Anglo-Saxon Animal Art: Colour and Discover

The Anglo-Saxons used complicated animal patterns to decorate the Staffordshire Hoard. They can sometimes be difficult to understand. This picture shows some of the decoration from the Hoard. Can you spot, in the picture below, some of the parts usually found in Anglo-Saxon animal art?

  • Long jaws biting itself or another animal
  • Pear shaped thighs
  • Clawed feet
  • Round oval shaped eyes

We think that some of the animals that the Anglo-Saxons used as decoration had special meanings.

Birds

Birds were probably meant to be ravens or eagles. Both of these birds were linked to Odin (King of the Norse gods and the god of wisdom and magic). Eagles might have been  used to represent victory like they had to the Romans. The Anglo-Saxons believed birds could communicate with the gods and that they could predict the future.

Boar

As well as birds, boars have also been linked with Odin. They might have been used on weapons like in the Hoard for protection. An Anglo-Saxon helmet from Benty Grange in Derbyshire has a boar crest on the top which probably was believed to protect the wearer in battle. The statue of an Anglo-Saxon warrior in the museum foyer has a boar on the crest of his helmet. Boars can also be fierce animals and could have been used on helmets to intimidate the enemy.

The Staffordshire Saxon

Fish

Fish were used by the Anglo-Saxons for protection on shields. When the Anglo-Saxons became Christian, they carried on using fish as a Christian symbol. We don’t know exactly which fish they were showing but they might have been pike. Pike are aggressive predators, exactly the kind of qualities you would need going into battle.

Snake

Snake like creatures are described in epic poems like Beowulf as fearsome monsters that have to be defeated by the hero. But snakes could also be for protection and healing. Snakes were also used in Christianity as symbols of evil and temptations. In Anglo-Saxon art snakes are used in complicated twisting patterns and knotwork. Some of these are so complicated that it is difficult to see the animal parts. You might be able to spot the same sort of jaws and eyes as on the first picture.

Images used under licence from ADS. Data copyright © Barbican Research Associates, Birmingham City Council, Trustees of the British Museum, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise stated.

The colouring sheets can be downloaded here:

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Written by Abigail Taylor (Assistant Curator, Local History/VSA) - Modified by Glenn Roadley (Curator, Natural Sciences)

One thought on “Anglo-Saxon Animal Art: Colour and Discover”

  1. Angie says:

    Found this via a Facebook friend, Fantastic resources that have kept my kids entertained while being home schooled in Australia 🙂

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