Scandinavian study of these brooches is Pedersen 2001, with figure captions and a comprehensive summary in English. Pedersen illustrates many Danish finds, among which prototypes can be found for several of the English types. Weetch type 30.A brooches are similar to Pedersen’s fig. 9a from Glim, and Kershaw’s Ringerike/Urnes brooches are similar to the six illustrated in Pedersen’s fig. 6. Both the Weetch type 30.A brooches and the Ringerike/Urnes style brooches are therefore best seen as Anglo-Scandinavian, as Weetch suggests (2013, 337). Pedersen dates all of these to the 11th century, possibly extending into the early 12th (Pedersen 2001, 63).
Pedersen discusses the inspiration behind these bird brooches, and as a result covers Weetch type 30.B brooches, which are not found in Denmark. They are found in Germany and France in datable contexts of c. 800 (perhaps best quoted as c. 750-850 AD; Pedersen 2001, 64).
A single Weetch type 30.C brooch, NLM4341, was included in Pedersen’s catalogue (2001, 57, no. 78) but with no discussion. The status of this group is very uncertain; there is no dating evidence for it yet, and whether it should be grouped with the earlier English/Continental series or with the later Scandinavian-style brooches is uncertain.
A note on the distributions of middle and later early-medieval brooches, and their possible meanings
Kershaw pointed out that the distribution of both Scandinavian-style and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches was in general limited to the Danelaw, with a particular concentration in Norfolk (Kershaw 2013, 184-6). This was interpreted as showing the presence of significant numbers of Scandinavian women in the Danelaw, and a desire among the local inhabitants to appropriate a Scandinavian appearance (Kershaw 2013, 216) or to actively construct a Scandinavian identity (Kershaw 2010, 442).
This view has now become established in the literature, with John Blair writing that “Kershaw shows that in the eastern zones of England, jewellery was employed for the enthusiastic display of Scandinavian identity from the late ninth century through to the early eleventh” (Blair 2018, 306).
Kershaw, however, was writing before Weetch’s PhD was finished, and although she could compare the proportions of Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon brooches in Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire (Kershaw 2013, 236-41), the full distributions of non-Scandinavian brooch types were not available to her.
When these distributions are examined, there is some variety (Weetch 2013, vol. 2, 216-251). Type 20, for example, is found across much of England. But most of Weetch’s types are also found primarily in the Danelaw, again with a particular concentration in Norfolk (Weetch 2013, vol. 1, fig. 6.13). The most notable examples are the circular types 1 (back-turned animal) and 15 (cogwheel and openwork cross) and the ansate types XI and XII. Moreover, hints of this distribution can be found before the establishment of the Danelaw boundary, even in the 8th century, with a tendency even for the largely 8th-century type 31 (the strip brooches) to cluster in the east of England.
Weetch has argued that this long-lived pattern shows that brooch-wearing was a way of showing an east-of-England identity (whether Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian) rather than showing a specifically Scandinavian identity. It seems that the practice of brooch-wearing was significant in itself, and the motif or form of the brooch was secondary (Weetch 2013, vol. 1, 299).
Looking more closely at the examples of Scandinavian brooch types with Anglo-Saxon pin fittings shows some interesting clusters, hinting that the true picture may be very locally specific and potentially very informative in terms of social identity (Weetch 2013, vol. 1, 299-301).
So that should encourage you to fully describe and photograph the pin arrangements on the reverse – this data really is essential!
In the 12th century the circular brooches which had been common in the preceding centuries came to be superseded by annular brooches, which had not been common since the early-medieval period (see above). They were used to fasten slits at the necks of gowns as well as to fasten cloaks. By contrast with later annular brooches it seems that early examples within the medieval period were both relatively small and relatively plain (Egan in Griffiths et al. 2007, 140). As such, they are not sufficiently diagnostic to be attributed solely to the 12th century, but should have a range starting within it.
The 13th century seems to have been the high point for medieval annular brooches. A range of decoration, which is hard to find before the 13th century, exploded across annular brooches, which need not be circular, but encompassed lozengiform and multifoil frames: the assemblage from Meols, the largest in England, naturally shows this range well (Egan in Griffiths et al. 2007, 138-151). Many brooches datable to the 13th century could run into the 14th century. There are few hoards which help with dating, but a group from Coventry dating to the very end of the 13th century contains brooches with evidence of niello inlay, punched annulets and twisted (cabled) frames (Hinton 2005, 207; fig. 7.1), while a contemporary hoard from Canobie, Dumfreesshire, contains brooches with applied quatrefoils, and engraved inscriptions (Hinton 2005, 208; fig. 7.2). Cabled decoration is attested archaeologically in the mid 13th century, for example in London (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 249; no. 1310), and an engraved religious inscription from a context of the same phase (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 254-255; no. 1336).
A further major group which seems to really develop in the 13th century are annular brooches with gem or glass settings, often raised and called ‘collets’ (for examples dated to the 13th century in precious metals see Alexander and Binski 1987, 484-485). On many examples the setting has been lost and a white fixative can be seen. Other forms of annular brooches characteristic of the 13th century are those formed of either animals or people (Alexander and Binski 1987, 483). A final form to note are those with projecting hands. These often feature characteristic noted on other brooches of the period, which extend into the 14th century: inscriptions, applied decoration, gem-set collets.
Other eminently datable brooches include those formed of contemporary coins. Some formed of pennies dating from the turn of the 13th century were turned into annular forms by removing the centre of the coin. However, most coin-brooches from the middle and end of the 13th century tend to be disc brooches, converted by the application of pin fittings to the coin’s obverse. Coins used could be of varying module, from smaller pennies or demi-gros, to larger groats and gros tournois, the latter being more common on PAS. On such disc brooches the obverse was often gilded. Many early jettons of the late 13th and early 14th century, often large module like the coins, were similarly converted into jewellery items, though few with brooch fittings specifically (Bliss 2017); many groats or continental equivalents also had hooks rather than brooch fittings (Kelleher 2012, 220-222).
Trends noted in the annular brooches of the 13th century continue into the start of the 14th century, and many brooches will have date ranges encompassing both, with the general exception of figurative and zoomorphic examples, and also coin-brooches. It has been noted that collets, high in the 13th century, as a rule were lower in the 14th (Lightbown 1992, 148). By the second half of the century, however, closer fitting garments, fastened instead by buttons and lace tags meant that brooches were used in far fewer numbers (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 272).
By the 15th century most garments which would have been fastened by brooches were now being fastened with buttons, although the obsolescence of brooches may have occurred faster in urban areas (Egan and Forsyth 1997, 220).