1. Rock crystal buckle with a silver tongue

Merovingian, early to mid-6th century AD
Found in a grave near Châlons-sur-Marne,Marne, France

The buckle is probably from a belt. The hoop of rock crystal would have been cut and polished in the East Mediterranean region. Special skill was required to cut this stone, which was not possessed in the West. The buckle may have reached France in one of a variety of ways: by trade across the Mediterranean, as a diplomatic gift, or with a warrior who had come from the Lower Danube area.

Length: 4.5 cm
Morel Collection

2. Iron and silver buckle

Merovingian, 7th century AD
From Amiens, Somme, France

Overlaid with silver sheet and inlaid with silver wire

In spite of its large size, this buckle was probably worn on a woman's belt, together with a counter-plate of similar design. Two of the silver rivets for attachment to the belt are missing. The buckle is very elaborately decorated with interlaced Style II animals and animal heads, indicating the owner's high social status. It has been suggested that this style was at first adopted from Scandinavia by the Frankish court as a sign of political independence from the

East Roman Empire

. The silver is keyed by hammering into fine grooves in the surface of the iron, creating a colour contrast between the two metals. This type of work is typical of the late sixth and seventh centuries in continental Europe .

Length: 31.1 cm

3. Gold ring inscribed with the names Dromacius and Betta

Merovingian, late 6th - early 7th century AD
Found in a river near Mulsanne, Sarthe, France

A betrothal ring?

The figures of a man and a woman are engraved on the square bezel of the ring. They are presumably Dromacius and Betta, named in the inscription round the edge. The significance of the scene is unclear, but it may be intended to show a betrothal. The only clue we have is that Dromacius holds a spear, indicating that he is a free man, and not a slave. On each shoulder of the ring is a pair of Style II birds' heads in profile.

The ring weighs a little over twenty-four grams, the equivalent of between five and six standard Byzantine solidi. At this time a cow could be bought for just one of these gold coins, which gives us a fair idea both of the value of the ring and the wealth of the owner.

Diameter: 2.5 cm

4. Bréban grave group

Merovingian, early to mid-6th century AD
From a grave in a cemetery at Bréban, Marne , France

Grave goods from a high-status female grave

The woman who was buried at Bréban, went to the grave in all her finery in the pagan fashion. Her jewellery consists of: a pair of gold earrings inlaid with garnets and glass; a pair of gilded copper-alloy radiate-headed brooches, with garnet inlays and friezes of bird heads (found at the woman's waist); a pair of gilded silver quatrefoil brooches; a single gilded silver and garnet disc brooch found on her chest; amber beads, which were worn at the neck; and a bracelet of glass beads, from her left wrist; and a hairpin, jet ring, buckle and silver cosmetic implement. At the woman's feet were the iron hoops and handle from a wooden bucket and an iron spade-end.

The woman would have worn the brooches as dress-fasteners, possibly in a similar way to those from a grave at Artres, but with the addition of the disc brooch. Buckets are found in both male and female graves and could have held wine or beer at feasts. The spade-end was probably lost by one of the grave-diggers. The lady's high status is underlined by the depth of the rock-cut grave: at 2.3 metres it is deeper than the others in the cemetery, with the exception of an adjacent grave belonging to a well-armed male. These two graves may, therefore, have belonged to the leading members of a rural community, possibly husband and wife.

Although the burial is in the pagan style, the crosses in the designs of the earrings and the finger ring suggest that the woman could have been Christian, especially as there are other signs of Christianity in the cemetery. The Franks had adopted the Catholic religion of the native Gallo-Romans after the baptism of their king, Clovis , at Reims , around AD 500.

Length: 8.4 cm (large brooch)
Length: 8.4 cm (large brooch)
Diameter: 4 cm (earring)
Diameter: 4 cm (earring)
Diameter: 3 cm (disc brooch)
Length: 2.6 cm (quatrefoil brooch)
Length: 2.6 cm (quatrefoil brooch)
Width: 3 cm (buckle)
Length: 7.5 cm (pin)
Length: 3.7 cm (cosmetic implement, surviving)
Length: 21.4 cm (spade-end)
Diameter: 9.5 cm (bucket, circa)

5. Silver gilt and garnet brooch with a runic inscription

Merovingian (South German type), 6th century AD
Sometimes (dubiously) said to be from Kent , England

The inscription is lightly scratched in runes on the back of the brooch and rather haphazardly written, making it difficult to read all of the letters satisfactorily. However, it probably includes a personal name.

The Germanic custom of cutting short inscriptions on the backs of brooches was quite widespread. The angular forms of the letters suggest that they were meant mainly for cutting on wood, in which case many longer messages may not have survived. In fact a number of runic letters and poems written on wood are known from the later Viking and medieval periods in Scandinavia (between around the ninth to fourteenth centuries AD), and the early 'barbarian' peoples of Europe may also have been more literate than is generally thought.

Length: 7.4 cm

6. Chatelaine plate

Merovingian, 7th century AD
From Amiens, Somme , France

This copper-alloy plate, originally tinned to resemble silver, would have been worn on a chatelaine. The plate would have been hung from a belt by straps attached to the loops at the top.

When viewed vertically, the openwork design gives the vague impression of a stick figure between two other figures. The paired figures have birds' heads, and arms at an anatomically impossible angle. It is only when the object is viewed on its side, and the struts supporting the figures are ignored, that the design can be correctly read as a fish between two eagles.

The eagle has an early, pagan significance: the Romans associated it with Jupiter and the Franks possibly with Wodan. However, similar Merovingian plates with incised crosses have been found at other sites. This suggests that the scene should be given a Christian interpretation: the eagle possibly representing Christ, and the fish, a common Christian image, representing the redeemed human soul.

7. Gold coins and ingots from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo

Frankish, early 7th century AD
From Sutton Hoo, Suffolk , England

Dating a burial
One of the most famous groups of objects in the British Museum is the splendid collection of grave goods from the Anglo-Saxon ship-burial at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk . This appears to be the burial of an important king, but there is little in the grave to make it clear who was buried there.

The burial can only be dated on the basis of the coins that were found there. There was a purse among the burial goods, which contained 37 gold coins, 3 coin-shaped blanks, and 2 small gold ingots. The presence of the coin-shaped blanks suggests that the number of coins was deliberately rounded up to 40. It is possible that the 40 coins were to pay the men who would row the ship into the 'Otherworld', while the ingots were to pay the steersmen.

The coins all come from the kingdom of the Merovingian Franks on the Continent, rather than any English kingdom, although coin production had started in Kent by this time. The latest coin dates from around AD 625, so the burial was probably only a few years later. Sutton Hoo was in the kingdom of East Anglia , and the coin dates suggest that it may be the burial of King Raedwald, who died around that time.

The coins on display in the British Museum are electrotype copies of the original coins, which are available for study at the Museum.

Diameter: 10 mm (range)

8. Iron axe-head inlaid with silver

Merovingian, 7th century AD
From the area of Neuwied , Rhineland-Palatinate , Germany
A ceremonial or battle axe

The axe, particularly the lighter francisca, or throwing-axe, was a favourite weapon of the Franks, and the francisca took its name from them. The elaborate silver-inlay decoration of this example is a clear mark of the owner's status or military rank. It is very rare on this type of weapon. Though the decoration does not mean that the axe could not be used in hand-to-hand combat, it may suggest that it had a ceremonial function. The wooden shaft has not survived.

Length: 17.5 cm

9. Copper-alloy disc brooch

Merovingian, second half of the 7th century AD
Found in a stone coffin near Dotzheim ( Wiesbaden ), Hesse , Germany (1828)

Based on a late classical medallion

The brooch is decorated in repoussé with a low-relief figure personifying Rome enthroned, holding a long sceptre in her left hand and a figure of Victory in her right.

. The brooch imitates a late Roman medallion, possibly one of the usurping Roman emperor Attalus (AD 409-416), the first to be raised to that office by barbarians. The damaged inscription can be read as: INVICTA ROMA UTERE FELIX (' Rome is invincible, use in good fortune'). The words utere felix indicate that it was a gift. The Franks produced a series of such brooches, with similar or different designs, and the choice of subject possibly reflects a desire to promote themselves as successors to Rome in the West.

Diameter: 5.75 cm

10. Gilded silver brooch

Merovingian, 6th century AD
Said to be from the cemetery at Herpes, Charente, France

Female costume jewellery

This brooch is one of a pair that is said to be from the cemetery at Herpes. When the cemetery was excavated between 1886 and 1893, an adequate report was never published. This makes interpretation of the site very difficult, and only a few of the groups of objects that came from a specific grave can be accurately reconstructed.

The brooch is made of gilded silver, with chip-carved decoration, garnet and niello inlays and scrolls. The style of the inlays and scrolls appears to be derived from late Roman art, while the style of the heads of the birds of prey round the head-plate are thought to be of south Russian origin, brought to the west through Gothic influence.

The brooch would have been worn by women, in barbarian-settled areas from northern France , the Rhineland and southern Germany to Italy , and may have been worn as a sign of rank. There are numerous regional variations, distinguished especially by the shape of the foot-plate and the number of knobs round the radiate head. The decoration is typically geometric.

Length: 10.1 cm

11. Palm cup

Merovingian, 7th century AD
From Reims, Marne , France

Translucent glass shot with red spirals

Feasting and drinking were important aspects of barbarian social life and this cup would have been used as a luxury drinking vessel. Its survival intact must certainly be due to its burial in a grave.

The red streaks in the glass may be due to the deliberate use of a colouring agent. The skill of colouring glass had been lost in the north after the end of the Roman period, but was re-introduced in the late sixth or seventh century through contacts with southern Europe .

Diameter: 12.5 cm