St James's Park

Iron Age Britain

Votive Offerings in the River Thames

400–50 BC, River Thames, London, England.

A bronze shield found in river deposits near the River Thames at Chertsey in England was not made for battle; and it has a pair of double-headed snakes beside the handle.

'An early Iron Age spearhead was found in the River Thames near London,' said Quintin. 'It had four ornate pieces of bronzework riveted to the blade and was probably never intended to be used in anger. Daggers have been found in their sheaths, at Chelsea, Wandsworth, Barn Elms and loads of other places along the river. Plenty of long swords have been found too, real serviceable ones. A bronze helmet with large bulls horns, like those seen on the Wagnerian stage; that was found during the mid-Victorian era near Waterloo Bridge. It probably dates to the first century BC.'

'A shield was found in a gravel pit near the Thames at Chertsey in 1985,' replied Miranda. 'In an old river course. It dates to the middle Iron Age and had probably been made especially for throwing into the water, like they used to do to votive objects in Minoan times, since it was made of solid bronze and all functional shields were made of leather and wood.'

'Perhaps it was decorative,' said Quintin.

'Or perhaps it was a symbolic object, meant to represent a shield, rather than actually being one. A representation in bronze that would last for a long time. And look at the design on it.' Miranda passed the book over to Quintin. 'Two snakes. Aren’t they brilliant!'

'Two two-headed snakes,' agreed Quintin. 'There have been loads of swords recovered from the River Thames near London and from the River Witham in Lincolnshire. On the River Witham they were all thrown from a platform that might have been built for the purpose; to place votive offerings in the water.

'Perhaps it was seen as a way of laying down some wealth or prestige that might be able to be cashed in somehow, or recovered in the next life,' suggested Miranda.

'Well, snakes do shed their skins and give the impression of being reborn. Old sagas from Iceland sometimes have a hero lose a sword in a lake or the sea only to have it magically recovered again later,' replied Quintin. 'In the saga of Hromund Gripsson, for example, Hrommund loses his sword Mistiltein in a battle on a frozen lake where he receives a terrifying wound. He later recovers the sword again from the stomach of a pike and it heals him of his wound.

'And the medieval romance hero Sir Eglamour of Artois is given a sword recovered from the bottom of the sea, before he goes off on adventures that will see him reunited with his true love Christabel only after she has begun a new life as the daughter of the King of Egypt.

iron age shield artwork

Chertsy shield. Artistic impression taken from: Stead, Ian, 1985 reprinted 1996. Celtic Art: In Britain before the Roman Conquest. The British Museum Press. Chapter 5: Weapons and arnour, pp 60–77. Chertsey votive shield, pp 71–3.

See for yourself

La Tène Culture – Wikipedia

The Chertsey Shield – Oval shield, made entirely of coper alloy sheet. British Museum number 1986,0901.1. View one of the photographs of the back of the shield

Hrómundar saga Gripssonar – Wikipedia

The Saga of Hromund Gripsson – translated by Gavin Chappell: New Northvegr Center

Celtic Art – British Museum Publication by Ian Stead, beautifully illustrated, unfortunately not now available from the British Museum website but well worth obtaining if you can

Dead and yet alive

District Line

entrance to a passage grave
dark interior of a man-made cavern with a standing stone rising from the floor

Navigate the tunnel

Shared motifs

Dead and yet alive: summary

Current location, and view all motifs

hawk in flight
Advanced Tips
Type Example Notes
Fuzzy kettle~ Contain terms that are close to the word kettle, such as cattle
Wild cat* Contain terms that begin with cat, such as category and the extact term cat itself
Exact-Single orange Contain the term orange
Exact-Phrase "dnn is awesome" Contain the exact phase dnn is awesome
OR orange bike Contain the term orange or bike, or both. OR, if used, must be in uppercase
orange OR bike
AND orange AND bike Contain both orange and bike. AND must be in uppercase
Combo (agile OR extreme) AND methodology Contain methodology and must also contain agile and/or extreme
Results per Page:
Limit the search results with the specified tags.
Limit the search results modified within the specified time.
Limit the search results from the specified source.
Search results must be an exact match for the keywords.
dark interior of a man-made cavern with a standing stone rising from the floor