Hammerwich Treasure

Hammerwich Treasure
HAMMERWICH TREASURE. If you would like to receive the monthly emailed newsletter please email hamwildlife at talktalk dot net.

Hoard





 There are many conjectures as to why the Hammerwich Hoard was buried in a featureless field alongside Watling Street and well away from any known Saxon site. 
Theory 1.
Penda, the Mercian King at Tamworth and elsewhere, had alliances with Welsh warlords. He allied with Cadwallon to defeat the Northumbrian Edwin at the battle of Heathfield in 633. He joined Cynddylan, Prince of Powys, to defeat Oswald of Northumbria at the battle of Maserfelth in 642. According to the Welsh poem, Marwnad Cynddylan (Elergy of Cynddylan), Cynddylan might have been killed alongside Penda at their defeat in 655 at the battle of Winwaed and when the Northumbrians took revenge.
At some time between 642 and 655 (655 has been mentioned as the preferred date) there is a battle near the hoard site at Caer Lwytgoed, interpreted as “the fortification in the grey wood” and possibly located at Wall or Lichfield. It is logical to assume it was again a battle between the Mercians from Tamworth, allied with Cynddylan from Powys, against the Northumbrians coming south down Watling Street. (42 battles or skirmishes are known involving the Mercians and most are with the Northumbrians). In the poem Marwnad Cynddylan it is said “cattle and horses were captured in the presence of book clutching monks” and this suggests Lichfield was the site. Bishops are also mentioned. However, the earliest church at Lichfield, St Marys, is thought not to have been built until 656. Perhaps, this first church has a slightly earlier date.
The artwork of the hoard is virtually entirely Germanic and Saxon. (There is one possible Celtic, strictly Insular, motif). . Also there are no Christian motifs in the fighting pieces. This suggests most of the hoard was from a pagan army and thus it is probably Mercian. Perhaps, the hoard was captured from the Mercians and then somehow left behind when the victors fled.
The Welsh poem suggests Cynddylan’s brother, Morfael ap Glast, attacks Lichfield and takes extensive booty. Is this a renegade brother who is stealing from a Mercian location and either his brother or Penda catch up with him in Hammerwich and he is made to hide his booty and thus hide the fact he was responsible for the raid on Lichfield? If so the hoard belongs to Lichfield!
Another version has Cynddylan and Morfael against Penda and the Mercians without any mention of Northumbrians. 
(If ever Saxon material is found on or near the hoard site, this might add another complication. Namely, Hammerwich Saxons lived close by and perhaps are complicit in burying the hoard!)

The flaw in all this is the poem is probably a 9th century composition and therefore might be romanticing the history. Certain Christian biased additions have been added to the poem.

There is also the unknown of where the battle occurred. The evidence for Wall being close to the battle site is that it had a Roman fort or forts on the top of the hill above the mansio or villa, whereas Lichfield had no known fort. A now lost silver (?) bowl with a Chi-Rho symbol has been given as evidence for the early presence of monastics, but this is tenuous. The relationship between the Roman site and the establishment of the ecclesiastic Lichfield centre in the seventh century is also uncertain. If the Mercian/Welsh battle with the Northumbrians did occur near Wall and Watling Street the plunder of hoard must have occurred at Lichfield and was therefore a side show involving Morfael.
 
Theory 2.  In "British Archaeology" Jan/Feb2013 issue is a letter that suggests Ethelred, King of the Mercians, raids West Kent in 676AD and loots the hoard, possibly from Rochester. It is supported by the increasing amount of Saxon archaeology being uncovered in Kent, including two Saxon palaces.
 
Theory 3 and the one I support.
Penda is either killed or critically injured at the battle of "Winwaed" on 15th November 655AD. Winwaed is a river and is often placed close to Leeds, but this is very uncertain.
Penda's body is brought back to Tamworth by his defeated thegns and as soon as they reach his border area for the Tame sub-kingdom they bury his body. They bury it on a featureless spot in order to avoid Penda's enemies finding his body and dismembering it. According to Bede, Penda dispatched at least five kings; two Northumbrians and three East Angles and was probably implicated in the death of two others. Some (all?) of these kings were cut up and body parts separated. There was a belief a separated enemy could not return to exact revenge. The gold band with the latin inscription regarding the "scattering of your enemy and not appear in your face" hints at this important belief.
This featureless spot could also be a cross-roads between the Tame and Penk saxon tribes, between the Tamworth and north Mercians and even between Mercia and the path to Wales. Boundaries were very important to the Mercians.

The thegns add their burial offering of sword and knife hilts and perhaps also Penda's helmet, sword, seax and horse regalia. This is a personal tribute. Penda's way of maintaining loyalty from his thegns during his reign would be to offer warrior bling and therefore is this a way his army leaders pay back the tribute. There is nothing more personal than the weapon held in your hand.

The Christian pieces are not so easy to explain. Perhaps, the crumpled and broken crosses are added as a way to show that Penda was a pagan, but tolerated Christianity and may even have turned to God towards the end of his life. (He was at least 50years old and some have put him as much older). It could be tribute from bishops or senior monks that travelled with the army, despite the leader professing paganism.
 
This all means the hoard spot is Penda's grave. It is a burial grave not a site of loot.
This theory has not been considered enough. It is possibly testable by finding something in the hoard which could be personal to Penda. This means a motif or a special stud/piece which is so special it could only be ascribed to a warrior warlord of the highest level. There is more to be gained from interpreting the stylised motifs in the hilt pieces.

                            The artwork of the hoard
It is not uncommon for visitors to the Cathedral Chapter house to see the hoard exhibits, to spot the motif that resembles a Staffordshire Knot and then wrongly conclude that is where it came from. So it is not surprising for some people to conclude the interlaced designs on the hoard pieces are connected to the tangled designs on the Chad's gospels illuminated pages. This connection is, however, difficult to prove. 
The photo shows three pieces of the hoard above a section of the carpet page of Chad's gospels. 
The hoard pre-dates the gospels. The garnets and byzantium gold, together with some motifs, suggest a connection with the Germanic Ostrogoths and the Lombards that followed them. It could well have a southern Europe manufacture.
The Gospels, on the other hand, do have Celtic (strictly Insular) motifs and it is not surprising since the writer must have been trained or has been influenced by gospel writing in Northumbria or Iona or Ireland. It could well have been written in Mercia.
The interesting conjecture is did the Mercian kings influence the writing of the Gospels and its artwork.

Recent photographs from the metal detecting from Warwickshire Archaeology. November 2012.










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