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Sutton Hoo Meets the Mead-Hall: The Feast in Anglo-Saxon England

Replicas of the Sutton Hoo drinking horns by Ganderwick Creations (with thanks to Wulfheodenas for the image)

with Professor Leslie Webster

at the Old Court, Sutton Hoo (map)
on Saturday, 29th June 2013.

The feast was more than just a feast in Anglo-Saxon times; it lies at the very heart of ideas about loyalties, allegiances, wealth and power. Its setting, its formal ceremonies and entertainments, its food and drink and table customs, its boasts, brawls and feuds, all open a door into the Anglo-Saxon world.
In the four sessions we’ll be looking at various aspects of the feast, and especially at the key role of the king or lord in it – and of course, that of queens and aristocratic women. Poetry, documents, and archaeology all help to define these roles, and the key part that feasting played in the fabric of Anglo-Saxon society as a whole.
In the two morning sessions I’ll be concentrating on the archaeological evidence for lordly feasting traditions from both England and the Continent. Burial assemblages and hoards provide key evidence here, fleshing out the literary and documentary sources. In the afternoon we’ll first look more closely at the hall itself, the grand setting for the feast and the customs and ceremonies that were performed in it; and in the final session, we’ll conclude with a virtual tour of the exhibition on feasting that I curated at Sutton Hoo in 2009, which ranges across the whole of the Anglo-Saxon period to show feasting in all its variety – Wæs hál!

Provisional Programme
(There may be variations to the programme on the day)
  10.00 Coffee on arrival  
  10.15 ‘A king shall be generous with gifts’(The Old English Maxims) - Across early medieval Europe, feasting culture is intimately linked with high-status males and with related warrior culture. This session concentrates on the continental archaeological evidence from hoards, burials and cult sites.  
  11.15 Coffee  
  11.45 ‘The old serpent’s den, packed with goblets and vessels from the past’ (Beowulf, 2760-1) - Anglo-Saxon ‘princely’ burials and – even - the Staffordshire Hoard are explored in this session, revealing a wealth of information on the ideas that underpin the culture of feasting and all that went with it.  
  12.45 Lunch break  
  14:00 ‘The hall towered, gold-shingled and gabled’ (Beowulf, 1799-1800) - The grand setting for the feast is explored using examples from recent continental and English excavations, as well as the evidence for its fittings and furnishings.  
  15:00 Tea break  
  15:15 ‘Welcome to the Feast!’: the virtual exhibition - A presentation of the wide-ranging aspects of feasting in Anglo-Saxon times that were explored in the 2009 exhibition at Sutton Hoo, drawing upon a wide variety of literary, manuscript, and archaeological sources.  
  16:20 Close  

About Professor Leslie Webster

Leslie WebsterLeslie Webster was for many years senior curator of the British Museum’s unrivalled Anglo-Saxon collections, and was Emeritus Keeper of the Department of Prehistory and Europe there, from which she retired in 2007. She is now an Honorary Visiting Professor at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. During her time at the Museum she co-curated four major exhibitions on Anglo-Saxon and early medieval Insular themes, including The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art, 966-1066, and The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900. She has also curated a series of five European exhibitions for the European Science Foundation’s Transformation of the Roman World Project, and an exhibition on The Anglo-Saxon Feast at the Sutton Hoo Centre. In addition to exhibition catalogues, she has lectured and published widely on Anglo-Saxon art and artefacts, and edited several volumes of essays; her most recent books include Anglo-Saxon Art: a New History, and The Franks Casket, both published in 2012. Her 2011 Brixworth Lecture, From Wall-paintings to Altar-cloths: Furnishing the Anglo-Saxon Church, will be published later in 2013.

Some suggestions for further reading
(useful but not essential)

Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008)
Bruce-Mitford, R., Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (Gollancz 1974)
Evans, A.C., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (British Museum 1986)
Gautier, Alban, Le Festin dans l'Angleterre anglo-saxonne (Presses universitaires de Rennes 2006 )
Hagen, Ann, Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink: Production, Processing, Distribution and Consumption (Anglo-Saxon Books 2006)
Heaney, Seamus (tr.) Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition, ed. J.Niles (Norton 2007)
Pollington, S., The Mead-Hall. The feasting tradition in Anglo-Saxon England (Anglo-Saxon Books 2003)
Webster, L., and J.Backhouse, The Making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture AD 600-900 (British Museum 1991)
Webster, L., & M.Brown (eds), Transformation of the Roman World AD 400-900 (1997)
Webster, L., Anglo-Saxon Art: a New History (British Museum 2012)


Please phone or email to check the availability of places. Study Days are 38 per person, which includes a full day of lectures, access to the NT site, parking, coffee and tea throughout the day, and access to the NT exhibition. Once you have reserved your place please send payment to confirm the booking. For your first booking please complete the application form to ensure that we have recorded your contact details correctly.

Wuffing Education,
4 Hilly Fields,
Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4DX
tel : 01394 386498

Email cliff AT wuffingeducation.co.uk
(replace 'AT' by '@' in order to send email - we used 'AT' to avoid spam robots automatically sending us emails)
Website www.wuffingeducation.co.uk

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