1.2.2 Visigoths (415-711) and Vikings/Norse (700-1125)

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Alaric II ring and coin
Belt Buckle
Ashburnham Pentateuch
Eagle Fibulae
King Recceswinth’s votive crown
San Pedro de la Nave, capital
Hermitage Santa Maria, frieze
Treasures of Torrendojimeno
Sarcophagus with Virgin and Child
Hunterston brooch
Oseberg – Gripping Beast
Oseberg Boat and detail
Borre – Disc Brooch and Gaut’s Cross
Jellinge – Cup
Vale of York hoard
Mammen – Axe head
Mammen – Sammin Casket
Ringerike – Vane and Runestone
Urnes – Door relief

VISIGOTHS (415-711):

The Visigoths were an early Germanic people who, together with the Ostrogoths, represented the two Goth political entities within the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. They had emerged from earlier Gothic groups who moved into the Roman Empire from 376 CE and had played a role in defeating the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in 378.

Their first leader, Alaric I, invaded Italy and sacked Rome in 410. But, thereafter they began settling down within the Roman Empire in southern Gaul and Hispania. Here, they founded the Visigothic Kingdom, with their capital in Toulouse. The Franks drove them out of ‘France’ in 507 and contained them largely in ‘Spain’ based on Toled’. Their kingdom existed there until 711, when they were defeated and displaced by the Moors.

Goths and their sacking of Rome tends to give a barbarian image to them. But they were Arian Christians. In 589 Reccared I converted them to Nicene Christianity. In 654 they established the Visigothic Code that abolished different laws for Romans and Goths, declaring both as Hispani. This Code was the basis of court procedure until the late Middle Ages.


Alaric II was king of the Visigoths, succeededing his father Euric in 484. He married Theodegotha, daughter of Theodoric, Ostrogothic king of Italy. He ruled over Aquitaine, Languedoc, Roussillon, western Spain. As an Arian Christian he established the Catholic council at Agde in 506, which established the Lex Romana Visigothorum, a code for coexistence with his Catholic subjects. But Clovis the Frankish King saw his Ariansim as cause for war and a resulting battle near Poitou was a Frank victory. The images show Alaric II on a gold coin and on a gold ring.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: metmuseum.org

This belt buckle dated to 55-600 is ornate to proclaim the status of its wearer. The use of inset glass and stone was popular with Visigoth women. This buckle is unusual in that it also uses lapis lazuli, more of a Byzantine approach.
This is Folio 6r of the late 6th-early 7th c Ashburnham Pentateuch, an illuminated manuscript in Latin. The Pentateuch is Moses first five books of the Old Testament. This folio illustrates the story of Cain and Abel. In total it has 142 folios and is thought originally to contain sixty-eight full-page miniature illustrations (37 x 32 cm); 52 of them were removed to create a cycle of wallpaintings at St Julian church in Tours. The manuscript was stolen from the library at Tours and sold by the thief to the Earl of Ashburnham; he returned it in 1888, today it is at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

These 6th c fibulae (a brooch or pin used to fasten garments) were found at Badajoz, Extremadura Spain. Eagles were popular motifs for the Visigoths in Spain.
The Treasure of Guarrazar, was found at Guadamur, Toledo Spain. It was composed of twenty-six votive crowns and gold crosses. The image shows the late 7th c Votive crown of Visigoth King Recceswinth. It was fabricated with gold and precious stones, including blue sapphires from Sri Lanka.
This is a votive offering in the form of a crown, it was designed to be suspended by chains at an altar, shrine or image. The Visigoths offered these to the Catholic Church in Spain to achieve some degree of peace between their religions.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

San Pedro de la Nave is an early medieval church in El Campillo, Zamora Spain. it is one of the oldest churches in Spain and is being considered for World Heritage Site status. Its two distinctive features are a wide ashlar frieze of circles containing images of flora and fauna. This image shows the capital of a column, this one shows the Sacrifice of Isaac, others show Daniel in the Lions’ Den

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Detail of frieze at the Hermitage of Santa Maria de Lara. This is one of the last surviving Visigoth churches on the Iberian Peninsula, located near the village of Quintanilla de las Viñas, close to Burgos.

It is believed to contain the earliest representation of Christ in Spanish religious art, it became a national monument in 1929.
The Visigothic treasure of Torredonjimeno was found by chance in the year 1926 buried in an olive grove near Jaén, Spain. Several hundred fragments of gold objects and gems were found, considered to be from several votive crowns and crosses. The treasure may be chronologically from the same period as the Guarrazar Treasure but the pieces were less technologically made.
Image source; dreamstime.com

Image source: ipernity.com
Visigothic Sarcophagus depicting the Virgin and Child Enthroned in the Cloisters.

VIKINGS (700-1125):

Vikings were seafaring peoples from Scandinavia who plundered, traded and settled widely in Europe, to Iceland and Greenland to the west and to Arabia and Iran to the east. They have been shown to have reached America and were also the basis of the Normans in NW France.

When not pillaging they were farmers and crftsmen, they fished and they traded. They had their own laws and arts. they spoke Old Norse and wrote/inscribed in runes.

Viking art went through six main phases – Oseberg c775-875; Borre c850-975; Jellinge c900-975; Mammen c960-1025; Ringerike c990-1050; Urnes c1050-1125.


Image source: nms.ac.uk

This Hunterston Brooch was found at Hunterston in Ayrshire Scotland in the 1830s. It is dated to 700 CE, which predates any of the Viking styles (see above). Yet, it is a very attractive casting of silver, which was mounted with gold, silver and amber decorations.

Image source: smarthistory.org

Oseberg Style takes its name from the Oseberg Ship grave, a well-preserved and highly decorated 21m long longship discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg Norway.
The Oseberg ship itself is decorated in the style of animal interlace.
It is on show today at the Viking Ship Museum, Bygdøy.

Image source: viking.archeurope.com

A key theme in Oseberg art is the ‘gripping beast’ motif and the depiction of sinuous animals. The beasts’ paws grip the borders around it. These bronze bridle mounts from a grave at Broa, Gotland show this motif.
The Borre style is named for a set of bronze bridle-mounts from a ship burial at Borre in Vestfold, Norway. While using the ‘gripping beast’ motif, it added a ribbon shaped body with a triangular head with protruding ears.
The images show a 9th/10th c silver disc brooch in the Borre style. Animals with their tongues licking their backs,and four human figures facing the centre and gripping strange protrusions from their necks. It has an 8cm diameter and is on show at the British Museum.
The lower image is of Gaut’s Cross discovered on the Isle of Man, Gaut Bjørnson inscribed several stones on the island c900.

Image source: smarthistory.org

Image source: viking.archeurope.com

Image source: viking.archeurope.com

The Jellinge style is named after an animal ornament on a cup found at the royal burial mound at Jellinge, Denmark, It is thought to be the burial of King Gorm dated 958/959.

The Jellinge cup is decorated with S-shaped animals with their heads in profile and with ribbon-shaped bodies, spiral hips, ‘pigtails’ and curling upper lips.
The Vale of York Hoard, aka the Harrogate Hoard was found in 2007. It cosisted of 617 silver coins and 65 other items. These had come from continental Europe, Ireland, Scandinavia, North Africa, Afghanistan, Russia, Samarkand and Uzbekistan, illustrating the extent of their travels and trade. The coins date it from the late 9th to early 10th c and no overall style.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: smarthistory.org

The Mammen styles comes from a small, decorated axe-head from a grave in Mammen, Denmark.
The Axe is inlaid with silver in a foliate pattern. On the side shown in the image is a bird, its body thicker than the ribbon-like bodies of the Jellinge style. At the top of the axe is a human face mask with round eyes, a large nose and a spiral beard.
The lower image is of a rune stone relief in the Mammen style, dated to 970-986. It is said to have been raised by King Bluetooth and has a great beast motif.
This is a replica of the Mammen-style Cammin Casket dated to c1000. It was found in Kamen Pomorski, Poland. The original disappeared during WWII from Hamburg Archaeological Museum.
Image source: smarthistory.org

Image source: viking.archeurope.com

Image source: smarthistory.org

The Ringerike style is named after a series carved stones in the Ringerike district of Norway. This was it became more common to erect stone monuments.
Ringerike animals are thinner and more curvaceous; their bodies are no longer decorated inside; the eyes are almond-shaped not round, the tendrils get thinner and longer.
The top image is the Heggen weathervane with Great Beast motif and Ringerike style.
The bottom image is a Ringerike runestone found in St Paul’s Churchyard, London.
The Urnes style, the last phase of Viking art, takes its name from the carved wooden doors of the Urnes Stave church, Norway c1132.
The style is a refinement of the Ringerike style and uses an interplay of curving lines for its effect.

Image source: smarthistory.org

This coloured image shows the Great Beast (blue), a snake-like animal (green) and the ribbon (red).

Image source: viking.archeurope.com

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Back to 1.2.1 Early Christian and Anglo Saxon – Back to 1.2 Medieval

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