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Gold bracteate

400/499

British Museum

British Museum

This early and unique bracteate was a stray find made by a farmer in Suffolk. The figural images were adapted from a Late Roman Urbs Roma coin of a type issued by Constantine the Great between AD 330 and 335. The coins have a helmeted head of the emperor on the obverse and Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf on the reverse, which the maker of this bracteate has conflated. Such coins were widely circulated and the artist must have copied an heirloom.

Above the two images is a double spiral followed by a runic inscription that can be transcribed as 'gæ go gæ – mægæ medu'. Recent research proposes that the these may be read as 'howling she-wolf' (a reference to the wolf image) and 'reward to a relative'. The runes are Anglo-Frisian and it is likely that the bracteate was made in Schleswig-Holstein or southern Scandinavia and brought to England by an Anglian settler. Short runic inscriptions such as this are typical of the use and extent of writing in the pre-literate Germanic societies. In early Anglo-Saxon England, even after the introduction of the Roman alphabet, runes continued to be used on a popular level for magical and amuletic inscriptions, as well as for sophisticated riddles.

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Details

  • Title: Gold bracteate
  • Date Created: 400/499
  • Physical Dimensions: Diameter: 2.30cm; Weight: 2.24grains
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: repouss
  • Subject: mammal; myth/legend; arms/armour; planet/constellation
  • Registration number: 1984,1101.1
  • Place: Found/Acquired Lakenheath. Found/Acquired Undley Common
  • Period/culture: Germanic; Early Anglo-Saxon
  • Material: gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Flack, A

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