From Dark Earth to Domesday
The towns that the Norman invaders found in England in 1066 had far longer and far more complex histories than have often been conveyed in the historiography of the Anglo-Saxon period. This lack of depth is not surprising, however, as the study of the towns of Anglo-Saxon England has long been complicated by a dearth of textual sources and by the work of influential historians who have measured the urban status of Anglo-Saxon settlements using the attributes of late medieval towns as their gage. These factors have led to a schism amongst historian regarding when the first towns developed in Anglo-Saxon England and about which historical development marks the beginning of the continuous history of the English towns. This dissertation endeavors to apply new evidence and new methodologies to questions related to the development, status, and nature of Anglo-Saxon urban communities in order to provide a greater insight into their origins and their evolutionary trajectories. It is the argument of this work that the emporia of the sixth through nine centuries were indeed towns and that the burhs founded by Alfred the Great and his heirs were intended from their inception to be towns and were quickly recognized as such by contemporaries. Two distinct methodologies are used to support these arguments: The first uses recent archeological and numismatic data related to the settlements in question to determine if the size and occupational make-up of their populations, the complexity and diversity of their economies, and their integration into regional and cross-Channel exchange networks sufficiently differentiated them from contemporary rural sites and places them in a distinct, urban category. The second methodology employs contemporary texts including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, The Old English Orosius, and The Old English Martyrology to reveal the terms actually used by the Anglo-Saxons to describe their settlements and then compares those terms to the words used to describe places that the Anglo-Saxons would have definitively recognized as a town or a city, such as Rome or Jerusalem. Regarding the continuity of Anglo-Saxon towns, recent archaeological data is used to prove that the periods of time which have often been cited as breaks in occupation were actually moments of transition from one type of town to another. At London, for example, we can now see that there was no substantive gap between the end of the extramural emporium of Lundenwic and earliest evidence for secular settlement within the walls of the former Roman town during the ninth century when it was refortified as a burh. This indicates that we should trace the continuous history of many towns, like London, back beyond Alfred and his burhs, to the emporia and other settlements that preceded them. Another major theme that threads its way through this work is that the Anglo-Saxon towns were negotiated spaces defined by the interplay of different groups of people and different ideas. Kings and bishops certainly exerted a great deal of influence over the development of the Anglo-Saxon towns, but, by no means were they the only forces at work. The common craftsmen and traders who lived and worked in the towns and the lesser elites and royal officials who lorded over them shaped the physical and social environments of the towns, their regional and cross-Channel connections, and how their economies functioned. Different groups of foreigners also influenced the Anglo-Saxon towns through trade, evangelism, and, at times, violence. Moreover, in so much as any of these groups or individuals may have exerted a greater influence over the development of the Anglo-Saxon towns at one time or another, no single group--be it kings, bishops, elites, traders, craftsmen, or assorted foreigners--can ever be said to have been acting totally independently of the others. In short, this dissertation illustrates that the towns of Anglo-Saxon England were the products of complex networks that moved people, things, wealth, and ideas throughout regions and across seas.