The development of (proto)-disc-on-bow brooches in England, Frisia and Scandinavia


  • V.S. Olsen


This article describes the emergence, chronology, development, distribution, iconography and symbolic meaning of the (proto)-disc-on-bow brooches. Disc-on-bow brooches have been found in the most luxuriously furnished graves. They appear in small numbers throughout North-Western Europe and throughout Scandinavia, with a concentration on Gotland where more than 150 specimens have been excavated. Disc-on-bow brooches were worn from c. 500 AD until c. 1050 AD (Gotland). The decoration of each of these brooches carries a symbolism which refer to the deity Óðinn (aka Odin/Wodan). The disc-on-bow brooches disappear from these regions with the rise of Christianity. In this light, I conclude that disc-on-bow brooches were an adornment exclusively connected with paganism.

The women at the pinnacle of early medieval society occupied honorary positions as priestesses within the Óðinn-cult and performed the 'seidr', that is herbalist wisdom combined with magic. They also performed ritual sacrifice. The conclusions from this study pinpoint the importance of symbolism in early medieval society, the role of women within pagan belief-systems, and the way in which such beliefs were expressed through the wearing of the disc-on-bow brooch.