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Fall 2006

Volume 16, Number 1/2


A Novel Reconstruction of the Body Armor from Sutton Hoo: Experimentation with Designs Based on Seventh-century Pictorial Evidence.

The Geometrical Structure of Strasbourg Plan A: A Hypothetical Step-by-step Reconstruction


14 23

The Salisbury Spire Scaffold Debate Continues



Medieval Navigational Instruments Medieval Travel and the Fine Arts Medieval Journeys, Charted and Uncharted Medieval Travel in Theory and Practice Medieval Vehicles and Logistics

28 32 36 40 43 47 78


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Mound one at Sutton Hoo, often referred to as The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, has been a rich source of information on the war gear of early seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kings. However, there have been only two attempts to reconstruct the body harness (see Bruce-Mitford 1978, 564-582; 1982 and Gamber 1966; 1982) (see gures 1 and 2). There was also one earlier attempt to combine the Sutton Hoo nds with contemporary nds in Sweden to produce an explanation for a set of iron staves from a seventh-century Swedish grave, Valsgrde 8, that likely served as some form of armor (Cedelf 1955). Both reconstructions were based on the nds of several belt and shoulder mounts and buckles located jumbled, but in close proximity to each other, in mound one of the Sutton Hoo site (Bruce-Mitford 1978, 564) (see gures 3a-3e), and both used the presence of the two hinge-like shoulder clasps (gure 3b) to suggest that the body armor was based on a late Roman lorica musculata design (Gamber 1966; Bruce-Mitford 1978, 218) (see gure 4). I propose another possible and more likely design for the Sutton Hoo body armor based on pictorial representations of seventh-century armor and experimental evidence. The pins for the hinges on the Sutton Hoo armor appear to have been made to allow easy separation of the two halves of the clasp. A different but similarly detachable clasping mechanism can also be seen in the clasps found in another rich seventh-century grave from Taplow Bucks, England (see gure 5a) (Bruce-Mitford 1978, 534). These clasps may have served in a manner similar to the Sutton Hoo clasps. An additional contemporary hinged clasp was found in Vendal grave XIV, Sweden (Stolpe et al. 1927, Plate XXXVIII) (see gure 5b). This partial hinge also shows the characteristic chain linked to the hinge pin, suggesting that the Sutton Hoo clasp is not necessarily unique among seventh-century northern European armor artifacts. The easily separable Sutton Hoo hinge clasps would seem unnecessary if they were simply used to connect the front and back plate of a lorica musculata at the shoulders so as to allow the two halves to swing open. Most reconstructions of lorica musculata are easily donned by disconnecting the front and back plate along the sides and placing the head through the neck hole. The two halves are then reconnected with the ties often depicted at the sides beneath the arms and at the waist (Clark 2005). There is no need for the hinges to be detachable. Indeed, disconnecting the front and back halves

FIGURE 1: Authors graphic representation for placement of buckles and shoulder clasps on the Sutton Hoo armor (based on Bruce-Mitford 1978, g. 425).

FIGURE 2: Authors graphic representation of Sutton Hoo armor (based on Gamber 1966, plate LVII).


FIGURE 3a-e: Belt buckles, clasps, and purse mount from Sutton Hoo (Bruce-Mitford 1978, plates 13, 20, 15, and 19).

of the cuirass at the sides and the shoulders would increase the difculty of putting on the armor. Also, assuming the Taplow Bucks clasps served the same purpose, they would be ill-tted for connecting the two halves of such a cuirass, as this mechanism would allow the two halves to separate at the shoulder if one side was pushed upwards, a motion that would commonly occur during use. It is therefore unlikely that the artists who produced the Sutton Hoo armor based their design on late Roman lorica musculata. Assuming this statement is true, what might have been the inspiration for the artist(s) who created it?

Seventh-century depictions of armor

A limited number of works of art can both depict armor and be dated as contemporary to the Sutton Hoo nd. Many such depictions are found on helmet plaques from the Sutton Hoo helmet itself and from helmet plaques from various other seventh-century Swedish helmets. Most of these helmet plaques depict warriors wearing mail or long coats of fur or fabric (gure 6). Indeed, a mass of mail found in the Sutton Hoo grave is of sufcient mass to have been a mail hauberk (Brooks 1999, 46; Underwood 1999, 91). Thus it seems likely that this was part of the body armor. Another early seventhcentury armor depiction occurs on the David Plates, a set of Byzantine silver plates depicting the David and Goliath story (see gure 7) (Leader 2000). An examination of the plates indicates an armor style different from the Roman lorica mus-

culata. The armor depicted on the plate shows a decorated corset covering the chest of the gures. This corset is held up by decorated straps secured to the corset that pass over the shoulders of the gures, and is apparently worn over a fabric tunic, an under-armor of mail (interlocking rings or scales), or a lamellar (small plates laced together). A close examination of the shoulder straps depicted in these gures gives hints that there may have been clasps xed to the straps at the point where the straps pass over the shoulder. Also, there appears to be a decorative belt that passes around the top of the corset and overlaps the shoulder straps. There is no indication of buckles or any seam in the front or at the sides of the corset holding it together. Additional depictions of this style of armor in the seventh century come from the Joshua Scrolls and Joshua Casket of Byzantine provenance (see gures 8 and 9) (Evans and Wixom 1997). These works of art date to the tenth century, but there is reasonable conjecture that they were copies of an earlier work (Tselos 1950) originally done to commemorate the retaking of Jerusalem from the Persians by Emperor Heraclius in the year 630 (Evans and Wixom 1997, 240). The argument that the Joshua Scrolls are copies of an earlier work is bolstered by the fact that the soldiers depicted on the work are all wearing what appear to be corsets suspended by shoulder straps (similar to the armor worn by the individuals depicted on the silver plates) (gure 7). What appear to be shoulder clasps can be seen on at least one gure on the Joshua Scroll (gure 8,

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FIGURE 4: A statuary depiction of lorica musculata (Clark 2005).

detail). However, it should be noted that the shoulder straps on these gures are considerably wider than those depicted on the David Plates. Also, it should be noted that again no seams or buckles are visible on any of the gures, true even of gures whose backs are clearly visible. Narrow straps, more similar to those depicted on the silver plates, can be seen on gures depicted on the Joshua Casket (gure 9). The armor and style are similar to that depicted on the Joshua Scroll, and thus it is likely that the depictions on the casket were also copied from the original work. The differences in the width of the shoulder straps on the two presumed copies may be the result of the artists rendering of the work. However, since the gures depicted on the David Plates and on the Joshua Casket both show narrow straps passing over the shoulders, it is more likely that the wide straps depicted on the Joshua Scroll are less representative of the armor from the period and that narrow straps were the norm.

Byzantium (Bruce-Mitford 1975-83). Additionally, H.L. Adelson (1960) provides evidence that from AD610-640 there was a large increase in Byzantine coinage being distributed through Western Europe, suggesting active trade between these cultures. Also, the time of the Sutton Hoo burial is sometimes referred to as the conversion period because the Catholic Church was in the process of converting the pagan Anglo Saxons to Christianity at that time. There is evidence that Redwald, who is arguably the original owner of the grave goods found at Sutton Hoo, was the rst East Anglian king to be Christianized (Grohskopf 1970, 127). Thus, Redwald may have been exposed to manuscripts of Byzantine origin that could have depicted warriors wearing armor such as those represented in the Joshua Scroll. Indeed, early Christian gurative art was known to the Anglo Saxons (Carver 2001). Byzantine culture certainly inuenced both physical and linguistic art in the seventh century (Cook 1928; Casson 1932; Desham 1987). As the royalty buried in the Sutton Hoo grave was likely contemporary to Heraclius and trade was clearly taking place between these cultures, it is at least arguable that descriptions of these Byzantine works would have been known to the artists that created the armor found in the Sutton Hoo grave. However, it remains to be determined if the ttings found in the Sutton Hoo grave are consistent with the armor depicted in these Byzantine images.

Evidence for Byzantine contact and inuence in seventh-century England

It is noteworthy that the David Plates as well as the Joshua Scroll and Casket are Byzantine works. There is substantial evidence in the Sutton Hoo nd of trade with and inuence by Byzantine culture with the Anglo Saxons in East Anglia in the seventh century. In the nd is a silver spoon similar to those found commonly in Byzantium and also several silver serving dishes and bowls that are thought to be from


FIGURE 5: a (top)Photo of shoulder clasps from Taplow Bucks (Bruce-Mitford 1978, g. 343) and b (bottom)Authors drawing of hinged clasp from Vendel XIV (based on Stolpe 1927, plate XXXVII).

Figure 6: Authors drawing of armor from cast of helmet plaques showing a warrior in mail and what appears to be a heavy coat (based on Bruce-Mitford 1978, g, 147).

Armor reconstruction
Reconstructions of armor as depicted were produced with consideration for the placement and use of the major clasps and buckles found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Heavy sole leather (12 oz) was used to construct the corset portion of the armor. Tooling-grade belt straps were used for the shoulder straps. The under-armor was of lighter tooling-grade vegetable-tanned leather. Shoulder clasps were made of cast bronze. The pins for the shoulder clasps were made from bronze welding rods and were simply bent over on one side to prevent them from being pushed all the way through the hinge. All leather was sewn together using waxed linen twine. The shoulder clasps were attached to the straps by punching holes in the straps through which the loops on the bottom of the clasps could pass. Waxed linen twine was then used to lace through the loops, thus securing the shoulder clasps to the straps. A modern test of the effectiveness and mobility of the armor was done with the help of members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, who graciously fought with the author for many hours. The armor was tested in both single combat and melee activities. All ghting was with blunt rattan weapons, so the ability of the armor to withstand cutting or piercing was not tested. However, the ease of wear, movement, and feasibility of the design could be thoroughly examined. to the depiction of the body armor by Gamber (1966) (Plate L) with the exception that the two halves are contiguous at the shoulders rather than connected with the shoulder clasps (gure 10). Such under-armor is in keeping with the design of lamellar armor, which is often depicted as a contiguous sheet with a head hole that is draped over the shoulders and has front or back extensions that wrap around the torso. The initial design for the armor had the corset sewn together in the back. This was done because none of the pictorial evidence showed any obvious way to hold the corset closed. The great gold buckle was worn as a belt across the chest as suggested by Gamber (1966, Plate LVII). Doing so was consistent with depictions of a wide decorative strap across the top of the corset depicted on the Byzantine artistic representations. Testing of this design indicated that if the pin is pushed through so the bent end is toward the inside, the hinge pin does not slip out even during high levels of activity. Such a design provides support for functionality of the removable hinge pins in the shoulder clasps from Sutton Hoo. Admittedly, these tests provide extremely limited indication as to the effectiveness of such armor. However, the tests did provide some evidence for the protective capacity of such a corset. Initially there was some skepticism about the amount of protection because of the limited area of the torso that was covered by the corset. Surprisingly, most of the blows received to the body landed at least partially on the corset, with very few striking cleanly into the arm pit, the lower abdomen, or the upper chest. Additionally, even though the corset was made of stiff leather, it posed no hindrance to movement,

Results of armor testing

The under-armor was essentially a leather sheet with a neck hole and straps to hold the back panel to the front, similar

AVISTA Forum Journal

FIGURE 7: Authors drawings of the David Plates, dated to early seventh-century Byzantium.

FIGURE 8: Authors drawing based on the Joshua Scroll showing warriors wearing corset-type armor suspended from shoulder straps. The possible representation of a hinged shoulder clasp is on the enlarged gure (see Evans and Wixom 1997, 239).

FIGURE 9: Authors drawing of warriors wearing corset-like armor as depicted on the Joshua Casket.


FIGURE 10: Photos of the reconstruction and donning of the under-armor. Note the way the tie is used to secure the under-armor.

including squatting, twisting, lunging, or bending forward, backward, or sideways. The heavy leather over the leather under-armor and a loose linen tunic proved to be excellent protection from blunt force impacts. Even considering that in actual combat blows would have been specically targeted toward non-armored areas, which was generally not the case in the testing that was done, such armor would likely have been effective to mitigate incidental impacts by friend or foe. If worn over mail or lamellar armor as commonly depicted, the corset would provide outstanding protection against most of the contemporary weapons of seventh-century northern Europe. However, this initial design was untenable if the corset was worn over anything except a tunic. Pulling the corset up and over skirted leather under-armor was exceptionally difcult, and the under-armor made shifting the shoulders to allow the corset to be pulled over the head impossible. If the corset was loosened to allow easier donning over the skirted leather, it moved around too much during ghting and tended to twist around the wearer. It also looked out of proportion. Two other aws in this design were discovered during the initial experimentation. One was that the shoulder straps had a tendency to slip off the shoulder, thus pinning the wearers arm to the side. Also, the chest belt serves only a decorative purpose and readily slips down the corset, often ending up around the

ankles of the wearer. Finally, there is no functional need for the detachable shoulder clasps, as the supporting straps of the corset can simply be slipped over the shoulders. Assuming the shoulder clasps were designed to mount on the shoulder straps, a different body armor design was suggested. To solve the problem of the shoulder straps slipping, the straps were initially moved closer together in the back, and stiffer shoulders were placed on the under-armor. Unfortunately this did not prove completely effective in keeping the shoulder straps in place. The only way to keep the shoulder straps from slipping was to install loops in the under-armor through which the shoulder straps could be secured. Interestingly, this modication not only kept the shoulder straps from slipping, but also required that the wearer open the hinge clasp so the straps could be fed through the loops. To mitigate the awkwardness caused by donning the permanently closed corset, the corset was opened in the back and a single buckle and strap were installed near the bottom of the corset. Such a design greatly increased the ease of donning the armor. Also, the chest belt was run under the shoulder straps in the back and over the straps in the front (gure 11). This effectively held the chest belt up and was in keeping with the depictions that exist of this armor design. Gamber (1966) argues that the great gold buckle was attached to a linen belt


AVISTA Forum Journal

FIGURE 11. Photo of the author wearing the reconstruction of the body armor. Note how the chest belt is fed underneath the shoulder straps to prevent it from sliding down the corset during combat.

that went around the chest and served to cinch the cuirass tight. This explanation seems plausible, as the presence of a single buckle near the base of the corset provides a use for the chest belt, since it is needed to hold the corset closed at the top. This design also adds some exibility to the armor and allows more freedom of movement, since the corset can gap and ex slightly around the buckled strap in the back. Based on pictorial evidence and evidence from these experiments, a reasonable construction of the Sutton Hoo harness is shown in gure 12, and the nal reconstruction is shown as worn by the author during testing (gure 11): a leather corset covering the abdomen and chest that closes in the back. This corset is held up by the hinged shoulder clasps connecting the two halves of the shoulder straps together. The shoulder straps probably would have run through loops connected to leather, fabric, or mail under-armor to keep them from slipping over the shoulders. As noted above, the great gold buckle (gure 3a) was likely placed around the chest, also as noted by Gamber (1966). This leaves a single buckle and two matching strap ends (gure 3e) that appear to form a set based on the decorative design. Bruce-Mitford (1978, 578-580) places the buckle and strap ends as part of a baldric like strap supporting the main waist belt with the large gold buckle (gure 1). However, as Gamber (1982) points out, outside of baldrics holding swords, there is no evidence for such a strap sup-

porting a waist belt. Gamber (1982) has the buckle and strap ends being used as part of the sword harness connecting the hinged belt mount to the sword scabbard (gure 2). This is a much more plausible explanation for this buckle than the one suggested by Bruce-Mitford (gure 2). However, this buckle could have served to hold the corset closed at the back. Thus, this buckle is tentatively placed at the back near the bottom of the corset. Careful measurement of the loops and strap ends indicate that the strap ends would not pass through the matching buckle. Both Gamber and Bruce-Mitford assume these strap ends might have served as decorative mounts on the same strap as the disputed buckle (Gamber 1982; Bruce-Mitford 1978, 578-580). However fortuitously, the construction of the test armor has two matching straps on the under-armor that tie together rather than buckle. Thus, it is possible that these two strap ends might have served a similar purpose. It is also possible that the strap ends were used as additional points for securing the corset. If two long straps were sewn to the back of the corset, they could have wrapped around to the front for tying. Such a mechanism could negate the need for either the chest belt or the buckle at the lower back of the corset. If the ties closed the corset at the bottom, then it is most likely that the disputed buckle was used on the sword harness as described by Gamber (1982). If the ties closed the corset at



Shoulder Clasps

Great Gold Buckle

Sword Belt

Decorative Strap Ends Small Gold Buckle that Matches Strap Ends

FIGURE 12: Authors drawing of proposed reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo armor. Small buckle that matches strap ends.

FIGURE 13: Authors sketch of the Alexander mosaic from the House of the Faun, Pompeii, c.80BC, housed in the National Archaeologic Museum, Naples, Italy, and of the gure on the Joshua Casket to note the similarity in armor design.


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the top, then it is most likely that the great gold buckle was worn at the waist as described by Bruce-Mitford (1978, 565). However, it is certainly possible that, if the tie served to close the corset, it could have been located between the chest strap and the bottom buckle, in which case their placement would be as described in this reconstruction. Any of these possibilities are as likely as any other, given the evidence. Leather was used in the construction of the under-armor. However, depictions of this form of armor clearly show that it could be worn over a number of different types of under-armor. The fact that a mail hauberk was included in the Sutton Hoo grave goods suggests that this might have formed the basis for the under-armor. However, as the mail was not found with the regalia included in the body armor and sword belt mounts, it is also possible that it might have been worn separately. If the mail were worn beneath the corset, loops for the shoulder straps would have to be secured to the mail itself.

Adelson, H. L. 1960. Early Medieval Trade Routes. American Historical Review 65: 271-287. Brooks, P. 1999. Arms and Armour. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. M. Lapidge, J. Blair, S. Keynes, and Donald Scragg, 45-47. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S. 1978. The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial II: Arms, Armour and Regalia. London: British Museum Publications. Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S. 1975-83. The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial III: Late Roman and Byzantine Silver. London: British Museum Publications. Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S. 1982. The Sutton Hoo Helmet-Reconstruction and the Design of the Royal Harness and Sword-Belt: A Reply to Hofrat Dr. Ortwin Gamber With Some Additional Comments on the Sutton Hoo Arms and Armour. Journal of the Arms and Armour Society 10: 217-275. Carver, M. 2001. Why That, Why There, Why Then? The Politics of Early Medieval Monumentality. In Image and Power in Early Medieval British Archaeology. Essays in Honour of Rosemary Cramp, ed. A. Macgregor and H. Hamerow, 1-22. Oxford: Oxbow Press. Casson, S. 1932. Byzantine and Anglo-Saxon sculpture-I. Burlington Magazine 61: 265-269. Cedelf, O. 1955. The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial and Armour During the Vendel Period. Journal of the Arms and Armour Society 9: 153-164. Clark, T.L. 2005. Bronze or Leather? Materials of the Lorica Musculata. <> Cook, A. S. 1928. Beowulf 1039 and the Greek arxi. Speculum 3: 7581. Deshman, R. 1987. Review of D. M Wislon, Anglo Saxon Art from the Seventh Century to the Norman Conquest. Speculum 62: 225-226. Evans, H.C. and W.D. Wixom. 1997. The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gamber, O. 1966. The Sutton Hoo Military Equipment- An Attempted Reconstruction. Journal of the Arms and Armour Society 5: 265-292. Gamber, O. 1982. Some Notes on the Sutton Hoo Arms and Armour. Journal of the Arms and Armour Society 10: 209-216. Grohskopf, B. 1970. The Treasure of Sutton Hoo: Ship-burial for an AngloSaxon King. Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press. Leader, R.E. 2000. The David Plates Revisited: Transforming the Secular in Early Byzantium. The Art Bulletin 28: 407-427. Stolpe, H., T.J. Arne, and O. Sorling. 1927. Necropole de Vendel. Stockholm: Academie Royale Des Belles Letters, De LHistoire Et Des Antiquites. Tselos, D. 1950. The Joshua Roll: Original or Copy. Art Bulletin 32: 275-290. Underwood, R. 1999. Anglo-Saxon Weapons & Warfare. Brimscombe Port: Tempus Publishing.

The pictorial and experimental evidence suggests that the armor found at Sutton Hoo was not based on a late Roman design, but rather on depictions of art from Byzantium. Interestingly, both the Joshua Scroll/Casket and the silver plates are meant to depict scenes from antiquity. Thus, the armor depicted in all of these works appears to be based on Greek armor designs and most closely resemble armor depicted being worn by Alexander the Great (gure 13). If indeed the Sutton Hoo armor was based on these depictions, it is tempting to speculate that the Romantic ideal of warrior in seventh-century Europe was based more on the Greek heroes, such as Alexander the Great, than on the Romans, whose withdrawal and decline would have likely been remembered in both northern Europe and Byzantium.