KAS Curator Andy Ward shares an exceptional Frankish buckle now in the KAS collections at Maidstone Museum.
Posted 6th August 2023
The KAS recently received a research enquiry from Vienna, from a researcher studying Globasnitz Ostrogothic cemetery in Carinthia, Austria. She had come across an old published photograph of a buckle from Bifrons Anglo-Saxon cemetery, part of the KAS Collection, which seemed to be the only good counterpart to an example at Globasnitz. She was keen to get more information about the find and its context and a better photograph. Her particular interest is in the buckle itself, rather than its decorative fittings.
This enquiry gave us a good excuse to take the buckle out of storage at Maidstone Museum and to take some photos.
Bifrons cemetery was discovered in 1866, when about eighteen graves were disturbed during tree-planting on the estate of the Marquess of Conyngham. Lord Conyngham informed the KAS and gave permission for excavation; this was directed by Thomas Godfrey-Faussett, who opened and examined around 100 graves. Faussett was a very good and conscientious excavator for his time; although he did not record the graves themselves, he made observations about the extent and nature of the cemetery, the orientation of the graves and the positioning of grave goods. He provided an inventory of all the graves opened, basic information on the occupants and the personal items that accompanied them. These are published in Archaeologia Cantiana volumes 10 and 13.
Unfortunately, Lord Conyngham’s gamekeeper also fancied himself as an excavator and opened an unknown number of graves “with great care and attention, and getting together a very pretty collection” for his lordship. These items (the Conyngham Collection) of which this buckle is one, have no contextual information whatsoever as no records were kept.
This iron buckle, no 130 in the Conyngham Collection, now dull and brown, would once have gleamed silver. It is described as follows in Sonia Chadwick Hawkes’ reassessment of the assemblage:1
Iron buckle, plate and counterplate, inlaid with silver. Max. length 8.5 cm. Loop kidney-shaped, inlaid on upper surface with hammered silver wires and strips: on loop, groups of transverse strips alternating with panels of wire lattice forming a close silver mesh; on tongue, transverse strips.
Plates rectangular, decorated with die-stamped repoussé silver plates, riveted at corners. In centre of each, occupying its entire length, is the full-face bust of a man, with nose and staring circlet eyes set high in a lantern-jawed visage, beneath hair dressed either in a long bob with curled ends, or in short pigtails: he seems to be clothed in a mantle, depicted by vertical beading, which hangs open on chest to reveal a high-necked garment, on which the pattern is horizontal. Confronted against the head on either side are small rampant lions, above the backs of which hover birds with long tails, outspread wings and stiffly stretched feet, and under the bellies of which are back-turned quadrupeds with tail and horns or pricked ears. These animals, like the man, are portrayed in crudely naturalistic style.
At top and bottom of plates on either side of figure are narrow panels marked off with beaded borders: in lower panel, on either side of body, are S-scrolls; in upper panel, on either side of head, is a Latin inscription which reads VIVAT QVI FECIT, 'Long live the man who made (me)'. Frankish.
We look forward to any new information our Austrian colleague can provide.
- 1“The Anglo-Saxon cemetery of Bifrons, in the parish of Patrixbourne, East Kent” by Sonia Chadwick Hawkes, in Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History Vol. 11 edited by David Griffiths.