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An Eye for Odin? Divine Role-Playing in the Age of Sutton Hoo

  • Neil Price (a1) (a2) and Paul Mortimer (a3)
Abstract

This paper presents some new observations concerning the construction of the Sutton Hoo helmet, as a point of entry to a wider discussion of pre-Christian religious and ideological links across Scandinavia. It will be argued that in certain circumstances and locations, such as the firelit interior of the hall, the wearer of the helmet was seen as both war leader and war god, a literal personification of Odin. This interpretation is supported and extended with a variety of Scandinavian finds from the sixth to tenth centuries, and arguably represents an unusually physical manifestation of the ritual border-crossing between human and divine elites. In the socio-political context of early medieval kingdoms, the dramatic imagery of the helmets and related military equipment had a critical role to play in the communication of power, the origin of military prowess, and the religious allegiance of a warlord.

Cet article présente de nouvelles observations concernant la construction du casque de Sutton Hoo, afin de permettre par ce biais un débat plus vaste sur les liaisons religieuses et idéologiques préchrétiennes en Scandinavie. Nous verrons par la suite qu'en certains circonstances et lieux, comme par exemple à l'intérieur de la salle éclairée au feu, le porteur du casque était considéré à la fois comme chef de guerre et dieu de la guerre, donc comme une personnification littérale d'Odin. Cette interprétation est appuyée et étendue par une variété de découvertes scandinaves du 6e au 10e siècle et représente sans doute une manifestation matérielle extraordinaire du passage rituel de la frontière entre élites humaines et divines. Dans le contexte sociopolitique des premiers royaumes médiévaux, l'imagerie dramatique des casques et du matériel militaire connexe jouait un rôle essentiel dans la communication du pouvoir, les origines des prouesses militaires et l'allégeance religieuse d'un chef de guerre. Translation by Isabelle Gerges.

Zusammenfassung

Dieser Beitrag präsentiert eingangs einige neue Beobachtungen zur Konstruktion des Helmes von Sutton Hoo, um dann zu einer umfangreicheren Diskussion vorchristlicher religiöser bzw. ideologischer Verbindungen quer durch Skandinavien zu gelangen. Es wird erörtert, dass unter besonderen Umständen und an speziellen Orten, wie z. B. in einer feuerbeschienenen Halle, der Träger des Helmes gleichermaßen als menschlicher Kriegsführer und als Kriegsgott, als tatsächliche Personifikation Odins wahrgenommen wurde. Diese Interpretation wird durch eine Reihe von skandinavischen Funden des 6.-10. Jh. unterstützt und erweitert, die wohl eine ungewöhnlich physische Manifestation der rituellen Grenzüberschreitung zwischen menschlichen und göttlichen Eliten repräsentieren. Im sozio-politischen Kontext frühmittelalterlicher Königreiche spielte das dramatische Erscheinungsbild der Helme und der damit verbundenen militärischen Ausrüstungsgegenstände eine Schlüsselrolle bei der Kommunikation von Macht, militärischen Könnens und der religiösen Bindung eines Warlords. Translation by Heiner Schwarzberg.

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References
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