Letter: Boar image on Beowulf's helmet

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The Independent Online
Boar image on Beowulf's helmet

Sir: The account by your archaeology correspondent, "Ancient Saxon tomb yields royal treasures" (23 April) is misleading in the claim that a boar motif on the helmet indicates that this was a royal grave of an Anglo- Saxon king.

It is a remarkable discovery and the artefacts indicate that the grave was of a high status, but not conclusively royal. Such helmets were familiar to the Beowulf poet, for he mentions them five times. Beowulf's helmet is "besette swin-licum" (1.1453), "set around with boar images", and in another instance, "sweord swate fah swin ofer helme" (1.1286), "the sword stained with gore the swine above the helmet", which brings to mind the free-standing boar on the Benty Grange helmet (Sheffield Museum), the closest parallel to the Northamptonshire find. In Swedish finds from the sixth and seventh centuries, warriors wearing boar-crested helmets appear on a helmet plate from Vendel Gr 1, and on dies for creating stamped bronze helmet foils from Torslunda, Oland.

There is evidence that the boar-crested helmet is not confined to the Germanic world of the migration period. It makes its appearance much earlier on two warriors depicted in chased silver from the inside of the Gundestrup cauldron, Denmark, which is Celtic work of the first or second century BC.

Dr GEORGE SPEAKE

Banbury, Oxfordshire

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