Length: 13.200 cm
Width: 5.600 cm
Gift of Mrs E.M. Pretty
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
Gold belt buckle from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo
Anglo-Saxon, early 7th century AD
From Mound 1, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England
With cast ornament and niello inlay
Like most Anglo-Saxons, the man who was buried at Sutton Hoo wore a waist belt. These were fastened with buckles whose metal and decoration reflected the wealth and status of their owner. From the belt usually hung a knife, and occasionally a leather pouch to hold personal possessions.
This magnificent buckle was made of gold and weighs 412.7 grams. It is hollow and made in two parts joined by a hinge placed on the back beneath the loop. The master-craftsman who made it devised a locking system involving a complex system of sliders and internal rods which fit into slotted fixings. These fill the interior leaving little space for the safe storage of a relic, a function which has been suggested for such hollow, high-status buckles (see the buckle from Crundale, also in the British Museum). Reliquaries in the form of belt buckles are well known from the continent.
The surface of the buckle and the tongue plate are decorated with writhing snakes and intertwining four legged beasts. Their bodies are highlighted with punched ornament filled with black niello. At the tip of the buckle, two animals gently hold a tiny dog-like creature in their gaping jaws. These, together with the two birds' heads on the shoulders with cruel, curving beaks, make this buckle one of the most powerful images from early Anglo-Saxon England.
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-2, vol. 2: arms, armour and regalia (London, The British Museum Press, 1978)