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The Sutton Hoo purse lid

Purse lid from the Sutton Hoo ship burial

Purse lid from the Sutton Hoo ship burial, early 7th century, gold, garnet and millefiori, 19 x 8.3 cm (excluding hinges) © Trustees of the British Museum
Wealth, and its public display, was probably used to establish status in early Anglo-Saxon society much as it is today. The purse lid from Sutton Hoo is the richest of its kind yet found.
The lid was made to cover a leather pouch containing gold coins. It hung by three hinged straps from the waist belt, and was fastened by a gold buckle. The lid had totally decayed but was probably made of whalebone—a precious material in early Anglo-Saxon England. Seven gold, garnet cloisonné and millefiori glass plaques were set into it. These are made with a combination of very large garnets and small ones, deliberately used to pick out details of the imagery. This combination could link the purse-lid and the fine shoulder clasps, which were also found in the ship burial, to the workshop of a single master-craftsman. It is possible that he made the entire suite of gold and garnet fittings discovered in Mound 1 as a single commission.
Interlaced animals (detail), Purse lid from the Sutton Hoo ship burial, early 7th century, gold, garnet and millefiori, 19 x 8.3 cm (excluding hinges) © Trustees of the British Museum
The plaques include twinned images of a bird-of-prey swooping on a duck-like bird (above), and a man standing heroically between two beasts. These images must have had deep significance for the Anglo-Saxons, but it is impossible for us to interpret them. The fierce creatures are perhaps a powerful evocation of strength and courage, qualities that a successful leader of men must possess. Strikingly similar images of a man between beasts are known from Scandinavia.
Suggested readings:
G. Williams, Treasures from Sutton Hoo, (London, British Museum Press, 2011).
A.C. Evans, The Sutton Hoo ship burial, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1994).
R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo ship burial, vol. 2: arms, armour and regalia (London, The British Museum Press, 1978).
© Trustees of the British Museum

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Given how marvelous these works all are...I wonder why we cannot find many more of them? My reasoning is that in order for such an incredible craftsman to become so incredible he/she would probably have had to have a great deal of practice on earlier works, no? Thus, we could infer that many more similar works should exist. That is of course not taking in to account that the gold could be melted down so easily as well, but I would think that such an incredible belt buckle for example would have been more valuable than the raw melted down gold material and if there is one...then I would venture to guess there are more!
    (8 votes)
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    • aqualine sapling style avatar for user Aleena Scarborough
      My guess is that many of these outstanding works of art were melted by grave robbers or thieves/plunderers after the end of Anglo Saxon rule... None of the aforementioned people would have valued the looks of these items... They were not sentimental, so all that mattered to them was the value of the gold they were made of.
      Also, I believe there are still discoveries to be made, and that many more finds are in our future! Hope that helps answer your question!
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user midoamine.dr
    what information about the anglo-saxons does a purse lid provides us with? w w
    (1 vote)
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