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Sword from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo

500/650

British Museum

British Museum

Anglo-Saxon sword blades were made using a technique known as pattern-welding, where rods of iron were twisted and then forged to form the core of a blade, to which sharp cutting edges were added. This method gave the blade an intricately patterned appearance resembling herringbone or snake-like markings. The sword-blade found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial is especially complex.

The sword is richly furnished with gold hilt (handle) fittings. The pommel is inlaid with garnet cloisonné, the guards are made from gold plates, and the grip has two gold mounts decorated with delicate filigree. Worn patches on the sword’s pommel were probably caused by the owner’s hand or clothing rubbing it when the sword was sheathed at his side. The sword was buried in a wooden scabbard bound in leather and lined with sheep wool, whose oil kept the blade bright. Two button-shaped mounts and two pyramid-shaped fittings, also gold with garnet inlays, were associated with the scabbard.

The sword hung from a belt whose fittings are equally magnificent. All are made of gold with inlaid garnet cloisonné. One of these, the T-shaped strap distributor, is made of three moving parts. On the back of one mount are the marks of a tiny goldsmith’s hammer where a repair has been made. The sword belt buckle is the only piece of ‘jewellery’ found in this extraordinary grave that is damaged – it lay beneath the blade and was crushed when the burial chamber collapsed.

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Details

  • Title: Sword from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo
  • Date Created: 500/650
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: bound
  • Registration number: 1939,1010.95.C
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Sutton Hoo
  • Period/culture: Merovingian; Germanic; Early Anglo-Saxon
  • Material: wood; fur; linen
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Pretty, Edith M

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