PAS-8709C3: One side of matrix featuring inscription and cross

Rights Holder: The British Museum
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Rights Holder: The British Museum
CC License:

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Unique ID: PAS-8709C3

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

Description: This remarkable piece is a double-sided seal matrix from a gold signet ring of Frankish type, diameter 12 mm, and with a gold content of approximately 98 per cent. It was designed to pivot on a pin which engaged with the shoulders of the ring itself, now lost. The bezel is engraved on one side with a long-haired frontal bust surmounted by a cross, with stylized drapery below; around this is a retrograde inscription in a mixture of capitals and lower case, which may be read as a female name, Baldehildis (Balthild). On the reverse is a scene with a male and a long-haired female figure embracing beneath a cross. Damage to the pivot pin suggests forcible removal. There is wear on the pin and pivot hole, but little on the sides of the bezel, suggesting that it was separated from the ring at a relatively early stage.

Discussion: Swivel seal rings are not known from Anglo-Saxon England, although a few examples survive from Merovingian Gaul, and Avitus, Bishop of Vienne, writing in the 6th century to his brother, Bishop Apollinaris of Valence, refers to a ring of this type (Avitus, Ep. 87). Again, no Anglo-Saxon seal rings with female names are known, but a number of Frankish gold seal rings with circular bezels bearing the names or monograms of high-status and royal women survive. Male names are more common on such rings, however, and some of these are also engraved with a profile bust. The scene on the reverse can be parallelled on what appears to be a Frankish betrothal ring in the British Museum collections, which also has the names Dromacius and Betta engraved upon it - presumably the couple depicted. All of these rings are datable to the 7th century, and the appearance of the present ring would be consistent with such a date. More work on the sources for the unusual frontal bust, and the possible relationship of this motif to the early 8th-century 'Woden/Monster' sceatta-type may shed further light on the ring's origins and date.

Tantalizingly, because unverifiable, the name on the bezel may have particular historical significance; as it appears on the ring, it represents the Frankish form, Baldhild, which would have had an Anglo-Saxon cognate form, Bealdhild. This is probably not a very rare name in either form, but it is a striking coincidence that the only historically recorded female of that name is the Anglo-Saxon woman who married Clovis II in about 648, and who acted as Queen-regent after his death in about 657 until she retired in 663/4 to the monastery she had herself founded at Chelles, where she died about 680. The Vita Sanctae Balthildis, written not long after her death, commemorates her supposed rise from beginnings as an English slave to marriage to the King and an illustrious aftermath at court and in her monastery. It remains more likely, however, that she was in reality a princess from one of the Anglo-Saxon dynasties; it is known that both the Kentish and East Anglian royal families had links with their Neustrian Frankish counterparts. Of course, we can never know for certain whether the woman named on the ring represents this historical individual; but they are certainly of similar date. A further mystery is why such a prestigious Frankish object came to rest in rural Norfolk; though such a ring might certainly have been a prestige gift, or even a sign to identify the wearer as an emissary of the owner.


This object qualifies as Treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act 1996.

Find of note status

This is a find of note and has been designated: National importance

Class: signet
Inscription: BALDEHILDIS

Subsequent actions

Current location of find: Norwich Castle Museum
Subsequent action after recording: Acquired by museum after being declared Treasure

Treasure details

Treasure case tracking number: 1998T38


Broad period: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Early
Subperiod to: Early
Ascribed Culture: Frankish
Date from: Circa AD 600
Date to: Circa AD 700

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Diameter: 12 mm

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Mr Ian Richardson
Identified by:

Other reference numbers

Other reference: Original Treasure number MME38
Treasure case number: 1998T38

Materials and construction

Primary material: Gold
Completeness: Incomplete

Spatial metadata

Region: Eastern (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Norfolk (County)
District: Broadland (District)
To be known as: Norwich area

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: PAS
Created: 6 years ago
Updated: About one year ago

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