Diameter: 31 cm
Height: 14 cm
Museum number: M&ME 1939,1010.110
Gift of Mrs E.M. Pretty
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Hanging bowl from the ship burial at Sutton Hoo
Medieval Celtic, late 6th-early 7th century
From Mound 1, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England
Fit for a royal feast
This once magnificent bronze hanging bowl is the largest of three found in 1939 in a richly furnished ship burial. The burial is the most lavishly equipped tomb surviving from the early middle ages. This bowl is an import from British peoples living beyond the Anglo-Saxon heartlands and was perhaps acquired as tribute or through a marriage alliance. Its discovery among other exotic imports of silver and bronze confirms that it was highly valued. The bowl was in Anglo-Saxon hands for some time because it was repaired using silver patches decorated in the local Anglo-Saxon style.
Hanging bowls were designed to be hung by hooked mounts from three or four rings fixed to the rim. Here the thin sheet bowl has elaborately ornamented and inlaid hook-mounts, with extra ornamental square mounts in between. There is a disc under the base and inside, uniquely, a free standing bronze fish that could rotate. Three colours of enamel were used: red, blue and pale green. Other glass was inlaid: some blue rods and bright patterns of millefiori. The curving lines and abstract patterns are typical of medieval Celtic art from Britain and Ireland and it has been argued that this bowl was made in Ireland.
The silvery (tinned) trout swimming inside is a clue to the bowl's original use. It may have held water for hand washing after a feast, or perhaps something stronger for drinking.
Google Cultural Institute
J. Brenan, Hanging bowls and their context, BAR British Series 220 (Oxford, Tempus Reparatum, 1991)
M. Carver, Sutton Hoo: burial ground of kings? (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
A.C. Evans, The Sutton Hoo ship burial, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)