In early Anglo-Saxon England, buckles used to fasten waist belts were a means of expressing a man’s wealth and status. The type of metal used and the fineness of decoration were key factors. This spectacular gold buckle from the Sutton Hoo ship burial shows that the person commemorated there was of great importance.
Weighing more than 400 grams, the buckle is actually a hollow box that opens at the back on a hinge beneath the loop. A locking system, involving a complex system of sliders and internal rods which fit into slotted fixings, enables it to close securely. Similarly-made buckles from Frankish and Burgundian parts of the Continent appear to have contained Christian relics, but we do not know for certain whether the Sutton Hoo buckle was used for this purpose.
No fewer than thirteen creatures decorate the buckle’s surfaces. The plate and round tongue shield feature writhing snakes and intertwining four-legged beasts. Their bodies are highlighted with punched ornament filled with black niello. Stylised snakes biting their own bodies slither on the loop, while at the tip of the buckle, two animals grip a small, dog-like creature in their jaws. These, together with the two fierce birds’ heads on the buckle’s shoulders, make this extraordinary object one of the most powerful images from early Anglo-Saxon England.