Blog December 8th 2017

A Viking or Anglo-Scandinavian strap end with wolf (?) and entwined snake in its jaws from England.

This remarkable tiny - 34mm x 10mm strap end from the Viking Age, found in England (Norfolk area) is a one-off. Decorated in the Urnes style with interlacing snake design, it can be addressed to the 11th century, the early 12th century the latest. The strap end seems to have attached on a small strap, considering its size. What kind of strap, or where the strap was part of, is unknown.

This artefact is once again witness to the fact to what great extent craftsman would go adorning all details of every day use objects like straps. The image depicted is that of a zoomorphic animal head (could be the head of a snake, could be another animal like a dog or wolf) holding a captured snake in its jaws. The pierced holes on the end of the strap end were for attachment on the leather.

The interwoven design of the curling snake is of great quality and is made by a very skilled craftsman within this tiny frame. The brown vaguely 'reddish' bronze is typical by artefacts from the Viking Age, made (and found) in England. Shown to Barry Ager, former curator in the British Museum, he reacted:

'It does appear to be a strap-end in the form of some kind of canine, wether a dog or wolf, as you suggest, catching a snake in its jaws. Could it be Fenrir, up to his tricks, maybe? Viking examples of the type are usually decrated in the Urnes style, but this more is more naturalistic, so is presumably late in the series, later 11th centuries and stylisticaly in the Viking/Norman range'.

James Graham-Campbell adresses the design of the strap end as Anglo-Scandinavian. Shown to Kevin Leahy, Archaeological Finds Specialist and National Adviser at the Portable Antiques Scheme he responded that he would look for any parallels. Meanwhile, although the precise find spot won't be given by the metal detectorist who found it, I have mailed the Find Liason Officers of the Norfolk area, and await their response. If new insights pop up, I will add them on this article.

In the Prose Edda, three books are mentioned: Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál and Háttatal.

There is an intriguing text in Gylfaginning on the relation between Fenrir and Jormungand. In chapter 34, High describes Loki, and says that Loki had three children with a female named Angrboða located in the land of Jötunheimr; Fenrisúlfr, the serpent Jörmungandr, and the female being Hel. High continues that, once the gods found that these three children were being brought up in the land of Jötunheimr, and when the gods "traced prophecies that from these siblings great mischief and disaster would arise for them" the gods expected a lot of trouble from the three children, partially due to the nature of the mother of the children, yet worse so due to the nature of their father.Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál and Háttatal.

In chapter 38, High says that there are many men in Valhalla, and many more who will arrive, yet they will "seem too few when the wolf comes." In chapter 51, High foretells that as part of the events of Ragnarök, after Fenrir's son Sköll has swallowed the sun and his other son Hati Hróðvitnisson has swallowed the moon, the stars will disappear from the sky. The earth will shake violently, trees will be uprooted, mountains will fall, and all binds will snap – Fenrisúlfr will be free. Fenrisúlfr will go forth with his mouth opened wide, his upper jaw touching the sky and his lower jaw the earth, and flames will burn from his eyes and nostrils. Later, Fenrisúlfr will arrive at the field Vígríðr with his sibling Jörmungandr. With the forces assembled there, an immense battle will take place. During this, Odin will ride to fight Fenrisúlfr. During the battle, Fenrisúlfr will eventually swallow Odin, killing him, and Odin's son Víðarr will move forward and kick one foot into the lower jaw of the wolf. This foot will bear a legendary shoe "for which the material has been collected throughout all time." With one hand, Víðarr will take hold of the wolf's upper jaw and tear apart his mouth, killing Fenrisúlfr.

Could this strap end depict the arriving of the wolf Fenrir with its sibling Jörmungand?