Unit FOUR: Early Medieval Art
C Purse cover, from the Sutton Hoo ship burial (Suffolk, England), c. 625, gold, glass, and enamel
cloisonné with garnets and emeralds
art of migratory people/ predatory subject matter/ interlaced pattern
1. “When Roman armies first ventured into Britain in 55-54 BCE, it was a well-populated, thriving agricultural land of numerous small
communities with close trading links to nearby regions of the European continent.
Like the inhabitants of Ireland and much of Roman
Gaul (modern France), the Britons were Celtic. (Welsh, Breton- the language of Brittany, in France- and the variants of Gaelic spoken in
Ireland and Scotland are all Celtic languages.) Following the Roman subjugation of the island in 43 CE, its fortunes rose and fell with
those of the empire.
Roman Britain experienced a final period of wealth and productivity from about 296 to about 370.
flourished during this period and spread to Ireland, which was never under Roman control” (Stokstad,
2. “The Roman army abandoned Britain in 406 to help defend Gaul against various Germanic peoples pushing into the empire across
the Rhine, leaving behind a power vacuum.
The historical record for the subsequent period is sketchy, but it appears that civil
disturbances erupted, the economy faltered, and large towns lost their commercial function and declined.
Powerful Romanized British
leaders took control of different areas, vying for dominance with the help of mercenary soldiers from the continent.
Angles, Saxons, and Jutes- soon began to operate independently, settling largely in the southeast part of Britain and gradually
extending their control northwest across the island.
Over the next 200 years the people under their control adopted Germanic speech
and customs, and this fusion of Romanized British and Germanic cultures produced a new Anglo-Saxon culture.
By the beginning of
the seventh century, several large kingdoms had emerged in Britain, and the arts, which had suffered a serious decline, made a brilliant
Celtic, Roman, and Germanic influences all contributed to vigorous new styles and techniques, especially in metalworking”
3. “Anglo-Saxon literature is filled with references to splendid and costly jewelry and military equipment decorated with gold and silver.
Leaders apparently gave such objects to their followers and friends, but few examples survive.
The Anglo-Saxon epic
composed perhaps as early as the seventh century, describes its hero’s burial with a hoard of treasure in a mound grave near the sea.
Such a grave, located near the North Sea coast in East Anglia at a site called
means ‘hill’), was discovered in 1938.
at Oseberg, the grave’s occupant had been buried in a ship.
His body had disintegrated and no inscriptions record his name” (485).
4. “The treasures buried with him confirm that he was, in any case, a wealthy