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.