Viking-Celtic Penannular Brooch

Viking-Celtic Penannular Brooch

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Viking Jewelry - History and Uses

When you first think of ancient Vikings, their jewelry is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. Instead most people imagine bearded savages with long spears, swords, and heavy shields attacking defenceless coastal communities.

However, the Norse people of old, whilst being fearless warriors also made beautiful and intricate ornaments such as bracelets, rings and necklaces out of a variety of materials including bronze, iron, gold, silver, amber, and resin.

Early on in the Viking era (about 800 AD), these ornaments were simple, but as time went by, the pieces became more detailed and sophisticated.

Group shot of the Silverdale Hoard finds. Image by Ian Richardson.

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page 149 note 1 E.g. Myers , J. N. L. , ‘Romano-Saxon Pottery’, Dark Age Britain , 16 – 39 Google Scholar . Charles Thomas in Journal of Mediaeval Archaeology, III, forthcoming.

page 149 note 2 Among British publications Gray , St. George commented in the Glastonbury Report , 204 Google Scholar Coffey , George in Celtic Antiquities of the Christian Period , 20 Google Scholar Mahr , Adolf in Christian Art in Ancient Ireland , 11 , 19 – 23 Google Scholar Munro , Robert in Archaeology and False Antiquities , 218 Google Scholar Watson , William , AJ , XXVII ( 1947 ), 178 –82Google Scholar Savory , H. N. , Dark Age Britain , 48 Google Scholar , footnote 42. Among European writers Mestorf mentioned ‘penannulars’ in Urnenfriedhöfe in Schleswig-Holstein, 1886 Berta Stjernquist developed Mestorf's arguments in Meddelanden fran Lunds Universitetets Historiska Museum ( 1947 ), 195 ff.Google Scholar

page 150 note 1 This work was done as part of a B. Litt. thesis in the University of Oxford. My grateful thanks are due to the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and to Professor Stuart Piggott and Professor Christopher Hawkes for all their help and encouragement. Although it is impossible to name individually the numerous museum authorities and friends who have helped with the compilation of the corpus and in other ways, I should like to express my gratitude to them all.

page 152 note 1 Watson , W. , AJ , XXVII ( 1947 ), 182 Google Scholar . Kilbride-Jones , H. E. , PRIA , XLIII C ( 1935 – 1937 ), 392 Google Scholar .

page 152 note 2 PSAS , LXX ( 1935 – 1936 ), 125 Google Scholar .

page 155 note 1 See Appendix p. 171 for details and references.

page 155 note 2 Hawkes , C. F. C. , Ant. , XXXIII ( 1959 ), 179 –81Google Scholar .

page 155 note 3 C. F. C. Hawkes, op. cit., 179 and 184.

page 155 note 4 Childe , V. G. , Prehistoric Communities of the British Isles ( 1952 ), 203 Google Scholar .

page 156 note 1 Hawkes , C. F. C. , AJ , XX ( 1940 ), 115–21, 276 –9Google Scholar and XXVI (1946), 187 ff, and Fox , C. , Pattern and Purpose ( 1958 )Google Scholar , chap. 2.


A Celtic brooch, called also penannular brooch, made with a scrap piece of thick copper wire.

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(from wikipedia) Penannular: ("Annular" means formed as a ring and "penannular" formed as an incomplete ring) brooches feature a long pin attached by its head to a ring the pin can move freely around the ring as far as the terminals. There is a gap between the terminals wide enough for the pin to pass through. Beginning as utilitarian fasteners in the Iron Age and Roman period, and in Ireland and Scotland from about 700 to 900, which are popularly known as Celtic brooches or similar terms. The brooches were worn by both men and women, usually singly at the shoulder by men and on the breast by women.

Discovered in the 19th Century, The Hunterston Brooch is a highly important Celtic brooch of “pseudo-penannular” type

The Hunterston Brooch is a highly important Celtic brooch of “pseudo-penannular” type found near Hunterston, North Ayrshire, Scotland, in either, according to one account, 1826 by two men from West Kilbride, who were digging drains at the foot of Goldenberry Hill, or in 1830. It is now in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. Made within a few decades of 700 AD, the Hunterston Brooch is cast in silver, gilt, and set with pieces of amber (most now missing), and decorated with interlaced animal bodies in gold filigree. The diameter of the ring is 12.2 cm, and in its centre there is a cross and a golden Glory representing the Risen Christ, surrounded by tiny bird heads. The pin, which is broken, can travel freely around the ring as far as the terminals, which was necessary for fastening it is now 13.1 cm long, but was probably originally 15 cm or more.

The front of the Hunterston Brooch, a 700 ad artifact located in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. Source

The brooch may have been made at a royal site, such as Dunadd in Argyll, though is more likely to have been made in Ireland, especially as its pseudo-penannular form is typical of Irish brooches, whereas the truly penannular form remained usual in Pictish brooches. On the other hand, its style is closely comparable to a terminal fragment of a penannular brooch found in Dunbeath in 1860 which probably was made in Scotland craftsmen may have traveled across the area using the locally popular forms.Lloyd and Jennifer Laing feel it was probably made in Dalriada, and the Museum of Scotland say “The style of the brooch has Irish parallels, while the filigree resembles metalwork from England. The brooch was probably made in western Scotland where the two traditions were joined, or perhaps in Ireland by a craftsman trained in foreign techniques.”

The brooch has a complex construction typical of the most elaborate Irish brooches. Panels of filigree work were created separately on gold trays, which were then fitted into the main silver-gilt body. On the reverse four panels of silver-gilt were also inserted as in other examples like the Tara Brooch the decoration on the reverse uses older curvilinear “Celtic” motifs looking back to La Tène style Insular Celtic decoration, though on the Hunterston Brooch such motifs also appear on the front.

The back of the brooch has a scratched inscription in runes in the Old Norse language, probably 10th century, “Melbrigda owns this brooch” Maél Brigda, “devotee of Bridgit” is a common Gaelic female name, though seen as male by other sources. Much later ownership inscriptions are not uncommon on elaborate Celtic brooches, often from Norse-Gael contexts.

The Hunterston Brooch is clearly an object of very high status, indicating the power and great prestige of its owner. With the Tara Brooch in Dublin, and the Londesborough Brooch in the British Museum, it is considered one of the finest of over 50 highly elaborate Irish Celtic brooches to survive, and is “arguably the earliest of the ornate penannular brooches from Britain and Ireland”

Vault of Valhalla - Viking, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Inspired Jewelry

Inspiration can also come from the past. In the case of Vault of Valhalla, one of my Twitter followers, the really distant past!

Vince Zahle, the artisan behind the designs thoroughly researches archaeological finds to come up with the lost wax cast jewelry created from his hand sculptured molds.

The designs are not direct copies but modern ones inspired from ancient motifs of medieval Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norse (pre-Christian Scandinavian) cultures.

The original archaeological jewelry behind Vince's pieces is meticulously noted on the site including information on"some concessions to materials and modern wear".

The Old Norse word víking meant an expedition overseas whereas víkingr referred to a sailor or warrior on such an expedition. So it's no wonder how the shop's name came about because many historical pieces once belonged to warrior chieftains and their families. Valhalla is the "hall of the slain", the mythical hall of the god, Odin.

The distinctive designs of the outstanding necklaces shown above were inspired by both Norse and Anglo Saxon artifacts. The single Jelling beast in the center focal comes from the more elaborate twisting snake like beasts of the Jelling Cup, a silver one found in the burial site of King Gorm the Old, the first king of Denmark and his wife Thyra. The round medallions feature the "wild man" element found in Anglo-Saxon designs. While the facing birds in the end triangular pieces "are a common motif in Celtic art but executed in Anglo-Norman style."

The different components of the necklaces means that some of them could be worn separately as gorgets (protective neck collars) or used as decorations for purses and armor.

Some of Vince's pieces include brooches. Paired brooches were apparently popular with Norse women. The eagle motif from the Bamberg brooches were modified from that found on Queen Kunigunde's (daughter of Canute the Great) Bamberg ivory and gilt bronze casket (jewelry box?) pictured below.

Bamberg Brooches
Bamberg Casket (picture source)
Early brooches like the penannular brooches I wrote about before and those by Vince below, functioned as clothes or cloak fasteners. The "wild man" and "running wolf" elements are Anglo-Saxon in origin. Vince added a bit of Celtic style knotwork at the bridge of the brooch on the left.

This fantastic dragon cloak clasp set was inspired by a Norse one dating back to around 1000 AD or CE.

There may be no real need for cloak pins these days but the treasures from the Vault of Valhalla will still delight history and medieval re-enactment fans!

Irish Treasures: The Tara Brooch

The Tara Brooch is another piece of ancient jewellery with a rich history. Older and more ornate than The Ardagh Chalice, it could even be considered more impressive than its fellow treasure due to the unbelievable skill that went into making such an ornate yet small piece. Of the fifty or so Celtic brooches that have been found in Ireland, it is definitely the most significant.

The Celts and Brooches

Brooches were a standard clothing accessory in Celtic times. They were used to fasten cloaks and were generally quite big and sturdy, a far cry from the delicate versions we wear today. They were worn by both men and women, although in different positions at the shoulder for men and at the chest for women. The pin was always pointed upwards, in fact there was even a law stating that if a person was injured by someone else’s pin, the owner was not at fault providing it did not protrude too far outwards (how exactly they measured that is anybody’s guess).

Designs started out plain and simple, but from around 700 – 900 AD there seemed to be a trend of beautifully decorated brooches made from precious metals. These would have been worn by the most important people in Celtic society (usually clergymen), but would have been ‘special occasion’ brooches, not the type of thing to be worn during ordinary day to day life. These more ornate brooches also get a mention in early Irish law the sons of major kings must wear ‘brooches of gold having crystal inserted in them’, although sons of minor kings could make do with silver. It is not known who the Tara Brooch was made for, although it’s obvious that it was for someone considerably wealthy and almost certainly male.

Celtic brooches come in two styles, known as annular and penannular. Annular brooches formed a complete ring with the pin being very large in size in relation to the ring. Penannular brooches had a small gap in the ring for the pin to move in between. In both styles, the ring section does not actually have any fastening function and is supposed to sit on top of the pin as a decorative element. The pin was pushed through the material, which was pulled back inside the ring. With penannular brooches the pin was then slightly rotated around the ring to secure it.

History of the Tara Brooch

The Tara Brooch is actually a little bit misleading, in name at least. The Hill of Tara, in the very centre of the country, was the seat of the high king of Ireland in Celtic days. It was used by ancient societies for many centuries and is generally considered to be a very sacred and highly important place. However, the brooch itself has nothing to do with Tara, and wasn’t even discovered anywhere close by. In 1850, two sons from a peasant family on the east coast, 50km north of Dublin, found it inside a tin box on a beach.

That was the mother’s version of the story at least. It seems unlikely that a small tin box would survive centuries of erosion and shifting sand, so a more believable (although unofficial) version is that they actually found the brooch further inland but didn’t want the owner of the land knowing anything about it in case he claimed it for himself. In any case, the boys brought their find home to their mother, who took it to an iron dealer. He quickly told her it was of absolutely no use or interest to him, but undeterred, the mother then brought it to a watchmaker. After cleaning and examination, this watchmaker determined that it was made of silver and covered with gold filigree, and bought it for the whopping sum of 18 pence. He didn’t hold onto it for very long however, and sold it on to Waterhouse Jewellers for a somewhat more profitable twelve pounds.

At this time in Ireland a Celtic Revival was in full swing. Celtic art, songs, language and traditions were becoming increasingly popular, especially among the middle classes. George Waterhouse, owner of Waterhouse Jewellers, was one of the people responsible for it. He had been producing jewellery inspired by Celtic styles for some time already, and had a very good reputation because of it. When the brooch fell into his hands, he saw an irresistible sales opportunity and renamed it the Tara Brooch. So that’s where the name comes from!

For the next 22 years the Tara Brooch was the centre piece of Waterhouse’s display in his Dublin shop. People visited in droves – even Queen Victoria wanted to see it, and requested for it to be sent to Windsor Castle for inspection. It was featured in the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and later in the Exposition Universelle in Paris, as well as an exhibition in Dublin in 1853, where the Queen came to look at it for a second time. In 1872 it was acquired by the Royal Irish Academy, the organisation responsible for setting up what is now the National Museum of Ireland. Sadly it lost several of its gold panels along the way, but its intricate beauty can still be seen in the museum today.

Features of the Brooch

The brooch has been dated back to 700AD, made from silver-gilt and gold filigree along with some coloured glass and small amounts of amber and copper. All of the materials used are of exceptionally high quality. It is seven inches in length and would have taken all of the techniques, skills and talents of one goldsmith to produce, as it was made in several small pieces with much of the decoration done on panels which were then fixed into place.

The brooch is pseudo-penannular in style, meaning that the ring has no opening but the design is the same as a penannular brooch. Instead of a gap it has fully joined terminals with an emphasis in the design on where the gap would be. It has a silver chain of plaited wire attached by a swivel attachment, which leads experts to believe that it was fastened in a slightly different way to other brooches. The pin would have been secured by tying it down onto the material with the chain, possibly using another small pin at the end to pierce the cloth.

Before some of the panels went astray, the brooch was completely covered in decoration on both the front and back. Even the pin has some gold filigree work on the shaft, although for practical reasons it is a lot less intricate than the pin. The back side is flatter than the front but both sides feature elaborate motifs separated by studs of glass, enamel and amber. The back side includes panels of silver fastened over copper. In contrast to other types of jewellery from the time, the Tara Brooch has no Christian or Pagan symbolism. Its decoration is entirely embellished with celtic knots and interlaces, triskeles, animal and human heads and geometric shapes. This is probably because it was intended as a symbol of wealth and status rather than anything else.

Interlace design covers almost the entire surface of the Tara Brooch. The techniques used to create this aspect alone include filigree, chip carving, granulation, and embossing, so it is clearly an example of a master craftsman at work. Interlace is complicated at the best of times, as an ‘under-over’ effect has to be created and each crossing has to alternate. It needs to be done by gold wire work and beading so doing this perfectly in minute detail on the small panels of the brooch would not have been an easy task. Triskeles (a triple spiral design that forms a triangular shape, used in Celtic art for the most important sites and people in the society) are also a prominent feature on the front of the pin.

On the seven inches of the brooch there are more than 20 representations of dragons and serpents. In some places they are incorporated into the knot-work on the interlacing, and in others there are molded heads and engravings. They appear both as opposing pairs and singly. The best example is the pin’s head which started out as a golden nugget, and was moulded and engraved to look like a dragon’s head. Human heads can be seen too, but either the maker or the wearer of the pin seems to have been more fond of dragons and snakes.

It is unusual for a brooch to be decorated on both sides, as only the front is seen when worn. But the Tara Brooch has equally beautiful although not as detailed decoration on the back. This was either because the maker wanted a complete piece (or wanted to show off), or because the Celts believed that placing certain designs on the body gave protective powers. The back is made up of copper plates covered in silver foil which has been cut through to make patterns and shapes. Again, interlace, triskeles, scrolls and spirals make up the bulk of the design work. Unlike the front, the decoration has been cast rather than embossed, carved or engraved. The triskel design on the Tara Brooch inspired one of our newest pieces the Silver Triskel Pendant.

The designs are broken up with studs at various intervals with beads of amber, glass, and enamel. These are probably the only element of the brooch that is even remotely simplistic – the maker has stuck to ordinary geometric shapes with a few human head engravings. The amber studs are the largest and are engraved with triskeles, while the smaller beads have single circles or other designs.

It’s a shame that the brooch is no longer in perfect condition who knows what other intricate designs adorned the missing panels? It’s fair to assume they would have been reasonably similar to the surviving panels of course, but there can never be too many examples of such high quality work. Luckily, it’s easy to imagine what it would have looked like as a complete piece, since the rest of it is still in such fine condition.

The Tara Brooch inspired and influenced a lot of people after its discovery with its striking and quintessentially Celtic design. Brooches in the penannular style became extremely popular in Ireland, with many feeling that it was a perfect representation of their Celtic roots. It’s still inspiring and representing people today, and although we may not wear brooches as big or as ornate these days (or cloaks to fasten for that matter), a penannular style brooch is still a unique and eye-catching accessory.

We’ve combined this with another adornment the Celts were so fond of – The Torc you will see, has inspired many pieces in our handcrafted Fine Irish jewellery collection where you will also see Celtic knot

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a minor king to wear it :D!

Dating from the early medieval period, the Londesborough Brooch is a Celtic pseudo-penannular brooch from Ireland, elaborate example of a dress fastener

The Londesborough Brooch is a Celtic pseudo-penannular brooch from Ireland. Dating from the early medieval period, it is a particularly elaborate example of a dress fastener that was produced during Ireland’s artistic golden age, when objects such as the Tara Brooch and Ardagh Chalice were produced. Since 1888, it has been part of the British Museum’s collection

The brooch and pin were cast in silver, though the metal is heavily debased, and tests show it contains about 65% copper, 34% silver, with traces of lead and gold.

This might reflect an origin in melted-down late Roman coins. The pieces were thickly gilded on the front, and selectively on parts of the back of the head. The pin was cast in two pieces, head and shank, joined with a rivet.

Both head and pin were ornamented with geometric and zoomorphic patterns and inset with amber pieces, some now missing. On the back of the head there are two blue glass studs near where the large terminal joins the hoop. There are many small differences between the decoration of the right and left sides of the head, although the overall impression is one of symmetry.

Many details of the decoration recall the earlier Tara Brooch and the Breadalbane Brooch (the latter also in the British Museum). However, unlike most other very elaborate brooches of the type, the Londesborough Brooch lacks any gold filigree decoration, and aspects of the decoration recall larger pieces of church metal work such as shrines.

Londesborough Brooch in the British Museum. Source

The intricate decoration on precious metal and the large size of the brooch suggest it was made for a wealthy patron or religious leader in Ireland in the late eighth or early ninth centuries AD.

The pseudo-penannular form is typical of Irish brooches at this period in a true penannular brooch there is a gap in the center of the wide terminals ending the hoop through which the pin can pass.

In the pseudo-penannular type the terminal sides are joined, here by two narrow bands, making the brooch less efficient as a fastener.

Little is known about the original circumstances of the brooch’s discovery before it became part of Lord Londesborough’s collection.

The British Museum purchased the brooch in 1888. With the Tara Brooch in Dublin, and the Hunterston Brooch in Edinburgh, it is considered one of the finest of over 50 highly elaborate Irish Celtic brooches to survive.

Tara Brooch (8th Century)

One of the great surviving masterpieces of Celtic metalwork art of the early eighth century, the Tara Brooch is named after the Hill of Tara, seat of the legendary High Kings of Ireland. Dated to about 700 CE, the brooch is seven-inches in length and consists mainly of silver gilt with a knitted silver wire, decorated all over with intricate Celtic interlace patternwork. However, it has no link with either Tara or Irish royalty, having been discovered outside Bettystown, near Laytown, County Meath, in 1850 by a peasant woman. The artifact was only called the Tara Brooch as a sales ploy by the antique dealer who purchased it. Even so, it is considered one of the great treasures of the Irish Insular style in the history of Irish art.

Although in appearance the Tara Brooch is a Roman-style penannular ring brooch - most of which were used for fastening woollen cloaks - it was intended primarily as a decorative status symbol. An exquisite example of medieval jewellery art, scholars believe it was made for a wealthy patron, probably male, as a sign of his wealth and high status. This is consistent with the superlative quality of materials and metallurgical craftwork used in the manufacture of the brooch.

For details of the development
of metalwork among the Ancient
Celts, which culminated in the
masterpieces of the late La Tene
period and Hiberno-Saxon
Insular style, please see:
Celtic Art, Early Style
Celtic Coins Art
Celtic Art, Wadalgesheim Style
Celtic Art, Late European Style
Celtic Art in Britain and Ireland
Celtic Style Christian Art
Celtic Weapons Art

Celtic metalworking exemplifies
numerous Celtic designs - many
influenced by Greek and Etruscan
artists - developed by craftsmen
among the Ancient Celts.

The construction of the Tara Brooch exemplifies the advanced craft of goldsmithing in Ireland during the era of early Christian art. Fashioned from cast silver, the entire surface is embellished in the La Tène style of Celtic art. Its front is ornamented with panels of interlace design in gold filigree and zoographic triskeles. The settings contain numerous geometric shapes in amber. Several connecting parts of the brooch are emblazoned with designs of animal heads - including wolves and dragons - as well as human heads in glass. Its rear is decorated in plainer style, with panels of silver fastened over copper.

The Tara Brooch is one of several great artifacts of Celtic metalwork: such as the Iron Age Broighter Collar, and Petrie Crown, the 8th/9th century Derrynaflan Chalice, the Moylough Belt Shrine, and the Ardagh Chalice, and the processional crosses known as the Tully Lough Cross (8th/9th century) and the 12th century Cross of Cong, created for Turlough O'Connor to hold a relic of the Crucifixion.

Celtic Cultural Revival

The Tara Brooch displays no religious iconography - neither Christian nor pagan - which is consistent with other similar brooches of the period. As one of the most interesting examples of Celtic culture, its discovery - along with that of the Ardagh Chalice - lent momentum to the Celtic Cultural Revival of Victorian Britain. The brooch is on display at the National Museum of Ireland.

• For information about art and crafts in Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For our main arts index, see: Homepage.

[email protected] of Nebraska - Lincoln



Date of this Version


Ward, Esther. "Zoomorphic Penannular Brooches in 6 th and 7 th Century Ireland." MA thesis, University of Nebraska, 2012.


A thesis presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, Major: Art History, under the supervision of Professor Alison Stewart. Lincoln, Nebraska: December 2012.

Copyright (c) 2012 Esther Ward


In this thesis the author examines the evolution, manufacture, and societal significance of zoomorphic penannular brooches, a type of metal dress fastener used in early medieval Ireland that is often decorated. The brooches examined are dated to the 6 th and 7 th centuries, during which the Irish underwent a process of religious conversion from Celtic paganism to Christianity, and social rank was paramount. It is in this social context that the brooches are examined. Despite the significance of this time of social change, brooches from this period tend to be overlooked by scholarship in favor of the more ornate metalwork of the 8 th and 9 th centuries. The author begins by discussing the origin and evolution of the zoomorphic penannular brooch form, and the motifs used to decorate it. This is followed by an explanation of the brooch in early medieval Irish society, based on an examination of early Irish law and literature.

The author took measures to make the field of Medieval Irish metalwork more accessible to scholars outside of Ireland and the UK. The study is presented in a clear manner that is accessible to the outsider, and provides explanatory diagrams and a glossary of terms frequently used in the discipline. In order to amend the lack of high quality images of brooches from this period, the author has provided images of fourteen brooches from the period, 11 of which she handled and photographed at the National Museum of Ireland and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. The thesis includes a catalogue of six of these brooches, complete with detailed photos and formal analyses. By way of her research, the author has made the study of 6 th and 7 th century zoomorphic penannular brooches more accessible to scholars who are outsiders to the field, with the aim of encouraging research of these items during this fascinating time of religious and cultural transition.

Watch the video: 2 Hours of Celtic Music by Adrian von Ziegler Part 13 (July 2022).


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