This belt buckle is made of forged iron and inlaid with silver and either brass or gold. It dates to the period from 600 to 700 AD and may have been made in France, but there appears to be no record of exactly where it was discovered and how. All the V&A’s website can say is that it ‘may well have been found in a grave, buried with its owner’.
The decoration is in the form of a series of what I would describe as intertwined serpentine forms. However, the V&A go with ‘fabulous beaked snakes’, a term that is both hilarious and somewhat terrifying. It also reminded me of an actual beaked snake, the rufous beaked snake (Rhamphiophis oxyrhynchus). It is named for its hooked snout, which it uses to dig burrows. In my head, I’ve always associated the snake with the city of Oxyrhynchus, in Middle Egypt, itself famed for the great stash of ancient papyri discovered there by Grenfell and Hunt. In my head, I’d presumed that the snake was in some way named after the city, but the city was actually named Oxyrrhynkhoupolis (Οξυρρύγχου Πόλις), the ‘town of the sharp-snouted fish’ known from the local waters. The snake is ‘oxyrhynchus’ in his own right, from his own sharp snouted appearance. It only took a few moments of research to find the truth, but the damage was already done … I’d imagined burrowing, Merovingian beaked snakes, sitting Smaug-like on their hoards of texts and the image wasn’t going to leave with any ease … and now you have it too! You’re welcome!