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Germanic Legend Panel from the Franks Casket

Germanic Legend Panel from the Franks Casket

The Cipherment of the Franks Casket

In 1857 the antiquarian and prodigious benefactor Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks lighted on a small, odd-looking whalebone box in an antique shop in Paris. He purchased it immediately, having recognized that the box was of Anglo-Saxon origin, and donated it to the British Museum some years later it would come to be known as "the Franks Casket" in his honor.

It was immediately recognized as a very singular piece, and one of singular importance (not merely to Anglo-Saxon studies). The unknown medieval artist who wrought the Franks Casket carved it intricately with scenes from myth and legend originating in different traditions -- Roman, Germanic, and Christian -- but perhaps quite at home in a culture as composite as that of Anglo-Saxon England. Framing these panel-pictures, or within them, are inscriptions that alternate between Latin and runic Anglo-Saxon, and it has been (rightly) taken for granted that they explain or describe the artwork in some way.

In general, however, too much has been taken for granted with respect to the casket over the past 150 years, and while scholars have made some important steps toward its understanding, ill attention has generally been paid the crucial details of the artwork, while linguistic problems with certain of the casket's captions have kept us from reading what may be among the oldest lines of English poetry.

The Franks Casket thus remains one of the oldest and greatest outstanding puzzles in Anglo-Saxon studies, indeed of medieval studies, and as it lies at the intersection of history, linguistics, poetry and art, there are many who should like to see it "deciphered."

I first learned of the casket in January 2009, published a preliminary essay in July, and gave a talk at the University of Texas in autumn that same year. The form of the essay presented here is current as it was first published and distributed in late January 2010.

I have attempted to engage the Franks Casket as a whole, every side, each inscription, presenting my own vision of the casket's meanings, while attempting to vindicate it as a nuanced, authentic work of art.

The Franks Casket Summary

Oftentimes, archaeological finds out-of-context may not be especially informative. However, there are exceptions, not least the Franks Casket. Perhaps the most culturally significant artefact to be uncovered from the Migration Period, this small box (22.9 cm long, 19 cm wide and 10.9 cm high) fashioned from whale-bone and deeply carved on all sides with Christian, Pagan and even Roman imagery, has helped shape our understanding of Anglo-Saxon culture, mythology, technology, and their “place in the world”.

Most interpretations up until now believe it to be an 8th century Christian object, a reliquary or portable altar. The reason for this assumption is the picture of the “Magi”, and it may be due to this ostensibly Christian motif on the front (right) that the box has survived. This dating, and the casket’s assumed association with the kingdom of Northumbria is speculative and it may be the case that it originated from a different kingdom (perhaps Mercia?) and a different time. Given the juxtaposition of Christian imagery with a much larger ammount of Germanic paganism, it seems more likely that this object was made for a pagan king, which would push its dating back to the 7th century at the latest.

There are two motifs from Roman history – the Roman twins Romulus and Remus (left) and Titus (back) – and three others referring to Germanic mythology: Welund the Smith (front, left), a funeral scene (right) and Ægil, the archer (lid). Many scholars tend to regard the pictures as intellectual decoration rather than a meaningful programme.

English Historical Fiction Authors

One of the chief treasures of the Anglo-Saxon Halls in the British museum is the Franks or Auzon Casket. It was discovered in private hands in a village in France called Auzon in the 19th Century where it was being used as a work box. The style of the runes and of the artwork enable us to identify it was having been constructed in the early 8th Century in the North of England, presumably somewhere in the powerful Kingdom of Northumbria. the casket is damaged but has been reconstructed.

The Franks Casket in the British Museum

Some time during the eleven centuries between its creation and discovery the box was dismantled and one panel was separated from the rest. That panel was given to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, from which a cast has been made. The remaining panels were presented to the British Museum by Sir Augustus Franks, after whom the casket is named. Using the cast of the missing panel the casket could be restored.

The casket is made from Whale bones and elaborately carved with scenes from Anglo-Norse Mythology and Biblical scenes. At this point the Anglo-Saxons were absorbing the new Christian religion as well as preserving some of their old traditions. Around the artwork are Runes commenting on the signs and using the Futhorc or Anglo-Saxon version of Germanic Runes.

The runes on the front is a riddle which seems to refer to the material from which the box was made:‘The fish beat up the seas on to the mountainous cliff the King of terror became sad when he swam onto the shingle.’ The answer - given on the panel is‘Whale’s bone.’ The box was made from the bone of a beached Whale.

The Lid

The lid shows some now obscure Germanic story about a hero named Ægili who is shown defending a fortification from armed raiders.

Richard Denning is a historical fiction author whose main period of interest is the Early Anglo-Saxon Era. His Northern Crown series explores the late 6th and early 7th centuries through the eyes of a young Saxon lord.

The Legendary Metal Craftsmanship of Welund

In Old English sources, Wayland is mentioned surprisingly often. There are two very important sources for his legend, both of which provide important parallels to those of the Old Norse sagas. This shows that the pan-Germanic mythology survived in the Anglo-Saxon tribes even well after their migration to the British Isles. The first one we’ll mention is from the Old English poem, “ The Lament of Deor ”, which was a part of the 10 th century Exeter Book.

The poem consists of various accounts of several figures of Germanic mythology, all of which suffered in some way. The poet, Deor, then compares his own fate with theirs. He opens the poem with the story of Weland (Wayland):

“Welund tasted misery among snakes.
The stout-hearted hero endured troubles
had sorrow and longing as his companions
cruelty cold as winter - he often found woe
Once Nithad laid restraints on him,
supple sinew-bonds on the better man.
That went by so can this.

To Beadohilde, her brothers' death was not
so painful to her heart as her own problem
which she had readily perceived
that she was pregnant nor could she ever
foresee without fear how things would turn out.
That went by, so can this.”

Here we can see the crucial elements and figures in Wayland’s story: The brave hero endured trouble at the hands of Nithad (Níðuðr), but eventually he impregnated Nithad’s daughter, Beadohilde (Böðvildr) after killing her brothers.

However, one far more important poem also mentions Wayland, the legendary story of Beowulf. This poem has been dated to as early as 975-1025 AD, but without a doubt it has older origins. In the poem, Beowulf the legendary hero, wears a chainmail shirt that is crafted by Wayland:

“Onsend Higeláce, gif mec hild nime,
beaduscrúda betst, Þæt míne bréost wereð,
hrægla sélest, Þæt is Hraédlan láf,
Wélandes geweorc. Gaéð á wyrd swá hío scel.”

Several translations of this passage exist:

“No need then
to lament for long or lay out my body.
If the battle takes me, send back
this breast-webbing that Weland fashioned
and Hrethel gave me, to Lord Hygelac.
Fate goes ever as fate must.”

“Send to Hygelac, if I am taken by battle,
the best of battle-shirts, that protects my brest,
choicest of garments, that is Hrethel’s relic,
Wayland’s work. Fate takes its course.”

22 thoughts on &ldquo Horsing Around? – Thorny Problem of the Franks Casket Reveals Another Riddle &rdquo

Andrew —
Thanks very much for your kind words and thoughtful and thorough critique of my webpage. I’ve been updating it into an article, and will of course cite you there.

I have been editing the Wikipedia Franks Casket page, and have listed there no less than seven theories that I have found for the right panel. I still think the H&H theory works best, but tried to be impartial there. The H&H theory was developed independently by Simonne d’Ardenne (1966) in addition to A.C. Bouman (1965).

The biggest obstacle to the H&H theory is, as you note, the word “hiri,” which is ordinarily translated as “her,” and thus would require “Hos” to be female. However, David Howlett (British Books, 1997, p. 282) proposes that this word, read as OE “here,” could equally well mean eerie, in the sense of awesome. He also proposes that Ertae could be taken as the name of the Earth Mother, so that the line can be read as [He (Hos)] suffers distress, as the Awesome Earth Mother has ordained.” D’Ardenne instead suggests that hiri should be taken as reflexive, so that the phrase would read, “as the Earth Mother herself has ordained.”

On the H&H theory, the words “risci” and “wudu” would simply refer to the rushes and woods in the tidal estuary and wooded slopes near Horsted, the traditional burial place of Horsa on Blueberry Hill above Aylesford and Chatham. Maryjane Osborne (1991) has cogently proposed that the word “bita” that appears above the cup between the two mourners in the central scene should be read “bitter,” indicating the bitter cup of death just drunk by the deceased person in the miniature mound. I would instead make it the bitter cup of grief just drunk by the two mourners, but the significance is essentially the same.

It should be noted that your detail of the right scene contains several inaccuracies: First, the border does not enclose the scene as shown. Second, there is no sword dangling down between the two figures. Third, the runes at the top appear to read “noble runes”, and have nothing to do with the actual inscription on the casket. Third, the three words risci, wudu, and bita are in the central scene and not in this scene. And fourth, the two “Odin’s knots” appear in the central scene between the legs of the “hengist”, and not in this scene. One of the two versions of the British Museum FC page has some excellent photos of the five panels, as does Mrs. Webster’s 2012 booklet.
With best regards,
Hu (J. Huston) McCulloch

The alternative readings you raise are not convincing, in my view.

‘Eerie’ is generally regarded as being derived either directly or indirectly from OE ‘earg’, timid, cowardly. Old English ‘h’ was pretty stable, being neither added nor dropped at the beginning of words. So any theory which relies on ‘hiri’ = eerie is on weak ground.
‘Hiri’ = herself is possible, although redundant. But this reading requires the postulation of ‘Ertae’ as a goddess, which is otherwise unattested.

‘Bita’ simply doesn’t mean bitter, it means bite or biter. And the explanations for ‘risci’ and ‘wudu’ are pretty weak.

The strength of my argument is that it fully accounts for risci, wudu, bita and the presence of ‘hos’ without requiring a reading of ‘hors’.

Thanks for making explicit the differences between the real casket and the reworking from the album cover which I used for illustrative purposes. IIRR ‘Noble Rune’ is the name of the album. The LH figure is pretty well rendered, which is why I used it.

You are pretty good at this, Hu. If I was right, and it’s a riddle for a horse-vine, what could the rest of the panel mean?

I can’t find either “here” or “hiri” as “eerie” in Clark-Hill’s Concise AS Dictionary, but he or she does give “elevated, sublime” for “he-r” as an adjective (the – indicating a macron over the e), “gloriosus” for “he-re” as an adjective, and “dignity, majesty, importance” for “he-re” as a noun. I don’t know what the relevant rules of inflection or i/e/e- sound shifts are, but could “hiri Ertae” on the FC mean “glorious or majestic Ertae”, whoever Ertae is? My Clark-Hill only gives AS to ModE. What is the dictionary translation of eerie into AS? (“here” without a macron also means army or war, but that seems to be a different word.)

In Wagner’s Ring, Erda is the goddess of wisdom/fate/Earth, and the mother of the Norns, according to Wiki. Is this pure artistic license on Wagner’s part, or is there a literary antecedent? Getting from Erda to Erta isn’t very hard, though d/t usually goes the other way (day/Tag, daughter/Tochter). I personally suspect that Mother Earth’s personal name was Eartha, as in E. Kitt, but that carries about as much weight as Hoss Cartwright (whom I’m leaving out of my article).

Clark-Hill gives “pod, husk” for “hos”, and “bramble, briar” for “ho-s” (in addition to “band, escort, company, accompanying troop”, cp “host”), but not “vine” for either. Although vines are woody, they don’t have branches as shown held in the fore-hoof of the horse-man-spirit figure seated under the words “Here sitteth Hos”. It looks more like a bay laurel branch to me (per examples in the Cloisters herbal garden). Botanically, it could equally be bamboo or eucalyptus, but since the creature looks nothing like a panda or a koala, I’ll go with bay laurel!

Incidentally, the original of the right panel somehow ended up in the Bargello Museum in Florence, and the BM only has a cast of it that has a little less detail than the original. To show the RHS of the right panel, you will want a photo of the actual Bargello panel. My webpage has a snapshot I took of the Bargello’s file photo (plus an oblique shot that doesn’t show the whole thing well), and Leslie Webster’s book has a beautiful color photo of the original. Unfortunately, part of the right side text is on the edge of the back panel so that a photo of the Bargello panel won’t include the full text.

I doubt that ‘here’ (f. adj. = noble, holy) would have an anglian reflex ‘hiri’. I know, for example that the Northumbrian reflex of ‘e-ce’ is ‘e-ci’, not ‘ici’ (see the parallel versions of Caedmon’s Hymn). But I can’t rule it out. So you could go with that if you want to read Ertae. But I wouldn’t.
You can’t rely on Wagner for anything. His ‘Erda’ comes either from the Norn ‘Urd’, which is related to the English word wyrd, so in OE would begin with a ‘w’, or from “hertha”, which is probably a misreading of “nertha” from Tacitus (which also gave rise to the name of the German football team). In OE, this would start with ‘n’ (or perhaps ‘h’ if the reading is wrong), not ‘e’. Nothing to see here.
As for ‘hos’, Clarke-Hall is not very reliable for more obscure words and you need to go to Bosworth-Toller and then check the citations in detail. I would love for it to just mean bramble, but when you check it out, the sources don’t back this up. The existing examples for ‘hos’ are pretty limited, mostly glosses of not easily nailed down medieval latin words and I can’t be sure exactly which plants it meant. I believe I went into detail on this in my post.
I read your account of the right panel and studied your photo carefully. Great work.

Thanks again. I must admit that Howlett’s identification of “hiri” or “here” with eerie is pretty dubious. It is as if he was mixing up “awful,” which can mean either awe-inspiring or dreadful, with “eerie,” which means dreadful or spooky. He-r (with a macron indicated -) means noble, excellent, holy or sublime (according to Bosworth – Toller) and therefore awful the the first sense, but not in the second, and doesn’t mean eerie in either sense. But I still like his reading of hiri as he-re (noble) and Ertae as Earth Mother.

Douglas P.A. Simms, “A Thorn in the Right Side of the Franks Casket” (Notes and Queries, advance access 8/1/14), like d’Ardenne, interprets hiri as reflexive, which provides a second solution to the Hos gender problem, whoever Ertae is (or whatever ertae is, since there are no majuscule runes). He, like Krause as I recall, interprets Ertae as “the inciter.”

Note that the OED (2nd ed, vol. 7) defines “hoss” as “Dial. and U.S. var. of HORSE,” so that Bonanza and Napier are not the only authorities for this spelling.

Speaking of macrons, are they simply inferred by modern scholars? On the first page of the Beowulf MS (photo on Wikipedia), there are no macrons in the several places they are called for in Heaney’s supposed transcription. How then can we tell her from he-r, for example?

Yep macrons are inferred from metre and etymology. I’d be interested in a summary of Simms argument.

Simms’ 2-page note “A Thorn in the Right Side of the Franks Casket” was published in Notes and Queries Sept. 2014, vol. 61(3): 327-8.

He separates the words thus:
her hos sitae thon haermbergae
agl[..] drigith swae hiri ertae gisgraf,
saerden sorgae and sefa tornae

(AEs are ligated except in ertae and th is thorn)

His translation is:
Here the troop may remain, when the fierce one(?) suffers because of the barrow of harm, just as the inciter herself decreed [or the inciter decreed to it, ie. the troop], that they would cause injury with sorrow and with the mind’s anger.

I particularly like that he has made hiri reflexively modify ertae instead of hos, but otherwise this doesn’t do anything for me.

BTW, if there really are reflexive pronouns in AS, shouldn’t they be formed with -self or -sylf? Do these combinations ever occur? Are there recognized reflexives without them? Cp. sich and selbst in German.

The latest word on the FC appears to be “Diversity between Panels of the FC — SPelling and Runic Paleography” by Helena Sobol, in Anglica 26/2 (2017): 25-36. Based on comparative orthography and letter formation, she argues that the whole Casket could not have been made by a single author. She even calls into question the authenticity of the right panel.

Thanks very much for that. Interesting. He (she?) is dividing the words differently to other readings. Don’t really like it, though.

Simms has used ‘thon’ as the relative ‘when’, which is usually ‘thanne’ or ‘thonne’. Double letters and final vowels were pronounced and were rarely dropped in Old English. According to Clarke-Hall, ‘thon’ for ‘thonne’ only appears in the Vespasian Psalter, which is latin with OE glosses, so it may be an abbreviation. I must say I am not attracted to this reading using ‘thon’, but it is technically possible.

As for reflexives, the germanic ‘sich’ is not found in OE. They used the dative of the personal pronoun, often emphasised by ‘self’ (separate word) and sometimes ‘self’ alone. In my view this is a very forced reading and should be treated with caution. However it is technically possible.

I like that Simms is using ‘hos’ = troop, which is a real word (the northern german reflex gave us the Hansa of the Hanseatic League). I ruled out ‘troop’ simply because I continue to read ‘on’ and there is no troop in the sense of a group of people on either of the raised features in the carving. Which led me to the other reading of ‘hos’ and that’s how we got here.

The use of the subjunctive ‘sitae’ for ‘may sit’ is another forcing, OE had a full set of modal verbs, including ‘maeg’ and they were generally used.

The main problem is the continued reading of ‘Ertae’ to mean some kind of supernatural being (no idea where ‘inciter’ comes from). I repeat, there is absolutely no evidence for this. This text is the only place where this name is used, if it is even used here. Given that we are already struggling to read the rest of it, positing otherwise unknown deities is unwarranted and bound to lead to error.

You will see in the FC Wikipedia page that Simmons tries to split the word into ‘er’ and ‘tae’. As you know I agree that the reading ‘er’ is probable and have adopted it, which requires us to deal with ‘taegiscraf’. ‘tae’ = ‘to’ is found nowhere else and is another forcing. But ‘scraf’ can mean the same as ‘gescraf’, so we can put the ‘gi’ with ‘tae’, to give ‘taegi’, while retaining the meaning ‘decreed’ for ‘scraf’. Voila.

I commend my reading to you and other readers. I maintain that it is natural and accounts for the text better than any other postulated alternatives. It also gives a straightforward purpose to ‘risci wudu bita’, which the other readings fail to do.

Dear Deorreader,
Can you please let me know your name so I can cite you? If it is sensitive, please contact me via email.
Thanks in advance,

Sorry for asking a question You answered previously in another section.
Please consider my previous comment irrelevant.
Thank You

As to the Bonanza basedHorsa-theory: All panels start out with a name in the upper left corner: Fisc(+ gasric) Romwalus Titus Herh-os (forrest deity) the lid has just a name: Ægili. Each runic initial corresponds to what the picture shows. In the following you may read the results of 50 year with the royal hoard box that – back in 1969 – I was allowed to hold in my hands. Unbelievable these days! Here a summary of all that:

The Franks Casket (or: the Auzon Runic Casket) is a box made of whalebone decorated with illustrations and runes, which was made in the early 7th century in the Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, probably in the monastic environment. Today it is in the British Museum in London.
With its pictures from Christian and pagan tradition as well as with its runic texts, this early medieval work of art is an impressive product of a syncretic epoch. On closer inspection, one can recognize a well elaborated programmatic intention in the use of images, verses and runes. No picture or even detail of a picture is merely ornamental no text serves only as an explanation of it. From the worship of Christ by the Magi (the church made them “kings” later on) to the mystic scene on the lid of the box, the “master of runes” emblematically conjures up the course of life of a noble warlord from birth to death and entry into the afterlife, which is represented here as Valhalla. Since chest is most likely a hoard box, it probably belonged to a king who used it to honour and reward his warriors with feohgift (precious rings, bracelets, gems etc. all gained on their raids). Here one could think of Edwin, King of Northumbria (ruling 616-632 baptized 627) or the pagan king Penda of Mercia († 655).

The magical practice of the rune master can be seen on the front of the box. The verses of the whale that frame the pictures seem to have nothing to do with the depictions. However, if you take a closer look at the two staff-bearing runes, you will see the reference: the F-rune f (feoh, cattle) represents money-equivalent goods the G-rune g (gifu, gift) denotes the gift. Wieland, who is shown in the left picture, produces the feoh (cattle, “monetary possession”), while the three Magi in the right picture bring gifu (the “gift”). And feohgifu, the “honoring gold gift”, is exactly what the royal casket contained.
The picture of the Magi stands not only for rich gifts, but also for noble birth. Remarkable here is the water bird instead of an angel, probably the fylgja (spiritual companion, Valkyrie) in her animal form (compare Swan Maiden). The help of such a fylgja is shown in the Welund picture, where she brings a bottle, beer, with which the elfish blacksmith makes the king’s daughter willing. Through this revenge (killing of the sons and impregnation of the daughter of his tormentor, thus ending his family line) he regains his freedom and thus the ability to change his appearance. So he can fly away in bird’s form (as the Welund picture of the box probably shows).
The inscription is composed of 72 characters, which is understood as a magic number (3 × 24) anyway, but beyond that it has – if one assigns the value of its position in the row of runes to each rune – the rune value 720. The carver also follows this pattern for the other inscriptions and representations.

The left panel shows Romulus and Remus with (Woden’s?) two wolves. The name forms Romwalus and Reumwalus are related to ON valr (“the corpses lying on the battlefield”), and thus produce an allusion to “Valkyrie” and “Valhalla”. The R-rune r (rad, ride) refers to the “ride into battle”.

The back panel shows the later Roman emperor Titus at victory and judgment over Jerusalem. Exactly this, “victory and justice”, is what the T-rune t (tir, honour, glory) according to the Anglo-Saxon Runic Poem means.

The right panel quotes in cryptography (replacement of the vowel runes) the death on the battlefield and promises the resurrection of the dead with the help of his Valkyrie and Woden/Odin’s Sleipnir. The motif is also depicted on Gotlandic standing stones and the Gosforth Cross, with Odin’s valknut (death knot) being prominent. The H-rune h (hagal, hail [storm]) alludes to disaster. For the salvation from the realm of shadows, i.e. for the resurrection to Valhalla, the S-rune s (sigel, sun) stands, with the meaning “light, life”.
The lid depicts Ragnarök, the battle of the gods and giants over the sun, in the course of which the whole world ends. The archer Egil (here Ægili) defends the palace of the gods (according to the Nordic mythology Valaskjalf) against the giants of frost or fire. The Æ-rune A æsk, ash tree), the initial of his name, expresses according to the OE Rune-Poem “stubborn resistance against numerous attackers”. Here it refers to the cycle of the year in the sense of death and resurrection of the sun at winter solstice (cf. Sol Invictus). The name of the archer could be a Germanized form of the Greek Achilles. The ancient hero had learned archery from the centaur Cheiron, who often stands for the zodiacal sign Sagittarius.
12 point marks stand for the 12 months of the solar year, at the same time they reflect the constellations typical for the season. Thus the year begins with the three stars of the Orion Belt. The summer months are marked by 5 (well visible) of the 7 Pleiades stars, while 2 more stars near the lower shield bearer stand for the autumn constellation Aries. The cycle of death and resurrection is represented by the winter constellation Gemini, with the mythical Dioscuri Castor and Pollux. While with Castor the old year dies, with Pollux the new one begins. With the two giants (left) and the two points between the legs of one of them, the Dioscuri and their constellation are depicted. On the right side the archer (lat. Sagittarius) is opposite to the summer constellation. With these opponents the solstices are fixed. The two shield bearers above and below the central disk mark the constellation Shield (lat. Scutum), which indicates the equinoxes (equinox) in spring and autumn. The representation of the starry sky here reminds of the sky disk of Nebra, while the illustration has a counterpart in the relief of Mithras (Heidelberg-Neuenheim, 2nd century).
According to Caesar (De bello Gallico), the Germanic tribes worship Sol, Luna and Vulcanus or sun, moon and fire. This triad is found on the front side with Jesus (Sol Invictus), Maria (Luna) and Wieland the smith, who corresponds to Vulcanus via fire and to Saturn via wealth (feoh or pecus/pecunia). According to Tacitus (Germania), Hercules (Þunor/Thor), Mars (Tiw/Tyr) and Mercury (Woden Wotan) are also worshipped. This triad stands behind the other sides of the casket, while the sun god Freyer (or the mother of the Aesir, Frigg) can be assigned to the lid picture. This results in the sequence of weekdays (front) Saturday, Sunday, Monday, (back) Tuesday, (right) Wednesday, (left) Thursday, (top) Friday.
The number of runes amounts to 288, which is 12 x 24. The sum of the natural numbers from 1 to 24 is 300. Thus the 24 runes of futhark can be equated to 300, which leads over 12 x 300 to the value 3600, standing for 10 solar years (360 days each). The rune value of all inscriptions is 3568, which can be equated with 10 lunar years (3540 days) + 1 month (28 days). The excess month guarantees the progression of time. The Latin text fragment (in speech and writing) on the back represents a perfect meton cycle (with all leap years in runes), which synchronizes the solar with the lunar calendar.
In the case of Franks Casket, which also uses motifs and techniques that Christianity first conveyed, each element is functional. In this way, it is reminiscent of the Old English charms, while the Christian images on reliquaries have a more apotropaic function, seeking heavenly assistance through pictures and text, and securing the protection and intercession of the saint venerated here by means of a relic.
For details see my website http://www.franks-casket.de

You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into this Alfred. The only part of your exposition I am able to comment on is your reading “herh os” instead of “her hos”. This is indeed possible but it should not be adopted because the text is alliterative verse. It has two alliterating elements starting with ‘h’ in the first half-line, and one in the second half-line: HER HOS SITÆÞ ON HÆRMBERGÆ
If you read herhos, you only get one alliterating word in the first line.
So I stand by my reading.

Fred —
It is great to hear from you! I hope you are well!
RE your first paragraph, there are in fact two precedents on the back panel for beginning a caption with “here”: In the upper left scene, Titus is slaying a Jew, and the caption reads, “Here Titus fighteth a Jew.” And in the upper right scene, refugees are shown fleeing from Jerusalem, and the caption reads, “Here [Hic] flee from Jerusalem the inhabitants.” So it seems reasonable to read the caption on the right panel, which begins over a scene depicting some sort of horse-man-spirit sitting on a mound, to read “Here Hos sitteth on the sorrow mound.”
The Bouman-d’Ardenne identification of the scene with Hengist and Horsa, BTW, is reinforced by your own book, in which you refer to the quadruped in the central scene as a “Hengst” (AS hengist).
I like the emphasis you give to the unicursal trefoil “Woden’s knots” that appear several times on the casket. In Ireland recently, I purchased a refrigerator magnet with this symbol presented as a symbol of Ireland. It appears that the Christians adopted it as a representation of the Trinity, and/or infinite Eternity. The same symbol also appears in the (Anglican) Trinity Church on Wall St. here in NYC.
I have temporarily taken down my FC website, since the last journal to which I submitted my article objected that this early draft was already on the web. If and when I can get it published, I will negotiate putting a PDF of the new and much improved version on the same URL.
All the best,
Hu McCulloch

Deor reader, Thank you for your reply … but: The first (and, if there is one, sometimes the second) lift in the a-verse alliterates with the first lift in the b-verse. (Wikipedia, alliterative verse)
Hu, thank you for your comment, but: … there always is a name in the upper left (. ) corner (. ) which by its runic initial renders the topic of the pictures.
Front: Fisc > F means feoh (wealth) just what Welund forges. Here in the upper right you have a G > gifu, just what t5he Magi are bringing
Left: Romwalus > R means the ride to war, just what the “traveling twins” Neuman de Vegvar) protect, i.e. the way to war.
Back: Titus > T stands for victory and justice, just what is depicted here
Right: Herh-os > H stands for harm to happen, and that is forecasted in the left section, the centre shows a tree and a horse which correspond to the alliterating runes a (oak) and e (horse), this depicting death and its defence finally three s runes go along with the 3rd part of the panel showing Psychopompoi leading the hero to Valhalla.
Lid, just a name: Ægili > Æ meaning defence, just what the archer is about.
The fact that rune and picture agree is far beyond chance.
Apart from all that the sequence of pictures form a “curriculum vitae” from birth to death and beyond.
My those days book is history. The new one is on the way. I will keep you informed.
Hoping you are doing fine

This sounds very much like the obituary of a sore loser. How can you put a horse before the cart that has been there for ages? As to the lifts you can judge what fits into a (not mine) system. You may ignore it, as well. Following Vennemann and others I think Runes are derived from Hebrew and related scripts which identify letters with numbers. In Hebrew alef (1) is the first letter, meaning cattle. Feoh is the first rune, value 1, meaning cattle the same is reflectedin the Greek alpha. The numeric system is so obvious that one has to blind oneself not to see it.
As you are not open for discussion I think we should end this dispute. Anyway, you are doing a good job for Deor & Co. Carry on.

Please try and remain respectful. I am free to make a joke on my own site. No one is disputing that runes can be associated with numbers. However, the principle must be ascertain the text first, then calculate the numbers. I do know something about Anglo-Saxon language and verse. I am telling you that the “her hos” reading is to be preferred on metrical grounds.

One more reason for only 2 lifts in the first line (Herh-os / harmbergæ) is of numeric nature. Each rune has a value according to its position in the runic row. Among others 24 and 11 and their multiple seem to matter.
Panel Number of runes Multiple Value of runes Multiple
Front 72 3 x 24 720 30 x 24
Left 72 3 x 24 932 ?
Back 48 2 x 24 612 36 x 17
Right*** 74+ 22 pict.=96 4 x 24 1008 42 x 24
[Pictures 22 22+74=96 (4 x 24) 295]

Total 288 (12 x 24) 3567 (3540 + 27 = 10 lunar years + 1 month)
(288 stands for 3600 = 10 solar years)

Each name (Fisc,Romwalus, Titus) of the panels related to life is preceded by a charm composed of 9 runes (on the left edge) with a runis value of 330 (or 30 x 11).
The negative H (Herh-os) on death-related panel is not preceded by a charm on the left edge, but on the right edge (value 110 or 10 x 11) where it precedes the 3 death averting S-runes.
And if we look at the stressed runes we get a similar picture:
Front: f f f / g g g Value 24 Left: r r t g f w r Value 48 Back: t g Value 24, Right: h h a e s s s: Value 110 or 10 x 11 (same as the charm to it) This speaks for herh-os.
For more see https://www.franks-casket.de/english/extro01.html and https://www.franks-casket.de/english/extro02.html
The tituli (Ægili, mægi, risci, wudu, bita = 22 or 2 x 11Runes) produce the value 77 ( or 7 x 11)

That’s putting the cart before the horse (pun intended). I have serious doubts about these numeric calculations anyway because the supposed systems are supported by no contemporaneous evidence. But, in any case, to make a judgement about the text (i.e. number of lifts = 2, giving herhos) because it gives you a better numeric outcome is methodologically backwards. First you read the text, then you do your calculations. It’s like letting me change the crossword clues because I like a different answer better. Although at least you are not trying to change the reading of the actual letters like some runologists who shall remain nameless do!

Fred (aka Albeword) —
On double checking the back panel, I concede that you are right that the name Titus does appear in the upper left corner — the inscription on the scene reads “Here fighteth / Titus and a Jew (or the Jews?)”, but the first two words run up the left side. However, the complete formula, like the second rear inscription, begins with the word “here” (her or hic), establishing it as at least a good candidate for the first word on the right panel.

This is not to say that you are not quite correct about the dominant alliterative runes on each panel and that the connotations of those runs reinforce whatever the message of the panel is. On the back panel, for example, I think that you are right that the TIRs in Titus and even the contrived runic spelling of “afitatores” are meant to reinforce the military theme of the panel. However, it is over-reaching to deduce the message from the dominant runes. Colors can likewise have connotations so that the dominant color of an illustration might enhance the meaning of the illustration. However, it would be wrong to try to deduce the specific meaning of a series of illustrations just from their dominant colors.

I was very skeptical about your rune counts until I learned that Maryjane Osborne accepts them as relevant — see the references I added to the last section of the Wikipedia page. Now I’m just mildly skeptical…

I look forward to seeing your new book!

[deorreader] Sorry if you feel offended. Just blame it on my insufficient command of English. For, may be the same reason – I was irritated by your statement according to which your personal preference of better metric should top numeric and methodical results derived from the 3 other panels plus lid. If metric should matter most why should have our rune master passed the opportunity to form a couple of perfect verses from: Romwalus / Reumwalus / Romæcæstri // fœdde / wylif (perfect material). And as to the Titus text there is not a couple of words which could match in this respect.
One more argument: The initials of all 6 names are F G R T H Æ (this is the cart parked in the dusk) produce the value of 72 (this is the horse pulling it into the dawn). – I hope I have not been rude again, but if so, please blame it on my flawed English.

[Hu] Thanks for your reply. Here, too, I would maintain on the priority of magic. All those 3 magic left rims (concerning life) are composed of 9 runes each, total value 110. The right panel, right rim shows 9 runes value 110. To reach this the text has to be squeezed and bent. “hronæsban” evokes the magic of the material to fuel both, f- wealth and g- gift, and parallel to this the assistance of the fylgja depicted there. Consequently, the upper left initial is F. The other rune G is in the right upper corner: fergenberig. What I just figured: fergenberi_ values 72 (need to get that into my book!)
Left: “oÞlæ unneg” refers to the situation away from home, i.e., on the warpath. And thus, it is followed by an R-name, which by the rune itself refers to the “ride” on the highways and conjures here them as “travelling twins (Neuman de Vegvar) Back: Titus is preceded by “her fegtaÞ” which does not explain, but describes the purpose it might allude to the army (here) as well: “In the case of war” followed by the magic T-rune. So it is likely for the right panel to open (top left) with a name on rune H that starts the (mis)happening, continuing with (according to Arntz) an apotropaic set of runes E and A proceeding on the left rim with “drigiþ swæ” (9 runes, value 110) followed by 3 magic S-runes, turning death into life in Walhalla, a tabu zone for the ones living on earth.
The alliterating 7 runes here (H H – A E – S S S) again sum up to 110.
Chance or not: all the alliterating runes FF GG – RRR – FTG – HH AE SSS produce the Total of 192

Well, this now could be carried on: This may be seen as 8 x 24 (24 as Gausian formula is 300), multiplied with 8 produces 2400 or 80 months 30 days each. Or what ever it may be good for.

We leave it with alu, a nice gulp, rune number 3, value fuÞark 27 (3x3x3) and fuþorc 48 (2吔).

Please see above may be the way I entered my comment does not kick off anote to you.
Best wishes, Fred

The Franks Casket: The densely decorated Anglo-Saxon whale’s bone chest from the early 8th century

The Franks Casket (or the Auzon Casket) is a small Anglo-Saxon whale’s bone chest from the early 8th century, now in the British Museum. The casket is densely decorated with knife-cut narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and with inscriptions mostly in Anglo-Saxon runes.

Generally reckoned to be of Northumbrian origin,it is of unique importance for the insight it gives into early Anglo-Saxon art and culture. Both identifying the images and interpreting the runic inscriptions has generated a considerable amount of scholarship.

Original of right panel, on display in Bargello Museum, Florence.Source

The Brescia Casket, one of the best survivals of the sort of Late Antique models the Franks Casket emulates. Late 4th century.Source

The imagery is very diverse in its subject matter and derivations, and includes a single Christian image, the Adoration of the Magi, along with images derived from Roman history(Emperor Titus) and Roman mythology (Romulus and Remus), as well as a depiction of at least one legend indigenous to the Germanic peoples: that of Weyland the Smith.

It has also been suggested that there may be an episode from the Sigurd legend, an otherwise lost episode from the life of Weyland’s brother Egil, a Homeric legend involving Achilles, and perhaps even an allusion to the legendary founding of England by Hengist and Horsa.

The Franks Casket, as displayed in the British MuseumSource

A monastic origin is generally accepted for the casket, which was perhaps made for presentation to an important secular figure, and Wilfrid’s foundation at Ripon has been specifically suggested, The post-medieval history of the casket before the mid-19th century was unknown until relatively recently, when investigations by W.H.J. Weale revealed that the casket had belonged to the church of Saint-Julien, Brioude it is possible that it was looted during the French Revolution. It was then in the possession of a family in Auzon, a village in Haute Loire (upper Loire region) France. It served as a sewing box until the silver hinges and fittings joining the panels were traded for a silver ring.

The left panel, depicting Romulus and Remus.Source

Without the support of these the casket fell apart. The parts were shown to a Professor Mathieu from nearby Clermont-Ferrand, who sold them to an antique shop in Paris, where they were bought in 1857 by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, who subsequently donated the panels in 1867 to the British Museum, where he was Keeper of the British and Medieval collections. The missing right end panel was later found in a drawer by the family in Auzon and sold to the Bargello Museum, Florence, where it was identified as part of the casket in 1890. The British Museum display includes a cast of it.

The Franks Casket

The Franks or Auzon Casket is an 8th century Anglo-saxon casket of probably Northmbrian origin. Its is a whalebone casket completely decorated on its 4 sides and the lid with runic inscriptions as well as images which portray both Christian and Pagan stories. The casket is about 23cmx 19cm x 11cm ins size. Its age has been deduced from the language used on the script that accompanies the illustrations. These are Latin as well as old English and the Futhorc runic script.

The panels that make up the casket were donated by a Sir Augusts Wollaston Franks to the British Museum in 1867. He was an antiquarian and a collector and considered one of the great Victorian collectors whose finds benefited the British Museum. Franks himself found the panels in an antique shop in Paris in 1857.

We know virtually nothing about the origins of the casket. It is believed to have probably been made in a monastery in Northumbria in the 8th century. What then happened to it is a mystery but it probably belonged to a church at some point before being looted in the French Revolution. It eventually turns up in the possession of a family in Auzon in the upper Loire which is why it is sometimes called the Auzon casket. It is thought it had been used as a sewing basket for some time. The casket was originally held together by hinges of silver which have been lost or sold as have the lock and some of the lid panels which may also have been silver. Without these the box was just loose panels. These turned up (minus one side panel) in an antique shop in Paris which is where Franks found them.

The missing panel was found in 1890 by the Auzon family who then sold it to a museum in Florence.

Thus the casket on display in the British Library consists of the 3 of the original panels, what is left of the lid and a cast of the missing panel.

Front panel of the casket

The front panel of the Franks casket shows two legends. On the left is the pagan Germanic myth of Wayland the Smith. Elements that can be made out include Wayland aparently crippled by his captor king Niohad working in the forge. At his feet is the body of the king’s son who Wayland kills. On the right Wayland captures birds whose feathers he uses to escape.

On the right is the Christian story of the Adoration of the Magi. Three kings/wisemen can be seen bearing gifts approaching the stable wherein a manger can be recognised and overhead a star is visible

The writing around the edge is a riddle about whale bone from which the casket is made.

The flood cast up the fish on the mountain-cliff

The terror-king became sad where he swam on the shingle.

The rear panel of the Franks casket shows the capure of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus in AD 70. This event occured as part of the Roman-Jewish wars that followed an uprising by the Jews against Roman rule and eventually ends with destruction of their Temple. Why the panel shows this scene is unknown.

The left side panel of the casket portrays the legend of Romulus and Remus and the she wolf. In the centre we can see the two boys being suckled by the she-wolf. She also is seen at the top protecting them from a hunting party. The text translates as:

Romulus and Remus, two brothers, a she-wolf nourished them in Rome, far from their native land.

Romulus and Remus go on to found Rome. There are paralells with Hengist and Horsa who found the first Anglo-Saxon kingdom in Kent. Thus it is thought by some that this scene is saying something about the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon invaders ruling Britain.

The right side panel of the Franks casket is the most confusing. At the far left a animal figure sits on a small hill or mound, and is approached by a warrior. In the centre is a horse and another figures. Finally on the right are three figures. Two of them seem to be holding the third captive. The text has never been entirely understood. It has elements that say something like:

Here sits Hos on/in the hill/barrow. She suffers distress as ??Ertae had imposed it upon her. A wretched den of sorrows and torments… wood/rushes.

Theories abound about this image. One idea is that this might be be a reference to the death of Horsa (often associated with the horse image), the brother of Hengist. He died in battle with the British. Is the text a reference to his mother mourning him? Is that warrior we can see his brother visiting his grave?

Other ideas are that ii is a now lost Pagan tale, others that it refers to Satan and hell.

We probably will never know.

Most of the lid of the Franks casket is missing. It is believed that panels of perhaps silver laid here above and below the remains. What is left is thought to show another Pagan legend. Again there are arguments as to what is protrayed. The only word visible is Egil. So many believe that this time it shows an archer, Aegil brother of Wayland the Smith defending a fortress from an attacking horde of giants (shown on the left). Other ideas is that Egil refers to Achilles in which case is this the scene where Achilles is shot by an arrow in his heel? If so this could be the fall of Troy which fits in which the panel showing Romulus and Remus who, exiled from Troy, go onto found Rome.

The Franks casket is a remarkable object. We may never know its full story – niether what happened to it in those missing centuries or exactly what it all means but if you are ever in the British Museum be sure to visit the Anglo-Saxon room as it and many other wonders are on display there.

News about my books

I am currently working on the 5th Northern Crown book which continues the story of Cerdic and his brother Hussa whose rivalry mirrors that between the Kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira over the destiny of one of the greatest of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: Northumbria. It was that land at the height of its power in the 7th to 8th Century that led to a treasures like the Franks Chest and was home to Bede and the site of the important Synod of Whitby. But the Northern Crown series tells the story not of those glory days but of that earlier struggle that created that kingdom. Explore the darkest years of the dark ages with Cerdic and Hussa. My next book will be out spring 2020.

Proto Germanic

The Franks casket front panel, which originally had a lock fitted, depicts elements from the Germanic legend of Wayland the Smith in the left-hand scene, and the Adoration of the Magi on the right. Wayland (also spelled Weyland, Welund or Vølund) stands at the extreme left in the forge where he is held as a slave by King Niðhad, who has had his hamstrings cut to hobble him. Below the forge is the headless body of Niðhad’s son, whom Wayland has killed, making a goblet from his skull his head is probably the object held in the tongs in Wayland’s hand. With his other hand Wayland offers the goblet, containing drugged beer, to Beaduhild, Niðhad’s daughter, whom he then rapes when she is unconscious. Another female figure is shown in the centre perhaps Wayland’s helper, or Beaduhild again. To the right of the scene Wayland (or his brother) catches birds he then makes wings from their feathers, with which he is able to escape. Around the panel runs the following alliterating inscription, which does not relate to the scenes but is a riddle on the material of the casket itself as whale bone, and specifically from a stranded whale:

The Germanic tribes in the Age of Migration included these:

The Ruthwell Cross in Scotland is about The Dream of the Rood. In it the crucifix (rood) tells tis experience of a heroic Jesus. The runes were added in the 8th century, perhaps to speak to those still resisting Christian conversion.

Practitioners of Magic

The average person typically had their own limited knowledge of how to interact with the entities that inhabited the spirit realm, but the witch or wizard, like the shaman, was someone who had dedicated their life to understanding and harnessing these powers.

Far from the caricature-like images of witches and wizards in fairy tales, these figures were simply the “wise people” of their societies.

A depiction of a Völva on a Faroese stamp by Anker Eli Petersen (public domain).

We know that women in Norse society played a role that was something of a cross between a witch, seeress, and shaman called a Volva, who practiced a form of magic called seidr. This was primarily a female pursuit, however it is known that a minority of men practiced seidr as well.

We don’t know if the Anglo-Saxons had figure directly analogous to the Norse volva (plural volvur), however it is likely that women who performed a similar role existed.

Brian Bates mentions an Anglo-Saxon word, hagtesse, was possibly affiliated with female magic practitioners. These women are thought to have learned their magical skills from the elves, were adept at herbal remedies, and were often present during childbirth (Bates, 175).

This kind of role continued on in both Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Britain long after conversion to Christianity well into the modern era. Scholar Emma Wilby describes similar practices with possible shamanic origins in her book 𠇌unning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic.”

Interestingly, as late as the 16 th century during the witch hunting era in the Scottish Lowlands (the region with heavy Anglo-Saxon heritage) many accused witches claimed to have been given their skills by the fairies.

Watch the video: Middle Ages - Germanic Kingdoms Emerge u0026 Charlemagne 2016 (January 2022).