Gloucester Road

Pagan Burials and Transport

Anglo-Saxon England: Sutton Hoo

Early 7th century, East Anglia, England.

Inside the mound was found the remains of a ship, thirty metres long and with a central chamber filled with a sumptuous collection of Anglo-Saxon grave goods.

In 1939 an undisturbed grave was discovered at Sutton Hoo, above the narrow estuary of the River Deben in Suffolk, England. It lay beneath a great mound that had been cut through by a ditch in Medieval times, thus giving a false impression of its centre and so fooling nineteenth century excavators. Inside the mound was found the remains of a ship, thirty metres long and with a central chamber filled with a sumptuous collection of Anglo-Saxon grave goods.

The grave itself is almost certainly that of King Raewald of East Anglia, who died in about 625 AD. His was the last burial in this high-status, pagan cemetery, a cemetery that had been in use for about fifty years prior to this. Many of these earlier graves contain the remains of a warrior and a sacrificial horse.

Although Christianity had already been introduced into England by the time that King Raewald was buried, he, or those overseeing his funeral, seem to have wanted to make a grand statement on his exit from this world. From the style of the objects that were chosen to accompany him, including Byzantine bowls and objects of Scandinavian influence, it has been suggested that he might have been brought up as a boy in Sweden, given the long-held traditions of fostering by noble families at the time. Sweden at this time, of course, was pagan. Ship-burials are found in Vendel and Valsgarde, in eastern Sweden, dating to this era.

Sutton Hoo ship burial, in a pagan Anglo-Saxon cemetary overlooking the River Deben in south-east Suffolk, England.

reconstruction of a body lying draped in cloth with grave goods, in the hold of a ship.

Reconstruction of the original burial position of King Raewald in Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, shown in the Sutton Hoo Exhibition Hall.

Story fragment from the twelfth century Breton lai of Guigemar: 'All Guigemar could see in the boat was a large bed, very richly made and adorned with drapes and covers of silk and gold thread. As to the pillow, anyone who lay his head on it would not get any older, and that is the truth!'

See for yourself

Sutton Hoo ship burial - Wikipedia

The Sutton Hoo Society

The British Museum - search 'Sutton Hoo' for articles and books.

Lakes and seas

Piccadilly Line

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Lakes and seas: summary

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