The Long Seventh Century

Continuity and Discontinuity in an Age of Transition

by Alessandro Gnasso (Volume editor) Emanuele E. Intagliata (Volume editor) Thomas J. MacMaster (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection VIII, 316 Pages


This volume represents a selection of papers presented at the 2013 Edinburgh Seventh Century Colloquium, showcasing the latest scholarship from a rising generation of academics. The volume traverses the globe from Iran to the Atlantic and from Sweden to the Sahara and ranges from the establishment of the early Islamic state to the beginnings of English Christianity. Topics include the transmission of high culture across time, settlement patterns in a rapidly changing world and the formation of new and emerging identities. The essays also bring into dialogue a wide range of disciplinary and methodological perspectives, including archaeology, literature, history, art, papyrology and economics. Together, they generate valuable new insights into the still uncharted territories of the long seventh century.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface: Evaluating the ‘Edinburgh Seventh-Century Colloquium’ Experience
  • Bibliography
  • Sutton Hoo and Sweden Revisited
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • Kings without Faces: An Examination of the Visual Evidence for Kingship in the Seventh Century
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • The Early English Cult of Saints in Long-Term Perspective
  • Royal Martyrs: Sainted Heroes?
  • Primary Relics: Curating the Dead
  • Translation: Exhuming the Dead
  • A ‘Conversion-Period’ Cemetery in Long-Term Perspective
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • Approaches to the Frankish Community in the Chronicle of Fredegar and Liber Historiae Francorum
  • Constructing the Frankish Community
  • From Trojans to Franks: The Origins of the Community
  • The Role of Kings
  • Conclusions: Continuity and Change
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • The Periphery during the Seventh Century: The Rise of a New Landscape within the Core of the Alps. Climate Change, Land Use and the Arrival of the Lombards in the Eastern Trentino, Northern Italy (Sixth–Seventh Centuries AD)
  • The Lombards in Eastern Trentino
  • Early Medieval Palaeoclimate and Palaeoenvironmental Evidence: European and Trentine Data in Comparison
  • Conclusions. Environmental Evolution and the Arrival of the Lombards: Landscape Continuity or Discontinuity?
  • Bibliography
  • The Development of Diplomatic Contacts and Exchange between the Byzantine Empire and the Frankish Kingdoms until the Early Eighth Century
  • Diplomatic Contacts between the Merovingian Kingdoms and Byzantium
  • The End of Diplomatic Contacts – but not Separated Worlds?
  • Oriental and Byzantine Artefacts of the Seventh Century from the Frankish Kingdoms
  • Parts of costume
  • Vessels
  • Coins
  • Oriental imports
  • General Trends and Modes of Exchange
  • Imported Objects in the Merovingian Kingdoms and their Relation to Mediterranean Transport and Communication in the Seventh Century
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • When the East Came to the West: The Seventh Century in the Vega of Granada (South-East Spain): Visigoths, Byzantines and Muslims
  • Brief Historical Background
  • The Archaeological Evidence in the Vega of Granada between the Fifth and the Tenth Centuries
  • 1. Settlement patterns
  • 2. Necropoleis
  • 3. Pottery production and distribution
  • Suggested Interpretation: Towards an Understanding of the Transition between the Seventh and Eighth Centuries
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • From Early Byzantium to the Middle Ages at Sagalassos
  • The Second Quarter of the Sixth Century
  • The Second Half of the Sixth Century
  • The Seventh Century
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Continuity and Discontinuity in Seventh-Century Sicily: Rural Settlement and Economy
  • Rural Settlement and Rural Buildings (Antonino Facella)
  • Production, Imports and Trade Routes: The Ceramic Evidence (Luca Zambito)
  • Society and Economy (Giuseppe Cacciaguerra)
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Bibliography
  • Islamic Conquest, Territorial Reorganization and Empire Formation: A Study of Seventh-Century Movements of Population in the Light of Egyptian Papyri
  • Conquest and Exploitation
  • Provincial Organization, Old and New
  • Fiscal Policies, Forced Labour and Fugitives
  • The End of the Long Seventh Century
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • Sons of the Muhājirūn: Some Comments on Ibn al-Zubayr and Legitimizing Power in Seventh-Century Islamic History
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • Irrigation in Khuzistan after the Sasanians: Continuity, Decline, or Transformation?
  • Impact of Sasanian State Patronage on Irrigation Systems
  • Irrigation History on the Plain of Miyānāb
  • Discussion
  • Future Work
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • Afterword: Why the Seventh Century? The Problem of Periodization across Cultures
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Literature
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


Preface: Evaluating the ‘Edinburgh Seventh-Century Colloquium’ Experience

The Edinburgh Seventh-Century Colloquium was an interdisciplinary collaboration involving faculties and students from the departments of Archaeology, Art History, Celtic, Classics, History, Islamic Studies and Literature of the University of Edinburgh and built off of the efforts of collaborative institutions, including the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) and the Late Antique and Medieval Postgraduate Society (LAMPS). The event highlighted Edinburgh as a research and teaching centre on late antique and early medieval studies across a number of disciplines, providing the opportunity to establish ties between research students in Edinburgh and other institutions. This multinational focus was achieved through the generous assistance of the University of Edinburgh Development Trust, the Innovative Initiative Grant and CMRS, whose help in providing the means to attract a wide range of scholars from different institutions and disciplines was indispensable.

The colloquium was a student-initiated conference for both postgraduates and early-career researchers involved in the study of all aspects of the history, archaeology, art, literature and societies of the wider post-Roman world. The innovative format adopted, which made use of a respondant for each paper presented, was aimed at maximizing the interaction and exchanges between participants at the conference, with constructive feedback and networking opportunities especially emphasized. The event provided the opportunity to share ideas, compare methodologies and exchange data to approach the period under analysis by challenging well-rooted positions in modern scholarship. The natures of the contributions have been various and have spanned from testing the feasibility of innovative ← 1 | 2 → working hypotheses, to providing state-of-the-art accounts on the latest research development within a certain research area.

The general theme was an examination of whether the seventh century can be studied as a unit across regions and of whether the period represents a break in the longue durée. Questions of what the level of discontinuity between the ‘long sixth’ and ‘long eighth’ centuries was have been deeply investigated. We explored how wider perspectives can be used to formulate new approaches to source material, drawing out fresh perspectives on both the familiar and unfamiliar. The study of the seventh-century world has previously been highly fragmented by conventional research boundaries, such as those determined by disciplinary areas, didactic programs and routine, periodization, and national academic traditions. The conference bridged these boundaries by promoting a wider approach, facilitating scholarly exchange and encouraging awareness of research outside the participants’ own disciplines and immediate interests.

This volume, whose publication has been generously sponsored by the Department of Archaeology of the SHCA of the University of Edinburgh, represents an attempt to provide the reader with an insight on the heterogeneity of the contributions delivered during the conference by gathering a selection of papers. Its ambition is certainly not to answer in full the question on continuity or discontinuity, which is impossible given the obvious limitations of a two-day conference. In working on such a broad issue, lacunae are certainly unavoidable and in many cases the present contribution raises more questions than answers. Rather it attempts to ‘probe’ the issue with aimed, specific case studies chosen due to their innovative approach to the problem. It tries to be a stimulus to the reader by providing an array of different perspectives and methodologies applicable to new research areas.

This volume, then, can be seen as accepting the challenge of the work by J. Fontaine and J. N. Hillgarth published more than twenty years ago on The Seventh Century: Change and Continuity. It places itself in the same line, presenting ‘un choix de quelques « points de sondage », choix conditionné par le sentiment de nos limites’.1 At the same time, however, it tries ← 2 | 3 → to broaden the array of the disciplines involved by including the study of material culture, which the organizers believe to be pivotal in the discussion. While archaeology plays a major role in this volume, the importance of studies within literature, the focus of Fontaine’s and Hillgarth’s work, has not been abandoned. The geographical horizon is also much wider, spanning from west to east. Particular attention is given to themes of change and continuity in the central and eastern Mediterranean – and especially in early Islam.

As will be clear with the following papers, the Edinburgh Seventh-Century Colloquium demonstrated that the debate on continuity and discontinuity in the seventh century is very much alive. It has also shown that answering this question is a particular challenging task that cannot be achieved without setting clear geographical and methodological boundaries across all the disciplines. In some cases clear continuity is evident, but whether discontinuity occurred, we are in line with Fontaine in arguing that this did not happen suddenly but even the greatest breaks were the result of a gradual process of transformation that did not result in the complete obliteration of the past.2 In this sense, discontinuity does not exclude a priori continuity. Even during a century that brought much conquest and colonization, religious and economic change, the past was utilized and remodelled to fit with the change. If we take Woolf and Stoner’s papers, we can see the frontier society of proto-Christian, Anglo-Saxon England broke from its past in colonial society and was transforming itself into one with established hierarchies, but continued to maintain traditional expressions of reverence and power. In most cases, a clear label cannot be given, as societies continued to look both backwards towards the past and forwards to the future. The discussion, thus, must and shall continue.

The publication of this book was made possible by a generous grant from the Department of Archaeology, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh. ← 3 | 4 →


Fontaine, J. (1992). ‘Bilan du colloque’. In J. Fontaine and J. N. Hillgarth (eds), Le septième siècle: changements et continuities. Actes du Colloque bilatéral franco-britattnique tenu au Warburg Institute les 8–9 juillet 1988, 277–282. London: Warburg Institute. ← 4 | 5 →


  1 Fontaine 1992: 277.

  2 Fontaine 1992: 277.


Sutton Hoo and Sweden Revisited

Since its discovery in 1939, the early seventh-century ship burial at Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, in the east of England, has been compared with those from the grave fields at Vendel and Valsgärde, in the Swedish province of Uppland.1 The presence of a ship in the mound, the weaponry, and above all the iconic enclosed helmet, still unique from Britain, all have their parallels in the Swedish sites. The manifest parallels between the burial in Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo and the Swedish material have led, over the years, to a range of suggestions as to how the one may be linked with the other.2 An early hypothesis was that the man buried in Mound 1 was a visitor from Sweden, buried in his own ancestral style.3 More conventionally, accepting the identification of the grave field at Sutton Hoo as the burial ground of the kings of the East Angles, questions have been asked concerning the possible Swedish origin of the local dynasty, known to us as the Wuffingas. Inevitably these speculations have drawn the Old English poem Beowulf into the debate. For most of the twentieth century this poem was thought to date from the period before the viking invasions of the ninth-century and was plausibly argued to have been written about a century after the funeral had taken place at Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo.4 The protagonist of the poem is identified as a Geat, a member of the gens who gave their name to Götland, now in south central Sweden, and the middle part of the poem, notably lacking in monsters, deals with conflict between the Geatas and the Swéon, the ethnic Swedes of Mälardal. More recently ← 5 | 6 → the poem Beowulf, at least in its surviving form, and it survives in only one manuscript copy, has been more cautiously dated to a period closer to the date of the manuscript, c.1000, though inevitably the subject matter, and the existence of Scandinavian analogues, has encouraged speculation about the poem’s source material, earlier recensions and ultimate origins.

In recent times, if 1993 still counts as recent, the most developed analysis of this linkage has been Sam Newton’s monograph The Origins of Beowulf and the Pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia.5 This is a wonderful book and well worth reading, even if the identification of East Anglian dynasty of the seventh and eighth century as the descendants of characters from the poem is not entirely convincing. We live and work now in a more sceptical age where the linkage of archaeological finds with literary texts is frowned upon. We do not expect to be so lucky. Such caution in the published word, however, often serves only to mask linkages in the mind of the scholar. Once one has been encouraged to think of Sutton Hoo and Beowulf together, one cannot unthink the connection and many interpretations of each still rely, albeit more tacitly these days, upon an awareness of the other.

In archaeological terms, although the arms and armour in Mound 1 closely resemble those from Vendel and Valsgärde, there is much else besides, which is not paralleled in the Swedish burials.6 The ship itself is much larger than anything found in Scandinavia from this period and, in addition to the military gear, the burial also included gold coins from Gaul, a ‘Coptic’ dish from the Byzantine Empire and a hanging bowl, probably produced in a British workshop, and one or two unique items.7 Only two things link Sutton Hoo directly to the Swedish sites, the military gear and the use of a boat in the burial. These are, nonetheless, parallels worth exploring.8

The traditional approach to the exploration of these links has been to hypothesize some movement of individuals, groups or ideas from Sweden to East Anglia. This has sometimes involved anachronistic elision. Thus, ← 6 | 7 → direct linkage with characters in Beowulf has tended to focus on Beowulf’s own people, the Geatas, on members of the Danish royal family. For example, Newton’s interest in Hroðmund and Wealtheow, the son and wife of King Hroðgar, or upon the shadowy Wylfingas mentioned in lines 461 and 471 of the poem as having been at feud with Beowulf’s father Ecgtheow. None of these, however, are linked with the Swéon or with the Uppland territories in which the grave fields of Vendel and Valsgärde lie. Here we see modern, anglophone, perceptions of Swedish and Scandinavian homogeneity masking the cultural specificity of the mid-first millennium. In 1991, Monika Alkemade critiqued interpretations of the significance of the burials at Vendel and Valsgärde in the dominant historiography, on the grounds that they depended to a large extent to a tradition marking out Uppland, and particularly Uppsala, as the core territory and royal centre for the Swedish kingdom.9 Gamla Uppsala, Old Uppsala, just upstream from the modern city, possesses three large burial mounds dating to the middle of the first millennium, though neither their contents, excavated by antiquarians before the advent of modern scientific methods, nor their construction, closely parallel those of Valsgärde or Vendel. Valsgärde lies very close indeed to Uppsala, only three kilometres away, and Vendel some twenty-seven kilometres to the North. This association had led generations of antiquarians and later scholars to associate the rich burials of the region with the early Swedish kings and to imagine that they had identified the core of some Dark Age hegemony, coinciding with the Heroic Age of Scandinavia remembered in Beowulf and its Icelandic analogues. Alkemade, however, pointed to the fact that Uppsala is first mentioned by Adam of Bremen, writing in the 1070s, in an account of a heathen cult site, which owes much to Thietmar of Merseburg’s account of Lejre written some fifty years earlier and purporting to describe the early tenth century. The ninth-century Vita Ansgari seems to place the central point of the Swedish kingdom among the islands of Lake Mälar, on Birka or close by, perhaps on Adelsö.10 Birka’s immediate predecessor, lying on the nearby ← 7 | 8 → island of Helgö, emerged during the late Roman period.11 From the end of the tenth century, the most substantial place in the Mälar region, where the Swedish kings first started minting coins, was at Sigtuna on an inlet to the north of Lake Mälar, and it is here that the first episcopal see in Svealand was founded.12 This see was, however, moved to Uppsala c.1140 and was raised to archiepiscopal status in 1164. The wealth of saga material that emphasizes the role of Uppsala as the centre of the viking age, and earlier, kings of the Svear post-dates this development.

Adam of Bremen’s statement predates the establishment of the episcopal see by over half a century and therefore cannot be viewed as retrospective ecclesiastical propaganda, but the status of Uppsala, as it has emerged in the historiography, as the ancient omphalos of pagan Sweden should perhaps be viewed with some caution. Indeed, Vaksala härad, the administrative unit in which Gamla Uppsala lies, contains forty-one surviving rune stones, at least eighteen of which are from the eleventh century and most of which appear to have been erected by Christians.13 Snorri Sturlusson’s thirteenth-century Ynglinga saga has encouraged readers to elide Uppland with Svealand, since almost all the domestic action takes place there, but historically the Svear occupied all of Mälardal; the lands around lake Mälar, including, as well as Uppland, Södermanland and Västmanland.14 Bearing this in mind one should note how far to the north, within Svealand, Uppsala, Valsgärde, and especially Vendel, lie. The foundation of Sigtuna in the later tenth century may well signal the shift of central power from the archipelago to Uppland proper, perhaps a retreat inland in the face of Danish aggression. Indeed, the presence of eight rune stones in Södermanland commemorating ‘thegns’, in contrast to none in Uppland, may suggest Danish rule south of Mälar in the age of Sveinn Forkbeard and Cnut; Sveinn it should be remembered, was said to have married the widow of the Svea king Eríkr.15 ← 8 | 9 →

Certainly, during the so-called Vendel-period brooches, clasps and weapons produced at Helgö in the archipelago dominated distributions across Svealand.16 Thomas Lindqvist’s arguments, that the Svear kings relied principally on the ledung, the naval levy, rather than food renders, in Svealand, in contrast to their reliance upon the latter in Götaland, and his suggestion that overseas plundering and external tribute collection around the Baltic provided the basis for their wealth, further emphasizes the centrality of the archipelago and the shores of Lake Mälar for their hegemony.17 The development of Helgö as the central place in this region, by the end of the fifth century at the latest, emphasizes, as noted above, that this was already the case in the Vendel Age.18

The location of Vendel, on the other hand, is potentially marginal, not just within Svealand itself, but within the Germanic world as a whole. During the sixth and seventh centuries the northern drainage of Mälardal, when the grave field was in use, seems to have marked the northern extent of dense agrarian settlement, usually interpreted as reflecting Germanic-speaking communities. To the north of this region lay the boreal zone occupied to a large extent, if not exclusively, by Sámi hunter-gatherers and herders.19 Vendel lay on the frontier between these zones, only a few kilometres south of the watershed. Indeed, in two of the burials at Vendel, in graves 7 and 12, and two of those from Valsgärde, grave 6 and 8, the bodies seem to have been wrapped in woven birchbark shrouds of the kind used in Sámi burials of the period and possibly made from the canopies of Sámi tents or huts.20 Recognition of the frontier character of the communities, which produced the sixth- and seventh-century burials at Vendel and Valsgärde, may allow us to imagine their relationship with Sutton Hoo and the other princely burials of late sixth- and early seventh-century England in a new way. ← 9 | 10 →

Anglo-Saxon England, like the interior of Uppland, and the name essentially means ‘interior’, was also a frontier society in which social hierarchies were emerging in the course of the later sixth and seventh centuries. For most of the fifth and sixth centuries, the grave goods found with both cremated remains and inhumed bodies were more likely to reflect gender and age differences, distinctions within households, if you like, than major social distinctions, distinctions between households. From the end of the sixth century, however, we begin to see a transformation in which the bulk of the population are inhumed, still dressed, but without significant grave goods.21 At the same time we see, for the first time in Germanic-speaking Britain, large, very wealthy burials, often in chambers or under mounds. This seems to represent a more complex social hierarchy emerging out of a relatively flat colonial or pioneering community and, I would argue, this is also what we see happening in Uppland at the same time. Pioneer societies tend to emphasize communality and collaboration in the face of unfamiliar, and potentially hostile, environments and natives. As communities become more entrenched and secure, with regard to their relationship with the environment and their new neighbours, so too do economic and social distinctions begin to emerge. Such distinctions, however, are not immediately secure and require constant reinforcement if they are to be maintained. It is in this light that we need to consider Sutton Hoo and Sweden. The rich burials found in both areas are not evidence of an established hierarchy, but of the struggle to establish one when display of wealth and power, and public performance are all important. The new hierarchy is particularly vulnerable when its leaders die and merit is measured against heredity in the search for a successor. The choreographers of mortuary rites were those who had the most to gain and the most to lose in these situations. The mounds in the grave fields at Sutton Hoo and Vendel were not the monuments of the most powerful monarchies of their age, but of those whose heirs felt that they were the most vulnerable.

In the late sixth and seventh centuries, Uppland and East Anglia lay at opposite ends of a cultural world, which had its centre in Skåne and the ← 10 | 11 → Danish islands, almost certainly the original homeland of the Germanic-speaking people and, in precisely this period, the core area of the emerging North-Germanic or Scandinavian dialect grouping. Yet, here in this Danish core territory the princely burials with ship and helmet of this period are all but absent. Traditionally this has encouraged researchers to look for direct links between Sutton Hoo and Sweden and to bypass Denmark, even though it is the location of the most memorable episodes in the much-cited Beowulf and the place, in Sam Newton’s hypothesis, from which the East Anglian dynasty drew its origins. Here, however, at Uppåkra in Skåne, Lejre in Sjøland and the Gudme-Lundeborg complex on Fyn, we do have evidence for major power centres and exploitation of surpluses.22 These are amongst the richest and most complex central places known from Scandinavia in the middle of the first millennium of our era. The combination of agricultural potential and strategic location controlling the narrow sea passages in and out of the Baltic seem to have made this region, the homeland of the Danes, the centre of Scandinavian and south Baltic society since the Bronze Age. In the Roman Iron Age, and the immediately preceding period, there is much evidence for political and cultural fragmentation across the future Danish territories, but from the sixth century some sort of stability seems to begin to emerge, to the extent that Ian Wood has hypothesized a Pax Danorum operating in the eastern North Sea and the Southern Baltic.23 The Vendel period also sees the first phase of the construction of the Danevirke, the linear earthwork that crosses southern Jutland from Slesvig westwards, now carbon-dated to the mid-seventh century.24 This period, from the mid-sixth to the mid-eighth century is characterized by a decline in high status princely burials and this has been attributed by archaeologists, such as Lotte Hedeager and Karen Hoilund-Nielsen, to greater stability in the core Danish region.25 ← 11 | 12 →

Taken together, the evidence suggests that a centralized Danish kingdom, or at least a relatively stable hegemony, comparable to that maintained by the Mercian kings between the late seventh and the mid-ninth century, had emerged by the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries. The occasional historical references to the Danes in this period, such as the king Ongendus/Angantýr, who features in the Vita Willibrordi, imply that the Danish polity represented a significant force to reckon with.26 The archaeology of rural settlements in the region also suggests an agrarian organization not dissimilar from that found in the northern parts of the Frankish regnum.27 The Danes in this period seem to have represented the only viable competitor to the Merovingian Franks in North Sea and North German worlds and, whilst lacking the substantial advantages that access to a post-Roman taxation and infrastructure gave the Merovingians, they provided an alternative focus for cultural orientation. It is during this period, between the mid-sixth and the mid-eighth centuries, that a definitive distinction began to emerge between North and West Germanic languages and it is not hard to see these dialect clusters orbiting around rival Frankish and Danish acrolects. Indeed, at a later date, speakers of the language we call Old Norse referred to their own speech as the Danish tongue.

As long ago as 1984, John Hines encouraged us to reconsider The Scandinavian Character of Pre-Viking Age Anglian England, emphasizing both material and linguistic links between East Anglia and its neighbours, on the one hand, and Denmark and its periphery, on the other.28 One fruitful way of thinking about Anglo-Saxon ethnogenesis in the sixth and seventh centuries, is to see the proto-English as inhabiting a cultural borderland between Frankish and Danish political, material and linguistic hegemonies. At the beginning of the seventh century, we might see Kent and East Anglia representing the competing factions in this construction of Englishness. The princely burials from Sutton Hoo, Prittlewell, Taplow and so forth, thus straddle the borderland, broadly-speaking the Thames ← 12 | 13 → basin, where competition for status and cultural identity were in play. As in Uppland, as exemplified by sites like Vendel, a colonial society was transforming itself into one with established hierarchies and rich burials and, more particularly, the performance that accompanied them gave powerful, yet insecure, families the opportunity to display both their wealth and their connections.

Let us now focus for a moment on the iconic image of the Sutton Hoo burial, the helmet. It is this helmet more than anything else that has drawn the comparisons with the grave fields of Swedish Uppland. Angela Care Evans, of the British Museum, has said of it; ‘[t]he Sutton Hoo helmet has its roots in the parade helmets of the late Roman Empire but its immediate ancestry lies in a group of helmets buried in the chieftains’ graves of Vendel and Valsgärde in the Uppland region of Sweden.’29 This is an interesting statement, since it suggests that the Sutton Hoo helmet postdates those from Uppland, whereas in fact the date of deposition is pretty much in the middle of the date range of burials from Vendel itself, and those at Valsgärde continued for even longer. There is no good archaeological reason to regard the Sutton Hoo helmet as secondary to those of Sweden. Care Evans goes on describe what differentiates the Uppland examples from the helmet at Sutton Hoo; ‘there are significant differences,’ she says ‘particularly in the way that they were made, that suggest that the Sutton Hoo helmet is English rather than Swedish. The most important difference is that the cap of the Sutton Hoo helmet is forged from a single sheet of iron, whereas the Swedish helmets are either made in sections or of iron strips. The Swedish helmets do not have solid iron face masks, ear-flaps and neckguards, but use instead a system of bronze visors, mail curtains and narrow iron strips.’ She goes on to note that ‘[I]t is only in its surface decoration that the Sutton Hoo helmet clearly displays its Swedish ancestry and it is possible that the helmet plates were made by Swedish craftsmen working at the East Anglian court or that dies made in Scandinavia were used.’30 ← 13 | 14 →

Implicit in Care Evans’s analysis is the idea that the Uppland helmets precede the Sutton Hoo helmet. We have seen, however, that the date of deposition does not require this to be the case and there is further evidence that should lead us to question this assumption. Care Evans also noted that the greatest similarity between the Sutton Hoo helmet and the Uppland examples lay in the decorative ‘helmet plates’, or Pressbleche, which she suggested were of Scandinavian manufacture. However, Monica Alkemade has noted that the helmets illustrated on the Pressbleche from the Uppland helmets display fixed neck-guards and ear-flaps, precisely like those on the Sutton Hoo helmet, in contrast to the actual designs of the helmets to which they were attached. The same can be said of the dies for making such Pressbleche, recovered from Torslunda on the island of Öland. Alkemade concludes that the helmets from Vendel and Valsgärde represent relatively poor quality emulations of the ideal illustrated on the Pressbleche.31 The Sutton Hoo helmet more closely resembles the prototype for these illustrations, than do any of the actual helmets surviving from Sweden.

In conclusion, what I would like to suggest is that the traditional discussions of the relationship between Sutton Hoo and Sweden have conflated analysis of the depositional processes involved, which are very similar, with the provenance and range of the material culture items. Complete helmets from this period, with the possible exception of the Coppergate helmet from York, which is usually considered of slightly later date, are almost all retrieved from princely burial contexts. The assumption in analysing the geographical spread has been that they were only worn by people who might have expected to have been buried wearing them. Because of this, a misleading association between Sutton Hoo and Sweden has developed. A more plausible interpretation, to my mind, is that the aspirational helmets of the Upplanders, and the actual helmet found in Sutton Hoo mound 1, represent the material culture of the core rather than the periphery, and that the Danish islands and Skåne, where social stability did not require competitive mortuary practice at this time, is where we should be seeking the inspiration for the warrior panoply of the Sutton Hoo king. ← 14 | 15 →


Primary Sources

Alcuin, Vita Willibrordi. Ed. W. Levison in MGH Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum 7, Hanover: Hahn, 1920. Trans. in C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, London: Sheed & Ward, 1954.

Rimbert, Vita Anskarii. Ed. G. Waitz, MGH Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 55, Hanover: Hahn, 1884. Trans. C. H. Robinson, Anskar: The Apostle of the North, 801–865, translated from the Vita Anskarii by Bishop Rimbert his fellow missionary and successor, [London]: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

Secondary Literature


VIII, 316
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
English Christianity high culture emerging identities settlement patterns Islamic state
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. VIII, 316 pp., 24 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Alessandro Gnasso (Volume editor) Emanuele E. Intagliata (Volume editor) Thomas J. MacMaster (Volume editor)

Alessandro Gnasso is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Edinburgh, conducting research on the manuscript transmission of Merovingian historiography. Emanuele E. Intagliata is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, undertaking a dissertation on the city of Palmyra in the Late Antique and Umayyad periods. Thomas J. MacMaster is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Edinburgh, working on the slave trade in the long seventh century. Bethan N. Morris works for the National Trust for Scotland and also tutors in Celtic studies and medieval Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on early medieval ethnic identity in Northern Britain, warfare and the negotiation of peace treaties, and the beginning of literacy and its impact in Scotland.


Title: The Long Seventh Century
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325 pages