The Value of Treasure in Anglo-Saxon England
Beowulf, Mercia, and the Staffordshire Hoard Ten Years On
Thursday, October 3, 2019, at 16.30
In 2009, a metal detectorist brought to light a spectacular collection of high-status metal-work from Anglo-Saxon England, the Staffordshire Hoard. It primarily comprised weapons, richly decorated with gold and garnets, but all cut down into small pieces. The find greatly augments our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon swords and fills out the thin survival of high-status helmets, as well as including one textual inscription. In the ten years since the discovery, these objects have been the subject of intense research as they have been preserved and displayed. This talk will explore and illustrate the find, both in its original state and in some of the exciting recent reconstructions.
The discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard does much to illuminate the world of Mercian kings in the seventh or eighth century. Prior knowledge of early Mercia before the powerful king, Offa (reigned 757-796), was surprisingly thin, and the hoard provides a salutory reminder of the wealth of the region. It also serves to illustrate the world of the poem, Beowulf. The poem is hard to date or localize precisely. It is an epic tale of a hero’s combat with monsters, but it is also a poem obsessed with the shiny appearance of weapons, which occasionally serve in battle, but more often serve as signifiers of status and of glory. I will suggest that Beowulf can help anchor an understanding of the Staffordshire Hoard just as the Staffordshire Hoard can expand our understanding of Beowulf. While the link is not a precise one, the meaning of such glorious shiny metal-work was likely to have been strikingly similar for the Mercian king who buried the hoard to what it was for the poet and audience of Beowulf.
This talk, then, will explore the implications of the Staffordshire Hoard for understanding the ideology of Anglo-Saxon kings and the imaginative world of the poem, Beowulf. The talk will be illustrated and delivered in English.
Jonathan Wilcox is Professor of English and Faculty Fellow at the University of Iowa, where he teaches medieval literature. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, has published widely on Old English literature and culture, and is currently working on a book on Anglo-Saxon humor. He is a visiting Fulbright Scholar at the University of Iceland for Fall 2019.
The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.