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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Staffordshire Hoard Again...

Just came across this, a piece on the Hoard by Jonathan Jarrett (currently of Oxford).

Now, I don't think the comments on the implications for army/battle-size are right.  We just don't know what the size of a kingdom's hearth troop was and to subordinate the implications of the hoard, which contains fittings from 80+ swords - a cold, hard fact - to an assumption drawn from lacunose written sources has to be a methodological mistake.  I think that this would be putting the cart before the horse.  The simple materiality of the hoard has to drive the way we think of generally ill-documented Anglo-Saxon armies, not the other way round.

In fact, the minimalist reading would read this as the loot from one encounter (not that that makes it the reading I'd stick by).  If you work through the logic that sees this as the accumulated loot from many battles you actually end up with much larger Anglo-Saxon armies.  I did this as an exercise and maybe if I can find the file I'll append the reasoning to this post, or edit it to include it.

All that said, I think Jarrett may very well have cracked the whole problem with his suggestion that this represents the gold fittings that a defeated army was forced to strip from its weapons.  I really like this idea and think that it makes more sense of the hoard and its composition than any other explanation that I have heard or read.  It might also make sense of its deposition (as I said before there are two aspects of the hoard: the find itself in context, i.e. the hoard qua hoard; and the individual artefacts that make it up, and their nature): a ritual destruction.  I'm not sure about the latter myself but I have to see it as a definite and intriguing possibility.

Either way, a 'trophy hoard' it still ain't.  (Unless the hoard qua hoard is, itself, a trophy)


  1. I suppose I should show up here as well now! Really enjoyed your presentation last night, Guy, not just for the cite but also because of the extra information that you were able to fit my idea into. I think I would very largely agree with you on most fronts now. (In fact I usually do!) My sense of army size is mainly a hangover from the Laws of Ine and too much Peter Sawyer when young. That said, I'd still be very interested to see the reasoning for the 'larger armies if it's an accumulation' argument unpacked, if you can find the file?

  2. File either deleted or accidently put in a folder with no obvious relevance! As I recall, the argument went along something like the following lines:
    Assume this is a single deposit, of one family's inherited stuff (all of it).

    Then go back three or four generations to cover the whole period covered by the dating of the objects.

    Assume equal, partible inheritance from one generation to the next.

    Assume that the person who acquired the earliest objects was the member of a Sawyer-ite 36-man army (an army size based on a misreading of Ine's Law in my view, but let's stick with it).

    Assume he had two sons; assume his son had two sons, his son in turn had two sons, etc. Each gets a half share of their father's loot.

    Assume a 25% extinction rate of male lines each generation across the families represented/founded by the original 36-man army. You could counter this by assuming the ennoblement of one successful follower per warrior per generation (or at least of a number equal to that of the losses), but I left this out of the equation to keep the assumed numbers constantly at a minimal level.

    Assume an equal and standard increase in the collection over time. You have to assume this acquisition as about 60-80 per generation in order to come at with 80 swords in one collection at the point that the hoard is deposited).

    So: Great-grandpa (the founder) has 1 sword to start off with and acquires 79, leaving 40 to each son. Grandpa inherits 40 an acquires 80. He leaves 60 to each son. Father inherits 60 and adds 80. He leaves 70 to each son. The hoard depositer acquires a further 10 before he deposits the hoard.

    Assuming that there were no ennoblements since the initial formation of the 36 man army, with the wastage of 25-33% per generation there'd still be 48 aristos. Each with (by the time of the hoard's deposition, assuming equal inheritance) 60-80 swords.

    Now, we are thus far assuming (to keep within the Sawyer-sized army size) that our thirty-five man army is butchering the equivalent of 60-80 like-sized armies per generation to keep up the in-flow of swords (!), keeping the ones that it acquires in a treasury (or smashing them up/melting them down) rather than using them to equip followers warbands *and* that the only swords in use are ones with nice decorated pommels.

    If we remove any or all of those assumptions, the army size by the time of hoard deposition mushrooms. 48 men with 50 swords each (say: less than I've been working with above, but to introduce a margin of error) means 2400 swords. Add an equal number of men with less fancy swords (or spears only) and you're up to 5000. Even in generation 1 there'd be 3600. If (as I would) you think the multiplier (decorated sword to non-decorated/spear only) would be higher then you'd soon be in positively Bachrachian territory! [I hope the mad bastard doesn't read this, or the Hoard will be evidnce for 30,000-man Anglo-Saxon armies...]

    You can play with these figures (as long as you remember that over 3/4 enerations you have to end up with the traces of 80 swords in the hands of one person/family) and reduce the assumptions but it is still difficult not to end up with army sizes in the low thousands - unless - as I said on Wednesday - you think this is pretty much the only such collection in existence. Even then, I'd say that even if these 80 fancy swords were the only ones in the kingdom, that has to imply an army of getting on for a thousand at the very least (and probably more than that). That's all in the original piece.

  3. I actually think 1000 or so is a plausible size for an unusually big royal army. Maybe we're just clashing over adjectives here. Given that the a big Viking warband might reach the low hundreds, says Sawyer, and they're only a part of a population's core military membership, I don't see why a big kingdom (even from earlier) shouldn't be able to raise two or three times that reasonably regularly. On the other hand, presumably not all of them would have this class of equipment. Or would they? One of the things the debate on Wednesday has left me wondering is what is the economic entry level to a warband. Maybe it's a lot higher than I had assumed and they might mostly have this sort of gear. Carolingian legislation might not be the best guide here, given the different underlying tax structures. But I'm whistling in the wind here, because you've done the messing with the sources and I haven't.

    As to the maths, I see, yes. That does assume that the accumulation is dynastic, not a king's tribute, though, doesn't it? If a king was taking half the fancy swords at every battle his army fought, handing out say half of those to followers and accumulating the rest--and what we've got is what was robbed off part of such a treasury--do the numbers need to be so high? Or the distribution at his death so total?

  4. I've edited this post because it was *much* too grumpy. I think I was very angry last Autumn term...


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