Viking Jewellery | Saxon Jewellery | Ancient Jewellery History
The history here is about Viking jewelry and Saxon jewelry other post-medieval jewellery.
Saxon and Viking Jewellery
The tastes of the Anglo-Saxons were never very different from tastes on the mainland in Europe. Amongst all the descendents of the northern tribes that the Romans had called barbarian, there was great admiration for artistic workmanship in saxon jewellery and viking jewellery.
There was a view that this interest in gold was a basic element of barbarian taste. The barbarians, it was thought, were concerned with amazing by the costliness rather than to attract by comeliness: to astonish rather than to charm. Certainly, in the Anglo-Saxon culture, as in others, the costliness of gold jewelry was part of its attraction.
Bronze, gold, and silver saxon jewelry and viking jewelry. Bronze was most common, while gold and silver were usually for those of higher status
Necklaces were often adorned with beads, precious stones, pendants, and crosses. Rock crystal pendants were believed to have special properties in the eyes of pagan Saxons.
Brooches were used to fasten clothing together, such as cloaks.
After iron, bronze was probably the commonest metal used by the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin (and sometimes a small amount of lead). It was used for making a wide variety of objects but was especially common for jewellery such as brooches, buckles, belt ends, dress pins and rings. Making bronze items was a difficult and complex craft carried out by specialists. Once the copper ore was dug out of the ground the copper had to be separated from the waste material. This was done by smelting the ore in a furnace with sand and charcoal. When the temperature inside the furnace reached about 1100°C (by pumping with hand bellows) the copper melted and flowed to the bottom where it was drawn out and cast into ingots.
Crafting the Saxon Jewellery or Viking Jewellery
When the craftsman had his copper ingots there were several ways he could make the finished casting. Sometimes, if he wanted to produce a lot of similar items he would make a model of the item in wood or lead alloy and make a clay mould from this, or make an antler mould by carving directly into the antler. From these moulds he could then cast waxes to use as the masters for the bronze casting. If he wanted to make a one off casting of viking jewellery for instance he made a model of the object he wanted to cast out of wood or beeswax. If he used wood he would press the wood into clay to make the shape he wanted. Once the clay had been fired and the wood had burned away he could use it as a mould. If he was using wax he would wrap the wax model in clay (leaving a spout through which he could later pour the molten metal) and dry the clay by firing or leaving it somewhere warm and dry.
This heating would melt the wax and allow it to be poured off, leaving a hollow mould. Having made the mould, the smith took enough copper to make the object and melted it in a clay crucible. To turn it to bronze he added about 10% tin (and sometimes some lead, to make the molten metal flow better) to the molten copper. He then poured this into the mould to achieve the object he wanted (if there was still any wax in the mould the hot bronze would melt it out). When the bronze had cooled the mould was broken open and the cast object was taken out. If the object had not cast properly it could be remelted and used for a later casting. If it was good it was cleaned up, polished, and used. Moulds could also be made by carving out of stone, usually soapstone or slate.
Some of these stone moulds were quite detailed, often in two halves, others were much cruder one part moulds. These one piece stone moulds were often used for ingot moulds. Sometimes items were cast as blanks, usually in a clay or stone mould, although an iron mould has been found in York. These blanks would then be cleaned up and be decorated by engraving or punching. Objects were also made out of bronze wire or by cutting sheets of bronze to the right shape and stamping designs into the surface with iron tools. Bronze was even used to cover iron objects. This was done by coating the object with tallow and then applying bronze foil over this. If the item was hollow it was then filled with charcoal. The object was then covered in clay and placed in a fire. Bellows were used to raise the temperature of the fire so that the bronze melted and coated the surface of the object. This made items more decorative and prevented rusting. Bronze (and sometimes gold and silver) foils were sometimes embossed with a bronze die. These foils could then be attached to other items for decoration.
The best known examples of these are probably the saxon jewellery and helmet plates from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk and Valsgarde in Sweden. These foils were sometimes tinned or silvered. These foils were also often used to support elaborate filigree work. Sometimes bronze wire was used to decorate iron objects by cutting a channel in the iron with an engraving tool and then hammering the wire into the channel.
Apart from iron and bronze, the Saxons and Vikings made use of other metals, mainly for jewellery. The most widely used of these were silver, pewter and gold. Silver was a popular metal for jewellery such as brooches, rings, strap ends, buckles, mounts for drinking horns and, of course, for money. Silver jewellery was made in much the same way as bronze jewellery was. However, a popular way of finishing silver jewellery was to rub a black paste, called niello ( silver sulphide ), into the design to give a stark contrast to the shiny silver. Iron objects were also inlaid with silver to decorate them, or sometimes were completely covered in silver. Some silver jewellery was further enhanced by gilding ( applying gold foil ) all or part of the surface. As well as silver ingots, either mined and cast into ingots or traded for, much of the raw material the silversmith used came in the form of 'hacksilver'. Hacksilver was basically scrap, and usually consisted of old and damaged silver objects, coins (often foreign), etc..
Silver arm and neck rings were common in Viking jewelry - The Vikings were particularly fond of these. They were produced either by plaiting and twisting silver wire or by hammering out a band from an ingot and punching it with decorative iron punches. Coins were made by moniers who were granted a special licence from the king. To make a coin the monier would take a disc of silver of the correct weight and place it between two pieces of steel which had been engraved with the design required on the coin. He would then hit the top piece of steel with a heavy hammer and the design would be stamped onto the silver.
Gold was used mainly for Saxon jewellery and Viking jewellery and was made in the same way as bronze jewellery, although granulation and filigree work was often used to enhance gold jewellery. Gold jewellery was often inset with precious or semi-precious stones such as garnet. Gold was also used to gild other metals to create the impression that the object was actually made of gold, or to add a contrasting colour. Several gilding techniques were in use, and mercury, used in fire-gilding, has been excavated at York and Hedeby. Much gold and silver was used in the production of ecclesiastical items such as altar-crosses, reliquaries, portative altars, etc.. Gold and silver were also used to make thread for embroidery and braid weaving, often also ecclesiastical in nature. Pewter was used to make cheap jewellery and was usually cast in moulds made from antler, although stamped pewter jewellery was also made. Jewellery making was a specialist craft, and was frequently carried out at royal manors under royal patronage.
Middle Eastern Jewelry
This funnel ring originated in the former Persia area where rings were worn by both men and women. The Achaemenid Persian empire dominated the Near East. Because of its great size, a wide variety of styles and art forms existed throughout the empire. Nonetheless, elements were drawn together from various eastern and western cultures to create an artistic style that is distinctly Achaemenid. An innovation of the period is the introduction of western-style metal finger rings, which begin to replace both stamp and cylinder seals such as this.
Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian tombs of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC have yielded a great quantity of headdresses, necklaces, earrings, and animal amulet figures in gold, silver, and gems. A well-known example is a royal diadem from Ur made in the shape of thin gold beech leaves (British Museum, London). Fine gold and silver jewelry was also made in ancient Anatolia, Persia, and Phoenicia. Techniques included granulation (in which surfaces are decorated with clusters of tiny grains of gold), filigree, inlaid gems, and cloisonné and champlevé enamel. Evidence of Egyptian influence on Phoenician work and of Mesopotamian styles on Persian work suggests widespread trade or other contact.
The ancient Egyptians were familiar with most of the processes of ornamenting metal that are still employed today. They produced skillfully chased, engraved, soldered, repoussé, and inlaid jewelry. They commonly worked in gold and silver and inlaid these metals with semiprecious stones such as carnelian, jasper, amethyst, turquoise, and lapis lazuli and with enamel and glass. Their jewelry included diadems; wide bead necklaces or collars; square pectorals; hoop, hinged, or bead bracelets; and rings. Many Egyptians wore two bracelets on each arm, one on the wrist and one above the elbow. An especially popular ornament was the signet ring. Jewelry motifs-the scarab (beetle), lotus, falcon, serpent, and eye, for example-were derived from religious symbols. Vast quantities of jewelry have been found in tombs. Especially notable are ornaments from the tomb of Tutankhamun (reigned 1333-1323 BCbc), of the 18th Dynasty, now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Trojan and Cretan artisans of the Minoan period, although working at opposite ends of the Aegean region, executed earrings, bracelets, and necklaces of a common type that persisted from about 2500 BC to the beginning of the Classical period of Greek art (479-323 BC). Typical work consisted of thin coils and chains of linked and plaited wire, and thin foil formed into petals and rosettes. Stamping and enameling were common. Free use was also made of gold granulation and filigree. Stone inlay was rare. Prevailing motifs were spirals and naturalistic patterns drawn from cuttlefish, starfish, and butterflies.
Archaic Greek jewelry and Etruscan and other Italian jewelry made in the period between 700 and 500 BC was almost entirely inspired by Egyptian and Assyrian examples imported by Phoenician merchants (see Etruscan Civilization). The techniques remained fundamentally the same as in the preceding period; embossed or stamped plates were the basic element in the work; granulation continued to be employed and was refined by Etruscan artists to an extraordinary degree. Representative of the period is a handsome Greek necklace from Rhodes that consists of seven rectangular gold plaques bearing winged figures in relief and edged with gold balls (7th century BC, British Museum).
In the Classical period of Greek art, granulation fell out of use, enamel reappeared, and filigree was widely employed. The style was characterized by delicacy and refinement. Plaited gold necklaces were decorated with flowers and tassels; hoop earrings with filigree disks and rosettes became popular. In the succeeding Hellenistic period (323-31 BC), pendant vases, winged victories, cupids, and doves became common motifs. At the same time, an important innovation was the introduction of large colored stones, especially garnets, at the center of designs. This scheme was further elaborated by the Romans, who used a variety of stones and set them in rows bordered with pearls. In Rome, enameling was common, and the art of cameo cutting reached its peak of virtuosity. Cameos, often of great size, were produced in large numbers. A fashionable form of jewelry was the fibula, a brooch resembling a safety pin. Rings were extremely popular, and at the height of the empire they were often worn on all ten fingers. Exotic ornaments made of amber were also in great demand. Toward the end of the Roman Empire, beginning in the 3rd century AD, necklaces and bracelets were formed of gold coins set in elaborate mountings of arcaded patterns; the classical style died out.