How useful are brooches in tracing the movements of the Germanic peoples in the Migration period ?
Brooches of the Anglo-Saxons were made mainly of Iron or bronze, perhaps gilded, with more precious metals or sometimes made of precious metals In addition to the decorations stamped or moulded into the metal they could be enamelled or inlaid, in some cases, with gems such as garnet and lapis. The pin was generally of iron.
Much of the information about brooches comes from those in female graves. It appears to have been common practice for the women of the Anglo-Saxon peoples to wear a brooch on each collar bone area. This is presumed to have fastened the peplos or tube style dress. A third is often worn centrally. This may have been used to secure a cloak, to keep the arrangement in place when breast feeding or simply to balance the 'pull down' on the back of the neck from brooches and beads. It should be noted that although the brooches are often referred to as a 'pair' it is common for them to be an unmatched 'pair' in England, particularly earlier in the period, this may be due to less trade or changes in fashion. Continental evidence shows a higher incident of true pairs.
Typically female brooches of differing types are found in specific areas consistent with that type. On the rarer occasions where they are found elsewhere it may be the woman in question married away from her home group. Early in the period same types can be seen both on the continent and in England.
This evidence tends to suggest, quite strongly, that there were differing cultural groups within the larger group we know as the Anglo-Saxons each of whom settled and propagated within defined areas.
Further brooch groups show evidence of Romano British craftsmanship and as the period progresses the Germanic influences on these types can be seen in their development, suggesting interaction of the two groups. Brooch styles were under constant development and the degree of isolation of groups from each other in England and from their homelands on the Continent can be seen reflected in the style development. Later types show developments exclusive to England. These groups appear to have been influenced by both the native styles and styles from other neighbouring areas. As time progresses there is a noticeable decrease in homeland elements, particularly in relation to decoration. The overall shape of the brooch being somewhat slower to change.
Below is a brief description of the main types and their areas of distribution.
Equal Arm Brooches-This was mainly a Continental fashion, seen in early times only thought to be a style worn by settlers only. They were made originally in Northern Germany, only a few seem to have been made in England. Approx. 8cm arms. The two shown here are ones I have copied from photographs of originals, mine are sand cast in bronze.
The top brooch is based on one from Berinsfield, Oxon grave 8. The bottom is based one from one at Little Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire grave 35 and may represent a transitory form of Equal arm and Quoit. These are typically found in Anglian areas and later developments of Anglian forms eg Cruciform share elements.
Supporting Arm- Are rare in England and tend to be found in Eastern parts, again thought to be brooches brought by the migrants. Continentally they tend to be found between the lower reaches of the Elbe and Wester. Typically L 3.5-4.5cm W 2.5-3cm.
Openwork Disc Brooches The style illustrated appears to have been concentrated in the Nene Valley area. It is a reproduction similar to one found in Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire. It is 5.5cm diameter. Other designs have heart shaped cut outs or form a cruciform with a central perforation.
Penannular Brooches-The use of penannular(meaning almost a circle) brooches in Britain predates the annular by several centuries, first being seen in the Iron Age . It remained popular throughout the Romanized period, but flourished particularly in Scotland and Ireland, where more decorative zoomorphic styles can be seen. However it was also seen in the Anglo Saxon homelands. Indigenous production is possible and some seen in museums may in fact be of Romano-British origin.
Annular Brooches-These brooches are modest versions of the Quoit brooches, as seen in 5th Century Kent. These are generally flat, and may be of cast construction or made from a forged strip with the ends rivetted together. Later brooches of this type have a axis to which the pin is attached. This type is found exclusively in women's graves from the 5th(rare finds) to the 7th century. The distribution is most heavy in Anglian areas, particularly the Northumbrian Angles, but extends from Yorkshire through to the Upper Thames Valley and to Kent. Parallels are seen in Northern Germany and Southern Scandinavian sites.
Great Square Headed Brooches-These brooches were first seen in England towards the end of the 5th Century. Generally they are in the minority of finds in any cemetery, suggesting that they were worn by the prominent families within a rural group. Often they can lack the finesse of their smaller counterparts, but the original shown below certainly is of excellent craftsmanship. Although Kent was strongly influential in the development of this type, it is also believed that both Anglian and Saxon influenced its development. It had a short popularity waning at the end of the third quarter of the sixth century.
Quoit- An early style, possibly influenced by Sub Romano-British craftsmen following the designs of Romano British Quoit belt buckles. Combines annular and penannular elements
Disc(simple)-first appeared South of the Thames valley in Saxon areas then spread North & East into Cambridge and South Midlands. These tend to be uniform in size, typically 3.6cm diameter. There are no obvious continental prototypes for this form. The study of these types suggests an influence flowing from the south rather that the other way as was once thought.
Cruciform -Particularly popular in Anglian areas. Often stylised horses head at narrow end. Probably initially made by Lost wax casting, as no two are identical in early forms. Later when true pairs are seen it is possibily cast by a secondary wax model. They tended to be seen singularly at the breast.
Saucer- 450-550 Most Popular in Saxon areas, although seen in Anglian areas, worn mainly by women.
Radiate head and inlaid disc- Largely Kent area, Jutish. Originating in a Frankish design with widespread manufacture in South East England. At the height of its popularity was in the 6th century. Typically 2.9cm. Radient head illustrated.
Long Brooches- Common in early periods and later, everywhere, fairly simple possibly a safety pin variety. They are low grade castings in general, with basic ornamentation. Typically 2.4cm
Zoomorphic- Kentish mainly. Typically of birds 1cm
Button Brooch- This appears to be usually a mens style. It appears to be seen in most areas, it tends to feature a stylised face. 0.75-1cm. They are rarely worn in positions typical of women's brooch forms
In has also been shown that the bronze/brass alloy of these items varies from brooch to brooch and shows no correlation between brooch types. This tends to suggest that the brooches were made of recycled metal combinations from whatever was available to the craftsman, rather than traded specific metals. This may suggest an activity that was made as demand required, rather than a situation where brooches were made as stock.
In conclusion a thorough study of both brooch types and decoration can be useful in drawing conclusions about which groups of continental Germanics, settled in influential groups in which areas of England, the continuing development can also indicate the integration with native and neighbouring groups and the movement of artistic influence outside the original area of settlement.
Primarily the greatest knowledge from brooch types for this period is for the movement and settlement of the women of the Anglo-Saxons. The vast majority of types were worn by women. It has been suggested that Anglo-Saxon women did not enter the migration and that the men married into the native population of England. However the great variety of female cultural elements, seems to be possible only if the women were present. The likelihood of such a solid continuance and development of a cultural tradition such as this, without the interaction of a majority of women born into that identity seems unlikely, necessitating a majority of men insisting that their native wives wore cultural elements replicating the Germanic homeland. Few cultural studies show such an intense conscience view of female fashion elements from men.
In the study of these artifacts the strong cultural identity can hardy be overlooked and is when applied and cross referenced with other elements, is potentially extremely useful in tracing the movements of the Germanic people in the Migration period.
Ager Barry The Alternative Quoit Brooch: An update in Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries Alan Sutton 1991
Ager Barry M The Smaller Varients of the Anglo Saxon Quoit brooch Anglo-Saxon studies in Archaeology & History 1985
Avent Richard and Evison V Anglo-Saxon Button Brooches Archaeologia CVII 1982
Brooks D A The theory and methology of classification of the fith and sixth century AD in Anglo Saxon England with Reference to the Great Square headed brooches University of London 1994
Cook The Anglo Saxon Cemetery at Fonaby Lincolnshire History & Archaeology 1981
Dickenson Tania M On the Origins and Chronology of the Early Anglo Saxon Disc Brooch BAR 1979
Dickinson Tania M Early Saxon Saucer Brooches: A Preliminary Overview Anglo-Saxon studies in Archaeology & History 1987
East Anglian Archaeology Morning Thorpe Anglo Saxon Cemetery Norfolk Vol I & II 1987
Evison Vera I Supporting arm and equal arm brooches in England Studien zur Sachsenforschung 1977
Evison V Quiot Brooch style Buckles Antiq. Journal 48, 1968
Jessup Ronald Anglo-Saxon Jewellery Faber & Faber mcml
Leigh David Aspects of Early Brooch design and Production in Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries Alan Sutton 1991
Longley David The Anglo-Saxon Connection BAR 1975
MacGregor Arthur and Bolick Ellen A Summery Catalogue of the Anglo-Saxon Collections (Non-Ferrous Metals) BAR (no date on my copy)
Mayes & Dean The Anglo Saxon Cemetery at Baston Lincolnshire History & Archaeology 1976
Mortimer Catherine Chemical Composition of Anglo-Saxon Brooches in the Ashmolean Collections in A Summery Catalogue of the Anglo-Saxon Collections (Non-Ferrous) Metals BAR (no date on my copy)
Owen Crocker Gale Dress in Anglo-Saxon England 1986
Welch Martin Anglo-Saxon England English Heritage 1992