The Horse in Early Anglo-Saxon England
with Chris Fern MA FSA (Heritage Consultant, University of York)
at the Suffolk Punch Trust, Hollesley (IP12 3JR)
on Saturday, 6th October, 2018.

From the very beginning of Anglo-Saxon culture, the importance of the horse is signified by the names of the legendary warrior-founders of the English-speaking peoples in Britain, Hengest and Horsa.  Equine imagery is also prominent in early Anglo-Saxon art.  Added to this is considerable archaeological evidence for horse sacrifice in both cremation and inhumation burials of the 5th to 7th centuries, often with highly ornate tack.

Provisional Programme:

10.00 – 10.30:                Coffee on arrival

10.30 – 11.30:                Horse burial in early Anglo-Saxon England – In common with other Germanic cultures in Europe, the Anglo-Saxons sacrificed horses at funerals and then buried or cremated the remains with their dead. The extent of the rite varied, however, between burial-grounds and regions, and over time, between the 5th to 7th centuries. In particular, the practice seems to have been important in East Anglia, including at Sutton Hoo.

11.30 – 11.50:                Coffee break

11.50 – 12.50:                Horse equipment of the 5th–7th centuries – Finds of tack from graves prove beyond doubt that the Anglo-Saxons rode horses and that equestrianism in the period was associated especially with the warrior culture of the elite. This session will consider the evidence for the equipment and its different forms.

12.50 – 13.50:                Lunch break

13.50 – 14.40:                 Horse art – Anglo-Saxon art is often highly stylised, but from the complex decoration used to decorate metalwork and pottery can be teased symbols, beasts and gods, which were very probably intended to represent horses or horse-gods.

14.40 – 15.00:                Tea break

15.00 – 15.50:                Horses in pagan legend and Anglo-Saxon history – This final session will draw together the evidence for horse culture from archaeology and art, presented in the earlier sessions, and will consider how it relates to the record of horse use and imagery in the historical and literary record.

c.15.50:                            Thanks and Close

About Chris Fern MA FSA

Chris Fern is a Heritage Consultant living in Norfolk, as well as a Research Associate of the University of York. Most recently he was the chief academic specialist for the Staffordshire Hoard Project. He has published on subject of the horse in Anglo-Saxon England, on the cemetery of Sutton Hoo, and on the Staffordshire Hoard. He has lectured widely on the early Anglo-Saxon period, and even contributed to the occasional episode of Digging for Britain. For more on his work, see his Academia webpage:


At a previous Study Day by Chris, when asked ‘What was best about the day?‘ people said:

  • It was so informative and based on exemplary academic scholarship. Chris Fern excellent speaker. Great presentation. Excellent day. Many thanks
  • Very up to date information. Excellent slides. I am lucky to have Wuffing Education nearby.
  • Chris’s first hand knowledge and information. Very informative.
  • Really interesting. Very Good. Very good slides. Academic level perfect.
  • The new knowledge and the enthusiasm of the lecturer. He kept the audience with him even if we didn’t get time to write everything down. Assumed sufficient knowledge of audience – which is refreshing.
  • Visuals – what a treat. Projector and screen showed up Chris Fern’s slides – beautiful details. All with no notes.


Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading:

Fern, C., 2005. ‘The archaeological evidence for equestrianism in early Anglo-Saxon England, c.450-700’, in A. Pluskowski (ed.) Just Skin and Bones? New Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations in the Historic Past, British Archaeological Reports, International Series 1410, pp. 43–71.

Fern, C., 2007. ‘Early Anglo-Saxon horse burials of the fifth to seventh centuries AD’, in S. Semple & H. Williams (eds) Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 14, pp. 92–109.

Fern, C., 2010. ‘Horses in Mind’, in M. Carver, A. Sanmark & S. Semple (eds) Signals of belief in Early Medieval England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited (Oxbow), pp. 128–157.

Fern, C., 2015. Before Sutton Hoo: the Prehistoric Remains and Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Tranmer House, Bromeswell, Suffolk, East Anglian Archaeology Report 155 (the cemetery contains multiple horse burials).

Carver, M. O. H. & C. Fern 2005. ‘The seventh-century burial rites and their sequence’ in M. O. H. Carver, Sutton Hoo: A Seventh-century princely burial ground and its context, Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries, 69, London: British Museum Publications.

Dickinson, T. M., C. Fern & M.A. Hall 2006. ‘An Early Anglo-Saxon Bridle-fitting from South Leckaway, Forfar, Angus, Scotland’, Medieval Archaeology, 50, pp. 249–260.

Dickinson, T. M., C. Fern & A. Richardson 2011. ‘Early Anglo-Saxon Eastry: Archaeological Evidence for the Beginnings of a District Centre in the Kingdom of Kent, Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, 17.

Fern, C., & G. Speake 2014Beasts, Birds and Gods: Interpreting the Staffordshire Hoard, West Midlands History (esp. pp. 30–31 and 33).

Webster, L., 2012. Anglo-Saxon Art, British Museum Press (provides a useful introduction to Styles I and II).