Wednesday 8 April 2015

An early Anglo-Saxon pot from the Greetwell villa-palace

A previous entry on this blog included a discussion of the villa-palace at Greetwell Fields, located just to the east of Lincoln, thought to have potentially been the residence of the Late Roman provincial governor of Britannia Secunda. As was mentioned in that entry, it has been suggested that the villa-palace's estate may actually have been preserved intact throughout the whole of the Anglo-Saxon period, and it is in this light that the following interesting note from the 1940s is reproduced below.

The early Anglo-Saxon pot from the Greetwell villa-palace (image: C. R. Green)

The note in question was published in 1946 by the doyen of Anglo-Saxon pottery studies, J. N. L. Myres, and takes the form of a discussion of an early Anglo-Saxon pot found at the Greetwell villa-palace. Having made it clear that he considers that the pot is not a cremation urn (contrary to the suggestion of some recent authors who have made passing reference to it), Myres goes on to discuss the item in the following manner:
It is a little hand-made jar in a rough hard grey ware, with a wide flaring lip, a sharply biconical profile with a marked carination, and a well-defined flat base (fig. I, 3). The biconical form and the lip are distinctly Anglo-Saxon, but both the fabric and the base are much better formed than is normal with Anglo-Saxon vessels of this type. It gives the impression of having been made by someone familiar with Romano-British wheel-turned wares.
     Now this pot, which is in the Lincoln Museum, was found in the Roman villa at Greetwell, two miles east of Lincoln along the Roman road from the Eastgate. There is no doubt of its association with the villa, for there is a drawing of it in the Lincoln Museum in a manuscript volume of sketches of the villa and its contents prepared by the architect in charge when the building was excavated. It thus belongs to a category excessively rare in this country, that of objects of Anglo-Saxon character found in Roman villas.
     This is not the place to speculate on the significance of such an association two miles from Roman Lincoln. It is, however, a reasonable guess from the hybrid character of the pot that its presence in the villa is not wholly fortuitous. It does not look like a casual dropping of a passing raider, or even the trace of a sixth-century Anglian picnic. It suggests rather that somebody was still living in the Greetwell villa who had a use for strongly fashioned, almost stylish, hand-made pottery at a time when it was usual to make pots of Anglo-Saxon design. In the second quarter of the seventh century, Paulinus converted to Christianity at Lincoln an Anglian noble whom Bede (Hist. Eccles. ii. 16) calls the Praefectus civitatis. Had he a predecessor, Angle or British, in the second half of the fifth century?
     (J. N. L. Myres, 'Lincoln in the Fifth Century A.D.', The Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 85–8 at pp. 87–8)
The above discussion contains much of potential interest, of course, not least the suggested 'hybrid character' of the pot and the points made with regard to the pot as a possible indicator of post-Roman domestic activity at the villa site. The latter topic was, in fact, returned to by Myres in the 1980s, when in the context of a discussion of the 'unusual degree of Romano-British survival' in and around Lincoln he reinforced his earlier position, stating that 'the presence of a very early Anglo-Saxon pot in the Roman villa at Greetwell, east of Lincoln... is suggestive, in this connection, of possible continuity of occupation there' (J. N. L. Myres, The English Settlements (Oxford, 1986), p. 182). Needless to say, given recent interpretations of both the Greetwell villa-palace and the situation in the post-Roman Lincoln region, Myres' observations on the Greetwell pot and its implications are intriguing and worth at least noting, hence the present post.

Finally, before leaving the Greetwell villa-palace in the post-Roman period, one other supposed Anglo-Saxon find from this site needs mentioning. This is the 'Saxon spear' that is sometimes claimed to have also come from here, as on Historic England's Pastscape database and in T. Bell, The Religious Reuse of Roman Structures in Early Medieval England, BAR British Series 390 (Oxford, 2005), pp. 47, 171. With regard to this item, it is perhaps worth emphasising that it is illusory and such claims are based on an outline report of a find from 1952. Consultation of the full record in the Lincolnshire HER (PRN 52828) and B. Eagles, The Anglo-Saxon Settlement of Humberside, BAR British Series 68 (Oxford, 1979), vol. 2, p. 378, indicates that a spearhead was indeed found then, but that it is Late Saxon in date, not early Anglo-Saxon, and that it was furthermore discovered a mile to the east of the villa site.

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