Alfred et al.
Alfred et al.
From the Mid-Ninth Century to the Mid-Tenth
A distinguishing feature of the ninth century is the amount of precious metal that has survived from it. Some of this comes from hoards, for in contrast to the eighth century there are several with both coins and objects, as well as some only with coins and some only with objects. The latest coin in a hoard provides no more than the earliest possible date at which it could have been deposited, but at least that is a fixed point in one direction, and its owner was unlikely to keep a store of coins for long without occasionally taking some out or putting others in. Objects in hoards, of course, may always include some treasured heirlooms, as may furnished graves, but at least perceived similarity to works in other media is not their only dating criterion. A few objects can be dated because they have an identifiable name on them. A gold and niello ring inscribed Ethelwulf R[e]x at the bottom of the bezel associates it with King Aethelwulf, ruler of Wessex from 839 to 858 (Fig. 4.1, right). The ring was not necessarily made for him to wear himself, but for him to give to a follower as a permanent reminder of the service owed to its donor, though a Beowulf seeking a ‘generous ring-giver’ might not have thought its inscription sufficient compensation for its modest weight. Alternatively, it could have acted like a seal, to accompany a royal messenger and validate that his news or instructions came from the king; or have been used as a guarantee of a land donation and a physical reminder of the event at which the grant had been made. That might have been the reason why the name of Queen Aethelswith was added to the back of another gold ring, thus associating it with Aethelwulf’s daughter, who was queen of Mercia from 853 to 874 (Fig. 4.1, left). The inscription may have been an afterthought, needed when the ring was used for an unanticipated purpose. A third explanation is that both rings were baptismal; above Aethelwulf’s name are two birds at the Fountain of Life, and the bezel of Aethelswith’s ring has the Lamb of St John the Baptist.
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