Welcome, as always, dear readers.
Back in June, 2017, CD published “Hoards of the Things”, a posting mostly about dragons and their hoards, but, thinking a little further, the title—which was meant to be a pun—reminded me that, for years, I had trouble remembering how to spell an English word meaning “a large number of something”.
Was it h-o-a-r-d? or h-o-r-d-e?
When I thought of “horde”, what came to mind was a swarm of invaders—the so-called “Golden Horde” of Mongols and Turkic peoples who marched west in the mid-13th century to overcome much of what would become Russia and the Ukraine,
destroying western armies in battle,
besieging and conquering cities.
Masses of sword-swinging, bow-shooting tribal warriors were “hordes”, then.
But there was that troubling other spelling, “hoard”.
While resisting rushing to the Oxford English Dictionary—or the quick and useful fix of Etymonline, a kind of OED digest– it occurred to me that my puzzlement came, in part, from the fact that, every few years, someone somewhere in the UK, using some sort of metal detector,
discovers a mass of ancient coins or similarly valuable things and the find is called something like “the Bakerloo Hoard”.
This is the “Frome Hoard”, discovered in a field in southwest England in 2010. (The nearby town’s name is said “Frume”, by the way.) In a very large ceramic jar were 52,503 Roman coins. And this is by no means the only such find. There are over 1200 known at present—and that’s only from the Romano-British period. Add in everything from the Neolithic to Later Medieval and Post-Medieval and you have an enormous number—a horde/hoard, in fact, of such hoards/hordes. (If you’d like to know more about Romano-British deposits, here’s a LINK:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_hoards_in_Great_Britain For a more general view, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hoards_in_Great_Britain )
“Hoard” in this context, then, could certainly entail the idea of lots of something, but, also, in this context, maybe it was more specialized, applying not to collections of warriors, say, but to a collection of an inanimate something of value, like pots of coins.
But what about “hoarders”?
This is a broad term which covers everything from World War 2 attempts to get around food-rationing
to a serious mental disorder, in which people obsessively acquire and keep things far beyond their use or need, but in which they, if not others, see some value.
As someone who spends a good deal of time in the world of adventure, this image of piles of things quickly brought me to dragons. Smaug, in The Hobbit,
and an important model for Smaug, the unnamed dragon of Beowulf,
are both in possession of very large collections of valuable things, and yet, as monsters, the only profit they can seem to make of them is to own them—and to be violent at the disturbance of even a single item, as in the cup which an escaped slave steals from the hoard of the dragon in Beowulf (an action imitated by Bilbo in The Hobbit).
So, reasoning from there, if someone (or thing, in the case of Smaug and the Beowulf dragon?) holds onto large amounts of something she/he/it has accumulated, but can’t use, then that large amount is a “hoard” (although I wouldn’t go so far as to attempt to analyze a dragon’s motive for doing so). Perhaps, in view of those dragons, and of those whose deposits are located by metal detectorists, however, this needs a bit of modification.
First, In the case of the dragons, they themselves don’t appear to have accumulated what they guard:
1. the Beowulf dragon found his treasure already buried in a mound
2. Smaug, at best, has only added from inside the Lonely Mountain to the wealth already there: “Behind him where the walls were nearest could dimly be seen coats of mail, helms and axes, swords and spears hanging; and there in rows stood great jars and vessels filled with a wealth that could not be guessed.” (The Hobbit, Chapter 12, “Inside Information”)
Second, in the case of all of those treasures discovered by metal detectorists and others, it’s generally believed that such things, with rare exceptions, weren’t gathered and stored merely to be gathered and stored, but were only meant to be hidden for a time, and then, for unknown reasons, were never retrieved. In contrast to the dragons, then, such people, according to my running definition above, weren’t “hoarders”, even though their pots and other storage containers held what is called a “hoard”.
Perhaps, then, some other aspect than simple accumulation might be the defining factor? Even if their collections were meant to be recovered, they were, initially and with intent, concealed. It might be stretching a point, but Smaug and the Beowulf dragon sit on underground deposits. World War 2 hoarders were accused of stashing away food. Could the basic meaning of “hoard” then be “something of value (at least to the owners) which is hidden”? (Hoarders of the more obsessive variety might be said, at least, to store up things in numbers, even if they don’t keep them concealed—although sometimes the objects are in such large amounts that they begin to conceal the accumulators.)
If so, then, to keep “hoard” from “horde”, we might look once more at those dragons.
From my experience of them (not personal, which is probably just as well, although I would very much like to meet the poetical beast of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Reluctant Dragon” ),
though Thorin says that “I know where Mirkwood is, and the Withered Heath where the great dragons bred.” (The Hobbit, Chapter One, “An Unexpected Party”)
dragons seem to be solitary creatures—certainly the Beowulf dragon appears to have no kin, nor does Smaug (nor, for that matter, does another of Smaug’s models, the dragon which the Danish king, Frotho I, kills in Book 2 of Saxo Grammaticus’ early 13th-century Gesta Danorum, “Deeds of the Danes”). In contrast, dragons in the East may flock—see this wonderful 13th-century painting by Chen Rong, “The Scroll of the Nine Dragons”—
and, on the model of the Mongols, appear in hordes, but western dragons always seem to appear by themselves, never in hordes, but sitting obsessively on their hoards.
As ever, thanks for reading,
Stay well, and be sure that there’s
Several years ago, CD recommended a quiet comic series about metal-detecting in England, The Detectorists (2014-2017), written and directed by the brilliant Mackenzie Crook. This is set in and around the imaginary English village of “Danebury”, where we see two rather bumbly but hopeful men with metal detectors search for what they’re convinced will be a hoard. Since then, the series has been completed and I now want to re-recommend it as a whole.
To find out more, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detectorists
Although discovery by metal detector is common, other finds are simply accidents, often at building sites, like the Fishpool Hoard, found in 1966 (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishpool_Hoard ) or even by someone simply plowing, as in the case of the Mildenhall Treasure, turned up in a field in 1942 (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mildenhall_Treasure –this is Mildenhall, in Suffolk, and, just to make things complicated, there is another Mildenhall—said MY-al by the locals—in Wiltshire, all the way across southern England, where another treasure was found in 1978—see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cunetio_Hoard ).
If you, too, would like to meet the poetical beast of Grahame’s story, follow this LINK: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1288/1288-h/1288-h.htm