On the function and status of prestige finger-rings in the early medieval Germanic world, c.450-700
This thesis explores a method of defining status by understanding the function of objects used as gravegoods. The compact group of early medieval Germanic finger-rings is ideal for such a study. The rings are first studied in isolation, without reference to the graves in which they were mainly found. They are classified so as to emphasise their function. The main division is between those with a practical function (e.g. as a seal) and those with a purely symbolic or decorative function. It is the former group that defines most accurately their owners' status. This definition is refined by understanding both the skills (e.g. literacy) needed to make the ring, and the ways by which someone gained such a ring. Analysis of the origins of the different forms of prestige finger-rings shows that contemporary Byzantium inspired the vast majority, though there are few actual Byzantine rings. Very few late Roman or premigration Germanic forms endure. Having been studied in isolation, the rings are then seen in the context of the grave and of the other objects found with them. This enables their potential contribution to the understanding of Germanic burial rite to be assessed. In the areas of distribution and dating they add little. In the area of status, they refine considerably the present, arbitrary divisions, particularly when interpreted in terms of the model of the 'prestige goods economy'. Finally continental and Anglo-Saxon ring-wearing practices are compared. Although most influenced by their pre-migration past, the Anglo-Saxons did nevertheless copy a restricted range of continental types, which show that they understood both the practical functions and the corresponding status-implications of these rings.