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Sutton Hoo

The Gothic-Gotlandic link
Bede reports that Redwald of East Anglia then asserted a southern primacy similar to Aethelbertís. His was the only other kingdom with a large army capable of claiming the inheritance of sovereignty.

Nothing is said of the nature of his monarchy, for East Anglia has left no written record. It is understood to have been established by Germanic immigration middle of the 6th century. The excavated royal tombs of the early 7th century bespeak its splendour. The great mound of Sutton Hoo, by the East Anglian royal centre near Ipswich, contained the funeral furniture of Redwald, or of one of his immediate successors. It is the most magnificent royal burial in Germanic Europe, the witness of a sovereignty no less exalted than the Northumbrian. It is not paralleled by any tomb of earlier or later generations yet known in Britain, but in its own day it did not stand alone.

An interesting note in Prokopios is that after the capitulation at Vesuvius, that in 552 ended the Ostrogotic power in Italy, the Goths that so wished were allowed to stay as peaceful farmers in Italy. As Prokopios uses the word Goth about all before this time in Italy living Germanic people, the above note refers probably to those who already before the arrival of the Ostrogoths had received the "Herulian lots". Another part of the Goths - and here he probably means the Ostrogoths, that is those who had been responsible for the deposed rule - did not want to stay. They left Italy and we donít know where they went.

However, it is very possible that those Goths went to England where the finds in the graves at Sutton Hoo should remind us of them. In the Beowulf poem, considered written down i England in the 8th century, the Gutar (Gotlanders) are called 'Getae' and Jordanes Gothic history 'Getica'. This could explain the link between the Gutar and Sutton Hoo. Probably the Gutar continue their earlier connections with their cousins the Ostrogoths. In the grave chamberís eastern part were found a long row of domestic vessels inter alia two bowed bronze vessels of the Gotlandic type with a flat unfolded front edge and twisted iron handles. Swords and cultural artifacts that have been manufactured in Gotlandic workshops during that time, can be found in several Gotlandic graves, are closely related to corresponding English art. Professor Sune Lindqvist says: "It is obvious that the comparison between the grave findings from Sutton Hoo and the contents of the Beowulf poem was well justified and contains great possibilities. It is obvious that those two documents in a splendid way complete each other".

To support the idea of Ostrogotic involvement in Sutton Hoo a very large silver pan was found. There are two countermarks on the base of the silverpan from the time of Caesar Anastasius. He ruled over the Eastern Empire between the years 491 and 518 i.e. when the Ostrogoths ruled Italy. The pan was accordingly already an antiquity when it was placed in the grave in East Anglia.

The silverpan at Sutton Hoo is 72cm across, and weighs 5.64kg. A fluted bowl with drop-handles, decorated with a female head, is of similar date, or slightly earlier. In other words, both objects were at least a hundred years old when they were buried. We have no means of knowing, of course, what happened to the vessels between the time they were made and their burial. They may have been given to their latest owner by a fellow-ruler, or have been inherited by him (did they reach western or northern Europe as gifts from Anastasius to a barbarian ally?), or taken as booty.

We reach firmer ground with ten bowls with cruciform designs, evidently the product of a single workshop and kept together as a set. Parallels in the Lampsacus treasure and other Byzantine hoards suggest a date second half of the 6th century. A similar date is suggested for the pair of spoons bearing the names Saulos and Paulos. These twelve items, therefore, do look like gifts to the king with whom they were buried.

If the spoons and the set of bowls arrived in England as gifts, they were not without precedent. Silver vessels, in fact, were among the preferred gifts of late Roman and Byzantine emperors to loyal associates, and displaying a large collection of plate was an accepted way of advertising one´s status.

A burial at Broomfield, near Chelmsford, is similar in concept, though less splendid; and is probably the tomb of one of the early seventh-century East Saxon kings. A third burial, on the Buckinghamshire bank of the Thames opposite Maidenhead, approaches the wealth of Sutton Hoo. It is a tomb on a royal scale, and the place, Taplow, the burial-mound of Taeppa, preserves the name of the king there buried. Neither he nor his kindom is otherwise known. The grave furniture resembles Sutton Hoo, and it may be that Taeppa was a regional king installed to hold the frontier against the West Saxons during Redwaldís brief dominion, perhaps a son or relative. The name and nature of the kingdom is suggested by its neighbour. Surrey, south of the Thames, is Suder Ge to Bede, the southern district; the usage implies that it was at one time paired with a ëNorreyí north of the Thames. Neither endured as independent kingdoms, and the origin of these districts is unknown; it may be that they were creations of Redwald, for Taeppaís kingdom did not survive into the better documented generations of the mid and late 7th century; but the wealth of his tomb fits the ruler of a kingdom larger than the little territory in which he was buried.

In "Sutton Hoo: Fifty Years After" Nancy Wicker considers the Scandinavian connection at Sutton Hoo in light of an investigation of communication between Scandinavia and Anglican England in the preceding (sixth) century. Her focus is on the Scandinavian-type gold bracteates and their silver derivatives found in England, as a demonstration of cultural interaction. Particular parallels in the structure, usage and iconography of bracteates are identified between Anglia and Gotland, suggesting contact between these areas, possibly in the form of traveling craftsmen. The evidence of Scandinavian elements in the Mound One material from Sutton Hoo is seen as a continuation of long-established contacts.

David Wilson writes: "What Sutton Hoo really illuminates is the general culture of the seventh century. It illustrates the technical brilliance and world-class skill of a particular jeweler; it illustrates the wide-ranging contacts of East Anglia with the whole of Christendom and beyond; with Egypt, Byzantium, the Rhineland, France, even with Scandinavia. It represents wealth at a standard not surviving anywhere else in England, nor even in contemporary France or Germany. This is not to say that more wealth did not exist, but here are real riches and exotic materials. Technically, it tells of shipping, of music, of weaponry, and of at least some of the economic and social implications of the East Anglian kingdom. The burial tells possibly of a pagan/Christian syncretism. The art illuminates and explains some of the great problems in the history of Anglo-Saxon style. It redresses many judgements about Anglo-Saxon jewelry made by Leeds, Kendrick and their contemporaries in the 1930s. It helps us to understand an important non-English element in English art of this and later periods, and it enables us to probe towards an idea of conspicuous consumption in Anglo-Saxon society. It perhaps reveals something of royalty and of paganism, and enables us with caution to explain two or three words of Beowulf."

The principal routes by which Mediterranean objects reached the other side of the North Sea and the English Channel were identified nearly thirty years ago by Werner on the basis of the find-places of two types of object; gold coins minted in the Mediterranean, especially those of Theodoric (493-526) and Justinian (527-65), and bronze vessels. The distribution of the coins and the vessels led Werner to identify a trade route from the Ostrogotic capital Ravenna at the head of the Adriatic, through the Alps to the upper Rhine, and thence westward to northern France and the North Sea. The evidence suggests that the route may have been busiest in the second and third quarters of the sixth century, the period of Justinian´s reconquest of Italy, of the establishment of Ravenna as the seat of the Byzantine viceroy, and of relatively intense diplomatic activity between the Byzantines and the Franks.
It is at that time the deposed Ostrogotic hierarchy left Italy and settled somewhere else.

Nancy L. Hatch Wicker writes: "Parallels between Anglian and Gotlandic bracteates.
The original impetus for this study was a resemblance between Anglian and Gotlandic bracteates that I had noticed. I was struck by the high percentage of bracteates without rim and/or loop from these two areas. Morten Axboe, in an article co-authored with Jan Peder Lamm introducing new bracteates from Sweden, has also noticed this preponderance of bracteates without loops and/or rims, although he began from the opposite direction with a consideration of the Gotlandic bracteates and mentions the Anglian examples as comparative material. He discovered only a few non-Anglian, non-Gotlandic examples that lack an applied wire edge rim, including the Schönebeck bracteate which, as discussed above, may have been made in Anglia. Axboe´s nearly comprehensive list seems to overlook only the Longbridge bracteate, which has a notched edge in imitation of beaded wire.

After noticing the technical similarities, I was curious to see if there was any further connection between the two groups. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that the only bracteates from male graves come from these two areas. Axboe discusses the Gotlandic bracteates and medallion imitations from Salands (GA 1956, s 97-110), Kälder, and Gullbacken that came from burials identified as male by the grave goods which included weapons. Two of these three were also found near the mouth of the interred body, apparently indicating knowledge of the classical practice of placing a coin known as Charon´s obol in the mouth of the deceased to pay the ferryman Charon to take the body across the river Styx to the world of the dead. While no Anglian examples of this practice with bracteates are known, Axboe mentions that the gold type D bracteate from grave 23 at Monkton, Kent, was found in a male grave in association with the finger bones at the side of the body, which Perkins and Hawkes interpreted as indicating that the bracteate was held in the hand or perhaps in a small bag rather than worn as jewelry. In addition, the bracteate fragment from grave 33 at Broughton Lodge possibly could have come from a male grave, but the grave was so disturbed that it would be impossible to ascertain sex confidently. Incidentally, the bucket mount with bracteate stamp from Broadstairs, Kent, was also from a male grave.

A final intriguing, yet remote, parallel between the Anglian and Gotlandic bracteates is that the only bronze bracteates come from these two areas. The pair from Morning Thorpe are of bronze, or as Hines specifies, copperalloy, since he suspects that they may have a high percentage of silver; they are paralleled by several Vendel period bracteates from Gotland. Hines also notes this curious similarity.

During the Vendel Period (seventh and eighth centuries) following the end of the Migration Period, different types of bracteates were developed on Gotland, while they died out elsewhere within Scandinavia. One of these later developments, defined by Oscar Montelius as "group E," with imagery consisting of three animal heads on curved necks radially arranged around a central point, was made with the same technique of stamped decoration as the Migration Period bracteates. However, these group E bracteates were not limited to gold as were the Swedish Migration Period bracteates, but were made of gold, silver, or bronze. Almost all of the type E pieces are from Gotland, with a few exceptions from Öland and from Birka on the mainland of Sweden. Mackeprang sees no resemblance between the latest Migration Period bracteates and the earliest stage of the characteristically Gotlandic bracteates, with animal heads in Germanic Style II with long upturned jaws and emphasized chinpoints. Åberg, however, traces a connection between the Migration Period type C and Vendel Period type E bracteates.

In England, at the same time as the Gotlandic type E bracteates were being produced, bracteates exhibiting ribbon interlace ornamentation characteristic of Salin´s Style II were made. The connection between the Kentish style D bracteates and the Style II bracteates has been traced by George Speake. The development into Style II did not take place on the Scandinavian bracteates, although other kinds of object in Scandinavia were decorated with full-fledged Style II interlace. Both the Gotlandic type E and the Anglo-Saxon Style II bracteates represent the alteration and continuation of a type in peripheral areas in local styles and materials after it died out elsewhere.

Bracteates may be viewed as indicators of exchange between Scandinavia and England in the sixth century A.D., as an example of the broader perspective and background of contacts against which Sutton Hoo should be viewed. Particular examples of correspondences between the two areas have been identified, and even though no single parallel between Anglia and Gotland as evidenced by the bracteates is particularly striking or significant by itself, the combination of the several points of similarity - bracteates without loops and rims, made of silver or bronze, from male graves, and continuing use of the object type after it died out elsewhere - along with the iconographic parallels of type C Anglian bracteates with Gotlandic bracteates, suggests that contact occurred between the areas.

Most of the Anglian bracteates seem to have been made in England, as indicated by the use of silver and the disintegrated motifs, but under continuing Scandinavian influence as evidenced by the lathu runic inscription and West Scandinavian type C imagery. The apparent Gotlandic-Anglian parallels may be attributed in part to similar independent development in areas of the same general sphere of influence from the Baltic to England, as is evidenced in the Sutton Hoo find. However, the similarities may stem from more direct causes, if, when Anglo-Saxon crafts workers made new bracteates based on Scandinavian ones, they copied not only the object type and imagery but also ideas about their usage and certain methods and techniques for their production."

"Scandinavia was never isolated from the rest of Europe during the Migration Period, but continued close and regular contacts, as is clearly documented in the archaeological record. Sutton Hoo should be seen in the light of this background of continuing contacts and should not be considered in isolation."

The Beowulf poem
There is something that is called the Beowulf poem from the beginning of the 6th century, which is the oldest known Germanic poem, by some considered as the Germanic speaking peoples equivalent to the Iliad and Odyssey. Historians and linguists have tried in different ways to interpret and fit the poem into the Swedish history without much success. However, with great probability the poem is part of the Gotlandic history. Together with the Guta Saga, the Beowulf poem constitutes the main historical sources for the Gotlandic people. Beowulf is the grand poem of the Germanic world. This poem together with the picture-stones indicate the frequent contacts between the Gotlandic people and the then literary world. From these sources one can even see the historical connection between the Gutar and the Svear.

According to professor Björn Collinder: "The Beowulf poem shows well its place among other poems in the world literature. And it contains lyrical parts of great beauty." "A careful reader finds in the Beowulf poem some contradicting details. However, the contradictions are not worse than those that you can find in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles."

"The Beowulf poem contains much that is difficult for the people of our times to understand. The author of the poem sometimes only gives suggestions when there are occurrences and stories about inheritance which are well known to his listeners." "In order to understand and appreciate the Beowulf epic we have to understand the view of life and death, danger and honour shared by the ancient Germanic peoples. This should not be quite impossible."

In the Beowulf poem the geographic framework is Denmark as well as the land of the Geats (older source Getae) i.e. Gotland. The main characters are Beowulf and to a lesser degree his uncle Hygelac, Rex Getarum. The story starts with a description of the monster Grendel who haunts the Danish king. The story continues with a description of how Beowulf decides to help the Danish king and sets off on a two days long sea journey over the open sea, after which he eliminates Grendel. Thereafter the story continues with the wars between Geats and the Svear, who still at that time are not called Svear but Skilfings. The story ends with a description of the death of Beowulf when he tries to plunder a grave. In the story it is presumed that the audience is knowledgeable of the present time history as many persons and incidents that are only mentioned in passing have relevance in the whole picture. In this way the audience is expected to know how Hama some hundred years earlier and in an other part of the world had stolen the Brisinga jewel from the Gothic king Ermanarik.
This indicates that the Geats were closely related to the Goths. The evidences indicate that the Goths (according to several linguists), whose oldest name is Gut-thiuda, came from Gotland. In the history of the Goths, written down by Jordanes in the 6th century, one can read that the Goths came from "Gutniska kusten" (Scandza) and that the island looks like a juniper leaf and is still called "Gutniska kusten". Further he says that the island is in the same sea as Thule (Scandinavia).

Furthermore we mustnít forget that the Gothic relatives were Christians of the Arian belief and that part of their bible today can be seen in Uppsala, that is the Silver Bible (Codex Argentus). Therefore it is very possible that the Gutar were under Christian influence at that time. Some archæologists believe that Gotlandic graves from that time show signs of Christian influence. It is interesting to note that the bible was translated into the Gotlandic language by the Goths 1200 years prior to being translated into Swedish and 100 years prior to being translated into Latin.

As the Beowulf poem contains Christian expressions and thinking it didnít fit into the picture idealising the Swedish heathen times that inter alia Tegnér tried to show. This could be one reason why, what was thought to be a Swedish poem, has been so poorly spread. The Svear introduced the Æsir belief and were therefore supposed to be shown as barbaric.

The archæologist Gad Rausing has attacked the problem with Beowulf and the Geats in a different way. As probably the only researcher he has actually travelled the road Beowulf took and identified the geographical signs.

Professor Bo Gräslund writes: "According to Beowulf Ale fell in battle with his nephew Adils after the latter had obtained help from the Geats i.e. the Gutar from the other side of the sea. The belief that the kings from Uppsala should have fought West Götar over the waters of lake Vänern and subdued them has no ground in the Beowulf poem or in other sources. The Uppsala kingsí battles with the Geats during the 6th century should accordingly have been with the Gutar. These battles were in that case fought both on the soil of the Svear an on Gotland."

Historical dating
As several persons that appear in Beowulf also are mentioned in other independent tales we must presume that they are historical and if this is the case the rest of the characters probably also are historical. From Gregorius of Tours mentioning in Historia Francorum we know that Hygelac died in battle in Friesland about the year 516. Even if we do not have another source that says that Beowulf is real, still it probably is the fact. His name was probably not Beowulf but (according to Collinder) rather Älfhere (Alvar, Avair). He is the model for a Nordic hero, stronger and braver than all the warriors of the time and wiser than most men, and he is a good king with all that entails.
The sagas refer briefly to the wars between Gutar and Danes, between Gutar and Frisians and between Danes and Heathobards. The only conflicts that are in detail recorded are those between Gutar and Svear. These battles are described in a story inside another story. It is interesting to see that in lines 2472-2473 one can read: "And then there was war between Geats and Svear, bitter battles carried across the broad sea". The passage "broad sea" has been difficult for earlier scolars to explain as they did not know that the poem was about the Gutar. But if we see it as battles between Gutar and Svear everything is very obvious. Furthermore one can read in line 2954 when the Svear talk about the Gutar: "to resist the men from the sea". Here we can probably link Beowulf with the Guta Saga:

"Many kings fought against Gutland when it still was heathen. However, the Gutar always kept the victory and their right. Later the Gutar several times sent messengers to the country of the Svear, but nobody could obtain peace until Avair Strabain from Alva. He was the first to make peace with the Svea king."

When the Gutar asked him to go, he answered them: "You know that I am old and fragile, give me then, if I must go into such a dangerous mission, three 'mansboter' (fines for man-slaughter), the first for myself, the second for my own son and the third for my wife. He was as the sagas tell about him a wise and knowledgeable man."

Beowulf has historically been dated to beginning of the 6th century. The battles between Gutar and Svear should in this case have taken place in the 510s. In this case the note in Prokopios that the Svear should have immigrated to the Lake Mälar area about year 512 makes sense. I have by comparing different witnesses dated Avair Strabain to the second half of the 6th century.

The Baltic area of the 6th century
We have several historical sources where the link between Gutar and Svear are mentioned and, by analysing those sources together, a picture of the historical events appears. The Gutar dominate the Baltic area up to the beginning of the 6th century when they meet competition from the immigrating Svear with disturbances and war. Also a new religion is introduced into the area and this religion has of course its strongest application in the new mainlands of the Svear. Gradually peace is obtained and a peace- and trade-treaty is negotiated, according to the Guta Saga for the Gutar, by Avair Strabain. On the Svea king we have no name but probably his name was Adils.

With the assertion that it probably is the Heruls or Jarlar, as certain linguists translate Heruls with, mentioned by Prokopios, that establish the Ynglinga dynasty, in what we now call the Svea state, and become what we later call Svear, quite a lot of pieces fall into place. The wars between Gutar and Svear in the Beowulf poem as well as the wars and the trade treaty in the Guta Saga can be explained more easily.

Occurrences that might have contributed to the ending of disturbances can have been the fall of the Gothic state in Italy 552 as well as the Justinian plague that ravaged Europe and decimated the population heavily. Therefore it was possible to start a lengthy co-operation where the Gutar took care of the trade in the state that the young Svea nation was about to build. Adam of Bremen for example says: "Birka is a Gotlandic town located in the middle of the land of the Svear."

We must remember that the Heruls were a warlike people used to the sea, and such a people does not just disappear from history as earlier Swedish historians have treated them. Off course it is not strange that historians and linguists in vain have tried to find information about the Svear in Roman sources as the Romans had other names for the places and peoples up in the North. The Svear as such did not exist until the 6th century.

The Origin of Svear
Prokopios, who was born at the end of the 5th century, was a lawyer in Constantinople and from the year 527 private secretary to the military commander Belisarius on his campaigns against inter alia the Ostrogoths in Italy. He says that there are 13 populous tribes in Thule (the Scandinavian peninsula), each with its own king. He says: "A populous tribe among them was the gautoi, next to where the arriving Heruls settled". Prokopios says that the Heruls who lived in northern Hungary under Cæsar Anastasiusí (491-518) rule attacked the Lombards. However, they were beaten and their king was killed. The Heruls were therefore (about 505) forced to leave their homesteads. Some of them crossed the Danube into Roman territory, where Anastasius allowed them to settle. The remaining part of the Heruls moved northwards. Through the countries of the Varner and Danes they reached the ocean, over which they sailed to Thule.

In the same chapter, Prokopios gives a short mention of the Heruls that had immigrated to the Scandinavian peninsula. This is, by the way, the last historical mentioning about Scandinavia by a Greek-Roman writer. "Thus the Heruls, that lived on Roman soil and had slained their king, sent some of their most distinguished men to the island Thule in order to find and if possible bring back a man of royal blood. When they came to the island they found many of royal blood." According to professor Wessén: "The flourishing and numerically strong royal family in Thule, that is mentioned above, is apparently the same under whose guidance part of the Eastherulian tribe, thirty years earlier, had undertaken its march to Scandinavia."

The Germanic Iron Age
New contacts between Scandinavia and the Ostrogoths were opened after the Empire of the Huns vanished in 454. It resulted in not only that the Ostrogoths became free and came in direct contact with the Roman Empire, but also that communications were opened up again between north and south. The Huns had ravaged continental Europe since the end of the 4th century. It was their presence that seems to have been the most important reason why earlier contacts between Scandinavia and the south were cut off. Those earlier contacts had in the 4th century brought gold to Scandinavia. The Huns were probably also the reason for the split of the Goths into Visigoths and Ostrogoths. The Visigoths came under Roman protection whilst the Ostrogoths remained under the power of the Huns.

The new established contacts with the south resulted also, among other things, in the importation of a large number of gold coins so called solidi and started a real gold age in Scandinavia. The import of solidi continued as long as the Ostrogothic kingdom existed. For Gotland it is parallel with the Ostrogothic state and diminishes towards the end and stops completely when the Ostrogothic state falls and the Ostrogoths disappear from Italy. The Gotlandic relatives, the Ostrogoths, reigned in Italy from 493 to 552.

According to the scholars, the 'Vendel era' on Gotland is very closely linked to the Svea state. Gotland has without doubt played a significant part for the culture of the Svear.

The gravefinds on Gotland from the earlier 'Vendel era' are technically and even artistically closely linked with niello ornaments, similar to those found in North Italian grave-fields. Therefore it is plausible to presume that the contacts between the Gothic state of Theoderic and Gotland during that period have been very lively and that travellers have brought a large part of those solidi that have been found in the soil. They have also brought the impulses that have laid the foundation to what we call the 'Vendel era'.

The 'Vendel era' has after the finds in Vendel in Uppland been dated from about year 550. However it is not possible to generalise and say that the same is valid for Gotland. Here the imported items, which form the base for the Vendel era, appear in large quantities at least 50 years earlier than among the Svear. Large grave fields with very rich graves from that time, inter alia Broa in Halla and Barshalder in Grötlingbo which lately have been examined, have still not been documented. When this happens, further material from one of the zeniths of Gotlands greatness can be compared with the outer world.

According to Fagerlie, who probably has done the most thorough analysis of solidi in Scandinavia from the end of the 5th century and beginning of the 6th century, it is almost certain that the largest single finding of such coins originates from Gotland. It is a find containing 47 gold coins found at the market place on Helgö in Lake Mälar i.e. within the Svea area. The flourishing of Helgö might very well have been a result of Avair Strabainís trade treaty with the Svear. When later on the slave- and fur-trade boomed they moved over to Birka that was better suited for this type of fair.

The trade treaty mentioned in the Guta Saga between the Gutar and the Svear did surely benefit both sides and was probably negotiated at that time. It opened up the possibility for the Gutar to export its culture to the new Svea state as well as take care of its trade with inter alia Helgö in the Lake Mälar and later on Birka. Especially the extraction of iron in Bergslagen, North of Uppland, as well as the southern part of Gästrikland must have been interesting for the Gutar who were well known smiths.

Tore Gannholm

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See also The Origin of Svear Reasons and prelude to the Viking age (English)

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