Early Interpretation

It is not yet possible to tell the full story of the Staffordshire Hoard. But, it is already becoming clear that it is dramatic and perhaps bloody.

War gear

The two most striking features of the Staffordshire Hoard are that it is unbalanced, and it is of exceptionally high quality.

It is unbalanced because of what is missing. There is absolutely nothing feminine. There are no dress fittings, brooches or pendants. These are the gold objects most commonly found from the Anglo-Saxon era. The vast majority of items in the hoard are martial – war gear, especially sword fittings.

Craftsmanship

The quantity of gold is amazing but, more importantly, the craftsmanship is consummate. This was the very best that the Anglo-Saxon metalworkers could do, and they were very good. Tiny garnets were cut to shape and set in a mass of cells to give a rich, glowing effect, that is stunning. Its origins are clearly the very highest levels of Anglo-Saxon aristocracy or royalty. It belonged to the elite.

Despite their war-like nature, the decoration on these objects is delightful. Some are decorated in what is known as ‘Anglo-Saxon Style II’ which consist of strange animals, interlaced around each other, their long jaws intertwined – there is a joy to it. Many objects are inlaid with garnets and, even covered in earth, the colour is still breath-taking.

The singling out of swords

Most of the gold and silver items appear to have been deliberately torn from the objects to which they were originally attached. There are nearly 100 gold and garnet pommel caps, and there also appear to be fittings from helmets.

This is not simply loot – swords were being singled out for special treatment. If it was just gold they were after, there would have been the rich fittings from sword belts. Perhaps gold fittings were stripped from the swords to depersonalise them – to remove the identity of the previous owner. The blades then being remounted and reused.

It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle, or a long and highly successful military career. We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when. This will be debated for decades

Kingdom of Mercia

The discovery of this hoard in Staffordshire should cause no surprise. It is in the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia which was militarily aggressive and expansionist during the seventh century, under kings Penda, Wulfhere and Aethelred.

This material could have been collected by any of these during their wars with Northumbria and East Anglia, or by someone whose name is lost to history.