Height: 31.8 cm
Width: 21.5 cm
Museum number: M&ME 1939,1010.93
Gift of Mrs E.M. Pretty
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Sutton Hoo ship burial helmet
Anglo-Saxon, early 7th century AD
From Mound 1, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England
This extraordinary helmet is very rare. Only four helmets dating to the early medieval period have been found so far in England: at Sutton Hoo, Benty Grange, Wollaston and York.
The helmet has panels decorated with interlacing Style II animal ornament and heroic scenes, motifs that were common in the Germanic world at this time. One scene shows two warriors, wearing horned helmets, holding short swords and down-turned spears. The other shows a mounted warrior trampling a fallen enemy, who in turn is stabbing the horse, a theme handed down from the Roman Empire.
The face-mask is the most remarkable feature of the helmet: it has eye-sockets, eyebrows and a nose, which has two small holes cut in it to allow the wearer to breathe freely. The bronze eyebrows are inlaid with silver wire and garnets. Each ends in a gilt-bronze boars-head - perhaps a symbol of strength and courage.
Placed against the top of the nose, between the eyebrows, is a gilded dragon-head that lies nose to nose with a similar dragon-head placed at the end of the low crest that runs over the cap. The nose, eyebrows and dragon make up a great bird with outstretched wings that flies on the helmet.
The helmet was badly damaged when the burial chamber collapsed. By precisely locating the remaining fragments as if in a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, the helmet has been rebuilt. A complete reconstruction has also been made.
More about this object
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S. Marzinzik, The Sutton Hoo Helmet, British Museum Objects in Focus (London, The British Museum Press, 2007)
R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo ship burial, vol. 2: arms, armour and regalia (London, The British Museum Press, 1978)
A.C. Evans, The Sutton Hoo ship burial, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
M. Carver (ed.), The Age of Sutton Hoo: The Seventh Century in Western Europe (Suffolk/New York, Boydell and Brewer, 1992)
M. Carver, Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings? (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998)
M. Carver, Sutton Hoo: A Seventh Century Princely Burial Ground and its Context (London, The British Museum Press, 2005)
S. Crawford, ‘Votive Deposition, Religion and the Anglo-Saxon Furnished Burial Ritual’, World Archaeology, 36 (2004), 87–102
D. Janes, ‘Treasure, death and display from Rome to the Middle Ages’, in E.M. Tyler, Treasure and the Medieval West (2000), pp. 1–10
S. Marzinzik, ‘Grave-goods in “Conversion Period” and Later Burials – a Case of Early Medieval Religious Double Standards?’, in K. Pollmann (ed.), Double Standards in the Ancient and Medieval World (Göttingen, 2000), pp.149–166
B. Yorke, The Conversion of Britain: Religion, Politics and Society in Brirain 600-800 (Harlow, Pearson/Longman, 2006)