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Symbols of Protection: The Significance of Animal-ornamented Shields in Early Anglo-Saxon England

Dickinson, Tania M.

Medieval Archaeology, pp. 109-163, (2005) 

Abstract

The significance of shields with animal ornament on the boss and/or board in early Anglo-Saxon society is sought in the coincidence of artefactual, stylistic and iconographic symbolism. Twenty shields buried in the 6th to earliest 7th century, together with seventeen further mounts which were probably originally designed for shields, form the basis of a systematic typological review; decoration in Salin’s Style I is emphasised. Analysis of dating, distribution and use in burial establishes cultural and social contexts. The meaning of the ornamental repertoire is sought through iconographic analogies, notably with Scandinavian bracteates and their putative association with a cult of Óðinn/Woden. It is proposed that the animal ornament invested the shields with a specific apotropaic quality, which emphasised, and amplified, the protective role of select adult males, and hence their authority over kin, community and even kingdom.

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