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The archaeological record, including both cemetery and settlement evidence, reflects extensive settlement in East Anglia during the Early Saxon period. Scull (1992, fig. 3) shows the settlement pattern for the 5th/mid-7th centuries. Although this was drawn up in the early 1990s it still reflects our general understanding. It shows settlement concentrated along the Fen edge, and along the river valleys of eastern and north-west Suffolk and central Norfolk. The particular concentration in the south-east is probably the result of the work of the Sutton Hoo Kingdom Survey in the Sandlings (Newman 2005). There are gaps in north-east Suffolk and on land over 60m OD.

The advent of the Middle Saxon period in East Anglia is characterised by the political and territorial consolidation of Norfolk, Suffolk and eastern Cambridgeshire into a Christian kingdom and the founding of the region's first urban centres. The Sandlings area is often associated with Raedwald and the Wuffingas dynasty, and this area is seen as the political centre of East Anglia, with Norfolk as a peripheral part of their kingdom (Williamson 1993, 76). The development of the Middle Saxon wic at Gippeswic (modern Ipswich) supports the idea that the centre of political gravity was in the south-east.

Settlement at Ipswich began in the early 7th century with an adjacent cemetery, waterfront and pottery industry to the north-east. This expanded rapidly in the early 9th century to cover an area of about 50 hectares on both sides of the River Gipping. Metalled roads were established, one of which ran over the former cemetery, with buildings set out along the street frontage. Imports of Frankish pottery demonstrate continental trading links and R series sceattas were minted at or near Ipswich from the early 8th century.

Ipswich was probably the largest East Anglian settlement in the Middle Saxon period. However, this urbanised, commercial centre differs from the region's other systematically excavated Middle Saxon site at Brandon, an aristocratic or monastic settlement, occupying a small island in the Little Ouse estuary. The site comprises 28 timber buildings, a 7th-century church, and preserves evidence of cloth-production, including weaving and dyeing. The community possessed considerable wealth, as evidenced by over 200 decorated pins, imported glass, styli, keys and sceattas (Carr et al. 1988).

The best way to assess the distribution of Middle Saxon settlement in East Anglia is through the spread of Ipswich Ware, which is found across East Anglia. It was first identified by Hurst and West and dated to c. 625/50-850 (Hurst and West 1957) but dating of its production was subsequently refined by Blinkhorn to c. 720-840 (Blinkhorn 1999). Production was confined to Ipswich, presumably under royal control. Hutcheson (2006) argued that it represents an East Anglian tribute system, with pottery radiating out from Ipswich and unknown goods flowing in. Pottery was not sold, but used to facilitate the transport of goods as part of taxation. It may have been used to transport honey, or salt, or for the transhipment of wine, arriving in Ipswich in Badorf ware amphorae. The minting of R and Q series sceattas and their kingdom-wide distribution also illustrates aspects of this system.

Newman's (2008) distribution map of Ipswich Ware shows a similar pattern of bias to the Kingdom Survey in the Sandlings. Elsewhere there is a broad distribution across Norfolk, with a defined gap in the Norwich region between the Rivers Yare/Wensum and Bure. There is a further concentration in the northern fenland but not elsewhere, possibly relating to the Fenland Survey. In the Norfolk Fenland there was expansion of settlement into former wetland areas between the 7th and 11th centuries (Silvester 1988). Field-walking at Hay Green revealed spreads of Ipswich Ware and animal bone, indicating the development of permanent settlement out of seasonal exploitation of marshland controlled from upland settlements (Rogerson and Silvester 1986). Finds are rare in north-east, south-west and central Suffolk. Small quantities have been found in London, Canterbury and as far west as Northamptonshire, and Ipswich ware is virtually absent from Essex, apart from a few coastal finds and findspots in the west of the county along the north-south communications route formed by the valley of the River Lea (Blinkhorn 1999, 8). These regions apparently fell outside the Kingdom of East Anglia. Distribution of Ipswich Ware also falls off rapidly to the west. The Nene appears to represent an economic and political border, marking the extent of the Kingdom of East Anglia.

Production of Ipswich Ware ceases with the demise of the wic, by AD 841. Maybe East Anglian royal administration moved to Thetford at this time. Thetford ware kilns were operating in Ipswich by the early 10th century. The production site then moves to Thetford, maybe reflecting the transfer of the hub of the tribute system to a safer location, where there was a defensible hillfort. Thetford may have been an earlier Anglo-Saxon royal or ecclesiastical estate centre but was used as a wintering place for the Danish army in 869-70, and this appears to have provided the main impetus for its development, with the earliest dating evidence provided by a little Stamford ware of the late 9th century.

It is possible that a second East Anglian wic was established during the 8th century at Norwich, to serve the northern parts of East Anglia. Eighth- and 9th-century occupation has been observed at several sites, including the districts of Westwick, Needham, and Northwic, south of the River Wensum. There is also Middle Saxon and imported pottery and coins from Fishergate on the northern side. The Fishergate settlement may have been focused on a river crossing on the site of the later Fye bridge, where an undated timber-piled causeway has been excavated. These clusters of activity suggest that urban growth was preceded by a number of rural settlements.

As elsewhere in England, the Middle Saxon settlement pattern is characterised by large multiple estates. Typically, these comprised core villages or settlements with the Old English place-name suffix -ham, and subsidiary or outlying dependencies with the suffix -tun. These became separated and were broken up into smaller units during the course of the 9th-11th centuries. The Burnhams – a group of seven, formerly nine, parishes in north-west Norfolk – are a striking example. They must once have formed a single territorial unit, covering an area of 40km². The process of fission seems to have happened in two ways. On the one hand, the East Anglian kings granted away estates or portions of estates to aristocratic families. On the other hand, peripheral areas of estates passed into the ownership of local cultivators. It is possible that this partitioning of outlying portions of estates, especially former grazing farms, was accelerated by the upheavals of the Scandinavian conquest and West Saxon re-conquest.

The advent of Scandinavian incursions in England c. 793 initiated nearly a century of religious and political instability, exemplified by the destruction or displacement of monastic communities and by the murder of King Edmund of East Anglia in 869/870. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Viking forces first raided East Anglia in AD 865. Over the following decades there was a series of campaigns between the West Saxon kings and the Danish armies, culminating in their defeat in 917. Liberation did not lead to the restoration of an East Anglian kingdom, however, as East Anglia was absorbed into the growing West Saxon state. In the early 11th century the Scandinavian armies returned, and under Cnut East Anglia was placed at the centre of a combined kingdom of England and Scandinavia.

However, despite two waves of Scandinavian conquest it is unclear that these were accompanied by major influxes of settlers. There is a virtual absence of distinctive Scandinavian burial, although there are a growing number of portable antiquities in an Anglo-Scandinavian style, especially from the 9th and 11th centuries (Richards and Naylor forthcoming). The distribution of Anglo-Scandinavian and Late Saxon settlement in East Anglia is also hard to define, partially because it is assumed to underlie modern settlement. Margeson (1996) shows the distribution of Scandinavian place-names in Norfolk. This largely follows Scull's distribution of Anglo-Saxon settlement (1992, fig. 3) although it is far sparser in the east. Loyn's map of Scandinavian place-names (1977, map 4) shows a sprinkling of place-names in Suffolk, again with very few in western areas and none at all in Essex. The largest concentration of Scandinavian place-names is in and around the former island of Flegg and Lothingland in the extreme east of Norfolk and north-east Suffolk (Abrams 2005; Abrams and Parsons 2004). In the Late Saxon period, Flegg, like Ely, was a fen isle; however, owing to its marshy conditions, it was probably uninhabited prior to Danish settlement when its strategic importance was seemingly recognised.


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Last updated: Tues Apr 21 2009