Diameter: 91.4 cm
Museum number: M&ME 1939,1010.94
Gift of Mrs E.M. Pretty
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Shield from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo (part-reconstruction)
Anglo-Saxon, early 7th century AD
From Mound 1, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England
A shield, together with a sword, makes up an important part of the set of weapons belonging to an elite warrior in the early Anglo-Saxon period. Often nothing remains except the iron boss and hand-grip as the wood of the shield board quickly decays in the ground. Here the form of the original shield has been reconstructed, with oak-bark tanned cow-hide over lime boards.
What survives are gilded emblems, including a bird-of-prey with predatory beak and cruel talons, and a six-winged dragon with open snapping jaws. These may symbolize the strength and courage of the shield's bearer. At the centre is a heavy iron boss, decorated with pairs of intertwined horses. Around the rim are gilt-bronze panels covered with interlacing animals and flanked by dragon's heads with beady garnet eyes. The shield was held by an iron grip behind the boss; this too is ornamented with dragon and bird heads.
The Sutton Hoo shield is the most ornate shield to have survived from this period. It is closely linked to shields from the contemporary Swedish high status cemetery of Vendel and together with the helmet, it suggests that both regions share cultural links in the late sixth and early seventh century.
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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)