Visitor looking at the Sutton Hoo helmet in Room 41

Room 41

Sutton Hoo and Europe

AD 300–1100
The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily 10.00–17.30 (20.30 on Fridays)

Free daily eye-opener tour

14.45 in gallery, 30–40 minute tour

Spanning over 700 years, Room 41 traces the story of Europe from AD 300.

The centuries AD 300–1100 witnessed great change in Europe. The Roman Empire broke down in the west, but continued as the Byzantine Empire in the east. People, objects and ideas travelled across the continent, while Christianity and Islam emerged as major religions. By 1100, the precursors of several modern states had developed.

Europe as we know it today was taking shape. Room 41 gives an overview of the period and its peoples. Its unparalleled collections range from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, and from North Africa to Scandinavia. The gallery's centrepiece is the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk – one of the most spectacular and important discoveries in British archaeology.

Gallery facts

By AD 500, invasions, religious infighting and political strife had disrupted life in the Roman Empire and it eventually broke down, only enduring in the east as the Byzantine Empire.

A few miles from the Suffolk coast, the Sutton Hoo ship burial was one of the most exciting discoveries in British archaeology, and one that profoundly exploded the myth of the 'Dark Ages'. 

There are two Sutton Hoo Helmets in Room 41, the original and a replica showing how the original previously looked. The original helmet is extremely rare, only one of four known complete helmets from Anglo-Saxon England.   

Gallery facts

At the heart of the Sutton Hoo ship burial was a chamber surrounded by riches from Byzantium and beyond, pointing to the existence of international connections.

The origin of the term 'Viking' is uncertain, perhaps coming from Old Norse words for pirates, seaborne expeditions, or an area in south-eastern Norway called Viken.  

A double-edged sword, such as that on display, were the most prestigious weapon used by Vikings, only available to high status warriors.  

Timeline

AD 300–1100

Celtic Britain and Ireland

The people of Ireland and northern and Western Britain spoke Celtic languages and shared ancient traditions and beliefs.

AD 300–500

The Roman Empire and beyond

At its height, the Roman Empire extended all around the Mediterranean and into continental Europe and Britain.

AD 330–650

The Byzantine Empire

The Byzantine Empire comprised the eastern part of the Roman Empire following its division in east and west in AD 395. Its capital was Constantinople. 

AD 400–750

Great migrations

As Roman control in Western Europe weakened, Germanic peoples from outside the Empire began to enter and settle on former Roman territories. 

AD 450–1100

Anglo-Saxon England

After the Roman army withdrew from Britain in AD 410, groups of Germanic peoples from Northwest Europe crossed the North Sea to settle in parts of southern and eastern Britain. 

AD 750–1100

The Vikings

Originating from Scandinavia, the Vikings voyaged overseas to raid, trade and settle in new lands at this time. 

An introduction to Sutton Hoo

In 1939, Edith Pretty, a landowner at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, asked archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the largest of several Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on her property. Inside, he made one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of all time.

Beneath the mound was the imprint of a 27m-long (86ft) ship. At its centre was a ruined burial chamber packed with treasures: Byzantine silverware, sumptuous gold jewellery, a lavish feasting set, and, most famously, an ornate iron helmet. Dating to the early AD 600s, this outstanding burial clearly commemorated a leading figure of East Anglia, the local Anglo-Saxon kingdom. It may even have belonged to a king.

The Sutton Hoo ship burial provides remarkable insights into early Anglo-Saxon England. It reveals a place of exquisite craftsmanship and extensive international connections, spanning Europe and beyond. It also shows that the world of great halls, glittering treasures and formidable warriors described in Anglo-Saxon poetry was not a myth.

Edith Pretty donated the finds to the British Museum in 1939, and they now form a stunning centrepiece to this gallery. The site at Sutton Hoo is managed by the National Trust. Visit the National Trust page about Sutton Hoo to find out more.

Accessibility

  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language guide handset, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Seating is available.
  • Step-free access.
  • View sensory map (opens in new window).

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.