Essex Days ; The Prittlewell Saxon hoard,Southend on Sea

by Veronica

When Southend started an investigation to see if there were any Roman or Saxon remains locally, they did not expect that the richest Anglo Saxon burial site was under their feet.

Visiting my son 200 miles away this week, I took the opportunity to visit the site of the big archaeology news of the year, The Prittlewell Hoard. Prittlewell is a part of Southend on Sea in Essex. The name Essex of course, means East Saxon so when the town council wanted to investigate any Romano-Saxon remains, there was a good chance they would find some. But they never expected to find a royal burial site under a pub car park in Prittlewell.

It has been called euphemistically, " Britain's answer to Tutankhamun" and while it isn't on that scale it is certainly very impressive. I know because I visited the display this week in Southend Museum. It is a free exhibit.

Finding the tomb 2003

Who was he?

The original tomb had been built of wood and had collapsed over more than 1000 years so the archaeologists had no indication that burial chamber was beneath them.  This was 2003. 

Coins have been found in the tombs which have dates on them and the historians and archaeologists now reckon that this was the burial chamber of a high-ranking Saxon prince and not a king. It is probably that of a King's brother or son and was possibly Seaxa,  brother of a Saxon King at about the time 580 - 590 AD. Scientific dating confirms this.

Over 100 artefacts were carefully lifted from the tomb but only a few are on display though. The display is beautifully put together and I would recommend that you visit if you have the opportunity. 


Wine cask
Wine cask

What does the find tell us?

The find is important because it tells us that there was a very important Saxon royal family in the area but also that Saxon royalty were interested in and influenced by Christianity from very early on. 

This is shown in its funerary customs. 

An approx sketch of the lay out of the burial chamber

Sketch of what the chamber would have been like
Sketch of what the chamber would have been like

The body itself.

Little remained not even a skeleton but cloth, tooth enamel and crosses. The crosses had been buried next to each other where his eyes would have been. The confusing thing, however, is that he was buried with "grave goods” which indicate he was a pagan so it is possible that he was "hedging his bets " and like many early Christians, followed both religions. In his coffin was also a belt buckle, a gold belt buckle that could have only have been owned by a Saxon of the royal courts. In the chamber were jewels and various drinking vessels which the Prince would need in the afterlife. 

The Christian signs in the chamber make this a highly unusual burial for this time in Saxon history. 

More artefacts

Gold thread
Gold thread

Such was the wealth of this individual that a gold cloth had been placed over his face and some of the gold cloth has been retrieved as shown above. 

Very rare to see, there were glass objects in the tomb and many survived. This was an individual of mighty wealth. 

Too small to see on a photo were 2 dice, obviously for when this  "Christian " played dice games in the afterlife. 

More artefacts

His sword
His sword
metal pots in perfect condition
metal pots in perfect condition
Unusual glass ware in perfect condition
Unusual glass ware in perfect condition

Carbon dating suggests that the coffin was made approx. 570 - 605 AD. It is interesting to see something of this age. 

Southend Museum have done a very good job with display which is clearly presented and informative. 

We never know what is under our feet and now 16 years after the first finding of the tomb it is on display to the public.

My main feeling is delight that London hasn't grabbed the exhibit as usual. The Prittlewell Prince and his chamber are there in the town where they found. Quite right too. 

Updated: 08/09/2019, Veronica
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Veronica on 04/17/2024

Although my work covers several eras i think the Anglo Saxon is my favourite era. Frank and
I do have an Anglo Saxon surname of course so that might help.

Southend Museum which houses the Prittlewell hoard is a fine example of how a tiny museum can present an excellent exhibition.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/01/2024

This wizzley draws me back time and time again because of the informative images and information.

Name and word origins and their evolving meanings always ensure my enthusiastic interest.

Several readings and research forays into its applications and implications finally find me with my favorite: name meanings!

English Wiktionary links the Prittlewell Saxon name Seaxa with "Saxon" but in terms of origins with West German for "dagger, knife."

The Prittlewell Saxon grave indeed maintains a sword.

Might Seaxa as brother to a king have a duty to defend -- as epitomized and symbolized by his sword -- God and monarch (even as the king's son might do their duty ;-D as heir and spare)?

Veronica on 08/05/2021

It looks like a doll of some sort to me. They had toys and games as grave goods for the afterlife to take with them.

DerdriuMarriner on 08/03/2021

Veronica, Previously, I intended to ask you about the item (looks like a body or doll) to the left of the burial casket. The Museum of London makes no mention of it.

Veronica on 08/24/2019

I like to DO things on holiday. I could never sit by a hotel pool for 2 weeks! That would be no holiday for me.

Veronica on 08/24/2019

The East coast of England is very damaged by erosion. In fact, houses have fallen into the sea from cliffs and also cars on coastal roads.

Much has been lost to the sea, I am sure.

Tolovaj on 08/13/2019

It looks like you successfully fused education and pleasure! It's always great to have an opportunity for such time travel, isn't it?

frankbeswick on 08/12/2019

Definitely erosion in this case. The whole of the North Sea is a flooded coastal plain, and its shore in the Essex and nearby East Anglian areas is composed of soft clay cliffs, very easily eroded. In several places the authorities have found that the best way to prevent this erosion is to restore coastal salt marsh, which strangely is more effective than hard sea walls are.

Britain has been slowly changing its position since the end of the Ice Age, with the North and West of the island rising and the South and East slowly sinking. For example, the Goodwin sands of Kent, in South East England, were land until the mid eleventh century,then they were inundated. They are now a dangerous stretch of sea with a long reputation for shipwrecks.

blackspanielgallery on 08/12/2019

Frank is correct in that erosion by the sea does much to destroy archaeological artifacts and their positioning. Heavy objects could simply fall and scatter close to their source, but wave roots of storms and tidal movement of water can really move light objects. An area that floods due to land subsidence or sea level rise is different, but I suspect erosion is the culprit in this case.

frankbeswick on 08/11/2019

In fact, king Vortigern invited in the Jutes to defend against Pictish marauders.

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