Harness pendants and related fittings (2001 guide)

Please note that this guide has not been fundamentally changed from the original print version of the Finds Recording Guide (Geake 2001), written when the database contained just 8,800 non-numismatic records.

Introduction

Harness pendants (or horse-harness pendants) are decorative items hung from the harness of horses. They were mainly used in the Roman, early-medieval and medieval periods and usually have no function other than as decoration.

A few post-medieval horse brasses or swingers from fly terrets have also been recorded on the PAS database, but these are too recent for routine inclusion.

PAS object type to be used

Use HARNESS PENDANT only for pendants that hang from a suspension mount.

In the medieval period there is a series of related items which swivel on an upright post and are normally decorated on both sides. These are often called ‘banners’ and are discussed further below. For these, use HARNESS FITTING.

Harness pendants are suspended from harness pendant suspension mounts, which should be recorded as HARNESS MOUNT. If a pendant and its associated mount are recorded still attached to each other, they should be recorded as HARNESS PENDANT and the sub-classification field should read set, leaving the classification field to have heraldic put in if appropriate.

PAS object classifications and sub-classifications to be used

These have only been established only for medieval harness pendants (see below).

Terms to be used in descriptions

The joint between the pendant and the suspension mount should be called a hinge, not a swivel.

If it is a two-part pendant (including a post-medieval fly terret), the two parts are the frame, and the inner pendant.

Roman harness pendants

There is a huge variety of Roman horse-harness pendants, but they are surprisingly rarely found by detectorists.  Bishop (1988) gives a complicated typology which it is not worth following in detail, but has useful illustrations showing that the pendants swung either from a loop or a hook; Nicolay (2007; pls 85-93) provide further useful illustrations.

Although there is some doubt as to whether all of the types illustrated by Bishop were really confined to horse-harness, it is a convenient place to put them all until further information is forthcoming.  The Roman horse, whether military or civilian, clearly wore large quantities of metalwork, but until greater quantities are found by detectorists it won’t be worth discussing them here.

See DOR-81300E and HAMP3503 for Roman pendants complete with suspension mounts.

It is not always easy to distinguish between Roman and medieval horse-harness pendants. See NMS-E0A066, NMS-6CB366 and NMS-163154.

Early-medieval harness pendants

Early Anglo-Saxon harness pendants

There are a small number of early Anglo-Saxon horse-harnesses known, which have allowed us to identify the characteristic decorative fittings. Useful research on these includes Fern 2005 (a general overview) and the work on the Mound 17 harness at Sutton Hoo published in Carver 2005. The fittings comprise mounts and pendants, and a search for PAS examples is here.

Late Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Scandinavian harness pendants

These are not common. There is one group which is lozengiform, and has Ringerike-style engraving; examples include PUBLIC-839738, YORYM-01B933 and DENO-D73301. Another group is more or less circular, with openwork decoration. Follow this link for a search for all late early-medieval harness pendants.

Medieval harness pendants

There is an enormous variety of medieval horse-harness pendants. Griffiths (1986) gives a useful summary, as does Cherry in Saunders (ed) 1991. Ashley (2002) has looked at a group from Norfolk with heraldic decoration and set them in their wider context, but there is otherwise little detailed research available.  The PAS database is probably the best source of parallels.

The essential identifying feature of a medieval horse-harness pendant is the suspension loop, which is pierced from side to side (similar suspension loops are found on post-medieval pendants from fly terrets; see below).

PAS object classifications and sub-classifications to be used

Harness pendants often have coats of arms (heraldry) on them; put heraldic in the classification field.

If you record a pendant with suspension mount still attached, put set in the sub-classification field. If you suspect that an object is part of a set that is more complicated than the usual pendant and suspension mount, put elaborate set in the sub-classification field.

If you are faced with a complex group of pendants and banners together, use HARNESS FITTING and put elaborate set in the sub-classification field.

Date

There are few harness pendants from well dated archaeological contexts.

Ashley has suggested a group of pendants that may be early in the series of medieval pendants, perhaps c. 1125-1225 AD (Ashley 2002, 5-7; note that Ashley now believes fig. 5, no. 5 to be Roman; see NMS-6CB366 and NMS-163154). This early group has engraved and punched decoration and, although quite large, they are often thinner than later pendants. These pendants often have rivets or holes for rivets. Good examples on the PAS database include IOW-8141E8, NMS-32D5E8, ESS-042D46, SF-1D92DF, etc.

Suspension mount for a horse-harness pendant, c. 1150-c. 1300
Suspension mount for a horse-harness pendant, c. 1150-c. 1300 (NMS-236F25) (Copyright Norfolk County Council, CC-BY SA)

A second group of pendants consists of smaller, thicker objects, mainly square, with cast relief decoration and gilding, and occasionally with enamel. Ashley dates these to c. 1150-1300 (2002, 7-8). Good examples on the PAS database include HAMP-977038, NLM-0A18F8 and BH-828AE5, and mounts NMS-236F25 and NMS-72F762.

NB: it can be easy to mistake these square suspension mounts for buckle plates. The hinge loops are closer together on pendant suspension mounts.

Pendants with enamelled decoration, usually heraldic, seem to be most common in the late 13th and first half of the 14th century, c. 1280-1350 (Griffiths 1986, 1; Ashley 2002, 29-30; Baker 2015, 6). They can be a variety of shapes, but shield-shaped (with straight top and sides curving to a point) and lozenge-shaped are the commonest.

A precise date for the end of harness pendant use is hard to find. Ashley gives termini ante quos for some heraldic pendants (the last dates that they could have been in use), and these centre on the mid 14th century. Specifically, the arms of England are dated up to c. 1340, after which time they were assumed to have been quartered with those of France (Baker 2015, 6-7). Private arms from the same time span commonly include those of the following families: Warenne, Bohun, Clare, Valence, and Despencer (Baker 2015, 7). Ashley notes that by the end of the 14th century the heraldic pendant had been long in decline (2002, 8 and 31).

Post-medieval pendants, including those from fly terrets

Horse-harness pendants do not seem to have been in use in the 16th, 17th or 18th centuries. Harness pendants are shown on the second great seal of Henry VIII (in use from 1535-1542; illustrated in Harvey and McGuinness 1996, 31) but these are almost certainly anachronistic, in the same way that Elizabeth II travels in a horse-drawn carriage to state events rather than a car.

A few harness pendants have been recorded which appear different to the main group of medieval pendants. They are large and chunky, and their workmanship appears different. In particular, the suspension loops have a distinct groove across the front. There are not many on the database, but examples include IOW-06C5C2, IOW-AC3BA4, ESS-1ED125 and YORYM-3A1DC3.

Despite their similarity to medieval pendants, these are in fact 19th- or early 20th-century in date. They swung in frames which were screwed to the headband of draught horses, known as fly or head terrets. See the National Horse Brass Society website for more details.

Key references

Ashley 2002

Cherry in Saunders (ed) 1991

Griffiths 1986