How will the Staffordshire Hoard impact our understanding of the Anglo-Saxons?

September 26th, 2009 by John Leave a reply »

With all the buzz about the Staffordshire Hoard (see also the NYT article on the find), it’s no wonder that people are drooling at the potential for an exponential improvement in our understanding of the Anglo-Saxons. But were the Anglo-Saxons really a bunch of brutes because most people don’t recognize their artistic achievements? Does that say more about their situation or ours? The Dark Ages weren’t “dark” because of them, but because we just don’t know much about them. It’s our ignorance, not theirs, that is demeaning their (and our!) history.

According to via The Dark Ages? Why Anglo-Saxon gold find means we must reassess period – mirror.co.uk:

…the discovery of the astonishing hoard of intricate and beautiful gold and silver trinkets in Staffordshire has at last shed some much-deserved sunlight on our Anglo Saxon ancestors. And the picture that emerges is not one of a backward, brutish race of ignorant illiterates. Instead we find a sophisticated poetry-loving people, skilled in metalwork, sculpture and embroidery who not only laid the foundation stones of modern society – but invented a concept of Englishness that still endures.

Really? Unfortunately, it’s a poor beginning to what is, on the whole, a well written and insightful article.

The Anglo-Saxons had a rich (though compact) poetic record which is largely compiled in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, among other works. The language is rich and vibrant, able to convey strong emotions and beautiful concepts. Their concept of history is thoroughly recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, a type of medieval blog, with regular entries highlighting historic events by date. The non-fiction works range from convicting religious sermons to translations of Latin volumes. Fiction ranged from poetry (including some clever and deceptive riddles and the famous The Dream of the Rood and historical works on famous battles (like The Battle of Brunanburh)) to complex verse (including a number of Biblically-inspired poems like Judith, besides the venerable Beowulf).

Just because you don’t know it, don’t knock it. See for yourself how rewarding a knowledge of Old English can be: Wikipedia, UVA, and the Labyrinth Library.

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