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Sutton Hoo ship burial: 7th century

East Anglia, in which Sutton Hoo lies, is the kingdom of the East Angles. In the 7th century it is ruled by a dynasty known as the Wuffingas or 'wolf people'. The mixture of influences on these Germanic occupants of what was once Roman Britain is evident in the royal family's genealogy. They claim descent, through Julius Caesar, all the way back to Wotan.

Another significant blend, of pagan and Christian, can be seen in the range of objects buried in the Sutton Hoo ship (a 90-foot-long open craft of a kind later more familiar in the Viking longships).

Three drinking horns, suitable for pagan feasting, are found in the hoard alongside two spoons inscribed with Greek names - possibly baptismal gifts to a newly converted Christian. This combination fits the most likely royal owner of the buried treasure. He is Raedwald, ruler of much of eastern England south of the Humber, who dies in about625. A somewhat unconvinced convert to Christianity, he plays safe by setting up Christian altars and pagan shrines side by side.

Such ambiguity is not untypical. It is reflected in Beowulf, which probably reaches its final form during Raedwald's century.

As a burial, the Sutton Hoo ship is something of a mystery. No body is found in it, meaning perhaps that the king's skeleton has disintegrated - or that his treasure and his ship are interred merely as a memorial.

Either way, the extent of the treasure reveals the wealth and the wide trading links of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms at this time. The numerous gold and silver items include a gold buckle which by itself weighs almost a pound. Some thirty-seven gold coins, dating from around625, come from Frankish mints ranging from Belgium to Switzerland. A silver dish even has the hallmark of the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople.

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