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The Staffordshire (Ogley Hay) hoard: problems of interpretation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015

Leslie Webster
Former Keeper, Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG, UK (Email:
Christopher Sparey-Green
Patrick Périn
Directeur du musée d'Archéologie nationale et Domaine national de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 2 Rue Thiers, 78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France (Email:
Catherine Hills
Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, CambridgeCB2 3DZ, UK (Email:
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The hoard presents us with a startling number of unfamiliar images from the Anglo-Saxon past, not least in the new icon of treasure that it presents. As the descriptions of treasure and gift-giving in Beowulf so vividly remind us, the gaining of treasure, and its corollary, gift-giving, were major preoccupations for Anglo-Saxons and their northern European contemporaries, whether Clovis, showering the crowds in Tours with gold solidi when he was created consul in 508, Oswiu attempting to buy off Penda before the Battle of Winwæd with what Bede (HE III.24; Colgrave & Mynors 1969: 288–91) described as an incalculable and incredible store of royal treasures or the huge Danegelds extorted by Vikings in the tenth and early eleventh century. But until July 2009, the picture presented by the archaeological evidence for Anglo-Saxon treasure could hardly have been more different: the material remains of treasure with which we are familiar come overwhelmingly from high-status burials, or as individual gold finds without context, most of them the result of relatively recent metal-detecting activity. Only one seventh-century Anglo-Saxon gold hoard exists, from Crondall in Hampshire, dated to c. 640; but that is essentially a coin hoard, the only non-numismatic items two small clasps which must have fastened the purse or satchel containing the coins.

Research article
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd 2011


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