Death, Loss, and Dragon Hoards: Early Anglo-Saxon Art
with Dr Angela Evans (former Curator, British Museum)
at Sutton Hoo on Saturday, 10th March, 2018

The blanket term “Anglo-Saxon” disguises the fact that the Germanic and Scandinavian incomers who populated lowland Britannia from Kent and Wessex to Northumbria had their origins in different homelands.  They brought with them divergent cultural markers that, during the fifth century, melded into what we now recognise as the multifaceted culture of early Anglo-Saxon England.  These people had a powerful visual imagination whose legacy is seen in the decoration of their personal possessions, but interpreting the designs can often be challenging.  We shall look in detail at the background and development of the extraordinarily complex ornament on early Anglo-Saxon metalwork, follow some of the motifs to their adoption on early manuscripts and, finally, to their flowering on the high status metalwork of the later period.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                 The first session will focus on how we read post Roman Britannia and the landscapes that the incomers rapidly made their own.   We will consider what evidence there is for the near invisible (to us) British population after the Roman military left, explore the possibilities of Roman cultural influence on the incomers, both in Britannia and beyond the Limes in the Germanic homelands, as well as possible influences from Scandinavia.

The session will include a discussion of terminology – whether art is the correct term to use when referring to what is, in reality, ornamentation, the decoration of personal possessions, as well as the mastery of metalworking skills – and will conclude by examining the earliest insular style of ornament on metalwork in the fifth century, ‘Quoit brooch Style’, and the initial phase of ‘Style I’.

11.15 – 11.40:                Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:                Using images of some of the finest metalwork from the fifth and sixth centuries, this session will focus on the two most prolific forms of ornament that decorate early Anglo-Saxon metalwork – Style I and Style II.   Both are intricate and highly complex to read, and sometimes muddled beyond understanding.   However, it is generally assumed that imagery and ornament have meaning even if it is shadowy and difficult to grasp.  Possible interpretations of some motifs will be outlined and time will be left for discussion at the end of this session for the group to explore ideas further.

12.40 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:                 Sutton Hoo provides us with an extraordinary repertoire of Insular ornament as well as some of the most dramatic figural and three-dimensional representations in Early Anglo-Saxon metalwork.  The session will focus on the high status metalwork from the royal burial beneath mound 1 as well as metalwork from mound 2 and mound 17 and examine its ongoing importance to our interpretation of material from other graves and hoards.

14.50 – 15.10:                Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:                The arrival of St Augustine to fulfil Pope Gregory’s mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons had a profound effect on early Anglo-Saxon ornament.   The final session will look at how the animal based interlacing ornament of the sixth century adapted to new challenges with the gradual shift away from pagan beliefs.   Fine metalwork, sculpture and fabulously illuminated manuscripts are the heritage from this later period.

We will also look at how objects from Sutton Hoo mound 1 anticipate the art of the later period:  the large hanging-bowl with its curvilinear ornament together with the pair of shoulder clasps provide a striking, yet unexpected, link between the gold and garnet jewellery of the Anglo-Saxons, north British metalwork of the late sixth and early seventh centuries, the pre-Roman Iron Age as well as the production of illuminated manuscripts in the Northumbrian and Irish scriptoria in the late seventh and early eighth centuries into whose repertoire the interlacing creatures of the early Anglo-Saxons were absorbed.

c.16.00:                            Thanks and Close

About Dr Angela Evans

Dr Angela Care Evans, retired curator of early Anglo-Saxon Antiquities at the British Museum, excavated at Sutton Hoo in the nineteen-sixties and was a contributing author and editor of the British Museum reports.  She is working on the publication of the finds from the most recent excavations on the National Trust site at Sutton Hoo and completing her catalogue of Anglo-Saxon sword fittings.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

  • Backhouse, J., The Lindisfarne Gospels (Oxford 1981).
  • Backhouse, J., & L.Webster (eds), The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900 (British Museum 1991).
  • Backhouse, J., D.Turner, & L.Webster (eds), The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art  AD 966-1066 (British Museum, 1984).
  • Bruce-Mitford, R., Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Gollancz 1974).
  • Bruce-Mitford, R., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, vol.1 (London 1975).
  • Bruce-Mitford, R., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, vol.2 (London 1978).
  • Bruce-Mitford, R., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, vol.3 (London 1984).
  • Brown, M., & L.Webster, (eds), Transformation of the Roman World AD 400-900, (London 1997).
  • Brown, M. P., Manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon Age (British Library 2008).
  • Carver, M.O.H. et al., Sutton Hoo: A Seventh-Century Princely Burial Ground and Its Context, Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London No.69 (London 2005).
  • Coatsworth, E., & M. Pinder, The Art of the Anglo-Saxon Goldsmith – Fine Metalwork in Anglo-Saxon England: Its Practice and Practitioners (Boydell 2002).
  • Evans, A., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (British Museum 1994).
  • Fairclough, J., Fairclough, John, Boudica to Raedwald: East Anglia’s Relations with Rome (Malthouse Press 2010)
  • Fern, C., & G.Speake, Beasts, Birds, and Gods: Interpreting the Staffordshire Hoard (West Midlands History Ltd 2014).
  • Jones, M., The End of Roman Britain (Cornell University 1996).
  • Lucy, S., The Anglo-Saxon Way of Death (Sutton 2000).
  • Speake, G., Anglo-Saxon Animal Art (Oxford 1980).
  • Webster, L., Anglo-Saxon Art: A New History (British Museum 2012).
  • Youngs, Susan (ed.), “The Work of Angels”: Masterpieces of Celtic Metalwork, 6th – 9th centuries AD (University of Texas 1989).


Some Useful Web Sites

  • British Library digitised manuscripts:
  • Staffordshire Hoard: