Monday, 19 October 2009

More historical ink

I returned to the tattoo shop for some more work at the weekend. In keeping with the theme of the rest of my decoration, I added the Sutton Hoo helmet in one of the few gaps left on my upper arms.

As a 'birthday treat' earlier this year I was indulged with a day out to Sutton Hoo. It's a National Trust site these days and amidst the tea-rooms and elderly couples clad in beige it's easy to be lulled into a cosy picture of our past - but the helmet, probably belonging to Raedwald of East Anglia, is nothing less than a piece of Dark Ages gangster-bling.

Raedwald was not a king in the modern sense of how we understand the term - he was bretwalda or overlord in the region having clawed his way to the position of top dog by a combination of military ruthlessness and political cunning. This included a tactical conversion to Christianity - although to keep his Pagan wife and family happy he sensibly hedged his bets and built twin Christian/Pagan altars.

The helmet was based on a Roman design and decorated with what would have been lavish ornamentation. At this time very few warriors would have had any armour at all, and the helmet would have been both a practical defensive piece and a status symbol that marked out the wearer as somebody very special. (In fact only four helmets from this period have ever been found in this country). With its face-mask of life-less human features it would also have left a pretty intimidating impression on any lesser person who had to face it in anger.

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