As we have seen in Part One of Buckles through the Ages, the buckle is believed to have arrived at these shores with the coming of the Roman army in 43AD, but there is no doubt that the buckle was in use well before the time of Christ. A small bronze statuette found near Rome and dated to the 3rd century BC depicts a naked Gaulish warrior, naked that is except for a horned helmet, a torc around his neck, and a buckle-like loop on his belt (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). As the belt is worn without clothing it must represent a form of status symbol. More than 800 years later another naked warrior with horned helmet and buckled belt appears on a 7th century Anglo-Saxon buckle-plate from Finglesham (see fig.3: 4) and provides us with the evidence for the survival of the long held belief in the invulnerability of the naked warrior that is also alluded to in Scandinavian folklore. Another very good representation of a buckle can be seen on a statue of a young Gallic nobleman (Musee Calvet, Avignon) and although much later than the bronze statuette it does confirm that the buckle was used by the warriors of this race. However as both representations of buckles are featured on Classical works of Art and archaeology has yet to confirm the use of buckles before Rome's influence, this evidence must still be treated with some caution. Certainly there is no evidence for the use of buckles amongst the Celts in Britain before the Roman invasion.1
From 43-410AD most of Britain was controlled by the armies of Rome and Roman taste began to influence metalworking. Celtic bronzesmiths working for their new masters produced a vast range of brooches intended for personal adornment as well as for practical use and many were elaborately enamelled in the Celtic style. These brooches are found, often in large numbers, wherever there has been Roman military activity or Romano-British settlement. Buckles however are much rarer finds at this time on anything other than military sites and even here the numbers are far less than for brooches. Some of these buckles also exhibit the enamelling for which the Celts were justly renowned. Towards the end of the Roman period in Britain the zoomorphic types that were featured in Part Two of this series begin to appear. Many of these buckles can be paralleled on the Continent where they are believed to represent part of the uniform of Germanic soldiers or laeti. These laeti were barbarians settled by the Romans in the frontier zones of the Empire and given grants of land in lieu of payment for hereditary military service. Buckles of Type II and III are found along the length of the Rhine-Danube frontier - many from late-Roman fortified sites - and also from sites in North Africa. These zoomorphic buckles, although probably produced to suit Germanic taste, were made using Roman techniques including the use of classical decorative motifs. The close similarities between all Type IIIA buckles has led to the suggestion that they were mass produced by Imperial workshops and carried west by troop movements.
In England the implications of these buckles have yet to be determined. They are found in civilian and military contexts, both Roman and Saxon, encompassing the late-Roman and sub-Roman period up to the traditional date for the Saxon invasions of 449AD. For our purpose of identification and dating however it can be said that Type I buckles were in use during the second half of the 4th century with a possible continuation into the 5th century. Buckles of Type II appear on the Continent from c330AD and were being copied in Britain from c350-370AD. Type IIC are believed to be insular copies dating from the first half of the 5th century. By the 370's Type IIIA buckles were being made on the Continent and examples found in Britain will date after this period and into the 5th century. Type IIIB buckles are found only in 5th century contexts. Another buckle type that may be related to these later examples has recently been recognised (fig.11 no.3)2. The dating has been confirmed by another similar find from London also with a triangular buckle-plate (fig.11 no.4)3. In no.3 the mouldings at the junction of the loop and plate are degenerate animal heads. Number 4 has the same construction with loop and plate cast in one piece with a triangular cutout but in this example the animal ornamentation is not present. It also has ring-dot decoration and instead of a bar for the tongue has a hole in the casting. A 5th century date is suggested for this type. Do these buckles provide a link between the late-Roman zoomorphic types and the Anglo-Saxon buckles of the pagan period which also feature triangular buckle-plates?
Closely following the late and sub-Roman belt-fittings come the small series of buckles in the 'quoit brooch' style (fig.11 no's 5-7) which is a native style developed from late-Roman art. These can be dated from around the mid-5th century. The magnificent belt-set from an Anglo-Saxon grave at Mucking, Essex and decorated in this style is claimed to be a link between the late-Roman military belt-sets and the insular quoit brooch style of early Anglo-Saxon England. The buckles have a loop and plate cast in one piece with a pin inserted through the casting on which the tongue was mounted. The quoit brooch metalworkers also adopted the technique of using silver inlays that was first pioneered on the Continent. The best known example of this inlay technique is the buckle from Bifrons, Kent that was probably an import from northern Gaul by a Christian Frank in the early 5th century. It is made of iron with plates of decorated silver-sheet hammered on which depict Daniel in the Lions Den with the inscription VIVAT Q... VI FECIT - "long live the man that made (me)". The technique which is mostly used in the 5th and 6th centuries (but known in the 7th century too) also includes the use of silver or bronze wires inlaid in grooves on iron or more rarely bronze.
Much of the evidence for buckles of the early Anglo-Saxon period comes from the cemeteries of Kent and areas south of the Thames. One of the earliest types has an oval loop and rectangular plate with Style I animal decoration around a central garnet (fig.11 no.8). Similar variations of this type are known and they all date to the second half of the 6th century. Common amongst the Kentish examples are the 'shield-on-tongue' type and these can be sub-divided into three styles. The first without a buckle-plate (fig.3 no's 7-8 and 12) date from the late-6th into the 7th century. The second and most frequently found type with shield tongue are those with a triangular plate and three large convex studs (fig.3 no's 3-4). The third variety has a rectangular buckle-plate with the shield-on-tongue having straight sides that are the same width as the plate. The belt end of the plate has a row of small convex studs set on a lower level than the rest of the plate (fig.11 no's 9-10). Buckles of both these latter types are represented in the Sutton Hoo ship burial and they are generally dated to the 7th century. Many buckles of this type are richly decorated and along with the garnet-inlaid disc brooches must rank as some of the finest pieces of jewellery ever produced in this country.
Another distinctive but much lower class of buckle from the 7th century are the bronze examples with loop and openwork plate either cast in one piece or with separate sheet-bronze plate (fig.3 no's 28-29 and fig.11 no's 11-13). In the earliest examples two animal heads can clearly be seen at the base of the plate but on later examples they are either absent or merely suggested by an irregular outline. It has been noted that the cutouts in the plates conform to the shape of garnet inlays in the more expensive buckles and so they may be a 'poor mans copy ' of the same period - ie. the 7th century. From the late-6th century onwards the Anglo-Saxons were gradually converted to Christianity and after the end of the 7th century grave goods were rarely interred with the body. Material evidence for metalwork particularly in the 8th century is particularly sparse and excavations that have been conducted on settlement sites have been fairly unproductive. As we have seen, buckles are found as grave goods right up to the end of the pagan period even in poorly furnished graves and they are also evident in our next closely dated examples from Whitby Abbey. Danish raids had commenced on England from around 800AD and in 867AD Whitby Abbey was attacked and destroyed. Subsequent archaeological excavations have revealed that buckles were in use up until that time (see fig.4 no's 2-3; 5-6; 32) and so we may safely assume that buckles were also in use in the 8th century too. The problem we have therefore in the Middle-Saxon period is a lack of dateable finds rather than a discontinuation in the use of buckles.
Viking raids continued unabated from 835AD and by 850/1 the Danish army was over-wintering in England. Not content with raiding parties they were now banding together and aiming for conquest. Between 865-880AD the Danes won most of the Kingdoms of Northumbria, Eastern Mercia and East Anglia. The treaty of Wedmore in 878AD between Alfred and the Danish leader Guthrum established a political frontier along the old Roman Watling Street, to the east of which the Danes were allowed to settle. This area was known as the Danelaw. Although there is strong evidence of this Danish settlement particularly in the survival of Danish place-names, there was until recently surprisingly little evidence in the form of metalwork. Excavations in Coppergate, York - the Danish Jorvik which became one of the main trading centres of Europe at this time - has produced a large range of everyday artefacts of the 9th-11th centuries. This has included some buckles but unfortunately the material has yet to be published. Evidence from Scandinavia suggests that buckled belts were widely used by men but a buckle has yet to be found in a Viking woman's grave4. These buckles have plain plates often with interlace decorated loops (fig.11 no's 19-22). Another type has a decorative cast belt-slide attached to the plate (fig.11 no.21) and the author has found the exact parallel to the one illustrated on a Lincolnshire DMV. Buckles in figure 4 (no's 4 and 14) are from York. Other buckles that exhibit a Scandinavian influence in style are figure 4. no's 16; 34-36; 39; 42-43.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. By buckle we mean a closure with a spiked tongue designed to attach to a strap or belt
2. Cirencester - British Archaeological Report 30. 1976
3. Lincoln Road, Enfield - Transactions London and Middlesex Archaeological Society 28/29. 1977-1978
4. The Viking World (p56) - Batsford. Simpson J. 1980