Shaping an urban landscape: Town development in early England, c. 400--950 A.D.

Date of Completion

January 1995


Anthropology, Archaeology|History, European|History, Medieval|Urban and Regional Planning




This study attempts to shed new light on the development of towns in early England from late-Roman to late Anglo-Saxon times. In Chapter I selected relevant literature is reviewed from the fifteenth century to the present, and the problems of urban definition and typology are discussed. Chapters II-III treat the background of Romano-British urbanism in its prime and then in its late-Roman transformations by both historical overview and specific case studies. The problem of settlement and/or urban continuity between the late-Roman and early Anglo-Saxon periods also is addressed and a conclusion is reached in favor of overall discontinuity. It is argued that most late-Roman towns were virtually abandoned before the Anglo-Saxon invasions and generally show evidence of significant settlement lapse (Chapter IV). The first Anglo-Saxon urban settlements were former Roman towns reoccupied as royal and ecclesiastical administrative centers from the late fifth to early seventh centuries.^ In Chapter V, new types of Anglo-Saxon towns, the emporia, are examined on the basis of written and archaeological evidence. It is suggested that these new commercial and production centers were founded by the kings of emerging Anglo-Saxon realms as sources of state-building wealth and resources. The relationship between these emporia and the older, fortified administrative centers also is discussed, along with the impact of Viking attacks on both types of town. The wider connections between Anglo-Saxon and continental emporia are explored in Chapter VI. Finally, the origin and growth of the Anglo-Saxon burgh is considered from its possible eighth-century Mercian beginnings to the better-known cases of King Alfred and his successors (Chapter VII). It is contended that these Anglo-Saxon burghs were designed to be places both of defense and commerce from their foundations, and that the kings of Wessex continued to create such multi-functional sites as they expanded and consolidated their authority over England in the tenth century. Throughout this study, emphasis is placed on the need to integrate written and material evidence in order to best appreciate the variations and fluidity of early English town development. ^