A New Quoit Brooch Style Scabbard Mount from the PASPosted: August 15, 2013
PAS record number: SUR-029B13
Object type: Scabbard
Broadperiod: Early Medieval
County of discovery: Hampshire
Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/565209
Of the few items recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme decorated in Quoit Brooch Style (QBS), this recent find of a scabbard mount from Cheriton in Hampshire is without doubt the finest. Every object decorated in QBS is important because they are so rare: probably fewer than about 60 or so finds are known.¹ As the database record suggests, the best parallel for the little crouching beast is from the famous belt set from Mucking, grave 117, which sets the bar pretty high in terms of quality and also implies a remarkably early date at some point in the first half of the 5th century AD. A detailed description is given on the PAS website so I am not going to go into much technical detail, but rather take this opportunity to write about what I see as the significance of QBS.
Given the rarity of items that can be confidently dated to this dimmest of dark ages, there is a heavy weight resting upon the shoulders of QBS to tell us rather too much. While late Roman material fades out gradually from the end of the fourth century, most typically Germanic material arrives somewhere around the mid-late fifth century, leaving an approximately fifty-year hiatus to which we can date very little material indeed. QBS objects probably date within this period and most likely span the rest of the fifth century, though their dating evidence is pretty slim.
The PAS database record makes clear that QBS owes its greatest stylistic debt to Frankia. By now, I imagine that most would agree with this, but the situation is not quite that straightforward. Alternative origins have been put forward in the past, including sub-Romano-British, Jutish and Anglo-Saxon. Put simply, this is not simply a Frankish product shipped to British shores. I’m not sure if it’s terribly important to pin down and quantify these degrees of cultural influence. Of course, it is all useful information to consider, but it’s a highly subjective exercise. Opinion will always differ. Overall, QBS attests to hybrid cultural connections during this intensely transitional period.
Personally, I find rather more interest in the objects to which QBS was applied. The Cheriton mount, being sword equipment, is especially interesting. To my knowledge, the only other piece of sword equipment decorated with QBS is a chape mount from grave 31 at Brighthampton in Oxfordshire. The mount from Cheriton would have sat at the other end of the scabbard, edging the slot in which the hilt would have rested. Either way, these two examples from Cheriton and Brighthampton show an obvious connection between swords and belts, the latter being more commonly decorated in QBS. Both, however, were predominantly masculine items in the late Roman world.
At some point down the line, however, QBS began to be applied to brooches. Not just any brooches, but some of finest products of the first millennium, including the famous example from Sarre with its beautifully moulded doves. Whether these brooches were necessarily worn by women is open to question. This might indeed not be case during this early period. Nevertheless, most other Anglo-Saxon brooches featuring animal decoration were used by women.
The key point is that during the fifth century, animal decoration, a symbol previously of masculine military power, migrated onto feminine jewellery. QBS objects may well capture the moment of this transition in the products of a limited number of workshops, which to me is fascinating. It opens up a whole realm of presently unanswered questions. Did any of the martial symbolism carry over onto these brooches? Did they continue to be symbols of a violent male elite despite the fact they decorated female bodies? How did the relationships between men and women permit this leap from swords and belts to brooches? Answer these questions and I think we’d be considerably closer to understanding the role of women in the transformation of the late Roman world.