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Ancient Revelations:
Epigraphy

Franks Casket (T-Panel)
First Half of 7th Century

A whalebone chest, carved with narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and inscribed with runes

“Here fight Titus and the Jews” ; “Here the inhabitants flee from Jerusalem”

Franks Casket Online | Google Images


Back Side (T-Panel) Side with Roman General Titus’ Sack of Jerusalem
 
Dr. Alfred Becker
 

Having procured his client divine assistance at travel and war, the rune master now wants to provide victory, by which he gains dom, dignity, and along with it weorþ, a hero's highest goal in life, i.e.power and glory.

Again our erilaz rummages through the library of his local monastery, looking for a suitable topic. He may have found it in some illuminated codex, a Historia Mundi, which Benedict Biscop or Wilfrid had brought back from Rome: Titus, the Roman general and later emperor conquering and destroying Jerusalem in 70 AD. That was exactly what he had been looking for! The appropriate event with the appropriate person and, most important, the appropriate name bearing the magic rune.

The runic inscription begins on the left edge (here part of a coherent text) continues right of the arch in Latin (language and letters), and changes back to runes on the right edge with a word in corrupt Latin (afitatores instead of < lat. habitatores, inhabitants). There is no line on the bottom edge, only two words, seeming to comment on the scenes.

Arranged according to the sections on the edges the text reads:

her fegtaþ
titus end giuþeasu HC FUGANT HEUALM
afitatores
dom gisl


The words giuþeasu (instead of OE. iuþeas) and afitatores (instead of lat. habitatores) are odd, but were developed in order to achieve the proper runes in numbers and value. Why else should the rune master spell the same word once end (here), then again and (R- and H-Panel)? The same reason goes for fegtaþ instead of fehþ.
Having a closer look at the Latin part we notice some letters that are undoubtedly runes ( and ) or could be read as letters or runes (). The symbol is not part of the text though it will have a function.

The translation depends on the introductory formula:

"here fight" or: "army fights"
Titus and the Jews - here flee Jerusalem'(s)//
inhabitants //
verdict (or: power, dignity) - hostage(s)


Let us have look at the left edge: Again it is composed of 9 runes, bringing up the total value of all three "9-rune charms" up to 330. We may suspect another magic formula: "In case of war". What is normally translated as "here fight" could also be interpreted as "army fights" (comp. Engl. 'army', Germ. 'Heer', O.E. 'here'). As the F- and R-panels bear independent 9-rune formulas on this edge we may well prefer this interpretation.

On the panels F and R, we remember, the incantation was followed by the thematic magic rune, there and , here . This spear shaped rune stands for the name (OE) Tir, Tiw (ON Tyr). It is the name of the highest god, the Germanic equivalent of Greek Zeus. Before Woden graced the scene he was the leading god of rule, warfare and justice, protector of the Germanic Thing. All these qualities can be found in this depiction: Warfare and victory (k>her fegtaþ), and a ruler (Titus) exercising justice (k>dom, gisl). Old English his very name in means 'fame, glory, honour' and 'ornament', the same as the ambiguous word dom can express. What other rune but could be more appropriate at this spot? Even the person, Titus himself, was a good choice as we can tell by the title he was given: Armor et deliciae generis humani, "Love and delight of the human race."

The words dom and gisl, certainly comment on the scenes they go with, but at the same time they may hide a name, DOMGISL. The name is reported, though not in context with the casket. Did our rune master fill in his name in order to increase his spell? If so, he would only have followed a common practice.

Why does the text change to Latin in word and script? And why only for a few words, but not for the complete sentence? And why did the rune-master mix Roman letters with runes and majuscules?

Here as elsewhere he was aiming at wordings, which had to produce certain numbers and values. Thus we find the "S" in its runic variation (cf. Chessel Down and St. Cuthbert's Coffin), the "R", which, anyway, is similar in shape to its runic counterpart , and four times the rune-like . Apart from that there is the letter a, which appears twice in the shape of a manuscript majuscule instead of the kind we know from the ABC. Moreover this letter helps to form a grammatically wrong verb form, (fugiant instead of fugiunt).

This way the carver achieves a row of 20 (i.e. 19 +1) runes with the anciently shaped , symbol of the ‘Sun’, in a significant position (16) and framed it by two majuscule type letters a in order to produce a luni-solar calendar like the Metonic Cycle. This includes the common Germanic cycle of 8 years, which is framed by the majuscule type letters a. These two cycles served to adjust the solar year and the lunar cycle, and in this particular case the formula was designed to perpetuate the magic spell, which was meant to influence the life of the casket’s royal owner
 

The depiction is clearly separated into an upper and a lower level, and these bands are vertically divided by an arch, so that the whole picture falls into four segments. It shows Titus conquering Jerusalem after long siege in September 70 AD.

In the upper left segment we see five armed warriors attacking the Jews, Romans under Titus. He might be the one wearing a helmet or the one distinguished by his armour, but this is less likely as the general would be armed with a sword rather than a spear. It would be Titus himself then, who kills a fleeing enemy, may be one of the leaders of the Jewish revolt. He is being hit by the Roman behind him, going down on his knees, his sword slipping from his hand. Two of his people just manage to escape across the arch, which on the original might have stood for the Jewish temple.

The upper right segment shows thirteen more refugees, one with a flask, two others with walking canes, properly put under hic fugiunt …"here flee ..." They are deserting the town to escape from Roman retribution.

The lower left segment (just below the Roman soldiers) shows a court hearing. Victory is one aspect of glory, punishment the other. It is probably the commander in chief himself sitting on the "Throne of Justice" (as it is no bench), a cup in his hand. A servant below the throne is holding something like a scroll and another cup, which he seems to pass on to a person on the right of the royal chair. This man, too, seems to be holding a scroll. He is accompanied by a soldier (one of Titus' body guard?). The repetition of scroll and cup seem to hint at the completion of a contract. It looks as if a brave warrior is receiving his reward, may be, a thane is granted a fief. The lord will drink to him and therewith confirm the contract. On the left, we see a warrior in his armour. He is being held by his hair, probably condemned because of cowardliness. Perhaps they will cut his hair off and sell him into servitude. With the word doom both episodes are commented on. A good fortune for the one, a tough fate for the other.

Beneath the picture of the Jewish refuges, lower right segment, we have a group of eight people, commented on by gisl, 'hostages'. The first three persons could be Roman soldiers on sentry duty, the one with the yoke might have been Simon bar Giora or John of Gischala on the original. Simon and John, the ringleaders of Zealots, were left alive and taken to Rome to be presented to the citizens in a triumphal procession.

That huge arch (rather not the Ark of the Covenants) may have been adopted from the manuscript and will have meant the temple. However, our carver did certainly not cut them, believing that he was depicting Seraphim and Cherubim, as frequently suggested. If these beasts were angels, one would hesitate to go to Heaven, if admitted. There may have been Jewish symbols on the original picture, but the rune master has cast them out, just like he removed the angel from the picture of the Magi. He fills in animals in Anglo-Saxon or Irish style, their tails etc. forming knots and their beaks twisted. The temple is now crowded by an assembly of the beasts of the battlefield.

There are three pairs of animals depicted. On the bottom we have 'sitting' horses, anatomically rather odd. Right under the arch we have two bird heads, connected by knot ornaments. The animals between bottom and top are hard to interpret, but if we find a meaning for the other two couples we might deduce from that. To begin with, the birds, they may refer to Woden's ravens, Hugin and Munin, while the horses could be connected with Tiw (patron of this panel). Horses are his attributes, just like spear (!) and sword (Pollington, p. 51). Though these creatures between bottom and top do not look like anything biology teaches, we detect ears with them, mammals then, and no birds. If the others are the companions of the 'gods of war', these may be the heads of the missing cohort, the wolves Geri und Freki (the ones we have seen on the R-Panel). For the sake of interlaced presentation the long muzzles, which the beasts by the Roman twins already show, become even longer here. We would have all the animals we meet elsewhere on the panels: the wolves from the R-Panel and Æ-Panel, the birds from F-Panel and the H-Panels, where there is that horse as well. A perfect pagan zoo of war, the beasts of battle arranged, as we often find it with those animals at the Tree of Life. If the temple has thus been turned into an Anglo-Saxon sanctuary, the ornament on its top was meant to identify it. Does it allude to the Valkyrie's runic symbol? Is that one mixed with a crucifix here, syncretism at its peak, so to speak?

All the traditional pictures so far (Magi, Roman twins, Titus) have transformed into a pagan setting, topics altered to make them work.

Wikipedia Entry

The Franks Casket (or the Auzon Runic Casket) is a little[1] whalebone chest, carved with narrative scenes in flat two-dimensional low-relief and inscribed with runes, dateable from its pagan elements to the mid-seventh century (that is, during the height of the Heptarchy and the period of Christianization of England). The casket is densely decorated with images and Futhorc runic[2] inscriptions whose interpretation have occupied linguists. It is now kept in the British Museum. Generally reckoned to be of Northumbrian origin,[3] it is of unique importance for the insight it gives into secular culture in early Anglo-Saxon England.

The majority of the history of the casket was unknown until relatively recently. It was in the possession of a family in Auzon 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.[4]

The imagery is multiform in its inspirations: a single Christian image, the Adoration of the Magi, keeps company with images of Roman history (Emperor Titus) and myth (Romulus and Remus), with northern myth (Weyland the Smith, an episode from the Sigurd legend and one that is apparently an otherwise unrecorded episode of Weyland's brother [[Egill).[5]

 Description

 Front panel

left half of front panelThe front panel shows the vengeful murder and rape by Weyland on the left panel, and the adoration of the Magi on the right. Around the panel runs the 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"
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
oÞlæ unneg //
Romwalus and Reumwalus // twoegen
gibroðær
a // fœdde hiæ wylif // in Romæcæstri:.
"far from home / Romulus and Remus, twain brothers / the she-wolf fed them in Rome-chester"

 Rear panel
her fegtaþ
+titus end giuþeasu HIC FUGIANT HIERUSALIM
afitatores
dom gisl
"Here fight / Titus and the Jews — here they flee Jerusalem / inhabitants / doom / hostage"

[edit] 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
Translation is difficult; 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". Erta appears to be a proper name, perhaps Erce, the Anglo-Saxon Earth goddess. særden has various interpretations. Becker attempts the translation:

"the wood-god sits on harm's mountain"
"causing ill fortune, as Erta demanded"
"they cause sorrow and heartache".
inside the panel:

risci / bita / wudu
"twig / biter / wood"

 Lid

Egil defending himself and a lady who is probably his wife Olrun.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).

Interpretation
Becker (1973) attempted to interpret the casket as a whole, finding a "programme" documenting a warrior-king's life, with each of the scenes emblematic of a certain period in life, the front panel for "birth", the picture and inscription on the left panel meant to protect the hero on his way to war, the back panel documenting the peak of a warrior-king's life is glory won by victory over his enemies, the right panel alluding to a heroic death in battle. Becker also attempts a numerological analysis of the inscriptions, counting a total of 288 or 12 x 24 signs (runes, Latin letters and punctuation).


 

Edited from Diana Ellis

The Franks casket is a carved Anglo-Saxon whale-bone artifact measuring 12.9 x 22.9 x 19.1 cm. which was discovered in Auzon, Haute Loire, France in the nineteenth century. Donated to the British Museum by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks in 1867, the artifact has aroused considerable interest and debate. In 1890, the missing right hand panel was found in Italy and is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

As a bone carving in purely Germanic style, the casket is a singular example of its kind among early Insular artifacts and thus comparisons are extremely difficult to find. The fragmentary nature and low survival rate of Anglo-Saxon works of art make the dating of extant artifacts extremely difficult. Scholarly consensus places the Franks casket in 7th/8th century Northumbria based on linguistic evidence.

In the eighth and ninth centuries, Anglo-Saxon genealogies confirm that the Gemanic kings continued to value their northern ancestries, many tracing their lineage back to eponymous Scandinavian heroes and Norse gods. Furthermore, by the end of the eighth century, the East Anglian Kings claimed Roman forebears. Caesar follows Woden in the East Anglian genealogy and, as James Campbell points out, “they seem to have taken this claim seriously, for Romulus and Remus appear on East Anglian coins, and [as far as we know] on them alone.

On five surfaces of the casket legible runic and non-runic texts provide a frame-work around the pictorial panels. The figural panels, carved in barbaric style in low relief, seem unequivocally Anglo-Saxon in contrast to the diversity of subject matter: a blending between Roman history, Roman legend, Germanic sagas and Christian myth.

Thematically, the left-hand panel is both parallel and opposite to the panel on the right. Where Weland offers revenge and death, Christ offers atonement and life. Weland offers gifts to the secular king, Nithhad; the wise men offer gifts to the heavenly king Christ. The revenge of Weland ends with the death of an earthly king’s sons; the atonement through Christ begins with the birth of the Heavenly King’s son. Moreover, Christ’s embodiment at birth would be seen as his spirit entering an earthly banfåt. The Anglo-Saxon taste for enigmatic apposition is verified by the alternative visual allusions to various themes: revenge and atonement, secular force and heavenly power, life and death, beginnings and endings.

Many of the themes from the front panel carry over to the depiction of Romulus and Remus on the left-hand panel. As grandsons of a deposed king, the twins are flung into the Tiber and, like the whale, they are beached on the shore at Rome. The exile and intended death becomes a new beginning which contrasts with a later episode: the death of Remus at his brother’s hand. Nonetheless, Romulus founds Rome and becomes its first ruler, a fact that links with the Roman Emperor Titus’ sack of Jersusalem. In both their panels, the artist’s main concern seems to be with balance and design.

On the back of the casket, the two horizontal registers are divided by an arch which imitates the device that surrounds the schematic depiction of the madonna and child on the front panel. The runic and latin inscriptions elucidate the various episodes depicted: the top runes read, “Here fight Titus and the Jews”; the latin on the right reads, “Here the inhabitants flee from Jerusalem”; at the bottom of the left panel is one word, dom which means judgement; and on the right the word gisl or hostage.

The panel seems to speak of the hazards of life among warrior nations: power and victory for one meant captivity or death for another. The tenuous nature of life is reiterated in various ways on the panel.

The purpose of the casket can only be a matter for conjecture. Three panels derive from Germanic legends, two from Roman history and myth, and one from Christian iconography. Because of the “preponderance of Pagan myths, northern or antique, and the folkloric nature of the Magi story itself, …. [Vandersall argues that] the casket is secular both in origin and purpose.” Goldschmidt suggests a generic relationship with the tenth-century Byzantine ivory caskets which were used for storage of gold and his point that “several scenes on the casket deal with the subject of treasures” is an interesting one. Apart from the obvious treasure-giving by the Magi and the fashioning of Treasure by Weland, the sack of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. resulted in Titus’ triumphant return to Rome with ecclesiastical treasures.

Pertinent to this, and to the casket as a whole, is Anglo-Saxon society’s concept of power and kingship. As Patrick Wormald argues, “royal power was based on the ability to attract heavily armed warriers, and thus on the capacity to reward them with treasures and lands. Only when resources ran low—as, classically, with Einhard’s Merovingians—were kings reduced to powerlessness.” The demand of gift-giving was a constant one for an Anglo-Saxon ruler, and the need to reward loyality, and occasionally buy it, meant that wealth had to be continually acquired by means of war.

 

Franks Casket

What do YOU think ?

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Date: 19 Aug 2009
Time: 10:34:53

Your Comments:

I got to thinking that the panels may had something to do with what was contained in the box originally. Weyland fashioning a skull cup and the magi were presenting gifts to the virgin with a "head" in her lap. I thought why is the child represented as a bundled baby in one panel, but only as a head in this one? The websites on the casket even wonder as to the connection between the nativity and Weyland. Well, what if it's not a baby but just what it looks like, a head. Now there's some connection between the two.

What if a skull was the original contents of the casket? So, I created a cardboard box with the exact dimensions of Franks Casket as given in the website. I then took a lifesize plastic skull, removed the jawbone, which usually falls off of real skull anyway, placed it in the box. It fit perfectly.

My next step was finding out if the church where the box was originally found had any stories about it having a skull relic at any time. It did. The story told of St. Julian and how he was decapitated and the skull was kept at the church and could heal anyone that drank from it.

I sent a list of thoughts to Dr. Alfred Becker, which he, of course, poo-poo'd and basically gave me the impression that I was not educated enough to tell him anything new. Here is the list I sent him:

1. Yes, made from whale bone, but, the "big fish" can also refer to the Christian religion.

2. The pictures are a label that tells what was contained in the box. (Wayland fashioning a skull cup and Magi worshipping not Jesus, but maybe Saint John the Baptist, who was beheaded.)

3. I fashioned a simple replica of the box adhering to the dimensions given in your site. I was able to fit a human skull, without the jaw bone, easily into the box.

4. I looked up the church that possessed the box and it was known for having a sacred relic, which was a human skull. It was said to heal if you drank from it.

5. The "gifts" the magi are presenting are not the ones associated with Jesus, but more represent the three worlds of sky, earth and water. The swan was a sacred creature that lived in all three worlds.

I later sent him a reply to his email as follows:

"Your reply misses one very important point. Archaeology is not math, but, it is also not poetry and that's my point. Modern-day scholars have become so specialized that they miss what's right in front of their noses. This box has a great deal of work and thought and what was considered "magic" put into it. It is POETRY in a physical object.

You say the ictus does not refer to whales, but you are thinking too much like a modern educated man. Instead think like a common man. Even today, you have to tell some people that a whale is not a fish. You have to explain also that the story about Jonah is not physically possible. If that is true today, just think what they thought about this in 900 a.d. To them, big or small, a fish is a fish, period. They hadn't studied whales and they didn't know there was any difference. We talking poetry here. Remember, poetry was the television of the ancient world and that's what they knew.

Pagans are a very syncretic lot. The bit about it not being St. John the Baptist, well maybe not, but maybe so. The nimbus around the head may have a cross, or it may have just three points around it, since you cannot see the fourth arm of the cross. Three was a very sacred number, again this tiny detail seems to be the focus when the three gifts being presented are glaringly not the gifts given to jesus. The story of St. John was brought over just as the story of Jesus, I would just ask you, which of the two stories has more in common with Wayland's story? The church that had possession of the box was where St. Julien was decapitiated. His head was kept as a relic there.

My point is that an explanation of the box will not come to those that keep trying the same old answers, that have done nothing to move us toward understanding the poetry of the box, or the way those ancient peoples thought and felt about it. The answer will come to the person that is creative enough to think outside the box (he he, sorry) and think like a Pagan that was trying to mesh the new religion of Christianity with the old one of Wayland and his group of deities.

 


Date: 02 May 2013
Time: 11:20:03

Your Comments:

I would like to submit my own amateur translation of the two whale lines:

The flood heaved the fish upon the hill face
Grim the sovereign soul when he swam upon the grit
 

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