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Jack Lynn





Joined: 04 Feb 2009

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PostPosted: Thu 12 Feb, 2009 11:11 pm    Post subject: Sutton Hoo armour clasp confusion         Reply with quote

I’m fairly new to the forum (although I’ve been a lurker for about six years). I recently took a couple of college courses that covered the Sutton Hoo burials, and I found that something didn’t quite seem to jibe with what I had read about leather armour in this time period. Specifically, there were two beautiful armour shoulder-clasps found in the Sutton Hoo mounds that were, in form and function, Roman in style, but very much Germanic in terms of their craftsmanship and their artistic motifs, displaying wonderful red-garnet and gold inlays and classic “bird of prey” motifs (which I still think of as ravens). What strikes me is that most of the academic articles I have read have suggested that these clasps were part of a leather breast piece in Roman (I presume Lorica Segmentata) style, but that the main body of the armour disintegrated before the burial was unearthed. My general impression from the forum is that leather armour seems to have been very uncommon at this time period. I understand that Sutton Hoo was full of oddities, for example, a drinking horns made from an animal that had been extinct in the British Isles for 200 years, an interesting coin collection and a ‘harp’ that cause a great deal of academic debate and at least one erroneous reconstruction. However, I still find it interesting that, in a time and place where leather armour appears to have been very uncommon, a royal personage seems to have been buried with leather armour. Any help this knowledgeable community could give me would be greatly appreciated.
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Feb, 2009 7:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ave!

I'm not certain about the current wisdom on those clasps, particularly since Late Roman equipment is not my strong point, but anything they might have been connected to was *not* in the form of a lorica segmentata. Those disappeared around 300 AD, and there is no evidence that they were ever made of leather. Something along the lines of, or at least inspired by, a lorica musculata or muscled cuirass is more likely, since that sort of shape shows up in artwork well into the middle ages as a sort of "classical" detail.

But yeah, I'm also a little dubious about the whole "leather breastplate" theory, which probably dates back to when historians assumed that all armor shown in Roman artwork was leather rather than metal (and some apparently still do!). There doesn't seem to be any *archeological evidence* for a leather armor-thingy from that grave. On the other hand, from what I know of leather armor that DID exist in various cultures, it is more likely to be a very upper-class thing, expensive to make and very decorated. So I wouldn't dismiss the idea out of hand.

It *would* be helpful to know if other clasps of that general form are known, and in what contexts they are found. That might tell us more about what they were used for. But if these turn out to be unique, hoo, well, that's why they call it "Sutton Hoo"...

By the way, as I understand it, there are 37 coins from various places, pretty much all different, plus 3 gold blanks. And the ship had 40 oars. Looks like he was carrying his fare to cross the Styx!

Vale,

Matthew
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Jack Lynn





Joined: 04 Feb 2009

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PostPosted: Fri 13 Feb, 2009 9:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the post. As far as the clasps are concerned all I can really remember is that they are commonly described as being "Roman in form". I was hoping that someone on the forum could clarify this. Beyond that, the conjecture that they were associated with a leather assemblage seems to have been drawn from the absence of the armour they were presumably a part of. The assumption is that the leather rotted away. Now, as far as the coins are concerned, the really interesting aspect is that, if I remember correctly, each coin seems to have come from a different Carolingian mint, suggesting that they were more of a coin collection than a stereotypical hoard. What I would really like is a clear image of what armour these clasps were associated with. Sadly my access to JSTOR came to an end when I moved back to a very small college from a large university. Hopefully I will be able to dig up some of the documents I saved to give a clearer picture. By the way, JSTOR rocks!
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Dan Dickinson
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Location: Michigan
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PostPosted: Sat 14 Feb, 2009 9:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, one reconstruction looks like this (though some of Osprey's reconstructions can be a little iffy sometimes)
I hope this helps,
Dan

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Jan Downs




Location: Earth
Joined: 12 Feb 2006

Posts: 28

PostPosted: Mon 16 Feb, 2009 8:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jack Lynn wrote:
Thanks for the post. As far as the clasps are concerned all I can really remember is that they are commonly described as being "Roman in form". I was hoping that someone on the forum could clarify this. Beyond that, the conjecture that they were associated with a leather assemblage seems to have been drawn from the absence of the armour they were presumably a part of. The assumption is that the leather rotted away. Now, as far as the coins are concerned, the really interesting aspect is that, if I remember correctly, each coin seems to have come from a different Carolingian mint, suggesting that they were more of a coin collection than a stereotypical hoard. What I would really like is a clear image of what armour these clasps were associated with. Sadly my access to JSTOR came to an end when I moved back to a very small college from a large university. Hopefully I will be able to dig up some of the documents I saved to give a clearer picture. By the way, JSTOR rocks!


I doubt Carolingian. The dates do not seem to match up between the Carolingian period and the Sutton Hoo burial. The Carolingian dynasty starts @751, the Sutton Hoo stuff seems to be from @ 100 years earlier. Merovingian seems more likely.

Regards,

Jan Downs

for God's sake strike true, man!
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Paul Mortimer




Location: England, Essex
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PostPosted: Tue 17 Feb, 2009 1:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Chaps,
The Sutton Hoo clasps are still something of an enigma; true they do seem to function as Roman shoulder clasps may have done, but they don't really closely, resemble anything that the Romans, or Greeks for that matter used. They, like so much else within the Mound 1 burial are unique.

I have attached a picture of the pair that Dave Roper made for me and I am currently working on something to put them on. The reason why leather has been suggested is that there were quite a few leather remains, possibly of garments, found within the grave. However, I have tried using a hide cuirass but wasn't very satisfied with the results. There are problems fixing the staples to the hide. It is possible that a very thin leather was used, but this wouldn't work terribly well as armour. That may not have worried the original owner overmuch - however, I think that a textile garment is more likely and that is what I am currently working on. I am using ten layers of unbleached linen - that should provide reasonable protection, a certain amount of stiffness and a good base for the clasps. I will let you know how I get on.

Matthew, I find it difficult to subscribe to the idea that the coins were left for ghostly oarsmen for a number of reasons:
1. It never formed part of Germanic tradition.
2. There probably weren't 40 rowers, but 28.
3. Current thinking about ship burials is that they weren't set up for after life voyages but to resemble a hall and the life that went on in them. The Oseberg boat, for instance was anchored to a great rock - it wasn't going anywhere.

Jack, it is true that the coins came from different mints but according to Alan M Stahl and W A Oddy, that wasn't as unusual as it may seem, most coin hoards of this time tended to have coins from various origins. The actual value of the coins wasn't that much; each coin is tiny and together their gold value was very small in comparison to that of the great gold buckle for example.

Cheers,

Paul



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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 17 Feb, 2009 1:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When I took my class with Martin Caver back some years ago he made mention to this being coupled with a leather armour or clothing. Much of the academic work out there on Sutton Hoo indicates about the same. From what I gathered from his classes, Martin thinks of the Sutton Hoo burial as a combination of Roman, German and other cultures mixed into their current culture. His class lecture on trade of the 'dark ages' was excellent. I saw a decent recreation of about 12 ounce leather I suppose some years back. I wish I had taken pictures and looked at the clasp.

I think there are good arguments both for and against leather armour for much of the medieval period. The issue is such a dearth of existing evidence.

Paul,

Amazing clasps by the way!

RPM
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Tue 17 Feb, 2009 6:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Those are beautiful clasps! I am, however, not familiar with how they function. Staples were mentioned, so I assume you have one half of the buckle on each side of an opening on the garment (around my shoulder), then they are joined and held together with the pin I can see through the centere of the buckle.

Is the mystery just what a Roman style item is doing in the grave, or the nature of the textile on which it was stapled?

M.

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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Tue 17 Feb, 2009 7:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You da man, Paul, thanks very much! Gorgeous clasps--I'm assuming you didn't just pinch the originals, hee hee! Rats, too bad about the idea of the coins being for the oarsmen. I heard the theory many years ago and it sounded brilliant then. That's the trouble with good, thorough research, some of the coolest theories end up getting chucked! I also didn't know (or had forgotten?) that there were leather remains found.

Great stuff, thank you again!

Matthew
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Paul Mortimer




Location: England, Essex
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PostPosted: Wed 18 Feb, 2009 10:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for the kind comments -- Dave Roper's work just gets better and better.
The clasps are strange as nothing like them has been recovered from anywhere else. The grave certainly has items from lots of places but the design work on the clasps is Germanic. Incidentally, the maker could have made them so that each piece was identical, that would have been the easy thing to do but he chose not to, there are many detailed differences and the hinges that join the pieces are different on each clasp.

M, by staples I mean those semi circular loops soldered to the back of the clasps.

Cheers,

Paul
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Wed 18 Feb, 2009 7:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I figured those were it; I was actually wondering if those staples go through the material and then are attached to the clasps (Least likely) or if something attaches them to the material?

M.

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Paul Mortimer




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PostPosted: Wed 18 Feb, 2009 11:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think that you are right, M; the staples penetrate through the material - (that is a problem with leather of any thickness) then something goes through the staples. Originally, I was going to use laces or cord for this but I think thin rods of metal, rather like a hair clip, would work better.

Paul
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