How useful is Sutton Hoo as a window into 7th century Anglo Saxon Society and Culture

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Sutton Hoo can be useful in a number of ways to help us learn about their society and culture. First of all, if you look at the burial site itself, it is very easy to say that it was a pagan burial and not Christian. We can tell this by the fact that Raedwald was buried with his ship, an assortment of weapons, decorative items such as shoulder clasps and a brooch, buckets for ale and a purse containing 40 gold coins, among other things.

Raedwald was buried with his possessions, as it was thought that if you were buried with your possessions you would be able to use them in your next life. The purse containing 40 gold coins has been suggested that its use was to pay the forty oarsmen to row the boat to the land of the dead. This also helps us see that it was a pagan burial. The coins also tell us that they were travelling and trading with other countries, as no two coins are from the same mint. This means that they either came from a larger horde, King’s treasure or profits from a thriving trade with Gaul.

Also found were two silver spoons. One is inscribed in Greek letters PAULOS and the other is SAULOS. These could be linked with Saint Paul from the New Testament. Saul, a Pagan, was busily brining Christians to justice when he had a blinding vision from Christ and as a result, converted to Christianity and took the Christian name Paul. Subsequently made a saint, Saint Paul was instrumental in building up the early Christian Church in the Roman Empire. This shows us that even though Raedwald was buried in the Pagan fashion, he still had Christian links.

These finds suggest “distant influences and wide connections”. Not an inward looking parochial society but one where there was a fluid interchange of materials, goods and cultures. There are similar ship burials excavated in Norway and Sweden. “In 1904 a ship was found buried under a small mound at Oseberg in Norway. It had a grave chamber which contained the bodies of two women. Robbers had stolen all the jewels and treasure but inside the burial chamber many objects still remained; beds, tapestry work, wooden chests, weaving looms, buckets. Lamps, a four wheeled cart, four sledges, two tent frames, fifteen horses, four dogs and one young bull. One body may have been of Aso, a Viking queen.

If you take the treasure as a whole, you could suggest that the East Angles had strong links with the Germanic world. The animal shapes of the jewellery was of a type that was fashionable all over the world, e.g. mushroom shaped cloisonn� can be found on artefacts from archaeological sites from Sweden to Italy in the 6th century.

In many ways the treasures show the continuing influence of the Roman Empire. The silver plates that were found are Roman. The military subjects in decorative motifs e.g. cavalry, fighting foot soldiers are present in Roman articles. A barbarian king looks to be like a Roman to gain status, respectability and authority. The ceremonial whetstone capped by the naturalistic deer could pass as roman. Bede wrote that kings of the East Angles claimed their genealogy back to Wuffa, but by the late 8th century they were claiming descent from Wooden, Caesar and Wuffar. Romulus and Remus (the legendary abandoned twins [who were nursed by she wolf] and went on to found Rome) appear on East Anglian coins. “In becoming a Christian a barbarian prince moved from a world in which he could eat his dinner from a Roman dish to one in which he could enjoy the idea that he was in some sense Roman”.

In conclusion, I think that Sutton Hoo gives us a very good insight into 7th century Anglo Saxon Culture and Society, but it doesn’t give you the information directly. The only way to find out about there culture and society is to look into the background and history of the items found in the burial, and find out what they would of meant to the people that owned them at the time. For historians, this burial site is a treasure trove of knowledge.

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