In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anglo-Saxon Metalwork

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Medieval Treatises on Metalworking
  • Smiths
  • Typological Studies
  • The Vocabulary of the Anglo-Saxon Smith

Medieval Studies Anglo-Saxon Metalwork
Elizabeth Coatsworth
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0133


Interest in the design and structure of objects of metalwork of the pre-Conquest period can already be seen in the pioneering work of Brian Faussett between 1769 and 1773, exemplified in his detailed drawings and notes on, for example, the Kingston Down brooch in his surviving notebooks, published long after his death (Charles Roach Smith, Inventorium Sepulchrale, an Account of Some Antiquities Dug Up at Gilton, Kingston, Sibertswold, Barfriston, Beakesbourne, Chartham, and Crundale, in the County of Kent, from 1757 to 1773, London: privately printed, 1856). Although Faussett did not recognize his excavated material as Anglo-Saxon, thinking that he was investigating Romano-British graves, nevertheless his work (especially in his detailed recording of all finds, and therefore all metalwork objects, including toilet implements, weapons, and tools, as well as the gold jewelry) is in many ways a true starting point for two trends still working themselves out in the literature: the refining of work defining styles and dating the material, and the study of the full range of metalwork and its associated crafts. It is true, however, that objects of fine metalwork have excited the greatest interest, encouraged by spectacular finds from early sites such as Sutton Hoo and of hoards such as that from Trewhiddle, Cornwall (see Specific Sites). More recently, the 7th-century “Staffordshire hoard,” with its collection of gold and jeweled fragments, many from weapons and armor, has reinforced interest in the spectacular and also in the emphasis on the early period. It is likely that as studies of this new material come out, the history of early Anglo-Saxon fine metalworking (and its design and iconography) will be rewritten, although this process is already well on its way, with the huge increase in numbers brought about by the popularity of metal detecting and the working of the Treasure Act 1996 and the development of the Portable Antiquities scheme (for a short explanation of these, see Leahy and Bland 2009, cited under Staffordshire Hoard). The bias toward fine metalwork is therefore reflected here: nevertheless, the overall story of scholarly work on Anglo-Saxon metalwork has actually been more balanced, with studies of ferrous metalworking and other humbler metals such as lead appearing from early in the 20th century, and with the archaeology of early settlements, middle Saxon estates, and later towns showing the importance of metalwork studies in social and economic development. Much of the best of recent work has looked at the context in which the metalwork was made: its makers and their role in society, and the techniques and technology involved (including documentary and literary as well as archaeological sources). Evidence of comparative material and sites from Scandinavia and western Europe, and from Celtic and Viking sites within Ireland and the British Isles, has often proved illuminating for contemporary Anglo-Saxon practice, and the study of Style in particular requires knowledge of Germanic and Viking Age styles. Arising from all this work, the meaning of metalwork objects within the developing society—whether as treasure, functional objects (e.g., dress fasteners, tools, or armor), personal adornment, signifiers of ethnicity or personal status, or carrying in its iconography some deeper meaning (e.g., relating to religious beliefs or royal power)—has come to be seen as of equal importance to dating.

General Overviews

There are very few works that can be classified as overviews of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, as distinct from surveys of Anglo-Saxon art more generally. One that provides such an overview, however, is Brown 1986, a dissertation (cited under Reference Works). There are some textbooks, however, such as Jessup 1950 and Leahy 2003, that also provide a broad introduction to the area. The best overviews published since the late 1990s are those contained within two encyclopedias. All relevant entries in the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England (see Blackburn 1999a, Blackburn 1999b, Brown 1999a, Brown 1999b, and Dickinson 1999) still have something to contribute, in spite of the recent publication of the authoritative Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology. This latter work includes a section on “Craft Production and Technology” (Thomas 2011), in which each subsection has material relevant to metalwork studies, and concludes with a useful bibliography. Some entries from this handbook, however, are represented under other sections of this bibliography (see Production, Techniques, and Tools and the Ideological Significance of “Treasure”). Other books, for example Wilson 1986, are more-general surveys of Anglo-Saxon art or archaeology but are useful in putting the metalwork (in these objects that are usually viewed as artistic rather than utilitarian) into the context of other media. See also Webster 2012 (cited under Style).

  • Blackburn, Mark A. S. “Mints and Minting.” In The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg, 317–318. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999a.

    Briefly discusses the evidence for mints and the changing politico-economic contexts in which mints developed. Also the relationship between these and sources of bullion. Minting processes are not touched on.

  • Blackburn, Mark A. S. “Moneyers.” In The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg, 324–325. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999b.

    Discusses mainly late and post-Conquest evidence for the high status of moneyers.

  • Brown, Kevin B. “Metalworking.” In The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg, 309–310. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999a.

    Recounts the main technological processes observable in the archaeological record and the surviving material; briefly introduces the related topics of itinerant specialists, permanent workshops, and domestic production.

  • Brown, Kevin B. “Mining and Quarrying.” In The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg, 315–317. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999b.

    Notes that the areas of iron-ore extraction were the same from Roman times but that lead mining revived only in the 9th century, and that there is little evidence for extraction of other nonferrous metals, for which smiths relied on the recycling of scrap, including coins. Within the early medieval period, increasing specialization reflecting a change from domestic to workshop production is observable.

  • Dickinson, Tania M. “Jewellery.” In The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Edited by Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg, 258–262. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999.

    A broad chronological survey of Anglo-Saxon jewelry types from the 5th to the 11th centuries, with some attention to societal and dress changes reflected in the forms. Supported by figures with drawings illustrating thirty-five items.

  • Thomas, Gabor. “Overview: Craft Production and Technology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology. Edited by Helena Hamerow, David A. Hinton, and Sally Crawford, 405–422. Oxford Handbooks. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Useful analysis of sources of evidence and their limitations, and a chronological survey tracing the move of production from the domestic level (with the production of nonutilitarian goods with meaning for personal and group identity) to a relatively small group of itinerant specialists, and then to a developing degree of craft specialization allied to increasing political centralization, and a shift from countryside to town.

  • Wilson, David M. Anglo-Saxon Art from the Seventh Century to the Norman Conquest. London: Thames and Hudson, 1986.

    A broad, handsomely illustrated, chronological overview of all aspects of Anglo-Saxon art, including jewelry and fine metalwork. Still of value because it places the metalwork in the wider art context. Originally published in 1984.

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