A little Saxon Magic [Coin News, November 2009, Page 14]
by Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals
When Essex researcher Stuart Silvey approached TimeLine Originals recently with his latest finds, I was astonished to see among the modern milled and mediaeval groats a beautiful gold pendant made from a rather worn late Roman coin. It appears to be a copy of a solidus issue of the Eastern Roman Emperor, Anastasius I (fl. 491-530/1), possibly made in Ostrogothic Italy; it now has a neat Anglo-Saxon three-ribbed gold suspension loop which ensures that the emperor's face remains the right way up and engages the viewer directly.
The name Anastasius I already figures in the Anglo-Saxon records: silver tableware used as a diplomatic gift from this emperor found its way to the East Anglian royal court and was buried a century later in the great ship-burial at Sutton Hoo.
Stuart was seeking advice from the TimeLine Originals team on the identification of several of his coins and was delighted to hear that the gold coin-pendant was a significant find; they put him in touch with the local Finds Liaison Officer in order to set the wheels in motion for the legal recording of the find. The re-use of Roman coins in later centuries is a well-documented phenomenon. The imperial bust held an almost magical quality of authority and power in the post-Roman world, and indeed Roman medallions formed the models for a series of thin gold plates, "bracteates", worn by important Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon females on ceremonial occasions. The earliest forms (the "M" series) were direct copies of late Roman originals, but the type soon developed a whole series of variants which included a large male head perched on horseback, three figures side-by-side in a ceremonial setting and ultimately pure decorative ornament. Some of these coin-derived motifs appear to have been adapted to show scenes from Germanic mythology - Victoria with her laurel wreath mutates into Thor with his holy hammer, for example.
Stuart is now waiting to hear from the Portable Antiquities Scheme about his remarkable find. There are several similarly mounted coins in British museums of 6th or 7th century date, but this full-face bust is quite unusual. The Essex find-spot is no more than a day's ride from Sutton Hoo and the Anastasius I link may offer new insight into the links between East Saxon and East Anglian royalty in the 6th and 7th century.
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