Franks Casket

Franks Casket

The Franks Casket (or the Auzon Runic Casket) is a small [9 by 7½ by 5⅛ inches, according to Amy L. Vandersall, "The Date and Provenance of the Franks Casket" "Gesta" 11.2 (1972:9-26) p. 9; Ms Vandersall summarises the previous scholarship in setting the casket into an art-historical, rather than linguistic context.] whalebone chest, carved with narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and inscribed with Anglo-Saxon runes. The casket is dateable from the language of its inscriptions and other features to the mid-seventh century CE. The casket is densely decorated with images and interpreting the runic inscriptions [Later Northumbrian extensions do not appear.] has occupied linguists. The casket is now on display at the British Museum. Generally reckoned to be of Northumbrian origin, [The first considerable publication, by George Stephens, "Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England" (1866-1901) I-II:470-76, 921-23, III:200-04, IV:40-44, placed it in Northumbria and dated it in the eighth century.] it is of unique importance for the insight it gives into early Anglo-Saxon culture.

The majority of the history of the casket was unknown until relatively recently. It was in the possession of a family in Auzon, a village in Haute Loire (upper Loire region) France. It served as a sewing box until the silver hinges were traded for a silver ring. Without the support of these the casket fell apart. The parts were shown to a Professor Mathieu from nearby Clermont-Ferrand, who sold them to an antique shop in Paris, where they were bought in 1857 by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, who subsequently donated the panels in 1867 to the British Museum, where he was Keeper of British and Medieval. the missing right end panel was later found in a drawer by the family in Auzon and sold to the Bargello Museum, Florence, where it was identified as part of the casket in 1890. Investigation by W.H.J. Weale revealed that the casket had belonged to the church of Saint-Julien, Brioude; it is possible that it was looted during the French Revolution. [Vandersall 1972:24 note 1.]

The imagery is multiform in its inspirations and includes a single Christian image, the Adoration of the Magi, depicted along with images derived from Roman history (Emperor Titus) and Roman mythology (Romulus and Remus), as well as depictions of legends indigenous to the Germanic peoples: the Germanic legend of Weyland the Smith, an episode from the Sigurd legend, and a legend that is apparently an otherwise lost episode from the life of Weyland's brother Egil. [Vandersall 1972:9.]


Front panel

The front panel depicts elements from the Germanic legend of Wayland Smith on the left panel, and the adoration of the Magi on the right. Around the panel, runs the following inscription:

:"hronæs ban":"fisc . flodu . ahof on ferg" (compound continued on next line):"enberig":"warþ ga:sric grorn þær he on greut giswom"

Which may be interpreted as:: "whalebone : fish flood hove on mountain : The ghost-king was rueful when he swam onto the grit"Fact|date=May 2008

The two alliterating lines constitute the oldest piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry::" fisc flodu / ahof on fergenberig":"warþ gasric grorn / þær he on greut giswom "

Left panel

The left panel depicts the mythological twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The inscription reads::"oÞlæ unneg //":"Romwalus and Reumwalus // twoegen":"gibroðær":"a // fœddæ hiæ wylif // in Romæcæstri:."

Which may be interpreted as::"far from home / Romulus and Remus, twain brothers / the she-wolf fed them in Rome-chester"Fact|date=May 2008

Rear panel

The rear panel depicts a scene from the First Jewish-Roman War and contains the inscription::"her fegtaþ" :"+titus end giuþeasu HIC FUGIANT HIERUSALIM":"afitatores":"dom / gisl" [below depictions of figures]

Which may be interpreted as::"Here fight / Titus and the Jews — here the inhabitants of Jerusalem flee / doom / hostage"Fact|date=May 2008

Right panel

This panel contains three more alliterating lines: :"herh os sitæþ on hærmberge":"agl(ac) drigiþ swa hir i erta e gisgraf":"særden sorgæ and sefa tornæ"

A definite translation of the lines has met with difficulty. Usually "her hos sitæþ" is read, "here sits the horse" (there is a horse in the panel, but it isn't sitting). Becker reads "herh os", "the god of the wood". "særden" has various interpretations.


Becker attempts the translation::"the wood-god sits on harm's mountain":"causing ill fortune, as Erta demanded" (W. Krause):"they cause sorrow and heartache".

Which is dependent upon the translation of::" risci / wudu / bita ":"twig / wood / biter": "Risci" means "rush" or "elk sedge" in the runic poem, the type of plant that marks the valkyrie and stands for the white swan (OED), one form of valkyrian appearance. - "Wudu" can be understood as a poetic name for "spear". The Valkyrie flings a twig at her victim, a twig which turns into a spear. As a fatal weapon it turns into a "bita" ("sting" or "wound"), just like the staff of the lady at the grave blends into a spear, the spearhead formed by the rune for "t". A similar event is reflected in the "Gautreksaga": "Then Starkathr thrust at the king with the wand and said: 'Now I give thee to Othinn.' Then Starkathr let gto the fir bough. The wand became a spear and pierced through the king."


Leslie Webster translates the panels inscription as follows::"Here Hos sits on the sorrow mound":"She suffers distress as Ertae had imposed it upon her":"A wretched den (?wood) of sorrows and torments of mind".


The lid shows a scene of an archer, labelled "Ægili", single-handedly defending a fortress against a troop of attackers. A lady who is probably his wife or lover is also shown within the fortress. In Norse mythology, Egil is named as a brother of Weyland, who is shown on the front panel of the casket. The "Þiðrekssaga" depicts Egil as a master archer and the "Völundarkviða" tells that he was the husband of the swan maiden Olrun. The Pforzen buckle inscription, dating to about the same period as the casket, also makes reference to the couple Egil and Olrun ("Áigil andi Áilrun").


Becker (1973 and web site) attempted to interpret the casket as a whole, finding a programme documenting a warrior-king's life and after life, with each of the scenes emblematic of a certain period in life. The front (f and g) panel stands for "birth" and assistance by the Fylgja, the picture and inscription on the left panel (r) meant to protect the hero on his way to war, the back panel (t) documenting the peak of a warrior-king's life is glory won by victory over his enemies, the right panel (s) alluding to a heroic death in battle.

The lid (æ) shows the Wayland brother Egil and his companion, a Valkyrie, defending Valhalla against the frost giants. Each scene corresponds with a certain rune in a definite position (f, g, r, t, s, æ, producing a value of 3 x 24). Becker also attempts a numerological analysis of the inscriptions, counting a total of 288 or 12 x 24 signs (runes, Latin letters and punctuation). The number of runes refers to a ten-year solar calendar while their value produces a lunar calendar. The mainly Latin formula ‘HIC FUGIANT HIERUSALIM’ produces a perfect Metonic cycle with all its leap years indicated by rune-like symbols.

As the two alliterating runes 'f' ("feoh") and 'g' ("gift") on the front panel can be understood as Old English "feogift" (bounty, largesse) and as the pictures of the Magi (bringers of "gifts") and of the mythical goldsmith (maker of trinkets etc.) express the same, the box may have served a king as his hoard box from he handed out his gifts to his followers in the hall. As the magic intention points to pagan practice, this ruler may have been the Northumbrian King Edwin (586-633). Both the numerological analysis and the interpretation that pagan or royal practice is indicated are highly speculative and accepted by few scholars.



* Alfred Becker: "Franks Casket. Zu den Bildern und Inschriften des Runenkästchens von Auzon" (Regensburg 1973)
* Alfred Becker, "Franks Casket Revisited," "Asterisk, A Quarterly Journal of Historical English Studies", 12 (2003), 83 -128.
* Alfred Becker, "A Magic Spell "powered by" a Lunisolar Calendar," "Asterisk, A Quarterly Journal of Historical English Studies", 15 (2006), 55 -73.
*E.G. Clark, "The Right Side of the Franks Casket," "PMLA", 45 (1930), pp. 339-353.
*M. Clunies Ross, "A suggested Interpretation of the Scene depicted on the Right-Hand Side of the Franks Casket", Medieval Archaeology 14 (1970), pp. 148-152.
*S.T.R.O. D'Ardenne, "Does the right side of the Franks Casket represent the burial of Sigurd?" "Études Germaniques", 21 (1966), pp. 235-242.
*W. Krause, "Erta, ein anglischer Gott", "Die Sprache" 5; Festschrift Havers (1959), 46-54.
*W. Krogmann, "Die Verse vom Wal auf dem Runenkästchen von Auzon," "Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift", N.F. 9 (1959), pp. 88-94.
*J. Lang, "The Imagery of the Franks Casket: Another Approach," in J. Hawkes & S. Mills (ed.) "Northumbria’s Golden Age" (1999) pp. 247 – 255
*K. Malone, "The Franks Casket and the Date of Widsith," in A.H. Orrick (ed.), "Nordica et Anglica, Studies in Honor of Stefán Einarsson", The Hague 1968, pp. 10-18.
*Th. Müller-Braband," Studien zum Runenkästchen von Auzon und zum Schiffsgrab von Sutton Hoo"; Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik 728 (2005)
* Jane Hawkes and Susan Mills (editors), "Northumbria's Golden Age" (1999); with articles by L. Webster, James Lang, C. Neuman de Vegvar on various aspects of the casket.
*M. Osborn, "The Grammar of the Inscription on the Franks Casket, right Side," "Neuphilologische Mitteilungen" 73 (1972), pp. 663-671.
*M. Osborn, "The Picture-Poem on the Front of the Franks Casket", Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 75 (1974), pp. 50-65.
*M. Osborn, "The Lid as Conclusion of the Syncretic Theme of the Franks Casket," in A. Bammesberger (ed.), "Old English Runes and their Continental Background", Heidelberg 1991, pp. 249-268.
*K. Schneider, "Zu den Inschriften und Bildern des Franks Casket und einer ae. Version des Mythos von Balders Tod," in "Festschrift für Walther Fischer," Heidelberg 1959, pp. 4-20.
* P. W. Souers, "The Top of the Franks Casket," "Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature", 17 (1935), pp. 163-179.
*P. W. Souers, "The Franks Casket: Left Side," "Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature", 18 (1936), pp. 199-209.
*P. W. Souers, "The Magi on the Franks Casket," "Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature", 19 (1937), pp. 249-254.
*P. W. Souers, "The Wayland Scene on the Franks Casket," "Speculum" 18 (1943), pp. 104-111.
* K. Spiess, "Das angelsächsische Runenkästchen (die Seite mit der Hos-Inschrift)," in "Josef Strzygowski-Festschrift", Klagenfurt 1932, pp. 160-168.
*A.L. Vandersall, "The Date and Provenance of the Franks Casket," "Gesta" 11, 2 (1972), pp. 9-26.
*L. Webster, "The Franks Casket," in L. Webster - J. Backhouse (eds), "The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture, AD 600-900", London 1991, pp. 101-103.
*L. Webster, "The Iconographic Programme of the Franks Casket," in J. Hawkes & S. Mills (ed.) "Northumbria’s Golden Age" (1999), pp. 227 - 246
*L. Webster, "Stylistic Aspects of the Franks Casket," in R. Farrell (ed.), "The Vikings", London 1982, pp. 20-31.
*A. Wolf, "Franks Casket in literarhistorischer Sicht," "Frühmittelalterliche Studien" 3 (1969), pp. 227-243.

External links

* [ The Franks Casket] (British Museum page)
* [ The Franks Casket] (Alfred Becker, Web Site)


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