The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic is a leading centre for research into the history, literature and languages of the peoples of Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and the associated insular world (including Brittany) of the Middle Ages. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the Department, assessed jointly with the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics (MML), was rated in the highest terms. Within the Modern Languages and Linguistics Unit of Assessment, ASNC and MML were ranked top among Departments teaching both languages and literatures nationally. Further information about research in Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics is available here.

The Department of ASNC is currently directly associated with a number of major research projects:

Vitae Sanctorum Cambriae (VSC) : The Latin Lives of the Welsh Saints

An AHRC-funded collaborative project between the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in the University of Cambridge and the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS), VSC will produce a new online edition of the medieval Latin lives of Welsh saints. The works appear to represent an extraordinary burst of creativity in and on the borders of Wales during the century or so after the Norman Conquest: a striking assertion of local traditions in a church undergoing absorption into a larger trans-national organisation. The interest and importance of these compositions has long been recognised, and they have been mined over the years by students of early Welsh history, literature, culture and Christianity. Yet only a handful has been edited to exacting modern standards. Where up-to date work has been done, it has tended to show that significant progress can be made on questions of date, authorship, provenance and textual relationship. These advances in part reflect the development of British medieval Latin as a serious subject for academic study during the later twentieth century.

Our edition will bring the entire corpus into line with the best modern work. We will edit the surviving corpus of medieval Latin lives of Welsh saints, comprising some thirty-five texts. The main goals of the research are: (1) to understand these texts and their contexts better; (2) to make available for wider comparative study a corpus of material that has been very unevenly treated; (3) to develop our appreciation of the nature and significance of native saints’ cults in medieval Wales; (4) to trace the transmission of these texts into wider hagiographical collections and into the post Reformation period. A group of wider research questions emerges from points (1) and (3). When, by whom and for whom were these texts composed? How do they relate to Welsh-language sources, to each other, and to Latin hagiography elsewhere?

The project team consists of the PI Professor Paul Russell (Cambridge) and the two Co-Is, Dr Rosalind Love (Cambridge) and Dr David Parsons (CAWCS), together with Research Associates, Dr Francesco Marzella based in ASNC (from 1 October 2018) and Dr Angela Kinney based in CAWCS.

The Gersum Project: the Scandinavian Influence on English Vocabulary

The Gersum Project is a new collaborative research venture in English lexicography, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It is named after the Middle English word gersum, borrowed from Old Norse gørsemi ‘treasure’, and it will be the fullest survey ever undertaken of the rich and varied body of English words derived from Old Norse. Its research will result in a fully searchable online catalogue of the up to 1600 different words for which an origin in Norse has been suggested in a corpus of major Middle English poems from the North of England — a catalogue which will include the medieval ancestors of everyday words like sky, egg, law, leg, take, window, knife, die, skin and they, as well as others as diverse and intriguing as hernez ‘brains’, muged ‘drizzled’, stange ‘pole’ and wothe ‘danger’. The project will also incorporate a number of events, including an inter-disciplinary conference in Cambridge and a series of talks open to the general public. Gersum will begin in January 2016 and run for three years. The project team is Dr Richard Dance (ASNC) and Dr Sara Pons-Sanz (Cardiff University, and former PhD student in the Department, 2001–4), together with a Research Associate based in ASNC, Dr Brittany Schorn.

Brittany and the Atlantic Archipelago: Contact, Myth and History

This project is funded by Leverhulme Trust, and is running for four years starting from September 2015. The Principal Investigator is Professor Paul Russell, the Co-Investigator is Dr Fiona Edmonds (who was PI until she moved to Lancaster University in September 2016) and the Research Associate is Dr Caroline Brett. The participants aim to investigate the links between Brittany and the Insular World (Britain and Ireland in general, but especially Cornwall and South Wales) during the earlier Middle Ages. there is scope for debate about the longevity and intensity of these maritime contacts. Was there one large migration from Britain to Brittany in the fifth century, during the so-called 'Age of Migrations'? Or were the Atlantic connections more multi-faceted and enduring than traditional accounts suggest?

The participants will address these matters by producing a study of Brittany and its maritime links a long time-scale, starting c. 450. Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae provides a convenient end-point since it was accepted as the definitive account of the Breton migration for the rest of the Middle Ages. The research will involve an assessment of the textual evidence for Breton-Insular contacts, discussion of place- and personal names, and analysis of the ramifications of the linguistic evidence for the broader historical picture. The project conference will be held on 1-2 December 2017, and will encompass a broad range of disciplines, including archaeology. The core of the project's work will be published as a three-author monograph, and there will also be a volume of conference proceedings.

Text and Meaning: Contributions to a Revised Dictionary of Medieval Irish

Text and Meaning is a 5-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council which commenced in April 2014. It is led by Professor Greg Toner of Queen’s University Belfast and Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh. The aim of the project is to revise and augment the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language which is the standard historical dictionary of Irish and Scottish Gaelic and covers the period from the seventh century to the seventeenth. Previous grants held by Professor Toner brought the first electronic edition of the Dictionary into being in 2007, and a Supplement containing numerous revisions in 2013 ( This new phase of the work undertaken in conjunction with the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic will add further revisions drawing on editions published since the first fascicle of the Dictionary appeared. The new revised Dictionary will contain new information on words relating to such areas as agriculture, medicine, law, music, religion and society that will be of particular interest to historians and archaeologists. It will also enable the origin and development of words over a period of a millennium to be traced. New features will be added to the website including a mobile version and a 'Word of the Day'.

An important aspect of the Project will be training in lexicography and textual edition for younger scholars and the team will run a number of workshops aimed especially at doctoral students. The rich vocabulary of the Dictionary is ripe for exploitation by creative writers and thinkers in modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and project staff will collaborate with authors, translators and terminologists to explore ways of reviving old words in new contexts.

Converting the Isles

'Converting the Isles' is a Leverhulme International Research Network for investigating Conversion to Christianity comparatively in Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and Iceland in the early and central middle ages. This interdisciplinary network brings together historians, archaeologists and literary scholars committed to researching social, economic, and cultural aspects of conversion. The core of the network's activities consists of a series of colloquia held at different universities in Britain and Ireland. Our website contains extensive materials relating to the topic and serves as a platform for disseminating the network's research. You can visit it here.

Mapping Conversion

'Mapping Conversion', a Pilot Database of Conversion Episodes in Medieval Insular Hagiography, produced with the assistance of the University of Cambridge's Isaac Newton Trust, is now live. To access it, please click here.

Peter's Pence and Beyond: Monetary Links between Anglo-Saxon England and Rome

Dr Rory Naismith, together with Dr Francesca Tinti (University of the Basque Country and Honorary Research AssociateCoins in ASNC) have been awarded a research grant by the British Academy to research the topic of monetary links between Anglo-Saxon England and Rome, beginning in 2012 and continuing until 2014.

This project considers written and material evidence for payments from England to Rome: letters, law-codes and other documentary sources are studied alongside surviving coins, in order to reach a full understanding of this important aspect of Anglo-papal relations. Almost from the time of their conversion at the end of the sixth century the English were frequent visitors to Rome, and devout pilgrims brought with them cash for sustenance on the journey and for donation on arrival in the Holy City. The richest evidence for their generosity comes from the period between the late eighth and eleventh Housecenturies. Anglo-Saxon money was plentiful in Rome – possibly one of the largest elements of the currency circulating in Rome, and well known across Italy. Payments took the form of individual donations large and small, as well as a more institutionalised annual tribute which emerged in the tenth century, known as Peter’s Pence, theoretically consisting of a penny from every household in England.

Dr Naismith and Dr Tinti have undertaken research trips to Rome, and are actively preparing several publications. They have been invited by the Museo Nazionale Romano to prepare a catalogue of the largest and most important find of Anglo-Saxon coins from Rome: a hoard of about 840 coins, almost all of them English, found in excavations of the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum in 1883. They are also considering the question of what became of English silver once it reached Rome by analysing the contents of papal coins now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, to determine if they are made from Anglo-Saxon pennies.

Interpreting Eddic Poetry

Funded by the St John’s College Research Centre at Oxford University, Interpreting Eddic Poetry is an international research project led by Dr Judy Quinn and Dr Carolyne Larrington (Oxford), with Dr Brittany Schorn as Research Associate. The project aims to reassess the nature and extent of the eddic corpus (traditional anonymous poetry recorded in medieval Iceland), taking into account both thirteenth-century anthology manuscripts and verse preserved as quotations in sagas and treatises; it will also assess the significance of recent work on oral traditions as well as research on the eddic mode in Christian devotional poetry.  The first in a series of workshops, dedicated to interdisciplinary perspectives on eddic poetry, was held in July 2013 and brought together scholars from the fields of literary studies, textual criticism, onomastics, comparative religion, philology, mythology and folklore; a second workshop, focussing on mythology, will be held in July 2014. Work is underway on a database of resources for the study of eddic poetry, as well as a co-edited Handbook to Eddic Poetry and a number of other publications by the lead investigators.

Boethius in Early Medieval Europe: Commentary on the Consolation of Philosophy from the 9th to the 11th centuries

Since 2007 Dr Rosalind Love has  been a member of the team working on this five-year project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and headed by Professor Malcolm Godden (University of Oxford). The project aims to transcribe and edit all the full corpus of glosses found in manuscripts of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy from before 1100 (of which there are around 80 surviving). These glosses, running to many thousands, ranging from a single word to extensive commentary on the text, were produced across a considerable span of time and at many different centres, and present a fascinating insight into the way medieval readers responded to the Consolation. Given the array of events, stories, objects and texts from the Classical period to which Boethius referred, the glosses also provide evidence for the transmission of knowledge about the ancient world to and throughout the early Middle Ages. Scholars have known about and discussed this material for a long time but a complete edition of the full corpus has until now been an unattainable aspiration. The main outcome of the project will be a printed edition of the full corpus of glosses from all manuscripts (running to about 2000 pages), which will eventually, it is hoped, also be available in searchable electronic form. A further publication will print the glosses found in English MSS of the tenth and eleventh centuries, along with a translation and commentary, as a way to offer in accessible form a representative picture of the glosses circulating on the Continent as well as in England.

Jocelin of Furness

Fiona Edmonds was involved in a two-year, AHRC-funded project, which ran from July 2010 until July 2012. She worked with a team at the University of Liverpool comprising Drs Clare Downham and Ingrid Sperber. Hagiography at the Frontiers: Jocelin ofFurness and Insular Politics, focused on one of the most significant medieval writers to emerge from England’s north-west. Jocelin (fl. 1175 to 1214) spent most of his life at Furness Abbey (in pre-1974 Lancashire, now Cumbria), and wrote four great works including a Life of St Patrick, which has never been published. Dr Sperber and Dr Downham have been working on an edition, translation and notes of the Life, founded on the work of the great Patrician scholar Ludwig Bieler. Fiona explored the environment in which Jocelin worked, aiming to contextualise his interest in Celtic saints’ Lives. Furness was culturally and linguistically diverse: the peninsula protrudes into the Irish Sea and had strong trading and cultural links with Ireland and the Isle of Man. For a time Furness was under Scottish rule, but the area had become part of the Anglo-Norman realm by the mid-twelfth century. The abbey was initially part of the congregation of Savigny (located on the Breton/Norman border), but it founded daughter houses in Ireland and on Man. Fiona’s contributions to the project include an article in a volume arising from the project conference, Medieval Furness: Texts and Contexts, and a journal article.

The Hyperborean Muse

The Hyperborean Muse is a collaborative research project funded in 2011 by the Co-operInt Programme at the University of Verona between Dr Judy Quinn and Maria Adele Cipolla (Lingue e letterature straniere, Università degli studi di Verona). Involving scholars from the UK, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany and Australia, the project has investigated the transmission and reception of Old Norse literature from the earliest period to the twenty-first century, in media as diverse as opera, drama, lyric, crime-novels and cartoons. The outcome of the project, a volume of essays entitled The Hyperborean Muse: Studies in the Transmission and Reception of Old Norse Literature, is being finalised for publication.

The Early Irish Glossaries Project

A three year project to edit the early Irish glossaries funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) was hosted in Cambridge between 2006 and 2009 under the direction of Professor Paul Russell assisted by Dr Sharon Arbuthnot and Dr Padraic Moran. An important but under-used resource for our understanding of the literary and cultural environment of medieval Ireland, the series of three inter-related Irish glossaries, conventionlly known as Sanas Cormaic ‘Cormac’s Glossary’, O’Mulconry’s Glossary and Dúil Dromma Cetta ‘the Collection of Druim Cett’ consist of alphabetically listed (first letter only) headwords followed by an entry which can range from a single word explanation, often an explanation of the headword, to a whole narrative running to several pages.

The Early Irish Glossaries Database (EIGD) was a pre-existing database which was enhanced to include the text of the entries behind the headword; to see the text of an entry in most versions, it is necessary simply to click on the headword.

The Revised Sawyer (catalogue of Anglo-Saxon charters)

Peter Sawyer's catalogue of Anglo-Saxon charters was published in 1968, and remains a standard work of reference for the surviving corpus of Anglo-Saxon charters. The work of systematically revising and updating 'Sawyer' began in the 1990s, but was taken further in 2003-7 as part of a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Council, based in the Department of ASNC, with technical expertise provided by the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at KCL (as above). This led to the the appearance of the 'Electronic Sawyer', which is now accessible online, and also to the associated 'Kemble' website, which is based in the Department and which serves as the website of the British Academy-Royal Historical Society Joint Committee on Anglo-Saxon Charters. Further details will be found on these websites. The 'Electronic Sawyer', and the 'Kemble' website, remain in a continual process of development.

Early Medieval Corpus of Coin Finds (EMC)

The Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds (EMC) was created by Dr Mark Blackburn (former Reader in the Department) in 1997 based on a three-year major research grant from the Leverhulme Trust, with subsequent funding from the British Academy. Its aim is to provide a searchable online corpus of coins minted in the period 410–1066 found in Britain and Ireland. Hundreds of coins are added each year, most of them discovered with the aid of metal-detectors, and all reported to EMC voluntarily. The database now contains records of some 10,000 coins found and reported in this way. Many carry notes and comments added by Dr Blackburn, Dr Rory Naismith and other specialists, who regularly refer new finds to the database.

In 2000, Dr Blackburn expanded the scope of the EMC database to include the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles (SCBI), a British Academy project aimed at publishing major museum and private collections of British coinage; as a result, some 50,000 additional coins from major collections have been made available on the database.

The EMC corpus is widely recognised as a major scholarly resource, central to study of early medieval numismatics as well as economic and monetary history, and is frequently consulted by metal-detector users and collectors and dealers of coins.

For further information, please refer to the database’s website:

PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England

The 'Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England', known as PASE (2000-10), created a comprehensive, systematic, analytical and searchable register of all persons recorded in Anglo-Saxon England, in contemporary and later (mainly twelfth-century) sources, including Domesday Book. It now takes the form of an online database, linked to several other e-projects. The work was carried out in association with the Department of History, King's College London, and the Centre of Computing in the Humanities, KCL, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board/Council (AHRB/AHRC). Full details of the project, and of the several research officers who worked on the project in London and in Cambridge, and available of the PASE website (About PASE/Team). It is hoped that we will have an opportunity to develop the electronic resource further.

The Department is also associated with several other research projects, including Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages.