Winchester Cathedral

Evening all! Welcome to part two of my Winchester trip. This was the Sunday when we went to the cathedral. (And a great little bookshop where I got four books for a fiver)

Here you can see the lines laid out in the grass which show where the original Anglo-Saxon cathedral stood. The signs you can just about see (I was standing on my tiptoes but I’m very short so a few snuck in) said that the original building, now referred to as the Old Minister, was the most important royal church in Anglo-Saxon England. Many kings were buried in it. It was demolished in 1093.


This, I was informed, is the oldest part of the current cathedral. Can I remember the date? No, I cannot, and Google is most unhelpful. Help?

This excellent webpage gives you much more information than I even understand about the architecture. I think I have finally grasped what a nave is, mind you.


This at first just looks like a huge stained glass window. Many colours, beautiful. However, I discovered there was more to it than that! The window was smashed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces, and the pieces were reassembled in a pretty hazard manner. There are areas where it looks like they’ve gone “I found some pieces that go together!”, but on the whole the placement appears random. Still doesn’t stop it from being beautiful.

Text reads: The font is used in Baptism, by which sacrament a person becomes a member of the Church. This mid-century font of black Tournai marble is decorated with carvings showing the miracles of St Nicholas, patron saint of children.

I’m a great sucker for anything earlier than 13th century, you might know that by now. I’m also a sucker for historical international trade, and a few seconds googling explains that this font is made from a type of black limestone found in the Belgian town of Tournai. There are a large number of these fonts in mainland Europe, and seven of them in England. According to Wikipedia, the fonts were brought by escorted caravan either across the land to the Channel, or on the exceedingly long river Scheldt, which passes through France, Belgium and a corner of the Netherlands.

So this font is actually Belgian! I just find that interesting, don’t mind me.

Ooooh these were my FAVOURITE things in the whole cathedral. THE GRAFFITI.


These were all over every single pillar we walked past. These were some of the earliest, but also some of the more interesting. Mainly because they seemed to demonstrate a distinct decline in the ability to carve over the years. I’m not even just talking about the frankly stunning bit of writing in the top right, but just the difference in depth and clarity between Thomas in 1629 and H. M. in 1931. Most of the graffiti was from the 17th century, and I wondered why that was. Thomas’ graffiti was in the year that Charles dissolved Parliament and told them to bugger off for eleven years. Still, could the large amount of 17th century carving here be at all related to Cromwell’s soldiers’ presence there? Just curious. Too many questions.

I did laugh, though. The latest we were finding graffiti was from roughly 1930 – one or two in 1960s. We hypothesised that perhaps people had stopped carrying pen knives around, or other potential carving implements. Then we saw one from 2013.

For some unknown reason, some lapse into irrationality,  I did not take a picture of it.

All of these previous bits of graffiti had solidity. Even the ones which were rubbed illegible you could tell had been deeply cut originally.

This one? Well, imagine any of the thousands of times in your life you will probably have seen words scratched into a table, desk, or bench. Chicken scratch. I  giggled at the inadequacy, I really did. Hint, if you want to make a lasting mark, you’ve got to put effort into it.

Seriously, though. I could have spent all day just looking at all the graffiti. From a names perspective as well. Maybe I’ll go back and do that some day.


Apparently I didn’t take a photo of the plaque describing this. I remember that it is a rare type of painting (fresco?), and that it is really really old (12th century?). Excuse me while I fill this alarming gap.

Google is slightly failing me on the method. Anyway, so these are in what looks to the uneducated like me to be a little side room but is called the Holy Sepulchre Chapel. It was decorated with 13th century paintings, but in 1963 it was discovered that underneath these paintings were even older paintings. You can see Jesus up the top, and the picture on the wall underneath apparently depicts him being taken off the cross and put in his tomb. According to this walking tour of Jews in Winchester, there are several Jews visible in these paintings, identifiable by the hats and badges they were forced to wear.


This was the crypt! It seemed like you could only get in on a Crypt Tour, but, it was open … so we just … went downstairs. This is one of the oldest parts of the building (apart from that sculpture), dating from Norman times, and it gets flooded. Seems an issue to have built a cathedral on a floodplain but hey, no-one ever said humanity makes good decisions.

These were creepy! Really, really cool, but somehow creepy in a way that gravestones and plaques in the floors aren’t. In the same kind of way that I find cremation urns creepy. It’s an object full of a dead person. Eeurgh.

But they were really old so my love of old things won out.

Text says: These mainly 13th century tiles are the largest and oldest area of tiling to survive in England. The tiles are very fragile and visitors are asked to walk on them with care.

WHY ARE WE STILL ALOWED TO WALK ON THEM??? Even with the best will in the world people’s feet will be wearing them down, and you just know some awful people will read that sign and immediately jump as hard as they can. Do not trust the public with old stuff! We break it!

That aside, they looked fantastic and it was a spine-tingling moment to realise that I’m walking on handiwork which is over 700 years old.

And just to finish off, officially my favourite accommodation I’ve ever seen. The text reads:

“Tactile model of Winchester Cathedral is for the use of visitors with impaired vision which enables them to feel the profile of the building. Further information on this or any of facilities for people with disabilities are available from a Guide, a (can’t tell, looks like Vitger?) or at the Entrance Desk.”

I just thought that was an excellent idea. Here’s the shape of the building you’re walking through. Not being visually impaired myself (well, it’s corrected with glasses) I don’t know how effective it is, though. I wonder how I could find out.

Well, thanks for reading about my Winchester trip! Hope you enjoyed yourself – I certainly did! See you soon.

Winchester Cathedral

A Weekend in Winchester

A few weeks ago I went to visit one of my uni friends in the stunning city of Winchester.

We walked round it for a solid three and a half hours. I hadn’t brought the correct shoes for this, and so my feet were pretty tender by the end! I also took twelve billion photos (about 60 or 70 in reality) which was probably to be expected because if there was ever a city with a lot of history in plain sight, it was Winchester!

I’m therefore splitting my trip up into two posts today and tomorrow (making the “weekend” part of this post both my experience of doing it and yours in reading it! Yes, I think I’m clever right now) otherwise we’d all be drowning in photos.

Before I get down into the pictures, humour me in my place-name obsession. If you want to skip this, click here.

As a settlement, Winchester has existed for a very long time indeed. There are several Iron Age hillforts around the city. I visited one, called St Catherine’s Hill, which you can see on this image:

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 16.04.56

I only took one photo of my climb unfortunately, and it is an uninspiring one of the way down.


After the Roman invasion, this place became known as Venta Belgarum. This is a pretty interesting name because Venta isn’t Roman. It’s pre-Celtic. Did the Romans usually continue pre-existing names? I know very little about Roman Britain.

The Belgares were the Celtic tribe in the area at the time. My place-names dictionary only has “Venta” as the earliest recording, so was Belgares something descriptive added later?

Ah, add it all to my list of things which need further investigation.

So yes, the earliest form of this in my dictionary is “Ouenta” from about 150 CE. Then the Anglo-Saxon invasion happened, and the next recorded name is “Uintancaestir” in about 730. I have briefly mentioned this “caster/cester/chester etc” Anglo-Saxon name form before. It’s a very specific name which they gave to settlements that used to be Roman. This time they even kept the Roman name (more or less)!

My meanderings through history are over.

Onto the pictures!

The first place that we went to was the Great Hall. We had a really excellent tour; however I didn’t take notes or make recordings so I’ll be backing up what I remember from the photographs with judicious googling.


This is the famous Round Table of Winchester. It was made between 1250–1280 but only painted by Henry VII in the early 1500s. Our guide explained which I’m not sure is 100% true but is 100% hilarious: in the intervening 300 years, people forgot how the table had been made, and what had started as merely a homage to the Arthurian legends became considered the actual legendary table itself.

(It was absolutely huge, that photo can’t really do it justice. It would have filled most of the top half of the room!)

Here you can see underneath the table to the left (as you’re looking at it) is a male figure and to the right is a female figure. This showed the side that the king and queen sat on, when this was used for its original royal hall purpose.


Over the years the Great Hall was used as a courthouse quite a lot, and this was where the prisoners would go – presumably just until they were sentenced? Can’t remember. It’s a really small hole. Creepy.


That faint white area in amongst the stones is a remnant of the original  13th century wall.


I spent a very long time looking at this. This is a massive painting on the back wall of the hall. I’ve forgotten what the names actually were – were they MPs? Argh, I forget. However, for me the much more interesting thing was watching the progression of surnames.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, before surnames were inherited they existed as descriptive bynames. So, John Johnsson, John the Baker, John from Winchester, John the Short. Etc. All throughout this side of the wall, the earliest side, you have names like:

“1337 Robertus de Popham” (and roughly 20 years later in 1353, presumably a relative, Johannes de Popham)

This is a locative byname, showing either where he was from or where he was in charge of if he was an important person.  Five seconds of googling and you can see here that Popham was a tiny hamlet near Winchester (first documented 903 CE!), and that both Robert and John were members of the manor family.

These types are most common on the early wall, but you do get unmarked surnames which could have been hereditary (I’d have to do some serious digging to find this out), such as

“1349 Rogerus Normound” or “1345 Richard’s Fromound”

By the very bottom of the early wall in 1381, both names in that year are unmarked (Thomas Wortyne and Johannes Sandes) and as far as I remember from thereon in no-one has a “de” name. So I am hesitantly and on zero proof suggesting that this is an interesting and accidental view of surnames switching from descriptive to hereditary.

So we’re done in the Great Hall now; moving on!


Text reads: In pre-historic times, the Itchen flowed in two main channels in the centre of the river valley, near the Cathedral. Following the foundation of the Roman town, about 70AD, this new artificial channel was created. This both reduced the chance of flooding in the town centre and provided an eastern defensive moat. In the medieval period, the river was nearly twice as wide as today.

Following along similar ancient lines, this is an actual piece of the Roman wall. Two thousand years old. I got chills.

Next we went to Wolvesey Castle. Most of the remains are from the 12th century. It is hands down the coolest set of ruins I’ve ever been in because the walls are so intact that it retains the sense of size and scale.





And finally to finish this tour we will positively zoom up the timeline to have a look at the house which Jane Austen died in!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed looking at all the photographs! See you again soon.

A Weekend in Winchester

I MADE IT! (kind of)

So here we are the end of my blogging challenge. On the downside I have only written 25 blogs, not 30, but on the plus side I WROTE 25 BLOGS IN A MONTH 😀

I have created a tags page, so that you can browse my posts that way. Check it out!

I’ve learnt a lot! I can now put anchor text in posts (I feel like Wikipedia), and can use pretty much all of WordPress’ basic features (apart apparently from new pages… ). Oh, and I’m never uploading 47 photos in one go again. It didn’t go well, which was why this post was a day late. I’m still figuring out exactly where I want this blog to go and who I really want my audience to be, but I do have a much better idea of that than I did at the start.

I have lots of future plans but I won’t put concrete dates on anything yet, because as you’ve no doubt learnt if you’ve read along with me this whole way, I have a bad habit of saying I’ll do one thing and then doing something else instead. I don’t think it’s too much to ask myself for two posts a month, though.

Book reviews, the Vikings in Turkey, a visit to Winchester and possibly even some historical fiction writing of my own. This month threw up a whole lot of research questions too. Watch this space!

Thank you very, very much to everyone who has read my posts during this challenge. Special thanks to the people who have shared posts and those who have commented (you know who you are) and to people who have told me they have been reading along. I appreciate you all so, so much.

To finish off, I’ll throw some stats at you. (So you can stop reading now if that bores you).

172 visitors and 289 views

Over 20,000 words written!

Almost all of you came from Facebook, but some arrived here from Twitter, Linkedin, WordPress Reader and through Google.

Most of the views were from the UK, but the other countries were: USA, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, Romania, New Zealand and Hungary. I know who a few of you are, and to the rest of you, hope you liked what you saw!

The two most popular posts were Too busy to read? and my introduction Daily Blogging! The two least popular (give them more love!) were An exceedingly natural burial and Redcar and the royal burial.


I MADE IT! (kind of)

Close cousins – the days of the week

Hi all! Today I’m going to show you how certain languages are very closely related using the days of the week.

If you’d guessed that I’ll be talking about Old English (OE) and Old Norse (ON) then you’ve learn what I enjoy, well done, but I’ll also be looking a bit more widely. Because that’s fun too.

First things first. OE and ON are members of a language family called Germanic. This doesn’t mean that they are all descended from German, though!

I’ve read that this language family is called “Germanic” partly because many of its languages fall into the geographic area the Romans called Germania, and partly because most of the 19th century heavyweight thinkers who solidified the idea of languages “relating” to each other, like families or species, were German and regarded those languages as “a central branch” (small mention here).

If the idea that languages can be related seems a stretch to you, then congratulations you were never forced to learn both Spanish and French simultaneously. This theory is the idea that all languages are descended from other languages. To pick a common example, all of the Romance languages, so, French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian and so on, are descended from Latin.

(No really, it goes on. The Romans got everywhere, and so their Latin was subject to countless different regional (and in the case in Ladino, ethno-religous) variations. Look at this list from Wikipedia! I didn’t even know some of these languages existed!

So, the Germanic language family is another load of related languages. Let’s go through a few.

So I’ve already said Old English is in that group. Old English gave rise to English (of course) and Scots (depending on your political views, don’t fight me). There’s also two extinct languages used in Ireland, Yola and Fingallian. And of course thanks to Britain’s invading imperialist colonialism (hello are my politics showing? oh dear) English is the ancestor to absolutely loads of creole languages, including the very widely used Hawaiian, Jamaican Patois and Singlish.

Old Norse too has its fair share of descendants: Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese, Greenlandic, and Icelandic. (Icelandic is particularly cool because it is very much still Old Norse. They can read the Icelandic sagas without much trouble. Delightfully un-evolved language.) There was also Norn, which I’ve mentioned before when talking about Orkney surnames, and Russian and Norse traders did create a pidgin (which is a smushing together of languages together to try and reach a mutual understanding) called Russenorsk.

As you’d expect, modern German is also in this language family, and Dutch (and thus Afrikaans).

Ok, I’m probably the only one finding this language genealogy interesting, so let’s skip to the direct comparisons!

(Full confession, if you want to skip my rambling and just have a look yourself, I am largely using the relevant Wikipedia article.)

The Germanic days of the week are to an extent just pagan-ised versions of the Latin, since Roman gods were replaced by their Germanic “equivalents”. That in itself is very interesting, since it comes from both directions: the Germanic people noticed the similarities and adopted the Romans gods into their systems, and the Romans encouraged this because it meant that they could keep their pantheon across their whole empire, thus creating a symbol of “we are the same people”.

The Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings (to use my fall-back examples)  didn’t have exactly the same gods, but from what we know they had similar gods and you can see this in the names.

The modern Icelandic days of the week don’t fit the same pattern as their relatives so I’ve not used them here; they feel foul of an anti-paganism attempt by this guy.

So. To the similarities!

First, the Latin and the relevant gods:

dies Lunae, dies Martis, dies Mercuri, dies Iovis, dies Veneris, dies Saturni, dies Solis

  • Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Sun

Old English

Monandag, Tiwsdaeg, Wodensdaeg, Thunresdaeg, Frigedaeg, Saeternesdaeg, Sunnandaeg

  • Moon, Tiw, Woden, Thunor, Frige, Saturn, Sun

Old Norse

manadagr, tysdagr, odinsdagr, thorsadgr, frjadagr, laugardar, sunnadagr

  • Mani, Tyr, Odin, Thor, Frigg/Freyja, washing-day, Sun


Modern Norwegian (Bokmal)

mandag, tirsdag, onsdag, torsdag, fredag, lordag, sondag

Modern German

Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch (was Wutenstag), Donnerstag, Freitag, Sonnabend, Sonntag

Hopefully you can see from these that not only did those languages all use pretty much the same gods in the same way, they also still show that they have a common ancestor. Even if you look at their words for “day” you can see it looks similar throughout.

Thanks for reading!

Close cousins – the days of the week

Were your ancestors Vikings?

There’s been a rash of articles floating around my alerts about Viking surnames. Apparently the TV channel History teamed up with experts from the Centre for Nordic Studies in the University of the Highlands and Islands, in which it looks like the experts did all the work and shared their knowledge and the TV channel surveyed 2000 people on questions which, given the answers, probably looked a bit like: “Do you want to be descended from a Viking?” and “Do you know anything about the Vikings?” Scintillating stuff.

I really hope that by now, unlike some of the people in that survey, you are aware that the Vikings were around in, for example, the 9th century, and not a) Elizabethan times like those people thought, or b) as one well-meaning schoolchild parent once suggested to me: “before the Romans”.

I wish all schools had basic timelines of history hung on their walls.

Since as usual I can’t find the actual source of either the survey or of any written-up piece from the university, I’m just going to go through the names that various newspapers have dropped and explain their actual origins as best I can. This will be dodgy as all I have is my 2005 reprint of the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, and the internet for the Gaelic ones. Nonetheless, it sounds fun.

Important point for my own peace of mind: Dr Alexandra Sanmark who is the academic mentioned in all of these identikit articles, is an expert and if I question any names here it’s only because I can’t find anything academic written to look at, not because I think I know better.

Names which end in -son or -sen. This is a fairly well-known Scandinavian pattern, I think. It literally does just mean, for example, John’s son. Johnson. This originated as a type of surname called a patronymic. Actually I don’t think that it its original form it counts as a surname at all but I’m loathe to call it anything else. It’s kind of more like a byname, since it just describes someone.

(Scandinavian names in Britain?? Yeah, well, I did a tiny blog on that yesterday.)

Check out this blog for a slightly better explanation of a byname, which is a descriptive second name used to distinguish people – it was not passed down through the family. Heritable names evolved out of bynames, and that’s more or less what’s happened with the -son/sen names. I wonder if they started happening because the meaning started to blur … to explain that:

Johnson. The earliest record my dictionary has of that surname is in 1287, as Jonessone. But hilariously, the man’s first name is John. So he will pass that byname down to his children. And given that I’ve heard there was less of a variety of names in the early medieval period (warning, unsubstantiated speculation!) I wonder if that sort of thing helped this pattern of name to become hereditary.

The articles all then go on to say something along the lines of “Other surnames which could signal a Viking connection include … Roger, Rogers, Rogerson and Rendall.”

This is personally interesting, since Rogers is my grandmother’s maiden name. So I go and look it up in my dictionary, and don’t find what I expect at all.

This name was introduced to England by the invading Normans. They had it because they were ancestral Scandinavians who had, as far as I understand, assimilated into Frankish culture. This meant that the existing Germanic name (H)Rodger (fame + spear) got boosted by the Scandinavian name Hroðgeirr, which meant the same thing.

So there’s my Viking connection, just … not quite from the direction I was expecting!

Rendall is either a pet form (nickname) of Reynold or of Randolph. Again, these were names introduced with the Normans which had exceedingly similar Old Norse and Old Germanic versions.

And of course the newspapers didn’t stick with jut English names.

The Scottish surname MacAsgaill comes from … well, the articles say the Old Norse name Arskell or Asketil and my dictionary says Askell. Mac means son of, so we’re actually dealing with patronymics here too.

There’s also:

MacCaskie, which comes from a Gaelic nickname of Askell: Ascaidh.

Macaulay: the Old Norse name Olafr.

MacLeod or McCloud: Comes from the Old Norse name Liotr, which actually might have been a byname itself since it means “ugly”.

McIvor’ is also mentioned in the articles but I can’t find that in my dictionary. Let’s see what Google has to say … Got it! Goes back to the Old Norse name Ivarr, apparently.

Other names mentioned are from Shetland and Orkney, which was extremely strongly Scandinavian-ised ( I must do a blog on this) to the point where they actually spoke a different language. My dictionary’s got nothing on these, so, to the internet!

Linklater’ = lyng heather + klettr rock (Source)

Flett’ = eventually from the Old Norse flotr “arable land”. (Source)

Scarth’ looks an awful lot like Old Norse skarð but the extremely well-respected big brother of my dictionary just says it’s named after the name of a piece of land. (Source)

Heddle’ Named after a place again, but apparently originally from Old Norse hey (I don’t trust the given etymology, does it really mean high??) dalr, valley. (Source

Halcro.’ Named after a place. Can I find what it means? Can I hell.

For Irish names, I found a great little article here. I’m going to quote from there unless me and my dictionary have anything else to add.

McAuliff, son of Olaf (You can really see the similarities between this and the Scottish version MacAulay)

Groarke, Mag Ruairc, son of Hrothkekr;

McBirney, son of Bjorn;

Reynolds, Mac Raghnall, from the Norse first name Ragnall.

Doyle is Ó Dubhghaill, from dubh, “dark”, and gall, “foreigner”, a descriptive formula first used to describe the invading Vikings … O’Loughlin and Higgins both stem directly from words … [directly referring to the Vikings]: Lochlann in Irish and Uigínn, an Irish version of the Norse Vikingr.


Well I enjoyed this sojourn into surnames, and I hope you might have found it a little bit interesting! See you tomorrow, and thank you for sticking with me!


Were your ancestors Vikings?

Those Vikings Got Around

Evening all! For the last 5 days of this daily posting challenge (check out my intro post if you’ve come in late and don’t know why I’m doing this) I’ll be giving you quick summaries of some of the geographic exploits of the Vikings.

Basically, they went way, way further afield than you probably realise.

However, for today we’ll start at home, in Britain. England, to be even more precise. Here’s a map of England in 878, so that if you wish you can stop reading after looking at the picture and still know more than you did before.

England 878

By Hel-hama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

And here’s an excellent explanation of what “the Vikings” actually were.

The first recorded Viking raid was in 789, down in the south-west in Wessex, and the more famous “first” one was in 793 on a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne. That island was near Bamburgh on the north-east coast, so if you take a look at the map for a second you can already see that these invaders were happy travelling all around our  island. They also started raiding Ireland in the 9th century.

(I could just as well have titled this series of posts: Have Boats, Will Raid because the Vikings did pretty much go anywhere with a river. But I digress.)

The Vikings had a good time raiding our rich, unprotected monasteries, but then obviously took home news about the new lands. Worth settling, they decided, rather than just periodic … harvesting. So they came back with armies. If you’ve tuned in to The Last Kingdom on the BBC at all, or read the book it’s based on, you’ll have a vague fuzzy picture of the sort of warfare which ensued for the best part of 30 years, until King Alfred the Great and the Viking leader Guthrum formally arranged a border between their controlled areas of England.

The Vikings settled in. You’ve seen me talk about some of the evidence for that in place-names. They also settled in Orkney and other Scottish islands, though in a beautiful role reversal may have been afraid of the raiding mainland Scots! As previously mentioned they got to Ireland pretty quickly, and set up bases there too. Dublin was quite the slave trade hub and there are many Scandinavian place-names in Ireland. Trade went on between Dublin, Liverpool and Bristol.

I didn’t know this until just now, although really it’s common sense since they went everywhere else, but they even made an impact on Wales, probably settling on Anglesey (which is an entirely Scandinavian name). Look at these cool Welsh names for Vikings!

  • gentiles nigri (the black heathen)
  • y llu du (the black host)
  • kenhedloedd duon (the black nations)
  • y Normanyeit duon (black Normans)
  • dub gint (black heathen, from Irish dubh Gennti)
  • Brithwyr du (black Brithwyr)
  • dieifyl du (black devils)
  • Gentiles “gentiles”
  • Paganaid “pagans”
  • Y Cenhedloedd (the nations)
  • Nordmani (northmen)
  • gwyr Dulyn (men from Dublin)
  • y genedyl (the nation)
  • y pobloedd (the peoples)
  • Gwyddyl (Irish, but referring in actuality to the Hiberno-Norse)
  • Daenysseit (Danes)
  • gwyr Denmarc (men of Denmark)
  • Lochlannaigh or Llychynwyr (men of “Lochlann” meaning Norway)
  • Llychlynwys (Scandinavians).

I am sleepy  and need to go to bed, so have some more maps.

Kingdom of Mann and the Isles-en

© Sémhur / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons



Those Vikings Got Around

Anglo-Saxons and the continent

As promised, here’s a quick skimming of the surprisingly international world of Anglo-Saxon trade.

To be fair, perhaps you, dear reader, are knowledgeable and are aware that trade and travel between countries, even distant ones, has happened ever since there were people who wanted things. Or perhaps you are logical and think, well, we might have been an island but we had boats. Excellent points.

Still, you might then be surprised to know how many people believe that nobody ever went anywhere “in medieval times” and that the Romans leaving killed off all contact with the continent.

I’m going to be broadening “trade” to mentioning gifts from abroad, and people travelling for non-commercial reasons.

So, let’s start off with something I have a picture of from my previous post. This is a quernstone.


It’s just a grinding stone. It makes flour.

Another thing that people tend to think is that, ok, fine, goods from far away countries ended up in Britain, but only for the high status people, like the royal woman I talked about earlier. Nope.

These quernstones aren’t high status in and of themselves, and aren’t concentrated at high status settlements or houses, yet they were frequently imported from the Rhineland. Why? I don’t know. Was the stone quality better? I’ve read that they could actually be used as ballast on ships which carried light and expensive cargo, so that’s an interesting explanation for such a prosaic import.

If you look at this photo from my earlier post, you can get an idea of the varied trade routes of higher status items:


Coins from far away can be found in Anglo-Saxon England. Sometimes these are found as part of a “hoard” or deposited stash, as you can read about in my Silverdale post, and it’s thought that the Arabic coins might have been valued as gifts or art rather than as currency. Gold Arabic coins may have arrived earlier; silver ones were largely brought in by the Vikings. In the 8th century the powerful Mercian king Offa had what looks like an imitation Arabic coin struck. It was gold, and one of the more amusing ways we can tell that it’s not actually Arabic is because a bit of the text is upside-down. There are many theories for why this was necessary – was it trade? Was it a gift? Was is part of a payment? Whyever it was (I’m claiming that as a word now) we can be confident that it demonstrated a good, if not perfect, knowledge of foreign currency on the part of the Mercian Anglo-Saxons.

We know about a lot of expensive imported goods because they were buried as “grave goods”. However we don’t often know how the objects ended up there. Were they obtained just for that purpose? Did their use or owner in life lead to their value in death? Were they tokens from family members? So many questions.

Other known trading areas: Aquitaine, Italy and Sicily – in general there was a good set of trade links to the northern Mediterranean.

Next up to discuss: travel. While the Anglo-Saxons didn’t do the whole invade anywhere with water thing like the Vikings, individuals travelled far afield and for many different reasons.

One of the slightly more unusual was fosterage. It wasn’t uncommon for the royal Anglo-Saxons to foster their counterparts’ children, and even internationally with the Scandinavian nobility. King Athelstan, for example, was foster-father to the future Duke of Brittany, Alan II (that name is hilarious, I don’t know why. Alan the second.). Alan grew up in England and may even have been born here. Aethelstan may possibly have also been foster-father to  a Norwegian prince but there is no contemporary evidence of it. He also used the sponsoring/fostering technique as a diplomatic tool to help cement relationships.

There were two things which drove the Anglo-Saxons furthest afield. Both, ah, quite different from each other.

First: slavery. Yes, the Anglo-Saxons had a thriving slave trade, as had the Romans, as probably had most civilisations with enough wealth. There was domestic slavery as well as farmland slavery.

They probably enslaved the Celts, the people who were in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons and who ended up clustering in modern Cumbria, Wales,  and Brittany, as well as remaining pretty strong in Ireland for a while. The word for Celt, wealh, came to mean “slave” as well, and I really doubt that sort of semantic slide happens by accident.

They enslaved other Anglo-Saxons too. However they were also enslaved themselves, with Anglo-Saxon slaves being found in northern France and Ghent. The city of Bristol was apparently a well-known slaving hub.

Time for mood whiplash: the other major movement factor was pilgrimage. As Christians, Anglo-Saxon pilgrims were known to make the trip to Rome, and even the  astoundingly long trip to Jerusalem. In 884, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, two pilgrims set off for India! It’s not too difficult to believe that the pilgrims would have picked up objects and coinage along the way. Certainly there were merchants along the routes! Offa (he of the golden coin) was sent an angry letter by a continental king telling him to please stop his merchants posing as pilgrims along the route to ambush unwary people.

I like to imagine that more than a few Middle Eastern people ended up in Britain during the Anglo-Saxon period. Maybe the Anglo-Saxons had a few Aramic-speaking traders. It’s all fun speculation. The world is a big place.

Thank you for reading! I hope you found some of this interesting! See you tomorrow!

Anglo-Saxons and the continent