Friday, 21 October 2016

Ludford, Tealby and the Taifali: a major Late Iron Age to early post-Roman settlement on the Lincolnshire Wolds

The following post is intended to offer a brief introduction to the archaeology and early history of Ludford, Lincolnshire, along with some thoughts on its Late Roman and post-Roman significance. Although Ludford is nowadays simply a village on the road from Louth to Market Rasen, sitting atop the Lincolnshire Wolds, in the Late Iron Age, Roman, and possibly early post-Roman eras it appears to have been a site of some considerable significance.

The major Late Iron Age settlements of northern Lincolnshire and their suggested territories, after May, 1984 (image: C. R. Green)

A Late Iron Age gold coin of the local Corieltavi tribe, South Ferriby type, dated c. 45 BC–10 BC, found at Ludford (image: PAS)

The earliest evidence for significant activity at Ludford comes from the Late Iron Age, with a large number of brooches and other items recorded from here on the Portable Antiquities Scheme and elsewhere, including 80 gold, silver and copper-alloy coins, all of which were mostly found just to the east of the current village in fields near to Ludford Grange. The impressive concentration of Late Iron Age coinage in particular has led Jeffrey May to identify Ludford as one of a small number of major Late Iron Age settlement found spread fairly evenly across the landscape of northern Lincolnshire, each probably controlling a substantial territory 15–20 miles or so across, the suggested extent of which is depicted on the map above.

This first phase of occupation at Ludford continued into the early Roman period and was followed by a second, even more intensive phase of occupation in the third and fourth centuries. Extensive finds of Roman pottery, coins, burials, building materials and other artefacts from the area around Ludford Grange and the head of the River Bain indicate that Ludford was probably functioning as a 'small town' in that period and, as such, is likely to have continued to control a significant territory all around it, something supported by the fairly wide and even spacing of such major Roman-era settlements in Lincolnshire (see the map below). These indications of a significant degree of activity at Ludford in the Late Iron Age and Roman eras are reinforced by extensive cropmarks observed in this area by the RCHME and the results of fluxgate gradiometer surveys, which demonstrated that there was intensive activity in several phases at the site even in areas where no cropmarks are now visible.

The major settlements and forts of Roman Lincolnshire, set against the probable late/post- Roman landscape and certain major Roman-era routes (image drawn by C. R. Green after Green, 2012, fig. 4, with additions). Note, both Caistor and Horncastle were Late Roman forts with impressive stone walls, and linguistic and historical evidence combine to suggest that there may well have been another Roman walled fort at Skegness that was destroyed by the sea around 500 years ago. Also shown are the locations of three earthen fortifications that are thought to date from the late/post-Roman periods, at Yarborough, Yarburgh and Cun Hu Hill (Grimsby); these are depicted by an 'open square' symbol.

A late fourth-century Roman adjustable silver bracelet from Ludford (image: PAS). Another Roman precious-metal item of jewellery from this site is a gold and garnet earring of the second or third century. 

It is thus clear that Ludford was a locally important settlement and 'central place' within Lincolnshire in both the Late Iron Age and Romano-British eras, and it seems likely that this local importance was maintained into the very late Roman period and potentially a little beyond too. Perhaps the most interesting evidence in this regard comes in the form of a later fourth-century gold coin and three Late Roman spurs that have been found at Ludford 'Roman small town'. Such artefacts have a very similar distribution within the Lincoln region and have been considered indicative of the final stage of official Roman military activity in this region, which was arguably focused on creating a defensive 'ring' around the Late Roman provincial capital and episcopal see of Lincoln, with troops apparently primarily stationed not in the walled forts of the region, but instead at rural strategic sites close to major routeways and/or the coast. Certainly, such a scenario accords well with the fact that the Late Roman field army appears to have been normally billeted in civilian towns rather than assigned to specific military forts, and Ludford was clearly both a civilian 'small town' and a strategic site, being located on top of the Lincolnshire Wolds on a Roman road that ran from the east coast to Lincoln (Margary 272) and also very close to the crossing point of this road with the north–south road linking the Roman walled forts of Caistor and Horncastle (Margary 270).

As to who these cavalry troops potentially billeted and losing spurs at Ludford might have been, one reasonable possibility is that they were members of the very late Roman Equites Taifali. This cavalry unit was probably established between 395 and 398 from the Taifali of northern Italy and Gaul and is known to have been in Britain under the command of the Comes Britanniarum ('Count of the Britains') in the very late fourth to early fifth centuries. Perhaps most significantly, however, it just so happens that a neighbouring parish to Ludford, Tealby, actually bears an originally Old English name that almost certainly derives from the continental tribal-name Taifali and means '(the settlement of) the Taifali', to which the Old Norse for village, -bȳ, was added in the Anglo-Scandinavian period (Tealby < Tavelesbi/Teflesbi < Old English *Tāflas/*Tǣflas + Old Norse , with *Tāflas/*Tǣflas being the Old English form of the tribal-name Taifali). Needless to say, such a coincidence is highly suggestive, and it has furthermore been argued that the presence of this tribal-name in Lincolnshire is difficult to explain in a convincing manner without recourse to the Equites Taifali.

The location of Tealby in relation to Ludford and key Late Roman sites & routeways; fortified sites are indicated by an open square around a filled square. Image: Green, 2014, fig. 1, with additions; the latter being the two probable earthen fortifications at Yarburgh, near Louth, and Cun Hu Hill, Grimsby, that potentially date from the late/post-Roman period (depicted as open squares).

If Ludford at the very end of the fourth century and beginning of the fifth potentially played host to at least elements of the Equites Taifali, what then of it in the post-Roman period? With regard to this, several points can be made. First, the nature of the place-name evidence from neighbouring Tealby is such that, if the name does derive from members of the Equites Taifali (as seems most most likely), then it would require that descendants of former members of the Equites Taifali were still living on the Lincolnshire Wolds in the post-Roman era and retained a separate identity for at least part of that period. This is, needless to say, intriguing in itself, and it is worth noting here that the idea that some members, or former members, of the Equites Taifali might have stayed in this region rather than returning to the continent in the early fifth century could well find an explanation and context in the evidence for the Late Roman provincial capital of Lincoln being able to defend and maintain a significant territory all around itself into the sixth century. In other words, it is possible that the apparent presence of Taifali in the area around Ludford in the post-Roman period resulted from the clear need, apparently successfully met, of those in charge of the provincial capital at Lincoln to employ defenders for their territory as official Roman military activities in Britain drew to a close.

Second, there are two deserted medieval villages named East and West Wykeham that lie within Ludford parish and near to the site of the Romano-British town. This place-name derives from Old English wīchām, which in turn comes from Latin vicus + Old English hām. Such names are generally considered to derive their Latin first element from their close proximity to a significant Romano-British settlement that was known as a vicus in the Late and post-Roman periods, with vici in this context being probably Romano-British settlements that functioned as local administrative centres, a description which would seem to fit Ludford well. Most important of all, however, is the fact that names in wīchām have often been plausibly considered both to date from the fifth or sixth centuries and to be indicative of some sort of administrative continuity between the Late Roman and 'early Anglo-Saxon' periods, a point of considerable significance in the present context.

Taken together, the above points suggest that the Romano-British small town at Ludford and its immediate surrounding area may have continued to be of some local significance into at least the early part of the post-Roman era, that is into the fifth century and perhaps also the sixth. However, when we look beyond this, into the 'Anglo-Saxon' period proper for Lincolnshire, the situation looks somewhat different. For example, Ludford lies not at the heart of one of the recorded Anglo-Scandinavian wapentakes of Lincolnshire, but instead at the junction of three separate wapentakes (Louthesk, Wraggoe, and Walshcroft), suggesting that by the later Anglo-Saxon era any local administrative role and territory for Ludford had been lost and divided. Similarly, whilst the archaeological material recovered from the site of the Romano-British 'small town' and its immediate environs indicates that there was probably a degree of activity hereabouts in the pre-Viking period, there is nothing to really make us think that the site retained any of its earlier importance at that time.

A copper-alloy annular brooch of the seventh century, found in Ludford parish to the south- east of the small town (image: PAS)

The territorial context of the South Elkington-Louth early Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery. Shown here are the cemetery, the later wapentake boundaries of Louthesk (in grey), relevant place-names, and the suggested extent of a pre-Viking territory focused on the Louth cemetery (image: Green, 2012, fig. 43).

As to both when and why Ludford's apparent Iron Age–early post-Roman local administrative role and territory ended and was divided, this is open to debate. It has been argued that many of Lincolnshire's Anglo-Scandinavian wapentakes had their ultimate origins in the pre-Viking period, and a study of Louthesk wapentake certainly indicates that this wapentake could well have had its roots in a territory associated with the important and massive fifth- to sixth-century cremation cemetery at South Elkington–Louth. This cemetery probably functioned as a funerary, social and sacred 'central place' for the surrounding region in the early Anglo-Saxon period, and was established at a site overlooking the Lincolnshire Marshes and the east coast by 'Anglian' immigrants to the region in the fifth century, who, like the Taifaliwere arguably initially used by the post-Roman Britons of Lincoln for the defence of their territory (indeed, they may well have been somehow associated with the possible late/post-Roman coastal fortification at nearby Yarburgh). Furthermore, the Old English place-name 'Ludford' is suggestive too, as not only does it appear to be, in type, a potentially early pre-Viking coinage, but it is also probably best interpreted as meaning 'the ford belonging to Louth', indicating that Ludford had actually come to be under the control of Louth in this period, perhaps lying on the very western edge of its territory.

On the basis of the above, it seems likely that the process of Ludford losing at least some of its local centrality and any associated administrative role/territory that had survived into the post-Roman era was already begun by the end of the sixth century. Moreover, it can be suggested that this loss of centrality and division of its probable administrative territory could have been a direct result of the foundation of a new, Anglo-Saxon 'central place' at a strategic site only a few miles to the east of Ludford in the fifth century. In this light, an acceptable hypothesis that accounts for all of the material discussed above might be that Ludford and its immediate environs retained a degree of local centrality into the fifth and sixth centuries, so long as the Britons were still in at least nominal charge of the Lincoln region. However, when the 'Anglo-Saxon' immigrant groups gained control of the region in the sixth century, Ludford's status and centrality precipitously declined in favour of the immigrants' own, already-established regional centre a few miles to the east at South Elkington–Louth.

Tealby All Saints' church (image: Richard Croft, CC BY-SA 2.0)

If Ludford itself and the eastern parts of any territory it administered in the late and post- Roman periods may thus have come under the control of the early 'Anglian' immigrant group that was seemingly based a few miles to the east at South Elkington–Louth in the sixth century, what then of the rest of Ludford's 'territory' and, indeed, the Taifali? With regard to this question, it is worth noting that the whole area to the north and west of Ludford lay within the Walshcroft wapentake by the Late Saxon period, with this district including within its bounds not only the modern village of Tealby—'(the settlement of) the Taifali'—but also its neighbouring village of Walesby. Given that there is a case to be made for both the place-name Walesby (DB Walesby) and the wapentake-name Walshcroft (DB Walescros) having derived from Old English Walas, 'the Britons, the Welsh-speakers', it might well be wondered whether Walshcroft wapentake could not have somehow derived from a portion of the territory associated with Ludford that remained, at least nominally, in British/Taifali hands, for a period at any rate? Of course, such a suggestion can only be very tentatively made, but it is an interesting possibility nonetheless.

In sum, the archaeology, history and place-names of Ludford and its immediate surroundings suggest that it was of some considerable significance in the past. It was clearly once the site of a major Late Iron Age settlement and Romano-British 'small town' that probably functioned as a local administrative centre for the surrounding region. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that at the very end of the Roman era the small town here was home to cavalry troops of the Late Roman military, quite possibly of the Equites Taifali, some of whom may have stayed on in this area to help protect the territory of the former provincial capital of Lincoln into the fifth century, their continued presence arguably underlying the name of a neighbouring parish, Tealby. Finally, it can be cautiously argued that Ludford and its immediate environs may have retained a degree of local centrality into the fifth and sixth centuries, but with this perhaps only lasting so long as the Britons were still in at least nominal charge of the Lincoln region. Certainly, it seems likely that Ludford itself had lost its centrality at some point in the early Anglo-Saxon period to the new Anglo-Saxon 'central place' of South Elkington–Louth, a few miles to the east, although it can be tentatively suggested that the later wapentake of Walshcroft could represent a surviving rump of Ludford's territory that remained nominally under British and Taifali control, at least for a time.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2015, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Some evidence for people of 'East Asian' ancestry living in Roman London

The following brief note discusses a number of individuals buried in Roman London who have results indicative of an 'East Asian' ancestry. These people seem to have formed part of a diverse community living in the southern suburb of Londinium during the second to fourth centuries AD, with over 40% of the individuals studied having results consistent with an African or Asian ancestry and/or childhood residence.

A fifteenth-century map of the world based on the second-century AD Geography of Claudius Ptolemy, with the British Isles on the far left and China on the far right (Image: Wikimedia Commons).

The evidence in question consists of a sample of 22 burials from the southern burial area of Roman London which have been subjected to a recent isotopic and/or macromorphoscopic trait analysis in order to establish the ancestry and childhood residency of these individuals.(1) The results of this analysis offer a picture that is broadly in line with the situation at Roman York and other similar sites, as reported in a number of previous posts, namely that the evidence points towards a considerable degree of diversity in the Roman-era population of Britain. So, 41% of the 17 individuals buried at London and subjected to macromorphoscopic trait analysis (n=7) had results consistent with a non-European—African or Asian—ancestry, and 45% of the 20 individuals whose teeth were analysed (n=9) had oxygen isotope results of 19.2–21.0‰ δ¹⁸Op, well outside the credible British range and most consistent with a childhood spent in North Africa or even further afield, as discussed elsewhere. Needless to say, whilst such results are perhaps in many ways unsurprising, it is nonetheless worth knowing that the conclusions regarding the diversity of the population of Roman Britain reached previously on the basis of evidence from York, Winchester and elsewhere hold good for London too. However, the importance of the London burial data goes beyond simply adding further weight to previous conclusions, as the data reported not only identifies a number of people of probable 'African descent' within the Roman-era urban population (four individuals or 24% of the sample investigated), but also two or three individuals who appear to be of 'East Asian' ancestry.

The individuals in question are two men, aged 18–25 and 26–35, who were buried in the second and fourth centuries AD, respectively, and who are both identified as being of probable 'Asian' ancestry on the basis of a macromorphoscopic trait analysis (that is to say, their macromorphoscopic trait results are comparable to those of the modern populations of China and Japan), along with a woman aged over 18 who was buried in the second century AD and whose results are possibly indicative of Asian ancestry.(2) None of these three people had oxygen isotope results consistent with an early life spent in the London area, although pinning down their childhood residency beyond this is difficult. Drinking water that would produce tooth enamel oxygen isotope values similar to those of the man and woman from the second-century AD is found across a broad swathe of the globe from western Britain and southern Europe across to China. Equally, although the oxygen isotope result of the man buried in the fourth-century AD is outside both the British and European ranges, it would still be consistent with a childhood spent in, for example, large areas of North Africa, the Near East, India, Central Asia or the western parts of Han China, making identifying where he spent his early life problematic. Finally, as to question of whether these people were resident in London or simply passing through, it is worth noting that the dietary isotope ranges of the two individuals who were tested for this are within the local ranges encountered in other Romano-British cemeteries, suggesting that these people, whatever their childhood origins and ancestry, may well have spent the last decade of their lives in Britain, something that is in itself notable.

Needless to say, the probable presence of people of 'East Asian' ancestry in Roman London is a matter of considerable interest. As to the circumstances of their apparent residency within the western Roman Empire, it needs to be emphasised that these inhabitants of second- to fourth-century AD Londinium are not wholly alone nor without context. Most notably, a recent isotopic and mitochondrial DNA study of burials on the Imperial estate at Vagnari, southern Italy, has indicated that one of the adults buried there in the first or second century AD was likewise a migrant of 'East Asian' ancestry, given that 'all modern mtDNA matches to her available haplotype sequence are from Japan'.(3) Similarly, it should be emphasised that there is a small quantity of written evidence which mentions embassies and travellers between China and the Roman Empire in this era and after; that the Roman appetite for silk is well documented; and that at least some Roman coins have been found in China and Vietnam, along with Roman beads in Japan. In the past, such contacts and trade have been considered to be extremely infrequent and largely indirect, but the evidence from Vagnari and now London suggest that this judgement perhaps ought to be partially revisited and that a greater degree of contact and movement between the eastern and western extremes of Eurasia may now need to be allowed for.

Map of the Roman-era Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, showing maritime trading routes between the Roman Empire and Asia; click for a larger version of the image (image: Wikimedia Commons).

A first- to fourth-century AD Roman glass bead found in a fifth-century AD grave in Japan (image via

A bronze coin of the Roman emperor Constantius II (337–61), found in Karghalik, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China (image: Wikimedia Commons).


1.     R. C. Redfern et al, 'Going south of the river: a multidisciplinary analysis of ancestry, mobility and diet in a population from Roman Southwark, London', Journal of Archaeological Science, 74 (October 2016), 11–22, online at
2. The two burials considered to be those of ‘probable Asians’ are BL3 and BL29; the individual considered to be a ‘possible Asian’ is BL5. For the methodology used, see R. Redfern et al, 'Going south of the river: a multidisciplinary analysis of ancestry, mobility and diet in a population from Roman Southwark, London', Journal of Archaeological Science, 74 (October 2016), 11–22, where it is outlined in detail. It should be noted that a recent online magazine piece by Kristina Killgrove expresses scepticism over the conclusion that there were 'Chinese'/'East Asian' people in Roman London as publicised in press reports on this research, but the critique there is arguably a tad hyper-critical and ought to be in turn treated with a degree of circumspection. So, for example, Kristina Killgrove suggests that 'news outlets would do well to read thoroughly the articles they’re covering and not exaggerate their headlines'; however, the press coverage is, in fact, largely in accord with the main thrust of the published article, which states that it represents 'the first identification of people with African and Asian ancestry in Roman London' and describes two of the people as 'probable Asians' and 'likely to have had… Asian ancestry', a confidence confirmed by the radio interviews given by the team on the 23 September 2016 (see, for example, Rebecca Redfern on The World at One, BBC Radio 4, 23 September 2016, available online at Similarly, Killgrove states first of all that one shortcoming of the study’s methodology is that 'many of the samples… had only two traits to score… [which] can affect classification accuracies'. However, what is not made clear in this magazine piece is that such concerns as this don’t actually apply to the identification of the two 'probable Asians' (BL29 and BL3) under consideration here. Rather, their identification and classification as 'probable Asians' is based on fifteen and seven traits, respectively, not two or fewer, although no mention of this is made in the magazine article (incidentally, it is also worth noting that the authors of the study clearly state that '[w]hen insufficient data are available, ancestry estimations remain "indeterminate"' and mark them as such). Finally, Killgrove’s magazine article criticises the authors for not using DNA evidence and relying instead on forensic anthropology techniques and stable isotope analysis. Whilst DNA work would certainly be interesting to read and would be both valuable and welcome, as Kristina Killgrove says, it has to be asked whether its absence really is as fatal as she suggests and if such an absence really means that the forensic ancestry assessment in the paper ought to be largely dismissed out of hand? In this context, it is worth pointing out that a similar combination of forensic anthropology techniques and stable isotopes—likewise without DNA—was successfully used as part of the recent, well-respected 'A Long Way from Home: Diaspora Communities in Roman Britain' project dealing with multiple Roman-era burials at York (see S. Leach et al, 'Migration and diversity in Roman Britain: a multidisciplinary approach to the identification of immigrants in Roman York, England', American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 140 (2009), 546–61; S. Leach et al, 'A Lady of York: migration, ethnicity and identity in Roman Britain', Antiquity, 84 (2010), 131–45; and the Archaeology Data Service's 2012 project website at, and it has also been used to identify, for example, the medieval ‘Ipswich Man’ and the Roman-era ‘Beachy Head Lady’ as of African descent too. Needless to say, if we are happy with the use of forensic anthropology techniques and stable isotope analysis without DNA in these cases and generally accept their conclusions with regard to ancestry, then there seems little reason why the new study of Roman Londinium deserves to be treated any differently! In sum, therefore, I'd suggest: (a) that the press coverage didn't, so far I can tell, materially misrepresent the research and that the authors of the 2016 Journal of Archaeological Science study are, in fact, clear that they've identified 'probable Asians' in the burial record of Roman London, as demonstrated by the published work and their subsequent interviews; (b) that the two 'probable Asians' in this cemetery were identified on the basis of significantly more than two traits, something that is perhaps less than clear in the online critique; and (c) that similar or related methodologies have been successfully used in the past, most notably by the 'Diaspora Communities in Roman Britain' project relating to Roman York, and there seems little obvious reason to treat this new study of the London evidence any differently than we do those.
3.     T. L. Prowse et al, 'Stable isotope and mitochondrial DNA evidence for geographic origins on a Roman estate at Vagnari (Italy)', in H. Eckardt (ed.), Roman Diasporas: Arachaeological Approaches to Mobility and Diversity in the Roman Empire (Portsmouth RI, 2010), pp. 175–97 at pp. 186, 189, 191, quotation at pp. 189–91; T. L. Prowse, 'Isotopes and mobility in the ancient Roman world', in L. de Ligt & L. E. Tacoma (eds.), Migration and Mobility in the Early Roman Empire (Leiden, 2016), pp. 205–34 at p. 194.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A note on some probable Scandinavian burials in the 'Late Saxon' cemetery at Ketton, Rutland

The following brief note is aimed at drawing further attention to an intriguing Late Saxon cemetery at Ketton, Rutland, mentioned briefly in a previous post. Although the cemetery is in many ways typical of the era, with very few grave-goods and no obvious signs of it being a Scandinavian/Viking immigrant burial site, an isotopic analysis suggests that at least one of the people buried in this cemetery—and potentially several more—very probably spent their early life in Scandinavia.

Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian finds of the late ninth and early tenth centuries set against the likely Middle Saxon landscape of the region (light blue indicates saltmarsh and freshwater marsh/wetlands). Note, this map includes finds of imported Islamic dirhams, denoted by stars, which probably arrived via Scandinavian trade networks, and an indication of the number of finds is provided by the relative size of each symbol. Image: C. R. Green; finds after K. Leahy and J. Kershaw, with additions from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds.

In general, remarkably few burials of immigrant Scandinavians/Vikings are known from England, despite the fact that documentary, linguistic and archaeological evidence all appears to point to a degree of significant Scandinavian immigration into eastern England during the mid–late ninth century and after. As such, the early medieval cemetery at Ketton would seem to be of some potential wider interest if it does indeed include first-generation immigrants from Scandinavia, especially as it it is located in an area with, as yet, little material evidence for the presence of such Scandinavian migrants.

With regard to site itself, 72 'Late Saxon' inhumation graves arranged in rows were excavated from Ketton, Rutland, in the late 1990s, with this cemetery having been subsequently radiocarbon dated to between the late ninth and the mid-eleventh centuries. These burials were located around the root hole of a large tree (possibly an ancient yew) and a simple rectangular timber church, with at least four other timber buildings/halls situated to the north and south of the cemetery that were associated with tenth- to eleventh-century pottery. Teeth from 22 of these 'Late Saxon' burials were subject to post-excavation isotopic analysis, with the results being reported in Sarah Tatham's 2004 PhD thesis and a 2012 survey of all British oxygen and strontium isotope results. Whilst the initial report from 2004 implied that the results of all of these burials fell within the expected local oxygen and strontium isotope ranges for Rutland, more recent work makes it clear that this is almost certainly not the case. Instead, five of the burials (c. 23% of the total examined) have oxygen isotope results significantly below the expected range for not only Rutland but also Britain as a whole—discussed in more detail in a previous post—and one of these burials moreover returned a value of 15.5‰ δ¹⁸Op, well below any credible British range for tooth enamel phosphate oxygen isotope values.

The five results in question are presented below with the tooth enamel δ¹⁸Op values converted to drinking-water values using both the 2010 revised Levinson equation (Drinking-water value A) and the 2008 Daux et al equation (Drinking-water value B); note, the expected drinking-water oxygen isotope value for the Ketton area is around -7.8‰.

Era Site & burial ID  Oxygen isotope value Drinking-water value A Drinking-water value B Strontium value
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 06515.5-11.5-10.40.710489
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 98 5416.1-10.2-9.40.709835
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 98 916.1-10.2-9.40.709349
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 04716.2-10.0-9.20.709372
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 98 4016.2-10.0-9.20.709564

Plan of the 'Late Saxon' settlement and graveyard at Ketton, Rutland (image: Medieval Settlement Research Group, used in accordance with the ADS/Archaeology Data Service's Terms of Use). 

With regard to these five results, several points can be made. First, it is worth emphasising that there are few environmental, biological, or cultural processes that that can result in human tooth oxygen isotope values that are lower than would be expected on the basis of the consumed drinking-water, as has been recently emphasised by a study of Viking-era burials in Britain and Ireland, and values similar to the five highlighted here are considered 'likely to indicate origins in a colder or more northerly climate' than Britain or Ireland (Montgomery et al, 2014, pp. 62–3), rather than, say, an unusual cultural practice relating to food preparation or natural biological variation. Furthermore, the exceptionally depleted δ¹⁸Op value of 15.5‰ produced by one individual at Ketton (KCC 065) is more than 3 standard deviations below the British mean, meaning that there is a less than a 0.5% probability that this individual originates in either Britain or Ireland. Consequently, his result, at least, must be considered almost certainly indicative of a childhood spent somewhere like Norway, Sweden or Iceland, where drinking-water with values similar to those he consumed in early life—potentially as low as -11.5‰ δ¹⁸Odw—are encountered.

Second, whilst the place-name Ketton is of Old English origin, it is worth noting that there is a potentially very suggestive place-name found only two miles to the west of the Ketton cemetery, namely Normanton, a name that means 'the farm or estate of the Norwegians'. Such a name is, of course, arguably highly suggestive given the isotope results reported above, especially that of KCC 065.

Third and finally, the presence of at least one individual of Scandinavian origin—and perhaps as many as five—in a 'normal' Late Saxon cemetery is generally worthy of wider note, especially as the people buried here otherwise look simply like rural workers on a manorial estate of the late ninth- to eleventh-centuries. In this context, it can be observed that the Ketton burials are not totally alone in this regard, as a similar situation has very recently been recognised at Masham, Yorkshire, too, and it might be consequently suggested that these two sites ought to be taken together when considering the degree of Scandinavian immigration to the Danelaw and the nature of Anglo-Scandinavian interaction within this region, something that continues to be a topic of interest.

The geographic distribution of areas with rainwater/drinking water oxygen isotope values below ‑10.0‰, shown in dark grey, and below -12.0‰, shown in black; note, drinking water in the UK has δ¹⁸O values ranges from around -9.0‰ to -4.5‰. Image: C. R. Green; see further the caption to figure 1 in this previous post.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Romano-British pottery in the fifth- to sixth-century Lincoln region

The question of whether Romano-British pottery continued to be produced into the fifth century AD continues to be a topic of some considerable interest, as most recently demonstrated by the fact that the latest issue (volume 41, 2016) of the journal Internet Archaeology is entirely devoted to this question. In this light, I thought that I'd offer some draft notes on the potential situation in the Lincoln region, based primarily on the brief discussions of the evidence found in my Britons and Anglo-Saxons and an earlier article, with additions and expansion as required.(1)

Reconstruction of the fifth- to sixth-century apsidal church at St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, located in the centre of the Roman forum and entered from the western portico (image: extract from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), fig. 13, by David Vale/SLHA).

Needless to say, the Lincoln region is arguably as good a place as any to look for continued circulation and production of Romano-British pottery into the fifth century AD. Lincoln was, after all, a Late Roman provincial capital—*Lindocolōnia or Lindum Colonia—and appears to have remained prosperous and remarkably vital right into the very late fourth century, with evidence for continued urban activity into the early fifth century too. Similarly, the probable villa-palace of the provincial governor, located around a mile to the east of the city, was occupied right up until the end of the coin sequence in the early fifth century and maintained to a high standard.(2) Perhaps even more significantly, a detailed examination of the available archaeological, linguistic, literary and historical evidence indicates that Lincoln continued to see a degree of activity and be of both local and regional importance even after the early fifth century. Not only does it seem to have lain at the heart of a significant British post-Roman territory named *Lindēs (from British-Latin Lindenses), which probably survived into the sixth century and clearly had some sort of intimate connection with the early seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi (Lindsey), but a reconsideration and Bayesian analysis of the radiocarbon data and other evidence from St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, indicates that the famous apsidal church excavated there was indeed a British church of the fifth–sixth centuries that was located in the centre of the Roman forum and able to hold up to 100 worshippers, not a later Anglo-Saxon construction as has sometimes been suggested.(3)

Turning to the actual evidence for the continued use and production of Romano-British pottery in the fifth-century Lincoln region, the most obvious place to start is with the Romano-British pottery retrieved from the city itself. As Mark Whyman and others have noted, pottery is generally dated through its association with coins and, as such, the fact that very few fifth-century coins appear to have found their way to Britain may well have caused archaeologists to mistakenly assign a c. AD 400 end-date to Romano-British pottery fabrics and forms when these actually continued in production and/or use for some time after this.(4) An awareness of this possibility has, in recent years, increasingly led to the identification of very Late Roman pottery wares that show some signs of having continued in production after c. AD 400, via finds in 'post-Roman' contexts and in association with fifth-century and later items such as brooches, with notable examples here being Black Burnished ware in Dorset and Somerset, calcite-gritted wares in Yorkshire and the north, and Much Hadham and Verulamium wares in Hertfordshire.(5) In this light, Lincoln's Local Coarse Pebbly ware (LCOA) may also be of some potential interest. With over 1,800 sherds recorded, this relatively popular local wheel-thrown ware—the forms of which show a marked similarity to items produced by the Late Roman Swanpool kilns just to the south of Lincoln—seems to have its origins in the mid- to late fourth century and is most commonly found in both assemblages of the last decades of that century and in 'post-Roman' contexts. Indeed, over 50% of all LCOA sherds come from 'post-Roman' contexts, particularly those at Flaxengate, an area of Lincoln that is thought to have seen continued urban activity into the early fifth century. In consequence, this ware would seem to be a credible candidate for a Lincoln-region analogue to the Late Roman pottery industries recently identified in other parts of Britain as arguably continuing into the largely coin-less fifth century, something perhaps reinforced by the fact that some of the same 'post-Roman' contexts it appears in have produced small quantities of Anglo-Saxon pottery of broadly fifth- to eighth-century date too.(6)

Roman-type wheel-thrown pots used for cremations at the Cleatham Anglo-Saxon cemetery; these are considered to represent products of the mid- to late fifth-century 'post-Roman' British pottery industry by Maggie Darling and Kevin Leahy (image: fig. 23 from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), drawn by Kevin Leahy and used by kind permission).

If Local Coarse Pebbly ware is at the very least most suggestive, it does not stand alone as the only evidence for a degree of continued Romano-British pottery production and/or use in the fifth-century Lincoln region. Of particular interest in this context are a number of individual pots that are thought to be potentially of Romano-British manufacture but which are either found in early Anglo-Saxon contexts and/or show signs of early Anglo-Saxon influence in their form or design. Perhaps the most convincing candidates here are four pots excavated in the 1980s from the exceptionally large fifth- to sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery at Cleatham, Lincolnshire, located around 30 km to the north of Lincoln. These cremation urns were all made using Romano-British wheel-throwing techniques but, as both Maggie Darling and Kevin Leahy have observed, they cannot be seen as re-used Roman-era pots due to their body-shapes and fabrics, and are instead considered to represent products of the mid- to late fifth-century 'post-Roman' British pottery industry, given their phasing in the cemetery.(7) Interestingly, another urn of the same type and manufacture was found in the fifth- to sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery at Millgate, Newark, 25 km to the south-west of Lincoln, and further fragments have been found in the south of the county at the Roman 'small town' of Great Casterton—in a destruction layer coin-dated to some point after AD 375—and close to the Roman 'small town' of Littleborough (Segelocum), on the Trent north-west of Lincoln, with the first of these Roman sites possessing a well-known Late Roman to early Anglo-Saxon cemetery that is considered to offer 'a convincing case of Roman–Saxon burial continuity' and the second appearing to have still been a key site in the Lincoln region into the early seventh century.(8) Needless to say, the above evidence would thus seem to indicate that the local Late Roman pottery industry not only continued to function into at least the mid-fifth century in this area, given the nature and contexts of these wheel-thrown vessels, but that its products also circulated relatively widely in the region around the former provincial capital at that time, being found to both the north and the south of Lincoln.

Other material that may well also be indicative of a degree of continued Romano-British pottery production into the fifth century and potentially beyond includes a wheel-thrown bottle sherd from Hibaldstow, the site of a Romano-British 'small town' that has evidence for activity into at least the late fourth/early fifth century and is located just a little to the north-east of the Cleatham cemetery. This item was found in a ditch along with Romano-British greyware and some ‘normal’ early-mid Saxon sherds, and, intriguingly, is in an attested local very late fourth-century Romano-British fabric despite having the form of a 'Germanic' sixth-century or later bottle.(9) Similarly worthy of note is a sixth-century 'Anglo-Saxon' domestic pot that is believed to show signs of Romano-British manufacture in terms of both its fabric and technique and was found in the former provincial governor's villa-palace at Lincoln, an intriguing findspot given that the villa-palace was not only maintained to a very high standard right into the early fifth century on the basis of the coin record, but its estate also apparently survived largely intact right through into the medieval period.(10) Potentially most interesting of all, however, is a final sixth-century Anglo-Saxon vessel that was recovered from the flue ashes of one of the Late Roman Swanpool kilns at Rookery Lane, Lincoln. This highly unusual findspot is, of course, most suggestive, and Ken Dark has argued that the pot both dates and represent the last firing of this 'Late Roman' kiln, which is a point of considerable interest in the present context.(11) Moreover, it is noteworthy in this light that the pot itself actually features a distinctive rosette stamp motif that also occurs on some Late Roman pottery from Flaxengate, Lincoln, a fact that has been considered to be potential evidence in its own right for some sort of continuity in pottery production in the Lincoln region!(12)

Sherd from a greyware vessel of the same type as the Roman-type pots recovered from Cleatham; dated to the mid-fifth century by Kevin Leahy and found near to Littleborough on the Trent (image: PAS).

The distribution of early 'Anglian' cremation-predominant cemeteries, represented by filled squares, plotted against 'Saxon' artefacts of the second half of the fifth century, represented by stars, and the Late Roman provincial boundaries as reconstructed by J. C. Mann in Britannia, 1998 (image: fig. 21a from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012)).

All told, then, we would appear to have a potentially interesting situation in the 'post-Roman' Lincoln region. Taken together, the contexts and nature of the finds of Local Coarse Pebbly ware and Cleatham-style wheel-thrown vessels from Lincoln and its surrounding region would seem to offer a credible case for the likely continuance of the Romano-British pottery industry here at least partway into the fifth century and potentially some considerable distance into it too, given the phased dating of the Cleatham vessels to the mid–late fifth century. Furthermore, the finds from Hibaldstow, the Lincoln villa-palace, and the Rookery Lane/Swanpool kiln all hint at the possibility that this could even have continued as late as the early sixth century. Of course, as was noted above, we should perhaps not be terribly surprised by this: not only is fifth-century continuity in the Romano-British pottery industry suspected from other parts of Britain too, but there is also good evidence for a significant degree of 'post-Roman' British activity in Lincoln and the wider Lincoln region during the fifth and sixth centuries, including the construction of a large fifth- to sixth-century church in the centre of the Roman forum. Indeed, it has been argued that Lincoln may well have retained control of its whole province at least partway through the fifth century and that at least some of the known villas and major residences within its province likewise saw a degree of continued activity and maintenance into the fifth century.(13) Finally, it is worth observing that the locally-produced vessels discussed here were not the only Roman-style pottery apparently present in 'post-Roman' Lincolnshire, as very small quantities of imported post-Roman wares have also been identified from Lincoln, including a body sherd from a potentially fifth- or sixth-century Biv eastern Mediterranean amphora found in a post-Roman deposit at Flaxengate; a rim sherd from a fifth-century Keay's form LII central/eastern Mediterranean amphora found in Saltergate; and a possible sixth-century Gaulish 'D ware' bowl found in or near Lincoln in the nineteenth century.(14)


1     Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400–650 (Lincoln, 2012), pp. 111–12, and Green, 'The British kingdom of Lindsey', Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 56 (2008), 1–43 at pp. 23–4.
2     See Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, pp. 25–7, fig. 2, and the references cited therein; M. J. Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’ in D. Stocker (ed.), The City by the Pool: Assessing the Archaeology of the City of Lincoln (Oxford, 2003), pp. 56–138, at pp. 97–8, 124–38.
3     Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, especially chapters 2–4, fully develops the case for a British territory based at Lincoln and named *Lindēs that was taken over to become the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi; see also Green, 'British kingdom of Lindsey', passim. The apsidal church at St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, and its dating is discussed at length in Britons and Anglo-Saxons, pp. 65–9, 82–3, which partially supersedes the discussion in 'British kingdom of Lindsey', pp. 18–22.
4     See, for example, M. Whyman, ‘Invisible people? Material culture in ‘Dark Age’ Yorkshire’, in M. Carver (ed.), In Search of Cult (Woodbridge, 1992), pp. 61–8; K. R. Dark, ‘Pottery and local production at the end of Roman Britain’, in K. R. Dark (ed.), External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman and Post-Roman Britain (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 53–65 at p. 59; P. Rahtz, ‘Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire: current research problems’, in H. Geake & J. Kenny (eds.), Early Deira: Archaeological Studies of the East Riding in the Fourth to Ninth Centuries AD (Oxford, 2000), p. 1; J. Gerrard, 'How late is late? Pottery and the fifth century in southwest Britain', in R. Collins & J. Gerrard (eds.), Debating Late Antiquity in Britain AD 300–700 (Oxford, 2004), pp. 65–75 at p. 66; H. Cool, Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 222–38; J. Gerrard, 'Finding the fifth century: a late fourth- and early fifth-century pottery fabric from south-east Dorset', Britannia 41 (2010), 293–312; K. J. Fitzpatrick-Matthews, 'Defining fifth-century ceramics in north Hertfordshire', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at
5     For the wares mentioned, see Gerrard, 'Pottery and the fifth century in southwest Britain' and J. Gerrard, 'The Black Burnished type 18 bowl and the fifth century', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at; M. Whyman, Late Roman Britain in Transition, A.D. 300–500: A Ceramic Perspective from East Yorkshire (University of York PhD Thesis, 2001); and Fitzpatrick-Matthews, 'Defining fifth-century ceramics in north Hertfordshire'.
6     See M. Darling and B. Precious, A Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln (Oxford, 2014), pp. vi, 109, 114, who support the possibility of this local ware continuing in production into the fifth century. With regard to urban activity into the early fifth century at Flaxengate, see for example Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’, p. 133; Darling and Precious, Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln, p. 215.
7     K. Leahy, The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey (Stroud, 2007), pp. 52–3, 86; K. Leahy, ‘Interrupting the Pots’: The Excavation of Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery (York, 2007), pp. 122, 126–7.
8     Leahy, ‘Interrupting the Pots’: The Excavation of Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, pp. 125, 126–7; Leahy, Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey, pp. 52–3; K. Leahy, 'Vessel', Portable Antiquities Scheme FAKL-895042, 5 September 2013, online at For the quote on Great Casterton and Roman–Saxon burial continuity, see S. Lucy, The Anglo-Saxon Way of Death (Stroud, 2000), p. 150; on Littleborough/Segelocum in the time of Edwin of Deira, see B. Yorke, ‘Lindsey: the lost kingdom found?’, in A. Vince (ed.), Pre-Viking Lindsey (Lincoln, 1993), pp. 141–50 at pp. 141–2.
9     C. F. Lingard and L. Bonner, Blyborough-Brigg 300mm Gas Pipeline, 1993, Archaeological Report (1994), pp. 21–6, 79, fig. 7.
10     J. N. L. Myres, ‘Lincoln in the fifth century A.D.’, The Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 85–88 at pp. 87–88; C. R. Green, 'An early Anglo-Saxon pot from the Greetwell villa-palace', blog post, 8 April 2015, online at; D. Stocker et al, 'The Greetwell villa', LARA RAZ 7.23, Heritage Connect Lincoln, online at; D. Stocker & P. Everson, 'The straight and narrow way: Fenland causeways and the conversion of the landscape in the Witham valley, Lincolnshire', in M. O. H. Carver (ed.), The Cross Goes North: Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, A.D. 300–1300 (Woodbridge, 2002), pp. 271–88 at p. 279.
11     K. R. Dark, ‘Pottery and local production at the end of Roman Britain’, in K. R. Dark (ed.), External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman and Post-Roman Britain, edited by K. R. Dark (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 53–65 at pp. 58–9; see also Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’, p. 138. It should be noted that whilst Dark's argument has been approached with some caution in the past due to an apparent lack of other evidence for the continuence of the Romano-British pottery industry beyond c. AD 400 in the Lincoln region, this is clearly no longer a credible objection in light of the other evidence noted above. See also Green, 'British kingdom of Lindsey', pp. 23 and fn. 97, for another Romano-British kiln in the Lincoln region, at Lea near Gainsborough, which has some curious magnetic dating results that appear to indicate that its last firing could have taken place in the mid–late fifth century—Dr D. Tarling and Mrs N. H. Yassi's note that ‘[i]f the kiln was not last fired at this time, then the reason for the observed deviation is not known and urgently requires further study’: N. Field, ‘Romano-British pottery kilns in the Trent Valley’, Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, 19 (1984), 100–02 at pp. 101–02.
12     D. C. Briscoe, 'Two important stamp motifs in Roman Britain and thereafter', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at
13     See Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), pp. 93–5, 113, 152 and fig. 21a on possible provincial continuity. On major Late Roman residences in the region that may have seen continued maintenance and use into the fifth century, see, for example, the Roman palace at Castor, located 10 miles to the south-east of Great Casterton—the walls here still stood up to 11 feet high in the nineteenth century and it has been suggested that both they and the roof of this structure were maintained and remained sound at least partway into the 'post-Roman' era. Likewise, the Late Roman villa at Denton, near Grantham, had at least one additional phase of building work after the very late fourth century and appears to have still had a sound roof as late as the early sixth century, which is clearly intriguing. Finally, the previously mentioned sixth-century domestic vessel found in the villa-palace at Lincoln has been considered indicative of continued occupation there into the sixth century, and the recovery of an exceptionally high status British silver proto-hand-pin of potentially fifth-century date from the villa at Welton le Wold, near Louth, is clearly similarly suggestive. See further on these examples S. G. Upex, 'The Praetorium of Edmund Artis: a summary of excavations and surveys of the palatial Roman structure at Castor, Cambridgeshire 1828–2010', Britannia, 42 (2011), 23–112 at pp. 97–8; J. T. Smith, 'The Roman villa at Denton', Lincolnshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Reports and Papers, 10.2 (1964), 75–104 and C. R, Green, 'Roman mosaics from the Greetwell villa-palace and other sites in Lincolnshire', blog post, 11 February 2015, online at; J. N. L. Myres, ‘Lincoln in the fifth century A.D.’, The Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 85–88 at pp. 87–88, and J. N. L. Myres, The English Settlements (Oxford, 1986), p. 182; and S. M. Youngs, 'Welton le Wold, Lincolnshire', in DCMS, Treasure Annual Report 2001, pp. 43–4, and C. R. Green, 'Villas and ranches on the late Roman Lincolnshire Wolds: the Welton le Wold villa and its landscape context', blog post, 5 December 2014, online at
14     M. Darling and B. Precious, A Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln (Oxford, 2014), pp. 228, 241; L. A. Gilmour, Early Medieval Pottery from Flaxengate, Lincoln (London, 1988), p. 167; C. Thomas, 'Imported pottery in Dark-Age western Britain', Medieval Archaeology, 3 (1959), 89–111 at p. 95.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Camels in early medieval western Europe: beasts of burden & tools of ritual humiliation

The aim of the following post is simply to collect together some of the references to camels in early medieval Europe, where they seem to have been used as both beasts of burden and a means of humiliating one's enemies, the latter perhaps being inspired by Late Roman/Byzantine practice.

A line of dancing camels, aka an illustration for Genesis 24, from the eleventh-century Old English Hexateuch, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 39r (image: British Library).

There is now a fairly substantial body of archaeological evidence showing that both dromedaries and Bactrian camels were present in modern Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and the Balkans between the first and the fifth centuries AD. Roman-era camel bones—all from adult animals—have been recovered from military settlements, villas, civilian urban sites and amphitheatres, and it is generally thought that these animals were being primarily used as pack animals/beasts of burden, with finds of Bactrian camels perhaps being related to civilian traders and caravans arriving from Central Asia whilst dromedaries from North Africa and Arabia are thought to have been used for both Roman military and civilian traffic. In addition, it is possible that a few of the finds of camel bones may reflect curiosities in the collections of rich landowners, and amphitheatre finds have been sometimes considered suggestive of the use of camels in public shows, although this latter notion is open to question: certainly, an investigation into the camel skeleton from the amphitheatre at Viminacium, Serbia, shows that this dates from after the amphitheatre had ceased to be used in that way.

Turning to the early medieval period (from the late fifth century onwards), the evidence suggests that camels continued to play a role as pack animals in western Europe even after the political dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, with the camels so used being potentially bred in North Africa before being exported to Europe. So, for example, Ennodius, a Milanese deacon, provided camels to Pope Symmachus for his trip to Ravenna to see Theoderic the Great in around AD 499. Similarly, Gregory of Tours noted the use of camels as pack animals in southern Gaul in the 580s in his History of the FranksVII.35:
By now King Guntram's leaders had learnt that Gundovald was ensconced on the opposite bank of the Garonne, with a huge force of enemy troops and having in his possession the entire treasure of Rigunth, which he had stolen. They advanced until they reached he Garonne and then swam across with their horses, some of the soldiers being drowned in the process. The remainder reached the opposite bank. In their search for Gundovald they came upon camels and horses, still carrying huge loads of gold and silver, which his men had abandoned along the roads because the animals were exhausted...
Pack-camels and riding camels in the late sixth- or early seventh-century Tours Pentateuch, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS nouv. acq. lat. 2334 f. 69 (image: BnF Gallica).

This use of pack-camels in Gaul apparently continued into at least the seventh-century. Dado's contemporary Vita S. Eligii, II.13, recounts the following of St Eligius, who died in 660:
Eligius prepared to pack all his things and leave for his own country from the house of Aspasius of the Iuvini family, a most illustrious Christian man. Last of all, he met with Bishop Aurelian of Uzes, who told him that amidst the bustling of the servants of both their houses one of his servants had suddenly lost a basket which he always kept with him to lead the pack-camel so that in the confusion he could keep him to the road.
Needless to say, St Eligius with miraculous knowledge identified the thief and was able to shame him into returning the necessary basket. Another reference to an early medieval pack-camel occurs in the Gesta Pontificum Anglorum of William of Malmesbury, who records a credible tale of St Aldhelm—the late seventh- and early eighth-century Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne—visiting Rome, before describing his homeward journey using a camel as a beast of burden:
Aldhelm set out energetically on his journey home... carrying with him many different pieces of valuable foreign merchandise, intending to bring to England a quantity of splendid novelties. Among these was an altar of gleaming marble, white in colour, six feet thick, four feet long and three hands wide, with a lip jutting out from the stone and beautifully decorated all around. A camel, so it is said (for what animal of our country could shoulder such a burden?) carried it safely all the way to the Alps. But there the camel (or whatever animal it was, for it does not matter which particular beast carried it) collapsed, injured by the excessive weight or undone by the steep slopes of the track. The fall crushed the animal and broke the marble into two parts.
A baby camel/brontosaurus tied to a tree, from Marvels of the East in the Beowulf-manuscript, which dates from c. AD 1000, British Library Cotton MS Vitellius A XV f.101r (image: British Library).

Other evidence for the presence of camels in early medieval western Europe includes a camel bone from Lyon dated to the eighth or ninth century and references to their use for transport in Iberia after the Muslim conquest. Perhaps the most interesting evidence comes not from their use as pack animals, however, but rather as a means to humiliate one's enemies. The most famous example here is that of Brunhilda (d. 613), who ruled the eastern Frankish kingdoms of Austrasia and Burgundy for three periods as regent for her son, grandson and great-grandson, until she was finally overthrown and killed by Chlothar II. The eighth-century Liber Historiae Francorum, 96, describes her shockingly brutal death as follows:
Then the army of the Franks and Burgundians joined into one, all shouted together that death would be most fitting for the very wicked Brunhilda. Then King Clotaire ordered that she be lifted on to a camel and led through the entire army. Then she was tied to the feet of wild horses and torn apart limb from limb. Finally she died. Her final grave was the fire. Her bones were burnt.
The contemporary Visigothic king in Hispania and Septimania, Sisebut, who died in 621, gives further details of both her death and the use of camels in his Life of St Desiderius21:
Concerning her end, it will not irk me to relate what I have learnt from common opinion. There is a hunched beast with a huge body and naturally possessed of certain humps (the top of its back is thick and broad, higher than the rest of its frame, and very well fitted for carrying loads) and is more useful for carrying loads than any other animal. She was stripped of her clothes and raised up onto this proud central place and paraded in humiliation before the gaze of her enemies. For a short while she offered this sorry spectacle to her onlookers, then, bound to some unbroken horses, she was dragged over some pathless rocky terrain. Thus her body, already broken by old age, was plucked apart by these spirited horses and her limbs, bloody and nameless, scattered abroad.
Brunhilda was not the only person in the early medieval west to be exposed to mockery on the back of a camel in this fashion, however. Another example comes from Julian of Toldeo's late seventh-century Historia Wambae Regis30, in which he describes the Visigothic King Wamba's triumph over the rebellious Duke Paul in AD 673 and a similar subsequent humiliation of the rebels via the use of camels:
At about the fourth milestone from the royal city, Paul, the chief of the rebellion and other leaders of his conspiracy, with shorn heads, shaved beards, bare feet, and dressed in filthy garments of tunics, are placed on camels. The king of perdition himself went at the head of the pageant, worthy of all the shame of defeat and crowned with pitch on his flayed scalp. A procession of his ministers advancing in a long line followed the king, all of them sitting on the same sort of conveyances as he and driven forward by the same mockeries, with the people standing on either side as they entered the city. Nor should we believe that this befell them without the consent of the just judgment of God, so that their sitting on these mounts raise above all others should mark the lofty summit of their dishonor and so that those who had aimed at sublime heights beyond human nature through the deviousness of their minds should now expiate the treason of their elevation set high above the rest.
Dromedaries as depicted in the sixth-century Vienna Genesis in an illustration of the story of Rebecca, Genesis 24 (image: Wikimedia Commons).

The concept of humiliating one's enemies by making them ride upon the hump of a camel continued to carry weight in western Europe for some considerable period of time. Notker's ninth-century Life of Charlemagne, 31, for example, included a story of a cleric who fell asleep whilst waiting for Charlemagne to go to mass and dreamt of a giant, 'taller than the adversary of Saint Anthony', who was going to lead the royal steward Liutfrid to hell on top of a camel for embezzling the king's wealth! Moreover, as late as 1121 the antipope Gregory VIII was paraded by Pope Callistus II through the streets of Rome riding backwards on a camel and exposed to 'the crudest mockery'. As to the origins of this punishment, it seems to have its roots in Late Roman/Byzantine practice, perhaps parodying the consular investiture ceremony. One of the earliest apparent references from Late Antiquity comes via Socrates Scholasticus—in his fifth-century Historia Ecclesiastica, 3.2—and other sources, who describe George of Cappadocia as having been 'fastened to a camel' in c. 362 and led through Alexandria before being torn to pieces and burnt by the pagans there, and it has been suggested that this eastern Roman humiliation was passed to the west via Justinian's use of the camel in this way against the treasonous Armenian Arsaces at Constantinople, as described by Procopius in the mid-sixth century in his History of the WarsVII.32.3:
There was also a certain Arsaces in Byzantium, an Armenian by birth and one of the Arsacidae, related to Artabanes by blood. This man had been detected not long before this in an attempt to harm the state, and he had been clearly convicted of treason, since he was negotiating with Chosroes, the Persian king, to stir up trouble for the Romans. But the emperor did him no further harm than to beat his back with not many blows and parade him through the city mounted on a camel...
Whatever the case may be on the latter, the practice continued to be used against state enemies in the Byzantine world as well as western Europe into the twelfth century, the last recorded instance being when it was used against the deposed emperor Andronicus I Comnenus in AD 1185, as the contemporary Robert of Clari relates:
But there was there a certain wise man, who said, “Sirs, if ye would trust me, I would show you how we might avenge ourselves right well of him. I have at home a camel, which is the foulest beast and the most bedunged and ugliest in the world. Now we will take Andronicus, and we will strip him stark naked, and we will bind him to the camel’s back in such fashion that his face shall be against its rump, and we will lead him from one end of the city even unto the other. Thus will all they, both men and women, whom he hath wronged, be able to avenge themselves right well.” And all agreed to that which that man had told them. And they took Andronicus and bound him even as the man had devised. And as they were leading him adown the city, then came those that he had wronged; and they stabbed him and pricked him, some with knives, and others with daggers, and yet others with swords. And they cried, “Twas thou didst hang my father! ‘Twas thou didst ravish my wife!”

A twelfth-century Spanish fresco of a camel from the hermitage of San Baudelio de Berlanga, halfway between Madrid and Saragossa (image: The Met).

A twelfth-century mosaic of camels, illustrating the story of Rebecca from Genesis, from the Palatine Chapel, Palermo (image: Andrew & Suzanne, Flickr CC BY-NC).

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.