The Travels of a Middlesaxon: Rare Saxon Sword Decorations Found In The Kingdom Of Mercia With A £2.50 Metal Detector

On the 5th July 2009 unemployed Terry Herbert was sweeping a friend’s field with a cheap metal detector near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, Staffordshire, England and to his amazement unearthed the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold.

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is now home to this collection which is known as The Staffordshire Hoard.

The hord, which is thought to date from around 7th century AD, totals 5.094 kilos of gold, 1.442 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets.  The collection includes decorative sword hilts (handles) and pommel caps (the fitting from the top of the sword handle that anchors the hilt fittings to the sword blade).

Pommel caps, hilt guards and collars – Birmingham Museum

 

Damaged hilt plate, Mount with Filigree Decoration, Wire loop from sword handle, Mount

 

The image below shows an Anglo-Saxon sword found on Chiswell Down on the Isle of Wight that dates from the 5th/6th century (original sword is shown on left – a replica is on the right).

Anglo Saxon Sword on left 5/6 century – Birmingham Museum

At the time the hord was buried Lichfield was part of the Kingdom of Mercia. The Kingdom of Mercia was created by native Britons and incoming Saxons.  Mercia means the ‘Marches’, the borderlands between the English and the Welsh.  At its height Mercia stretched from Wales to East Anglia and from the Humber to the Thames.

Swords were rare in Anglo-Saxon England – only nobility and the King’s elite warriors had swords with gold or silver handles. Swords were given names and believed to have their own personalities.

When he died in 1014AD, Aethelstan, the son of King Aethelred II, left 10 swords in his will.  They included First …. to Christ and St Peter …. the sword with the silver hilt which Wulfric made; …. and to my father, King Aethelred …. the silver-hilted sword which belonged to Earl Ulfketel; … and to Edmund my brother I grant the sword with the pitted hilt  …. and to my brother Eadwig a silver-hilted sword.

Mercia was often at war with other Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.   Perhaps decorative sword fittings of the type shown in the photos above adorned the weapons used by King Aethelstan’s descendants in battle In Middlesex?

The gold could have been collected during wars with the Kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia. Some of the items were bent and twisted.  Maybe the hord was hurriedly buried when the owner was in danger? The fact it was never recovered suggests the owner was probably killed.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Chamberlain Square
Birmingham, B3 3DH

 

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