What can be deduced about the Kingdom of East Anglia from the Whole of the Saxon Burial Site at Sutton Hoo?

The spot of an early 7th century Anglo-Saxon ship burial, discovered in 1939 that includes a wealth of artifacts is the famous Sutton Hoo, located near Woodbridge, Suffolk. Sutton Hoo is of very importance to early medieval historians because it shacks light on a period in English history that otherwise has little documented evidence remaining. Actually, it is one of the most notable archaeological remains in England because of its size, age, far reaching connections, totality, beauty, scarcity and historical importance.

On the other hand, Edith May Pretty, the original owner of the property where it was discovered believes that the Sutton Hoo treasure is a gift to the people of England. According to the English law, Edith May Pretty was found to be the legal owner of the treasure, but within days of the ruling she returned it to public possession. Moreover, the finding of Sutton Hoo creates a hint into England’s past and further illumination of its national identity.

Apparently, this paper aims to discuss the relationship of Sutton Hoo and Kingdom of East Anglia. It attempts to deduce some important information about Kingdom of East Anglia by examining the whole Saxon burial site in Sutton Hoo.


According to www.encyclopedia.com, East Anglia is a region of eastern England. It has no official status, and the boundaries of East Anglia are undefined. It includes the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk as well as part of the counties of Essex and Cambridgeshire, although definitions usually include the latter in its totality. Some of the area is characterised by its flatness, consisting of fenland and reclaimed marshland, though much of Suffolk comprises gently rolling hills. East Anglia forms the core of the East of England region.

On the other hand, the Kingdom of the East Angles was one of the seven established kingdoms of the so-called Anglo-Saxon heptarchy, formed about the year 520 by the amalgamation of the North and the South Folk. For a epigrammatic period following a success over the adversary kingdom of Northumbria roughly the year 616, East Anglia was the mainly prevailing of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England, and its king Raedwald was Bretwalda. But this did not last. Over the next forty years, East Anglia was crushed by the Mercians three times, and it sustained to abate relative to the other kingdoms until in 794, Offa of Mercia had its king Aethelbert killed and took control of the kingdom himself.

Furthermore, in reviewing the history of East Anglia, the independence of the East Anglians was re-established by a victorious revolt in opposition to Mercia (825 – 827), in path of which two Mercian kings were destroyed attempting to defeat it. On November 20, 870 the Danes killed King Edmund and took the Kingdom, which they named East Anglia. (www.encyclopedia.com) The Saxons retook the area in 920.

In relation to the Saxons burial site in Sutton Hoo, there have been interesting remains that reflects to the culture of Saxons in Kingdom of East Anglia. One of the most important things to reflect about Kingdom of East Anglia that is embedded in Sutton Hoo is the burial customs of the Anglo-Saxons. Apparently, the past Anglo-Saxons normally buried their dead in petty graves without tombstones, although occasionally the deceased were cremated, and the bones placed in a pot or urn. Thus, cremation reflects to the culture present in Kingdom of East Anglia which was more common among the invading Angles. In relation to burial and Kingdom of East Anglia, many people believes that King R�wald was buried in Sutton Hoo. Based on the history, R�wald was king of the area known as East Anglia (which today includes the counties of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk), and is one of the few monarchs who was given the title of “Bretwalda,” a term derived from the Old English word “Bretanwealda,” which means “Lord of Britain” (www.encyclopedia.com). While the bretwalda was considered to be the most powerful king in Britain, the name was only a title of honor, and bestowed no additional power or lordship. R�wald was given the title after he defeated a rival king, �thelfrith, King of Northumbria, at the Battle of the River Idle in 617. He was also the first East Anglian king to convert to Christianity, although he never fully dismisses his pagan beliefs. At his temple in Rendlesham, there was both a Christian and a pagan shrine. In addition, according to Carver, M. (1998), the gossips about the burial of R�wald at Sutton Hoo are supported by the carbon dating of the coins found at the burial site to 625 which is the same year that R�wald died. Also, Christian symbols were found in the burial ship at Sutton Hoo, including two spoons with the names Saul and Paul engraved on them, which would coincide with R�wald’s religious beliefs.

Furthermore, Archaeologists, particularly ethnoarchaeologists, have examined and accounted on human sacrifice among the Saxons, such as the bog people (Hines, 1997; 380-84). Among the Anglo-Saxons the proof for human sacrifice is less convinced, perceptible mainly through indirect evidence, such as the Anglo-Saxon name for November, Blodmonath: Bloodmonth, the month of sacrifice (Bede, “De mensibus Anglorum”). The “sand-body” forms found around mound 5 of Sutton Hoo may represent executed rather than sacrificed bodies; we cannot know for sure (Carver, 1998; 137-43). However, if human oblation indeed gave way to other forms of scapegoating among the early Anglo-Saxons, it was not abandoned by some of their later rivals:

If the memory of paganism survived better among Scandinavians than other Germanic peoples, it may have been more strongly rooted to start with. It has, moreover, been suggested that Kings Aelle of the Northumbrians and Edmund of the East Anglians were sacrificed by Ivarr to Othinn (the Scandinavian Woden) in a particularly gruesome way: the “blood-eagle” involved ripping a victim’s lungs out of the rib-cage, and draping them across the shoulders like an eagle’s folded wings. Writing a century after Edmund’s death, Abbo of Fleury gives an account of his sufferings that is without real parallel in early medieval hagiography. (Campbell, John, and Womald, 1991; 148)

In simple analysis and based on the relics and remains found in Sutton Hoo, Kingdom of East Anglia is rich in culture particularly in literature, arts and tradition. John Leyerle’s important reading of beowulf finds a visual analogue to the poet’s art in the zoomorphic interlace designs characteristic of English seventh- and eight-century art, such as the carpet pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Gandersheim Casket, or the Sutton Hoo gold buckle. In a verbal medium this process of interlacing or weaving produces a complex text that at first glance seems to be filled with digressions, which has provoked a continuing debate over the narrative structure of the poem. Seen as an interlace, however, it becomes clear that the poet has woven a text in which different narrative strands intersect, the result being clearly implied patterns of association for those familiar with the cultural tradition which the stories reflect. In Beowulf, the poet interlaces his text with stories of Wealhtheow and Hildeburh, like Penelope of Andromache, the good weavers, and of Thrith, and more darkly, Grendel’s dam, both of them female figures who do not weave peace and therefore wreak destruction.

Apparently, there are difficulties in correlation between a specific archaeological period and the composition of an epic poem; few such hypotheses seem testable. But the narrative traditions continue to yield important information for the folklorist and archaeologist which is not simply a general reflection of the archaeological record that tempts cut-and-dry solutions that say, for example, that the poems resonate with Sutton Hoo. Moreover, the models of ritual that the narratives preserve remind the Kingdom of East Anglia of the poems’ participation in ritual. The poetic traditions deserve study as primary, active mechanisms that helped communities to survive.

The examination of the burial site in Sutton Hoo provides as a conclusion that the deceased is relatively of high status thus commemorated. This could be argued from the relative energy expended on mound construction in contrast to the digging of flat graves (cf. Tainter 1975). According to Meaney (1964), associated grave goods from barrow graves can, in several instances, be ascribed to high-status groups (e.g.Taplow and Sutton Hoo in England)).

In only a few instances of mound burial (most notably at Sutton Hoo) would the owners have belonged to the upper nobility and been able to consider the alternative of a church grave. The preference for a barrow burial may in these instances have been religiously inspired. In most cases, however, burials underneath mounds were carried out not by the upper nobility but by members of local elites. On the Continent, their choice was either a separate elite cemetery or a burial mound. In England, the local elites expressed a clear preference for barrows, either isolated or in groups (Shephard 1979: 48, 50).


There are so many things that we can deduced about the Kingdom of East Anglia from the whole of the Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo i.e. history, literature, customs, traditions and even wealth of past Saxons. However, the examination of the whole Saxons buried site in Sutton Hoo lead as to one important thing which is the value of commemoration. Burial customs or funerary practices in general maintain existing social structures through the use of religious or ideological concepts (Parker Pearson 1982). The graves of Germanic peoples, furnished with weapons, reflect their warrior ideology. Within that specific ideological concept, the wealth of the grave goods may indicate the status of the mourners, rather than the warring exploits of the deceased (Harke 1990). Graves inside churches and in close proximity to relics indicate prestige and status within the Christian religion. But churches themselves were, to Germanic eyes, a grandiose innovation of the funerary rite. Moreover, such graves were monuments, to be admired by the generations that followed.