Every graphic you see has been generated electronically from original 2D photographs, drawings and diagrams and given depth and lighting in an attempt to reproduce them in their original condition. Each legend will explain what the original item was, condition it was found in and any assumptions I have made in the re-generation. I am limited in that many of the drawings and photographs I have had to work in are in black and white.
Many of the original photographs having been destroyed in the London Science Museum during the bombing of the Second World War.
Who owns the Sutton Hoo Treasure?
In the United Kingdom there is a legal mechanism that comes into force when the ownership of gold, silver or basically anything of value is recovered from under the ground or within United Kingdom waters. It is known as TREASURE TROVE. Treasure trove can be defined thus. If a person or persons hide, i.e. bury treasure or anything that can be construed as treasure and it is subsequently recovered by a person or persons who are not the legal owners, the find is declared as treasure trove. If it is declared such, it becomes the property of the state. If on the other hand, the treasure was not intended to ever be recovered, the situation becomes complicated. Many individual artefacts found by metal detecting that has become a popular pastime today could not be declared treasure trove because they were possibly lost originally and hence were not likely to ever be recovered by their owners. Another factor is where they were found. If the articles were found on private land by an individual who was not given permission to search there, the ownership would fall to the landowner if not subject to treasure trove.
The Sutton Hoo treasure opens a completely new can of worms as far as treasure trove is concerned. No legal remedies seem to be in place even today for who the legal owner would be when articles are found with no intention of recovery. Sutton Hoo was such a case. Taking into account the enormous importance of the find, the initial thought would be that the state would declare it treasure trove and impound the contents. On the other hand it falls outside the true definition of treasure trove.
So it was on the 14th August 1939 a coroner’s court was convened to dispute the legal ownership of the treasure. In true English tradition, a court with 14 jurors was set up in the local Sutton village hall to decide who owned the find. It was decided that the artefacts were not treasure trove and hence were awarded to Mrs Pretty. As you can imagine, this was not welcomed by the academic world who saw these historically important items being lost to the nation in front of their eyes.
Fortunately, Mrs Pretty who eventually died in 1952, donated them to the state. If she had not, it was almost certain that the coroner’s court decision would have been contested. What leg the state would have stood on is open to question. It has been usual practice for burial mound excavations to proceed only with the blessing of the state since the 14th century.
The iron axe is an unusual find because it has a metal handle. It tapers from oblong at the head end to square in the middle and round at the base. The similarity to those Danish battleaxes used by Harold at the Battle of Hastings cannot pass without thought. The head whilst being narrower than later varieties had a blunt hammer rear whilst the chopping side had a narrow curvature with a cutting surface of about 5-6cm. What is unusual and quite baffling is evidence of a swivel ring on the bottom of the handle. To have this bolted to your person would have made it impossible to walk. It is thought that it may have been used for mounted warfare. We simply do not know.
Known as the Anastasius dish, It is a large dish 72.5 cm wide and constructed of silver and is basically flat with a reasonably large foot ring. When recovered it was damaged by other items that had bent the foot ring. In particular the silver ladle and possibly the silver bowl. It was also bent on the rim and straightened later by the unbelievable procedure of blowtorch and hammer. The platter consists of concentric engraved or stamped rings of which the inner one contains an eight sided star with the impression of winged bird of some creation. Towards the rim is another concentric circle about 25 cm in diameter and 2 cm wide. Within this ring are designs of Byzantine nature which are difficult to discern. Within this ring are four circles that seem to have been added as an afterthought because they are of dubious circularity and do not seem to be 90 degrees equidistant. These roundels contain engravings of seated humans and standing figures. The rim is decorated in the same manner and I discern about 8 roundels which again, seem to leave something to be desired as far as geometry is concerned. Looking at this dish, you perceive the impression that the maker could have done better. On the underside of the foot ring is two stamps that indicate that this dish was made during the reign of Emperor Anastasius.
|Anastasius dish. I have taken a few liberties with this graphic. Due to the dish being quite badly damaged and because I only have a black and white photograph – I have enhanced the rings and the star in the centre. I am unable to reproduce the design on the plate due to erosion and wear.|
Who was Anastasius?
Zeno was the Emperor of Rome from AD 474 to 491. His real name was Tarasicodissa and originated from Isauria. A military man, he was unpopular for a number of reasons. Partly because of his associations with the Vandals who were involved in the earlier sacking of Rome and his fiscal policies that lead to a number of uprisings which he managed to quash. In 475, an uprising by Leo’s wife who was named Verina and her brother Basiliscus, Zeno fled back to his homeland. Basiliscus sent another Isaurian by the name of Illus to capture him. Unfortunately for Basiliscus, Illus’s siege failed and circumstances led to Zeno and Illus making a pact to regain power which was accomplished in August 476. By 478, Verina who was still upset at the betrayal perpetrated on her son by Illus, plotted his assassination. This failed and resulted in her imprisonment in Isauria. Verina by 479 was still plotting the death of Illus. This time she encouraged her son-in-law Marcian to oblige. Again, Illus put down the revolt. Zeno realised that Illus should be moved to Antioch for his own safety with a less controversial post. In 482, Zeno made comments that led to Pope Felix III excommunicating Acacius the Patriarch of Constantinople. For reasons unknown, Zeno’s brother was arrested and held hostage by Illus. When Zeno requested his release, Illus refused and was dismissed. Illus revolted in 484 and was a kinsman by the name of Leontius against him. Illus was not captured but made a pact with Leontius which led to Verina supporting Leontius. Leontius and Illus were eventually captured and executed in 488. Zeno suffered many uprisings but managed to survive until his death in 491. Anastasius was born in Dyrrachium which is better known today as Albania. Anastasius was a minor court official of Zeno but was in the right place at the right time on Zeno’s death. Anastasius followed a religious life and became Bishop of Antioch in 488. The power vacuum and his familiarity with Ariadne – Zeno’s wife led to him being put forward as the new Emperor. On the 11th April 491 he became so. Five weeks later he married her. One thing Anastasius realised was that there were too many bitter Isaurians who thought they had a better clam to his position than he did. To counter the threat, he removed all Isaurian officials which in turn lead to constant revolt. It took about 7 years to counter the threat. Raids by the Bulgars across the Danube instigated the building of walls and in 492 he was at war with Persia. Anastasius is probably best known for his modification to the coinage system and minting of a wide range of bronze coins . He is also known for his complex tax system which on his death in 518 left the economy in a strong position.
A plain silver cup was found that was bent due to the pressure of the burial roof collapse. It and the ladle were responsible for the footing damage and vice versa of the Anastasius dish.
|The graphically repaired silver cup that was damaged on the Anastasius dish.|
The Sutton Hoo sword
Of the many items recovered that indicate this to be the burial of a high ranking official, the remains of the sword indicate the fact to perfection. To the fighting man, the quality of his sword said more about him and his wealth than anything else. The complex construction of this sword shows how high the status of this man must have been. In those days it was impossible with the technology available to create a quality sword out of a single piece of metal. The Sutton Hoo sword was constructed using the process known as pattern welding. Pattern welding is undertaken by using thin strips of iron and twisting them together whilst red hot and hammering them into the correct shape. This left the characteristic shape of a zig zag or herringbone feature that indicated quality. This sword was no exception. Analysis showed that it consisted of 7 thin rods platted together to form the basic design and combined with another 4 bundles of 7 rods to produce the basic shape of the sword. It was here that the makers art and design could shine through. To the handle end was attached by heat and hammering 2 tongues that were for attaching the handle. After the basic shape was formed by heating and beating the cutting edges were applied. Steel making is a complex subject and it is interesting to wonder how much the maker knew about the process. The quality and strength and brittleness of steel is determined by the amount of carbon within it. The more carbon the stronger the blade. If you increase the carbon content too much, the steel becomes brittle and useless for sword purposes. It becomes what is known as cast iron and impossible to work. To make steel of the right constituency would have taken great skill. High carbon steel has a property that no other steel possesses. It can be heat hardened and annealed. The hardening process consists of heating the metal to a cherry red colour and quickly quenching it in cold water. This procedure hardens the metal and makes it brittle. Quite useless as a sword blade. The oxidation from the metal blade would be removed ready for annealing. Annealing is the process of heating the metal under controlled conditions whilst waiting for the metal to discolour. These colours are known as temper colours. They can vary depending on the carbon content but usually start from yellow and progress to blue. This procedure gradually softens the metal from its brittle state to a condition of hardness that makes it durable. It is important that the colours are observed closely and the sword quenched in cold water to stop the temper colours at the correct point and position. The skill of the sword maker would be paramount.
The Sutton Hoo sword blade therefore consisted of – .
56 individual thin rods 2 carbon steel blade edges and 2 tongues for the handle. 60 pieces in all.
|Sword handle components. The quality of the sword and the handle would have required the skills of a host of master craftsmen. The sword when complete was unlikely to have been used in combat but displayed at ceremonial functions. It would be more a symbol of status and wealth than fighting prowess.|
The gold buckle
Probably the grandest and finest of all the artefacts recovered from Sutton Hoo, the gold buckle is the premier find in my estimation. When observed from the front, it is difficult to discern its exact function. It consists of 4 main pieces and an ingenious locking system. Weighing about 420g and constructed of cast gold, the main body at the front which extends to the hinges at the oval shaped top piece. three oval headed pins extrude to the back which are locked by three small circular plates on the thinner back plate which is also hinged as indicated in the graphic. The oval top piece hinges backwards to allow the leather to be fed through prior to locking at the rear. I have looked at this buckle for some time and still find it hard to visualize how it would be worn securely. It would probably only be worn for ceremonial functions due to the pure beauty and value of it. The style originates from Germany of which a number have been recovered but none seem to be of this quality. Dating to the sixth or seventh century, it gives us valuable information as to who this may have belonged to. Note the symmetry of the left and right sides of the design of the main body and the predominance of birds of prey such as the beaks or talons on the left and right of the top two locking pin heads. Many of the finer gold pieces depict similar ornithological features.
|A modified graphic of the front of the buckle with light and depth added to give you a better idea of the design.|
|Graphic showing the great buckle and the complex design on the face.|
|The rear of the gold buckle. Note the locking mechanism of on the rear plate. It appears that it was locked by twisting the three small circular plates onto locking pins that protrude from the front.|
|One of about 10 silver saucers that survived by being placed in the burial chamber the way we would store them. They had a number of Celt like designs and this is an example of one.|
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Sutton Hoo Treasure" https://englishhistory.net/middle-ages/sutton-hoo-treasure/, March 3, 2022