Length: 19 cm (spoons)
Museum number: M&ME 1939,1010.2
Gift of Mrs E.M. Pretty
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Purse lid from the ship burial at
Anglo-Saxon, early 7th century AD
From Mound 1, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England
The display of wealth
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 whale-bone ivory - 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 shoulder-clasps to the workshop of a single mastercraftsman, who may well have made the entire suite of gold and garnet fittings as a single commission.
The plaques include twinned images of a man standing heroically between two wolves and an eagle swooping on its prey. These images must have had deep significance, but it is impossible for us to interpret them. The wolves could be a reference to the dynastic name of the family buried at Sutton Hoo - the Wuffingas (Wolf's People). Like the eagle, they 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.
Google Cultural Institute
R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo ship burial-2, 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)