The Text of the Inscription

David Ganz (King's College London)

This paper will examine the source of the text, its use in the early-medieval world, and its interpretation by early-medieval writers. I regret that despite Sonja Marzinzik’s best efforts I have not been able to examine the inscribed object itself at first hand, and so my conclusions have been drawn on the basis of photographs only.

The inscribed object StH 550


The text of the inscription reads:

[ ]urge domine disepentur inimici tui et/[ ]ugent qui oderunt te a facie tua

and on the inner side:

Surge domine[ ]et fugi[ i ode / unt te a fac[ ]por [ ] 

and perhaps a scratched DS at the end.

(See Elisabeth Okasha's paper for more on the detail of the script.)

The text on the front is written within the body of a dragon-like creature with a forked tongue. It corresponds to the prayer of Moses when he had lifted up the ark of the covenant in the Book of Numbers, in the Vulgate translation, but that verse is very close to a verse from Psalm 67. Numbers reads Surge Domine, Psalms Exsurgat Deus.

The scriptural text we have in front of us was known to an early-medieval audience from their reading of the Bible; from their knowledge of the Psalter, which Elisabeth Okasha has reminded us was a feature of services not only in monasteries; and of course from the liturgy itself. I have not found any evidence for a liturgical use of the relevant section of the Book of Numbers.

The Latin text of Numbers has not survived in any biblical manuscript demonstrably earlier than the inscription: the earliest witnesses are the Codex Amiatinus, St Gallen MS 2, and Tours MS 10.

The script of the inscription is relevant to the text, and among the many regrets which all of us who try to work with early-medieval manuscripts must share is that Ludwig Traube, when he died at the age of 46 (he too had had his chair challenged in 1901), was unable to finish his work on half-uncial, the most difficult – the most important – of the scripts. I must apologise to Elisabeth for preferring that term to insular majuscule, the term used by Lowe.

In the context of script, I would just like to remind those who may have not read it of the important article by Bob Babcock about a small papyrus fragment in the Cotton collection, Cotton Titus C xv folio 1, which proved to contain a half-uncial text from Gregory’s homilies (Babcock 2000). There is no way of knowing when it reached Sir Robert Cotton, or how it reached Sir Robert Cotton, but half-uncial was clearly being used at Rome and our illusions about Roman uncial need to be modified consequently.

There are several distinctive letter-forms in the Staffordshire Hoard inscription. Examples include:

  • the use of uncial R when one might have expected the half-uncial form

Examples of the letter R on the inscribed object StH 550

  • the rather clumsy ‘cc’ form of a

Examples of the letter a on the inscribed object StH 550

  • the wedges on the vertical strokes of d, i, n and p, and at the base of the descender of q, and (in one instance) at the base of the second vertical stroke of u, which appears like an inverted n.Examples of the letter d on the inscribed object StH 550 d
Examples of the letter i on the inscribed object StH 550  i
 Examples of the letter n on the inscribed object StH 550 n               The letter p on the inscribed object StH 550 p             The letter q on the inscribed object StH 550 q
Examples of the letter u on the inscribed object StH 550 u
  • g has a rather clumsy ‘3’ shape, with a horizontal cross-stroke at the top of the letter.
The letter g on the inscribed object StH 550 g

The half-uncial script with majuscule R and N can be found in the Milan Orosius (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana MS D. 23 sup., CLA 328) and in the Book of Durrow (CLA 273). Uncial D, N and R (in the name Marcum) are found in the colophon at the end of Luke’s Gospel in the Codex Usserianus Primus (CLA 271). The Springmount bog tablets (CLA 1684) with the text of Psalms 32-33 do not have a majuscule R.

Julian Brown observed that the loops of this foundation hand go on to become the wedges that form the most obvious characteristic of the script and gave it its name, scriptura tunsa. As Brown writes, ‘From the fourth century onwards Roman cursive notable for the loops at the top of ascending strokes...which enabled such strokes to be ligatured with certain preceding letters.... ...Open, if triangular loops are present in the Springmount Bog tablet and in the Ussher Gospels, not yet evolved into the purely decorative wedges—made with an auxiliary fore-stroke—of the Orosius, the Cathach, and Durham A. II. 10.’ (Brown 1993, 226). The loops have become wedges in the Cathach.

Elisabeth Okasha’s paper has rightly drawn attention to the problems of the orthography used for the inscription. Thanks to the kindness of Patrick McGurk, I am informed that Roger Gryson, who is now in charge of the Vetus Latina Institute, can find no manuscript witness for fugent; I’m not sure, and Patrick is not sure, whether this includes patristic quotations of either the Psalm or the Book of Numbers. It is at least distinctive (and I defer to Elisabeth Okasha and Michelle Brown here) that the nomen sacrum, domine’, appears to have no abbreviation mark, unless the rather curious triangle-shaped mark after domine is that abbreviation, but I have not seen it and others will know better.

The word 'domine' (abbreviated) on the inscribed object StH 550


The text is found in the Book of Numbers. Our only witness for the Book of Numbers from Anglo-Saxon England is the Codex Amiatinus, and I was alerted to the difficulties of the Book of Numbers when I did a trawl through the electronic Patrologia Latina, and the on-line Library of Latin Texts, and could not find any patristic commentary whatsoever from the period before 900 on this verse of Numbers. Others may have been more successful.

So we turn to the Psalm verse. The standard commentary on the Psalter is of course by St Augustine of Hippo, who says (under the Vulgate numbering, Psalm 68) that God arises when Christ, who is the God above all things, blessed from age to age, puts to flight his enemies per omnes gentes, through all nations, through all races, and then he goes on to talk about the Jews; he contrasts a carnal flight and a spiritual flight. This is the Latin text of the commentary on Psalm 68:

Exsurgat deus et dispergantur inimici eius.

iam factum est: exsurrexit christus qui est super omnia deus benedictus in saecula, et dispersi sunt inimici eius per omnes gentes, iudaei; in eo ipso loco ubi inimicitias exercuerunt, debellati atque inde per cuncta dispersi: et nunc oderunt, sed metuunt; et in ipso metu faciunt quod sequitur: et fugiant qui oderunt eum, a facie eius. fuga quippe animi, est timor.

nam carnali fuga, quo fugiunt ab eius facie qui ubique praesentiae suae demonstrat effectum? quo abibo, inquit ille, a spiritu tuo, et a facie tua quo fugiam?

animo ergo, non corpore fugiunt; timendo scilicet, non latendo; nec ab ea facie quam non uident, sed ab ea quam uidere coguntur.

(Dekkers and Fraipont (eds) 1956, 870)

More interesting is Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Psalm commentary, translated into Latin by Julian of Eclanum, in which he associates the Psalm verse with the Ark of the Covenant. ‘The Ark of the Covenant, after frequent migrations from the time when it was captured, is celebrated in this carmen (this Psalm); it was taken frequently from place to place and it served as something to rule the ignorant among the Hebrews.’

Cum arcam testamenti, post frequentes migrationes ex illo iam tempore quo sub heli ab allophylis capta est, tandem rex propheta ad se grandi ambitu exsultationis transferret, carmen hoc cecinit; et quoniam de loco ad locum fuerat transducta saepe, ut quondam in eremo praeberet iter populo ac regeret ignaros hebraeorum, ob rerum similitudinem talis psalmi istius formatur oratio atque narratio, quae ex persona illius temporis principum diceretur, signa que in solitudine decurrens ipso sui principio moysi uocibus conueniret.

Ille namque, cum in signum profectionis arca moueretur, aiebat: exsurge, domine, et dissipentur inimici tui, et fugient omnes qui oderunt te.

Exsurgat deus usque inimici tui.

Hoc uero schemate quoties sibi auxilium, inimicis poscit interitum; qua ui sermonis fortior impetus post requiem indicatur.

Idumaeos praecipue amorrhaeos que conuenit hac uoce.

Et fugiant a facie eius qui oderunt eum.

(de Coninck 1977, 244-5)

The Psalm verse is thought to be the persona of Moses speaking, so even through David wrote the Psalms, it is assumed by Theodore (and by others) that David is taking on the persona or the role of Moses. Theodore’s commentary is preserved in the Milan Theodore (Milan Ambrosiana MS C 301 inf) and is used in the Glossa in Psalmos in Vatican Codex Palatinus Latinus 68.

Cassiodorus says similar things, and in the rather curious commentary ascribed to, but most certainly not by, St Jerome, printed in Patrologia Latina 26, we are told that the Psalm verse is to be understood specially and generally; specially about the Lord rising from the dead and putting his enemy to flight – that is, the devil and his army, or the Jews; generally, because we are in tribulation and in tight places, and we say, arise, how long are you going to sleep for, Lord, arise and help us, quoting Psalm 43, and this is compared to the Apostles sleeping in the ship. So the verse is perceived as being a cry for help, a cry to put one’s enemies to flight, a cry associated with the children of Israel, and perhaps the fact that the inscription is associated with the Ark of the Covenant makes it appropriate for an object which is moved from place to place.

Exsurgat Deus et dissipentur inimici eius. Et specialiter intellegitur iste psalmus, et generaliter. Specialiter de ipso Domino, ut resurgat a mortuis, et disperdat inimicos suos, hoc est, diabolum et exercitum ejus, aut Judaeos. Generaliter autem, quando in tribulatione sumus et angustia, et dicimus: Exsurge, utquid dormitas, Domine? Exsurge et adjuva nos (Ps 43) Quomodo et apostoli in navicula excitant Dominum dormientem, dicentes: Magister, salva nos: perimus. Et fugiant qui oderint eum a facie ejus. Non dixit, pereant, sed fugiant: qui peccatores in conspectu Dei non possent stare.

(Patrologia Latina 26, col. 1012) 

The text of Pseudo-Bede’s De Titulis Psalmorum is found in early 9th-century manuscripts from St Gall (Stiftsbibliothek 108 and 261), but was later incorporated into an 11th-century commentary (Manegold of Lautenbach’s De Psalmorum Libro) and published as the work of Bede. It links the psalm Exsurgat Deus to David’s control of the Ark of the Covenant, and to Moses’s song when the Ark was carried about.

Cum arcam testamenti post crebras migrationes tandem David ad se grandi exsultationis ambitu transferret, carmen hoc cecinit, memorque itineris illius et transductionis quondam in eremo, quasi ex persona principum illius temporis psalmum composuit. Ipsum versum in capite ponens, quem et Moyses tunc, quoties in signum profectionis arca movebatur, decantare solebat. Aliter propheta resurrectionem Christi et posteriores glorias annuntiat.

David Dominum designat, quem et finis pronuntiat; [longus psalmus, et quinque diapsalmatibus praenotatus, per quae nos divisiones impressimus. Totus autem psalmus per mysticas similitudines loquitur, qui sacramentis evangelicis plenus, et ascensionis Christi descriptione monstratur esse praecipuus. Primo ingressu psalmi propheta dicit, quae inimicis Domini accidant, vel quae fidelibus in futura judicatione contingant. Secundo virtutes significat, quas contulit populo Judaeorum, ac deinde dicit quemadmodum ex his perfecit Ecclesiam. Tertio per montis speciem designat Dominum Salvatorem, commemorans quae beneficia praestiterit Ecclesiae, quando eam resurrectionis suae munere sublevavit. Quarto inimicorum Domini superbiam conquassandam esse pronuntiat, et conversiones et martyria ab utroque sexu, et ex pessimis dicit esse facienda, cum adventus Domini mundo Salvatoris illuxerit. Quinto dicit in Ecclesiis Dominum debere benedici, ubi Apostoli et Christus ipse praedicavit, supplicans ut dona quae dedit fidelibus suis, conservare dignetur. Monet etiam ut velociter ad Dominum veniant, qui in hoc mundo tanquam in Aegypto et Aethiopia commorantur. Sexto ingressu universitatem monet, ut psallat Domino Christo, qui jam resurrectionis suae miracula patefecit, ac deinde psalmum Dominica laude conclusit.

Exsurgat Deus, dissipentur. In finem Psalmus Cantici ipsi David. Haec verba referuntur in finem temporum, attributa ipsi David, quae vere sunt Psalmus Cantici. Canticum teste B. Augustino proprie laus illa dicitur, quae ore profertur. Psalmus vero modulatio illa dicitur, quae in musico instrumento, quod Psalterium vocatur per pulsum nervorum et tactum digitorum conficitur. Accipitur autem canticum pro mentis intelligentia, scilicet quoniam bene anima in se agit sancte meditando et cogitando.

(Patrologia Latina 93, 828) 

The Carolingian liturgical scholar Amalarius, in his Liber Officialis, compares the faithful to the Ark (IV, 2):

Propter suprascriptas feras dicit opilio noster: Deus in adjutorium meum intende, Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina. in officii initio precatur, ut non possint tantum praevalere, quatenus ab eodem conciliabulo aliquem separent per astutiam suam. Simili modo faciebat Moyses, quando arca elevabatur ad portandum. Dicebat enim: Surge, Domine, et dissipentur inimici tui, et fugiant qui oderunt te, a facie tua. Nos enim spiritaliter sumus illa arca. Sicut enim quotidie circumdabatur illa ab inimicis, sic et sancta Ecclesia usque in finem circumdabitur a persecutoribus, sive apertis, sive occultis.

(Hanssens (ed) 1948, 408-9).

A. E. Felle's Biblia Epigraphica (Felle 2006) is a catalogue of all quotations from the Greek or Latin Bible found in published inscriptions. He does not record any quotations of this psalm verse.

I feared that Kevin Leahy’s paper had stolen all of my thunder when he mentioned Felix’s Life of St Guthlac. For those of you not familiar with the text, it was composed around 740 AD (my date comes from Professor Ian Wood) for the king of the East Angles, drawing on Sulpicius’s Life of Martin, drawing on Aldhelm, drawing on Bede, and drawing most importantly on the Life of St Anthony, written in Greek by Athanasius, translated into Latin in late Antiquity.

It tells the story, as Kevin reminded us, of how Guthlac put the devils to flight (and they were nasty Welsh devils, Briton devils) by reciting the Psalm Exsurgat Deus (Colgrave 1956, 110). (Note that two manuscripts of the Life give the full text of the verse of the Psalm) In chapter 12 of the Life of St Anthony, Anthony sung this psalm in the desert when he was attacked by demons, and the same story is told of St Macarius:

Haec cum vidisset sanctus Macarius, ingemuit graviter et lacrimas profundens ad dominum, respice, ait, domine et ne sileas neque mitigeris, deus, exsurge ut dispergantur inimici tui et fugiant a facie tua, quoniam anima nostra repletur inlusionibus.

Post orationem tamen examinandae veritatis gratia seorsum evocatis singulis quibusque fratribus, ante quorum faciem viderat daemones diverso habitu et variis imaginibus ludentes, requirit ab eis, si in oratione vel aedificandi cogitationes habuerint vel iter agendi vel alia diversa quae unicuique imaginata per daemones viderat.

(Historia Monachorum, 29)

In the Life of St Guthlac, both the text and the chapter heading specifically say: this is the Psalm he recited. You would have known which Psalm to turn to in your Psalter.

In Chapter 49 of the Life, Felix tells us how later on in his life Guthlac was approached by Æthelbald of Mercia and recited over him the verse from Numbers: et fugiant a facie tua qui te oderunt, ‘the people who now hate you will fly from your face’ (Colgrave 1956, 150).  So in the early 8th century we have a clear knowledge of this verse and of its power (see also Elisabeth Okasha's paper for comments on the use of this psalm in the Life of St Guthlac).

I should prefer to date the Staffordshire Hoard script, on palaeographical grounds, before 700 AD. I would like to mention in this context, because I am exceedingly sorry she is not here with us, the person who has taught me most about early-medieval epigraphy in these islands, though sadly we never met, Gifford Charles-Edwards, whose paper on the Springmount bog tablets (Charles-Edwards 2002) is utterly exemplary. Her palaeographical commentary to the publication of the early-medieval inscribed stone sculpture in Wales (in Redknap and Lewis 2007) should be mandatory reading: this is the best context for the Staffordshire inscription. 


I should like to thank Leslie Webster for her kind invitation to be a part of this discussion. Thanks also to Celia Chazelle, whose early-medieval forum (if there is anybody who doesn’t use it) has been an excellent way of publicising this hoard; there are people all over North America who want to know about the hoard and about our discussions today. I would also like to remember Rainer Christlein, who spent many hours attempting to teach me about archaeological method, and with whom I excavated. And lastly thanks to Sonja Marzinzik, who did her best to allow me to see the inscribed object, but as said at the start of this paper sadly I am speaking only from the basis of the photographs.


  • Babcock, R. G., 2000. ‘A papyrus codex of Gregory the Great's Forty Homilies on the Gospels’ (London, Cotton Titus C XV), Scriptorium 54, 280-289.
  • Brown, T. J., 1993. ‘The oldest Irish manuscripts and their late antique background’, reprinted in T.J. Brown, A Palaeographer’s View (Harvey Miller, London 1993) 221-41. Originally published in P. Ní Chatháin and M. Richter (eds) 1984, Irland und Europa, Die Kirche im Frühmittelalter: Ireland and Europe, The Early Church (Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart) 311-327.
  • Charles-Edwards, G., 2002. ‘The Springmount Bog Tablets: their implications for insular epigraphy and palaeography’, Studia Celtica 36, 27–45
  • CLA: Lowe, E.A., 1934-71. Codices latini antiquiores: a palaeographical guide to Latin manuscripts prior to the ninth century  (11 vols. and supplement vol., Clarendon, Oxford)
  • Colgrave, B., 1956. Felix’s Life of St Guthlac: Text, Translation and Notes (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge)
  • Coninck, L. de (ed), 1977. Theodori Mopsuesteni Expositionis in Psalmos, Iuliano Aeclanensi interprete in latinum versae (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 88A (Brepols, Turnhout)
  • Dekkers, D.E.and Fraipont, J. (eds), 1956. Augustinus: Ennarationes in Psalmos (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina Volume 89 (Brepols, Turnhout)
  • Felle, A. E., 2006. Biblia Epigraphica: la sacra scrittura nella documentazione epigrafica dell’orbis christianus antiquus (III-VIII secolo) (Edipuglia, Bari)
  • Hanssens, J. M. (ed), 1948. Liber Officialis (Amalarii episcopi opera liturgica omnia vol. 2, Studi e Testi 139, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 1948).
  • Patrologia Latina: Migne, J.-P. (ed), 1844-64. Patrologiae cursus completus: Patrologia Latina (217 vols, Paris; on-line first edition, Patrologia Latina Database)
  • Redknap, M., and Lewis, J. M. (with contributions by G. Charles-Edwards, J. Horák, J. Knight and P. Sims-Williams), 2007. A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales, Volume 1: Breconshire, Glamorgan, Monmouthshire, Radnorshire and geographically contiguous areas of Herefordshire and Shropshire (University of Wales Press, Cardiff)