16.10.12, Martin, The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England

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Bev Thurber

The Medieval Review 16.10.12

Martin, Toby F. The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England. Anglo-Saxon Studies, 25. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2015. pp. xvi, 338. ISBN: 978-1-84383-993-4 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Bev Thurber
Shimer College

Cruciform brooches were worn by women in places occupied by speakers of Germanic languages (including England, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Scandinavia) in the fifth and sixth centuries, but remained in use the longest in Anglian England. They were probably brought to England by immigrants in around 420. In the subsequent century and a half, they gradually developed into large, complex brooches that were used to fasten cloaks. Martin argues that they became symbols of Anglian identity toward the end of the fifth century (204) and "are fundamental to our understanding of Anglo-Saxon and even European chronology" (5). In fact, in the conclusion of the book, Martin notes that he "would prefer to argue that Anglian identity was unimaginable without these things" (236).

The stated aims of this study are "to provide a useful reference guide outlining practical matters such as typology, chronology, types of decoration, geographical parameters, usage as a part of dress, and the nature of the archaeological contexts in which cruciform brooches occur" and "to couch each and every one of these observations...in terms of their social significance" (xiv). In accordance with these two aims, the book's seven chapters can be divided into two parts, one concerned with describing and classifying the brooches and one concerned with broader implications. In these chapters, Martin seeks to answer questions about how these brooches fit into Anglo-Saxon society and how they helped the women who wore them construct an Anglian identity.

The first part of the book consists primarily of a description of the archaeological data. Fundamental to this part is Chapter 2, "A New Typology for Cruciform Brooches," which, at nearly eighty pages, is the longest in the book. It describes the author's scheme for classifying cruciform brooches into four groups with numerous subgroups. This scheme is based on a correspondence analysis of features such as size and ornamentation. To develop it, Martin examined or collected detailed pictures of 2075 cruciform brooches (671 complete and 1404 fragmentary). Chapter 3, "Building a Chronological Framework," extends the classification scheme along a temporal dimension to describe the evolution of the cruciform brooch and provide a way to date new artifacts based on their style; the chronological summary on page 128 is particularly useful in this regard.

The three appendices support the first part of the book by providing detailed information on the brooches used in the analysis. The first two appendices list these brooches by type and location. Many of them are illustrated in the book, and the complete data set is available online at doi:10.5284/1028833. The third appendix provides guidance for the classification of brooch fragments, which may be difficult to assign to a particular group because of their incomplete sets of diagnostic features. However, the ability to classify them is important because most brooch finds are fragmentary.

These two chapters and the three appendices form the bulk of the first part of the book. Together, they provide an excellent example of how correspondence analysis can be used with numerous artifacts of a certain type. Martin describes cruciform brooches as "a textbook case in the study of material cultural evolution" (5), and the book does indeed function as an example of how to perform this type of analysis. It should be useful to students of archaeology for that reason alone.

Chapter 4, "Cycles of Exchange and Production," bridges the two parts of the book by showing how these techniques and the images created using them "encapsulate multiple aspects of Anglo-Saxon society and material culture" (160). It comprises descriptions of how the brooches were made and used with a focus on the techniques used for creating and repairing them. These include both manufacturing techniques, such as casting, and decorating techniques, such as notching and punching. Based on the data from the first part of the book, Martin describes how the brooches were used and repaired over many years, possibly throughout their owners' lifetimes. The results show that they were worn daily rather than reserved for special occasions (207).

In the next two chapters, Martin accomplishes the second goal of the study by explaining how cruciform brooches can be used in the study of Anglo-Saxon society and culture. Chapter 5, "Migrants, Angles and Petty Kings," uses a kernel density analysis of the locations at which brooches have been found to show how they convey social and cultural information about the society their wearers lived in. In Chapter 6, "Bearers of Tradition," Martin explains how and why mature women, who were the primary wearers of cruciform brooches, were the ones to convey this information. This chapter includes a description of the types of clothing typically worn by women and an explanation of the evidence showing that cruciform brooches were first used to fasten peplos dresses and then evolved into cloak fasteners (197).

Martin suggests that cruciform brooches began to signify Anglian identity at about the same time as women began using them to fasten cloaks, i.e., toward the end of the fifth century (204). Women who lived "within the core Anglian region" were more likely to fasten their cloaks with cruciform brooches when they reached the appropriate age than women living outside that region once that became the preferred use for these brooches (201-2). Martin ends the chapter by proposing that these women were "part of a network of elite groups throughout Europe" and stresses the importance of clothing to identity (231).

These chapters are bracketed by a general introduction and a brief conclusion that draws together the results of the study. Overall, it is a very strong book with a secure foundation in the archaeological evidence. Its weaknesses are minor; for example, it mentions that cruciform brooches were primarily worn by mature women before the analysis of grave finds that supports this conclusion, which appears in Chapter 6. The book does not include a detailed description of the mathematical methods used. Such an addition might be helpful to readers seeking to use the book as a model for how to do this type of analysis. However, that is not one of the book's stated aims; Martin's intention was to see what could be learned from the results of the analysis.

The book is well written and well put together. It should be useful to scholars seeking to understand Anglian identity, interested in details of material culture, or studying the relationship between clothing and identity. The argument is built on a solid analytic foundation, which allows the book to serve as an example of how to build a socio-cultural interpretation of archaeological data.

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