Early medieval art: c. 500-800 C.E.

In the fifth century C.E., people from tribes called Angles, Saxons and Jutes left their homelands in northern Europe to look for a new home. They knew that the Romans had recently left the green land of Britain unguarded, so they sailed across the channel in small wooden boats. The Britons did not give in without a fight, but after many years the invaders managed to overcome them and were to rule for over 500 years.

Belt Buckle, Sutton Hoo, early 7th century, gold, 13.2 x 5.6 cm © Trustees of the British Museum
Excavated in 1939, this 7th-century grave once held a hoard of metalwork, all buried within a 27-meter long ship!

Sutton Hoo Ship Burial

The Sutton Hoo purse lid- detail
Rendered in gold and garnet, the enigmatic animals on this purse lid stand out above white bone.

The Sutton Hoo purse lid

The Sutton Hoo helmet, early 7th century, iron and tinned copper alloy helmet, consisting of many pieces of iron, now built into a reconstruction, 31.8 x 21.5 cm (as restored) © Trustees of the British Museum
Restored, dismantled, and restored again, this helmet was a pile of rusted iron and tinned bronze when first discovered.

The Sutton Hoo helmet

Masks and scrolls adorn the square head of this silver-gilt brooch. Extravagant but functional, it fastened clothes.

Brooch from Chessell Down

Stylistic analysis of these brooches and buckles might seem straightforward, but their designs riddle even experts.

Decoding Anglo-Saxon art

After crossing the Channel and invading Britain, the Anglo-Saxons ruled for 500 years. Rings offer clues to their society.

Anglo-Saxon England

The Lindisfarne Gospels, c. 700 (Northumbria), 340 x 250 mm (British Library, Cotton MS Nero D IV) © 2019 British Library, used by permission
The “cross-carpet” pages of this early 8th-century manuscript weave together birds, knots, spirals—and the Cross.

The Lindisfarne Gospels

Crossbow brooch, c. 430, Metropolitan Museum
These ornate brooches were trendy accessories in the 5th and 6th centuries. Pin, body, and catch form a “crossbow.”