Watchful Warriors on Viking-Age Sculpture
Prof. Howard Williams FSA, University of Chester
Almost every book about the Vikings includes photographs of warriors found on early medieval carved stones from Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man. How do we interpret these images? Why were figures with weapons and armour depicted on carved stones at this particular time, and why were they posed in certain ways? This talk suggests new ways of interpreting warrior figures on commemorative stone sculptures from the tenth and early eleventh-centuries.
Prof. Williams will explore images of warriors on carved stones from across the Viking world, focusing particularly on stone sculpture from northern England and North Wales. A number of crosses from Middleton in Yorkshire have images of warriors in helmets on their shafts. In North Wales, a cross at Maen Achwyfan in Flintshire shows two weapon-bearing figures fighting snakes on the eastern and southern faces of the shaft. This cross is unusual in that one of the warriors may be depicted naked. Both the Middleton crosses and the cross at Maen Achwyfan have been dated to the tenth century AD.
This lecture will suggest how these carved stone warriors might have commemorated lordly power and authority during the Viking Age, as well as asserting an armoured identity for the afterlife. With this in mind, Prof. Williams will propose that these warriors might be seen as animated ‘watchers’, standing sentinel over those who are being commemorated.
Howard Williams is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chester. His research focuses particularly on death, burial, and commemoration. You can find out more about research on his blog, Archaeodeath: Archaeology, Death and Material Culture.