Monday 28 December 2020

Another eleventh-century medieval Chinese coin found in England

A previous post discussed a find of a Northern Song dynasty Chinese coin from England whose context suggested that it may have been a genuine ancient loss from the medieval period, along with a variety of textual and archaeological evidence for contact between England and East Asia in the Middle Ages. The following post returns briefly to this question, noting the recent discovery of a second Northern Song dynasty coin from England. 

A copper-alloy Chinese coin of the Northern Song emperor Zhenzong, dated 1008–16, found near Petersfield, Hampshire (image: PAS).

The coin in question was issued between 1008 and 1016 during the reign of Emperor Zhenzong of the Northern Song dynasty and was found at Buriton, Hampshire, around 9 miles from the coast. As was the case with the other eleventh-century Chinese coin discussed here previously, the coin doesn't seem to be part of a 'suspicious' grouping of finds or deposited curated collection, and the field that it was recovered from has also produced a handful of medieval- and immediately post-medieval finds. These include a coin of King John minted at London in 1205–7, a medieval cut farthing of perhaps 1180–1247, two fragments of one or more medieval or early post-medieval vessels, and two mid-sixteenth-century coins. As such, it seems credible that this coin too could have been a medieval-era loss, and in this context it is worth noting that such Northern Song coins might quite credibly have arrived at any point up to perhaps the late fourteenth century, given that they continued to circulate in significant numbers well into that era. 

Looking more generally, the fact that we now have two, rather than one, eleventh-century Northern Song dynasty coins from England, both recovered from what seem to be medieval to early modern sites, adds weight to the case for considering them genuinely ancient losses. Interestingly, this find was also made only around 20 miles away from the only confirmed medieval imported Chinese pottery from England, a sherd of blue-and-white porcelain from a small cup or bowl that was found in a late fourteenth-century context at Lower Brook Street, Winchester. As to the wider context for these coins, the evidence for the presence of people who had, or who may have, travelled from East Asia in England during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was surveyed in the previous post, as was the evidence for people from Britain and Ireland in East Asia then. However, it is worth additionally drawing attention here to the 'global' distribution of medieval Chinese pottery and coins west of India, as mapped below, which demonstrates that finds of Chinese pottery and, to a lesser extent, coins outside of East Asia are by no means unknown.

With regard to the medieval Chinese pottery finds mapped below, substantial quantities have now been recognised from around the Indian Ocean coast and in both the Persian Gulf and Red Sea areas into northern Egypt. Archaeological finds of Chinese porcelain from Europe are much rarer, although definite examples are known from Winchester, Lucera (Italy) and Budapest (Hungary), along with a handful of surviving intact items that are believed to have entered Europe in the medieval era. The most famous of these are the so-called 'Marco Polo jar', a thirteenth- or fourteenth-century Chinese Qingbai porcelain jar found in the Treasury of San Marco in Venice, and the Gaignères-Fonthill vase, an early fourteenth-century Chinese Qingbai porcelain vase that was almost certainly present in Naples in the fifteenth century. In addition to these, there are a number of documentary references to Chinese pottery from medieval Europe. So, the 1323 will of Queen Maria of Naples and Sicily is believed to mention Chinese pottery, as does a 1363 inventory of property belonging to the Duke of Normandy and a 1379–80 inventory of Louis I, duke of Anjou. It also appears in, for example, a document from late fourteenth-century Genoa listing merchandise including porcelain, lustre ware and glass, and a 1456 inventory of the property of Piero di Cosimo de' Medici of Florence. As such, it seems clear that Chinese pottery was present in the households of the wealthiest people in Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Turning to the medieval Chinese coins mapped below, these are recorded much less frequently as archaeological finds and do not appear in documents from Europe at all, although this latter is hardly surprising. The only other certain find from Europe is a find of a tenth-century coin from Bulgaria, although a scattering are also recorded from East Africa, the Persian Gulf, the coast of Arabia, India, and Sri Lanka, suggesting that it is not impossible that a handful of examples might have made their way to Red Sea or Persian Gulf ports and then into Europe.

The distribution of archaeological and textual evidence for the presence of medieval Chinese pottery (black open circles) and coins (blue dots) west of India, set against the maximum extent of the Mongol Empire in the late thirteenth century in red; the map is based on Whitehouse 1972, Cribb and Potts 1996, Vigano 2011, Vigano 2014Zhao 2015Meicun and Zhang 2017Василев 2017 (image: Caitlin Green, drawn on a base map from Wikimedia Commons).

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2020, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Sunday 20 December 2020

A Middle Byzantine coin from Carbis Bay, Cornwall

The aim of the following brief note is simply to share a recent find of a late ninth- or early tenth-century Byzantine coin that was discovered amongst the rocks at low tide on Carbis Bay beach, Cornwall. Carbis Bay is part of the wider St Ives Bay, where several sites have produced finds of Early Byzantine material and there seems to have been a significant early medieval site at Phillack on the Hayle estuary. There are only a handful of Byzantine coins of this date found in Britain when compared to both earlier and later periods, so it is an interesting find, and may offer some further context for the interesting tenth-century description of Britain as 'an emporium (bārgāh) of Rūm' in the Persian Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam.

A copper-alloy Byzantine follis of Leo VI, dating from the late ninth or early tenth century, found at Carbis Bay, Cornwall (images: Jon Mann/PAS).

The coin in question is a copper-alloy follis of the Byzantine emperor Leo VI, dating 886–912 and minted at the imperial capital of Constantinople, which is reported to have been recovered from amongst the rocks at low tide on Carbis Bay beach, Cornwall. Jon Mann kindly communicated this discovery to me and the find circumstances, and I have subsequently passed it on to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), where the coin is now recorded as CORN-9511B2.

Looking at the general find context of this coin, it is worth emphasising that this is not the only such discovery from the Cornish and Devonshire coast. For example, the PAS records a copper Byzantine pentanummium dating from around 527–641 that was found about 2 to 4 inches down in sand in a rock pool below mean high water at Perranporth and is obscured by fossil accretion from being in the sea, along with a silver denarius of Maximinus I (235–38) that was discovered in sand near rocks on the same beach. Likewise, on the south coast at Long Rock, near Penzance, an eleventh-century Anglo-Scandinavian stirrup mount was discovered buried in the sand, and at Otterton near Sidmouth, Devon, a Byzantine follis probably of Tiberius Constantine (578–82) was found on the beach below an early medieval fortified settlement.

Turning to the local context of the Carbis Bay coin, two points are worth emphasising. First, this is not the only Byzantine find from the immediate area. Carbis Bay is part of the wider St Ives Bay, and this area has produced Early Byzantine material from two or three separate sites: 
  1. The important 'post-Roman' specialised industrial complex at Gwithian, at the eastern end of St Ives Bay. This has produced both North African and eastern Mediterranean late fifth- to sixth-century fine-wares, along with a substantial quantity of eastern Mediterranean transport amphorae.
  2. The churchyard of Phillack church, on the dunes to the north of the Hayle Estuary's Copperhouse Pool. This site has produced fifth- and sixth-/seventh-century stone sculpture (a Chi-Rho stone and a memorial stone) and a rim-sherd of late fifth- or early sixth-century Phocaean Red Slip-Ware from what is now western Turkey, excavated from the churchyard in 1973. Furthermore, a significant quantity of mainly Late Roman coins have been discovered from a number of sites in Phillack in recent years, with this regionally unusual concentration of Late Roman non-hoarded coinage including coins from eastern Mediterranean mints such as Alexandria and Heraclea that are rarely represented amongst site-finds in Britain, suggesting that the links to the eastern Mediterranean began in the fourth century.
  3. The early medieval settlement site at Hellesvean, St Ives. There are records of post-Roman Byzantine imports from this site, including 5 sherds of African Red Slip Ware from the Carthage region and a possible sherd from a Biii Mediterranean transport amphora.
In addition to this, it is worth noting that there is a credible case to be made for the local saint of St Ives, St Ia, being in fact the Byzantine St Ia who had a shrine by the Golden Gate at Constantinople and who appears in the famous late tenth-century Menologion of Basil II, rather than some otherwise-unknown Irish saint. Second, recent metal-detecting has revealed a significant amount of medieval activity near to Phillack, around 3 km from Carbis Bay, with some of the finds pointing both to sixth- to eleventh-century activity and long-distance contacts, including a Hiberno-Norse buckle of perhaps the tenth century, coins of tenth- and eleventh-century rulers of England, and an earlier Frankish or Anglo-Saxon brooch. 

The distribution of ninth- to twelfth-century Byzantine coins and seals in Britain, based on data from the PAS, the EMC, De Jersey 1996, Biddle 2012, Kelleher 2012 and Naylor 2010; click here for a larger version of this map. Note the two major concentrations of coins and seals shown on this map are Winchester and London, and coins nowadays considered to be modern losses are not included (image: Caitlin Green).

Finally, with respect to the national context, the Carbis Bay coin is one a number of Middle Byzantine coins now known from Britain, as mapped above. The major concentrations of these finds are centred on the two major Late Saxon cities of London and Winchester, but there are finds from other sites too, including two from the northern coast of south-western peninsula—a follis of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus dating to 913–19, minted at Constantinople, and a follis of Leo VI dated 886–912. These were found just inland from the coast, one in 2019 from a site that has produced other tenth- to eleventh-century material and which lies on a river crossing by the Late Saxon burh of Axbridge, and the second a decade or more earlier from a site just to the south of this one. In terms of the chronology of these coins within the Middle Byzantine period, the Carbis Bay coin of Leo VI is one of the earliest, but it doesn't stand alone. Aside from the two late ninth- to early tenth-century Byzantine coins from the Axbridge area noted above, there is also a follis of Basil I, dated 868–70 and minted at Constantinople, found just outside Winchester; two late tenth- or perhaps early eleventh-century coins from Winchester, one of which was recovered from an excavated context; another copper-alloy follis of the Byzantine emperor Leo VI (886–912), mint of Constantinople, found at Tarrant Launceston, Dorset; and a silver miliaresion of Nicephorus II Phocas, 963–69, found at Sporle, Norfolk. 

Although the meaning of these finds is open to debate, John Naylor has plausibly considered them to be ancient losses, something supported by the recent find from Axbridge and the excavated coin from Winchester. As such, the Carbis Bay coin and similar items may offer some further context for the interesting later tenth-century Persian description of Britain as 'an emporium (bārgāh) of Rūm', i.e. the Byzantine Empire, in the Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam. Indeed, in this light it is interesting to note that not only do we have the evidence of these coins and the text of the Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam, but there is also documentary evidence for the presence of a handful of Byzantine churchmen in tenth- to eleventh-century England and the Anglo-Saxon kings of this era seem, moreover, to have occasionally used the Byzantine title basileus for themselves.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2020, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Sunday 13 December 2020

The importance of Lincolnshire in the fifth to seventh centuries AD

The following post is largely the text of a lecture that was given at the time of the launch of the first edition of my Britons and Anglo-Saxons back in 2012, with a handful of minor additions. It offered a little light-hearted musing on the importance, or apparent lack thereof, of pre-Viking Lincolnshire; in the absence of a formal launch for the second edition of the book in 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic, I thought I would post this here in case it is of interest.

Two maps showing (a) the location of the ceremonial county of Lincolnshire and (b) a reconstruction of the coastal landscape of pre-Viking England, showing the low-lying areas and wetlands in the Lincoln region, along with the 'barrier islands' that existed off the Lincolnshire coast until the thirteenth century (images: map a—Wikimedia Commons; map b—Caitlin Green).

By and large, most people are accustomed to thinking of Lincolnshire as peripheral. Whilst it has cities, they are not large; most modern major routeways pass it by or skirt its edges; and although Lincolnshire is the second largest ceremonial and historic county in England—encompassing over a twentieth of the total land area, with the distance from Barton-upon-Humber in its north to Stamford in its south being the same as the distance from Stamford to London—it has far less than its fair share of the total population, around 1.9%. Even when we go back into the Anglo-Saxon period, this sense of Lincolnshire as peripheral to the main historical action often continues to pervade. When historians deal with the pre-Viking era in general, they generally talk about the northern kingdom of Northumbria, or the Midland kingdom of Mercia, or the kingdoms of Wessex, Kent and the East Angles. However, despite this, there are good indications that Lincolnshire was rather more important in the early medieval period than is sometimes allowed.

From an archaeological perspective, the notion that Lincolnshire was truly peripheral in the pre-Viking period is difficult to justify. For example, metal-detectorists continue to recover astonishing quantities of pre-Viking coinage from Lincolnshire. Nearly thirty years ago, Mark Blackburn observed that the quantity of coinage from Lincolnshire marked it out as one of the richest parts of seventh- and eighth-century England, and this conclusion has only been strengthened by recent finds and the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). So, a significant quantity of Merovingian gold coinage has been found in this area of Britain, testifying to significant trading with the continent from an early date, whilst one site at Garwick in southern Lincolnshire has produced the second largest group of Middle Saxon coins from any site in England, exceeded only by the major West Saxon trading-site at Southampton. Likewise, if we look at the overall ranked totals for seventh- to eighth-century coins recorded on the PAS, Lincolnshire is not only is in 'first place', but has over twice as many coins recorded as is the case for the second-place county, Suffolk, and many more times those recorded in counties like Oxfordshire, Wiltshire or even Kent (a fact that becomes even more impressive once one notes that around a third of Lincolnshire's land area, the entire Fenland district which lies below 5m OD, has produced virtually no finds of this date at all). 

Bar chart showing the number of seventh- to eighth-century coins recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme from each county through to December 2020; note, this only represents a proportion of the total coin finds known, with others recorded on the Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds or EMC, but it is a large enough dataset for the present purposes (image: Caitlin Green).

Two maps; click here for a larger version of both: (a) A map of the distribution of seventh- to eighth-century coin finds recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the Lincoln region to December 2020, showing how they are largely absent from the extensive low-lying parts of Lincolnshire, especially the Fenland district of Holland; note, a significant number of other finds from this region are also recorded on the EMC, but the broad pattern is the same even if these are added (image: Caitlin Green, based on data from the PAS and my base-map of the pre-Viking landscape from Britons and Anglo-Saxons)
(b) A map of England showing John Blair's core ‘eastern zone’ of pre-Viking English identity and building tradition (forward hashing) and Toby Martin's zone of fifth- to sixth-century Anglian immigration, burial tradition, costume and ethnogenesis (backward hashing, based on the primary area of his Phase B brooches), combined with the distribution of Anglian cremation-predominant cemeteries (image: Caitlin Green).

This apparent significance for Lincolnshire before the ninth century is confirmed by other finds and evidence types too. For example, it has been argued that the distribution of sixth-century imported amber from the Baltic, an Early Anglo-Saxon luxury good used in jewellery, clusters at several 'nodal points' from which amber may well have been redistributed to the surrounding regions, one of which is at Sleaford in southern Lincolnshire, the site of an exceptionally large inhumation cemetery that also contains notable quantities of imported rock crystal beads and ivory rings. Similarly, it can be observed that Lincolnshire and East Anglia together are where the earliest and largest fifth- to sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cemeteries are found, the great cremation urn-fields, with well over a thousand such burials at sites like Cleatham (Kirton-in-Lindsey) and Loveden Hill. Indeed, Lincolnshire lies at the heart of the core ‘eastern zone’ of pre-Viking English identity and building tradition that has recently been identified by John Blair, and at the heart of Catherine Hills, Toby Martin and John Hines’s core zone of fifth- to sixth-century Anglian immigration, burial tradition, costume and ethnogenesis too. Finally, it is worth noting that Lincolnshire and East Anglia together seem to have also been amongst the most densely populated parts of England at the time of the Domesday Survey in the eleventh century, suggesting a long-lasting economic importance for these east coast regions.

If Lincolnshire was thus significant and even, in some respects, 'central' in at least the fifth to eighth centuries when looked at from an archaeological perspective, what then of its political importance in this period? Unfortunately, Lincolnshire suffers from a lack of early documentary evidence for these centuries, which may well have led to its import being under-estimated. The narratives that historians have developed are often based on those regions that lie outside the archaeologically identified core 'eastern zone', but which have significantly better documentation, such as Kent, Northumbria and Wessex. The reason for this lack of documentation in the east is uncertain and disputed, but whatever the case may be, the effect is clear. In addition, we perhaps also suffer from the fact that the name of Lincolnshire’s own seventh-century kingdomLindsey or Lindissisurvives today as a district-name in Lincolnshire. Although reasonably extensive, the modern district of Lindsey isn’t really large on a national or regional basis, and its present size can lead to an assumption of a relative lack of importance for this kingdom. That this assumption is problematical is demonstrated by my own research, which indicates that the modern district of Lindsey was very much smaller than the seventh-century kingdom whose name it preserves.

Two maps showing the difference between the likely extent of the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi and the modern district of Lindsey; note, the map also shows the pre-Viking landscape of the Lincoln region, with light-blue representing low-lying wetlands. Click the image for a larger version (images: Caitlin Green).

Even more interesting are those few glimpses we do get of Lincolnshire and the kingdom of Lindsey in the documentary record relating to the seventh century.  Perhaps the most arresting thing is the fact that the major players in the seventh century all seem to have wanted to rule Lincolnshire. The kingdom of Lindsey appears to have been finally conquered and dissolved by the Midland kingdom of Mercia (based around Tamworth and Repton) in the later seventh century. However, this is the very last act in a remarkable saga, whereby the kingdom of Lindsey looks to have been the major prize that the better-known and documented kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria were fighting repeatedly over. So, for example, the kingdom of Lindsey appears to have changed hands at least seven times in less than half a century, and some of the most important battles of the seventh century that were fought between Mercia and Northumbria probably actually took place within the kingdom of Lindsey itself. Indeed, Bede himself is reasonably explicit on this topic, stating that the kingdom of Lindsey was what the king of Northumbria had won from the Mercian king when he defeated him in 678 (‘the kingdom of Lindissi, which King Ecgfrith had recently won by conquering Wulfhere and putting him to flight’, Historia Ecclesiastica IV.12).

This apparent political importance of control of Lincolnshire to the two major semi-'imperial'/imperium-wielding dynasties of seventh century England is, of course, intriguing, and it is supported by other evidence too. For example, when King Edwin of Northumbria (Deira) was the overlord of Lincolnshire in the 620s and early 630s, he seems to have taken an exceptional interest in the province. He oversaw, for example, the completion of a stone church in Lincoln before even his own likely 'capital' of York had one (HE II.14, II.16). Such churches were highly symbolic, and this favouritism for a place which was a conquest over his own ecclesiastical and potentially royal city is most curious. Moreover, when heas the most powerful ruler in England at that timewas in a position to control the process of consecrating the next Archbishop of Canterbury (named Honorius), he didn’t insist that the politically and symbolically important consecration took place in York or even his own kingdom, but rather in the stone church he had built at Lincoln, the probable chief centre of the conquered kingdom of Lindissi/Lindsey (HE II.16, II.18).

So, what on earth is going on here? Why was Edwin so concerned with Lincoln, apparently over and above even York? And why was the kingdom of Lindsey such a prize for both Northumbria and Mercia, to the extent that multiple battles appear to have been, at least in part, fought specifically over its control? Both economics and strategic position have been suggested in the past as explanations for these actions, but whilst the former may well have been a significant influence, given how wealthy eighth-century and earlier Lincolnshire seems to have been, these factors are perhaps insufficient on their own. I would tentatively suggest that it is possible that a full explanation may additionally involve recognising that Lincoln and Lincolnshire actually had a somewhat greater significance in the early stages of the evolution of 'Anglo-Saxon England' than is usually allowed for, just as some of the archaeological evidence noted above seems to hint at. What will be discussed in the remainder of this piece is just what this significance might have been that could have resulted in Lindsey and Lincoln being such a prize and focus for the two great powers of seventh-century politics, Mercia and Northumbria. In doing this I’d like to focus on focus on two potential key factors, which can be roughly summarized as the ‘political baggage’ and the ‘family baggage’ of these two seventh-century kingdoms.

The sequence of late/post-Roman churches at St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, showing their relationship to the Roman forum— the second, fifth- to sixth-century apsidal church would have able to hold up to 100 worshippers (image: Caitlin Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, 2012, fig, 12, copyright English Heritage).

Dealing with the potential ‘political baggage’ first, it is important to remember that Lincoln was a major political centre at the end of the Roman period, being both the probable seat of one of Britannia’s four bishops and a provincial capital. So, the question is, could this political importance and and 'centrality' for Lincoln have continued beyond the end of the Roman period and thus have had an effect on the later-recorded Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, perhaps making the city and its territory a real political and symbolic prize for these kingdoms, as the fragmentary historical evidence for the seventh century implies that it was? In my view, the answer to this ought to be a tentative ‘yes’. Certainly, I have made the case both in print and elsewhere for Lincoln having been an important British political centre in the fifth and sixth centuries too, with a sizable apsidal church built in the centre of the Roman forum that can now be confidently dated to the fifth to the sixth centuries and exceptional quantities of high-status British metalwork of the fifth and sixth centuries known from across Lincolnshire. Furthermore, the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom-name Lindissi and the modern district-name Lindsey both derive from the Late British name of this territory, *Lindēs, rather than any Old English name, which is notable. Indeed, looking at all of the available evidence, it can be credibly argued that the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi was, to a large extent, the direct descendant of this fifth- to sixth-century British territory of *Lindēs, which is a point of considerable interest in the present context.

There is no need to go into depth here on the evidence for the British territory of *Lindēs and its links to the subsequent kingdom of Lindissi, but it is worth pointing out that the apparent avoidance of the former provincial capital by the major fifth- to sixth-century Anglian cremation-predominant cemeteries of this region—each containing hundreds or thousands of burials—is most interesting. As can be seen from the map below, the great cremation cemeteries form, in effect, a ring around Lincoln, with the nearest large cremation cemetery to Lincoln being that at Loveden Hill, over 27 km to the south of the city, with this avoidance appearing to continue at least partly into the sixth century. This offers a very marked contrast to the situation at and around other major Roman centres in eastern and northern Britain such as York, Leicester, and Caistor-by-Norwich, where Anglo-Saxon cremation cemeteries are found close by. Furthermore, it has been observed that the distribution of these cemeteries is very similar in pattern to that of the apparent last stage in the deployment of the late Roman army in the Lincoln region (based on recent artefactual studies), leading to the suggestion that the people who used these large cemeteries could have been initially tasked with a similar defensive role with regard to fifth-century Lincoln and *Lindēs

Indeed, there are even hints that a vestige of Roman provincial control from Lincoln survived at least some way into the fifth century. Although we do need to be cautious here, it has been suggested that a real distinction appears to be observable between a mainly Anglian cultural zone and a mainly Saxon one in the archaeology of the fifth century, and that the dividing line between the two accords surprisingly well with the most recent reconstruction of the Late Roman provincial boundaries, with early Anglian cremation-predominant cemeteries being nearly all located within the province controlled by Lincoln. In this context, it is likewise intriguing to note that the probable Late Roman provincial governor's residence at Lincoln, the Greetwell villa-palace, was not only maintained to a high standard right through until the end of the Roman coin sequence in the early fifth century and even potentially a little beyond, but also has notable evidence for estate continuity into the medieval period at both the local and sub-regional levels, with its wider territory in the Witham valley recently argued to have become a major royal estate of the seventh century and after. 

Two maps showing (a) the large early Anglo-Saxon cremation cemeteries of the Lincoln region, set against the late/post-Roman landscape, and (b) the distribution of both the large and small 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 ‘The creation of four provinces in Britain by Diocletian’, Britannia, 29 (1998). Click here for a larger version of these maps (images drawn by Caitlin Green, based on Caitlin Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, figs 11 and 21a).

If Lincoln was thus a former Late Roman provincial capital that was subsequently the centre of a late-surviving British Christian state of the fifth and sixth centuries, which was apparently able to 'control' Anglo-Saxon activity in its immediate region for several generations and eventually became the seventh-century kingdom of Lindissi, then this could certainly begin to provide a potential motive for why the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon dynasties of Mercia and Northumbria might have seen control of the city and the kingdom of Lindissi as an important symbolic and political prize. This is particularly the case if the distribution of almost all Anglian cremation-predominant cemeteries was indeed somehow related to the territory of the Late Roman province controlled by Lincoln, as has been tentatively suggested. In such circumstances, it would seem more than credible that the imperium-building seventh-century rulers of both Mercia and Northumbria—who, it should be noted, claimed descent from Anglian immigrant groups—would have seen Lincoln and *Lindēs/Lindissi as a prize well worth fighting over, if only for the symbolism it possessed deriving from its apparent fourth- to sixth-century importance.

The second point relates to the personal origins of the ruling lineages of both Mercia and Northumbria themselves in the seventh and eighth centuries, and is part of the ‘family baggage’ referred to earlier. To put it simply, it seems possible to trace at least key groups within Northumbria, and possibly within Mercia too, back not only to Anglian groups claiming immigrant descent within Lincoln's wider former province, but also to groups who actually had roots within the Lincoln region/*Lindēs itself. The key piece of information here has come up in the questions to virtually every lecture and talk I’ve ever given on early Anglo-Saxon Lindsey—namely, the relationship between the group-name of the people of Lindsey, the Lindisfaran ('the people who migrated to the territory of *Lindēs') and the northern island-name Lindisfarne, Old English Lindisfarena ea/Lindisfarnae, Anglo-Latin insula Lindisfarnensis. The link between the Lindisfaran and the island-name Lindisfarne has been much discussed over the years. Numerous researchers have attempted to explain why the two names look so alike, most relying on etymologies for the name Lindisfarne that deliberately don’t involve linking it to the Lincolnshire Lindisfaran and then assuming a quite remarkable coincidence to explain why the names look so similar. Unfortunately, none of the proposed etymologies stand up to scrutiny—they all have serious problems that cannot be easily avoided. In consequence, it can be argued that the only really credible explanation of the name Lindisfarne is that it is indeed intimately related to the group-name of the inhabitants of Lindissi in Lincolnshire, the Lindisfaran—the final element in 'Lindisfarne' is simply the Old English word for island, whilst the first part is the regular Old English genitive form of Lindisfaran. In other words, it quite transparently means ‘the island of the Lindisfaran’.

A map of Lincolnshire, Lindisfarne and the North, showing key sites, groups and place-names (image: Caitlin Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, fig. 46)

Now, the question has to be asked, why was it called this? The great place-name scholar, Eilert Ekwall, wrote many decades ago that if we accept the transparent Old English etymology for Lindisfarne, then the primary interpretation has to be that this island was settled by people from Lincolnshire. Recent work on the archaeology of Northumbria has arguably tended to back up this conclusion. Whilst the available archaeological evidence clearly indicates that there was a notable degree of 'Anglo-Saxon' activity in the Lindisfarne region from around the middle of the sixth century onwards (as evidenced by, for example, the settlements and cemeteries at Yeavering, Milfield, Thirlings, Ford and Bamburgh), south of this general region there is relatively little evidence for significant pre-seventh-century Anglo-Saxon activity until we reach the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall. This raises the possibility that the area around Lindisfarne was indeed under the control of a group of people making use of 'Anglo-Saxon' material culture who had maritime links to regions significantly further south, just as might be expected if Lindisfarne and the surrounding area were somehow occupied by Lindisfaran from Lincolnshire, as the name of the island implies.

The problem with all this is that the archaeology and textual evidence is also clear that the area around Lindisfarne was the heartland of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia (northern Northumbria). It is here that the famous palace site of Yeavering is found, and it is also here that the fortress of Bamburgh was located. Situated only a couple of miles to the south of Lindisfarne itself, this was—according to Bede—the ‘royal city’ of Northumbria, and recent excavations have discovered a massive Anglo-Saxon-era inhumation cemetery here, which dwarfs all other known cemeteries from north of the Humber. Indeed, Lindisfarne itself appears in early medieval accounts as a major sixth- and seventh-century possession and sanctuary of the kings of Bernicia. It is consequently difficult to avoid associating the mid- to late sixth-century 'Anglo-Saxon' material in the region around Lindisfarne with the documentary evidence for the mid- to late sixth-century 'arrival' of either the founders of the kingdom of Bernicia or the ancestors of the same here; certainly the rulers of Bernicia seem to have been based in this area from this period onwards. Needless to say, it is unlikely that another group would be subsequently allowed to take possession of the island of Lindisfarne after the establishment of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia, given the apparent status of the island as a royal territory and sanctuary and the fact that the neighbouring fortress of Bamburgh was ‘the royal city’ of the Bernicians. At the same time, the archaeological and textual evidence doesn't really support the idea of a previous Anglo-Saxon 'arrival' or 'influence' in this region that occurred before the mid-sixth century. Consequently, the natural conclusion is that the migration of the Lindisfaran to Lindisfarne (recorded by the place-name Lindisfarne, ‘the island of the Lindisfaran’) must be identical with the settlement of ancestors of the historically recorded Bernician kings. That is to say, it seems quite possible that the Bernician royal family were ultimately Lindisfaran who had migrated to this region from Lincolnshire.

St. Paul's church, Jarrow; part of the Anglo-Saxon monastery of Jarrow survives today as the chancel of St Paul's Church (image: Stanley Howe/Geograph).

Such a conclusion is far less implausible than might be at first thought. After all, the Bernician royal family is usually considered to have moved to the Lindisfarne region from somewhere further south. Furthermore, there is actually a selection of other evidence that backs up the idea that Anglian groups from Lincolnshire may have played a key role in settling Northumbria in the fifth and sixth centuries. Take, for example, Jarrow and the area around the mouth of the Tyne. The available historical accounts imply that this was the second early heartland of the Bernician kings after the Lindisfarne–Bamburgh region, and it was moreover where Bede worked and wrote. What is particularly interesting about this second Bernician royal heartland, however, is that the key settlement within it, Jarrow, bears a name meaning ‘at the settlement of the Gyrwe’, a group-name that is also recorded as that of a well-attested south Lincolnshire and northern Cambridgeshire Anglian group, in whose territory Crowland once lay. Moreover, it has also been suggested by James Campbell that both Bede and the founder of Jarrow, Benedict Biscop, may have actually themselves been members of the royal lineage of the Lindisfaran, which is a point of considerable interest too.

Similarly, if we look for the largest Bernician Anglo-Saxon cemetery which lay outside of the Lindsifarne area, it can be found at Norton-on-Tees. This sixth-century cemetery is far larger than any of the other ones outside of the Lindisfarne area, suggesting some degree of local importance, but the place-name Norton is probably later in date and can’t refer to settlement that the cemetery served. However, only half a mile to the east of the cemetery is Billingham, a documented pre-Viking estate-centre that bears a name that is said to be ‘one of the earliest Old English settlement forms to survive’ in the region and which current place-name chronologies would place within the early Anglo-Saxon period. Once again, this name is most intriguing, as it means the ‘estate of the Billingas’, a group-name that likewise recurs in Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire, where it applied to a significant sub-group within the southern part of the kingdom of Lindissi, based around Sleaford. Finally, attention can be directed the largest cemetery in the southern half of Northumbria, Sancton cremation cemetery. This is not only the location of the largest and earliest Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Deira, which seems to have its origins in the fifth century and from which the remains of 454 cremated individuals have been excavated, but it is also very close to the site of the principal heathen shrine of Deira, according to Bede. In other words, a credible case might be made for this area as a key centre of the southern Northumbrian kingdom of Deira. What is especially interesting here, however, is the fact that, first, the cemetery lies on the Roman road leading north from the bank of the Humber; second, that there are close links between the cremation urns found at Sancton and those from the Lincolnshire cremation cemeteries of Cleatham, Elsham, South Elkington, and Baston; and third, that just to the west of Sancton there is an extensive district known as Spalding Moor that includes a hamlet called Spaldington on its south side, both of which names contain the population-group name Spalde/Spaldingas, which is once again the name of a major group in southern Lincolnshire who were based on the siltlands of the Lincolnshire Fenland around Spalding and who appear in the 'Tribal Hidage'.

In sum, whilst each of the above instances of population-group names occurring both in Northumbria and in southern Lincolnshire might be individually dismissed as coincidences, the combined weight of these coincidences is difficult to explain away. Furthermore, in each case the group-name is found at or next to some of the most important sites in Northumbria, as identifiable both from the archaeological and textual evidence, and there is archaeological evidence of links to Lincolnshire in at least one of these locations. All told, the simplest and most credible solution would seem to be that Anglo-Saxon population groups from Lincolnshire did indeed play a major role in both the settlement of Northumbria and the foundation of the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira, just as the place-name Lindisfarne implies.

A sixth-century gold sword pommel from Rippingale ('the halh of the Hrepingas'), Lincolnshire, mentioned below (image: PAS/British Museum)

With regards to Mercia, the evidence is less clear-cut, but we may well have a partially analogous situation. In particular, attention might be drawn to the place-name Repton, where the pre-Viking kings of Mercia were buried, which means ‘the hill of the tribe called Hreope/Hrype’. It is usually agreed that the group- and territory-name Hrepingas that occurs in early Mercian charters represents an alternate form of this group-name (compare Spalde/Spaldingas above), and that the Hreope/Hrepingas were moreover one of three major sub-groups within the seventh-century Mercian kingdom. Needless to say, in this light it is intriguing to note that the Hrepingas also occur as an early Anglo-Saxon group within Lincolnshire, with Rippingale in southern Lincolnshire being ‘the valley of the Hrepingas’. This population-group seems to have been located just to the south of the Billingas and there is, moreover, archaeological evidence for elite activity in the late fifth and sixth centuries from the Rippingale area, including a recent find of a high-status gold sword pommel, pictured above.

We also have the interesting case of the Hwicce, whose kingdom in the West Midlands to the south-west of Mercia is multiply-attested, but who also appear in a significant number of place-names in and around Rutland, immediately to the west and north of Stamford, Lincolnshire. So, not only is their name apparently preserved in that of the eleventh-century Whitchley Hundred that met at Wicheley Heath, 'the woodland of the Hwicce' (Hwicceslea), a district that encompassed around a third of modern shire of Rutland, but there are also other Hwicce names within Rutland, with yet another potential 'Witchley' name in the north-west of this small county—Wichley Leys—and a probable *Hwiccena-denu, 'valley of the Hwicce', there too. Quite what this means is open to debate, but both A. H. Smith and Barrie Cox suggest that these names could reflect a situation whereby the Hwicce originally controlled a territory in this area prior to the establishment of their documented seventh- to eighth-century (sub-)kingdom in the West Midlands, which is notable given what has been discussed already. 

Map of Rutland, showing the Rutland Hwicce names; the names in italics are those of the Witchley East Hundred and Witchley West Hundred, as recorded in the Northamptonshire Geld Roll of 1072–8, and the approximate position and extent of 'Wicheley Heath' is based on the maps of 1603–11 and 1756, along with the location of the surviving Witchley Warren Farm in Edith Weston parish. The grey lines reflect the late eleventh-century hundred boundaries, with the dotted line representing the division between the later East and Wrangdike hundreds, which is thought to perpetuate that between Witchley East Hundred and Witchley West Hundred (image: Caitlin Green).

In conclusion, it can be suggested that the apparent seventh-century Mercian and Northumbrian interest in Lincoln and Lindissi/Lindsey is perhaps explicable not simply in terms of the exceptional wealth of seventh-/eighth-century Lincolnshire, but also the political history of that region and the family 'baggage' of the two major imperium-building Anglian dynasties. Put simply, it seems possible that the seventh-century Anglian rulers of Northumbria and Mercia may have additionally wanted to enhance their own position, status and rule by controlling a city that had probably been one of the last centres of Romanitas in the east, perhaps able to control Anglian activity in not only the Lincoln area but also the wider region during parts of the fifth and sixth centuries, and a part of eastern Britain with which they may well have had personal, family ties. If so, then it is perhaps not quite so surprising that the control of Lindissi was so contested through the course of the seventh century between these two dynasties, nor that Edwin of Northumbria, who was apparently concerned with portraying himself as a Roman-style ruler (HE II.16), seems to have favoured Lincoln over his own likely 'capital' of York, building a new stone church there first and then having the consecration of Archbishop Honorius held in this structure.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2020, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400–650 (Second Edition, 2020)

I'm pleased to announce that the second edition of my Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400–650 has now been published and is available to buy as both a paperback (401 pages, ISBN 978-0-902668-26-3) and a PDF ebook.

Britons and Anglo-Saxons was first issued in 2012 and represents the published version of my Oxford DPhil thesis. It offers an interdisciplinary approach to the history of the Lincoln region in the post-Roman period, drawing together a wide range of sources. In particular, it indicates that a British polity named *Lindēs was based at Lincoln into the sixth century, and that the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindsey (Lindissi) had an intimate connection to this British political unit. The picture that emerges is also of importance nationally, helping to answer key questions regarding the nature and extent of Anglian-British interaction and the origins of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

This new second edition of Britons and Anglo-Saxons includes a brand new, 52-page introduction discussing recent research into the late and post-Roman Lincoln region, consisting of sections on 'Romano-British pottery in the fifth- to sixth-century Lincoln region', 'Archaeology and the British ‘country of *Lindēs’', 'Place-names and history in early Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire', and 'Territories, central clusters and persistent places in the pre-Viking Lincolnshire landscape'.

Britons and Anglo-Saxons is the third volume in the Studies in the History of Lincolnshire, a peer-reviewed academic project published by the History of Lincolnshire Committee (established 1966). Click here to buy the paperback from Lulu and here to buy the PDF ebook. Alternatively, the paperback of Britons and Anglo-Saxons can also be purchased from or

A selection of reviews of Britons and Anglo-Saxons:
“Britons and Anglo-Saxons is an impressively interdisciplinary book that combines linguistic, historical, literary, and archaeological evidence into a coherent narrative for the post-Roman fate of Lincolnshire... [the] central contention that “the Britons based at Lincoln in the fifth and sixth centuries left a political, administrative, cultural, and even potentially a symbolic, legacy for succeeding centuries” (153) is amply borne out by [the] thorough interdisciplinary methodology, and [Green's] findings are sure to have an impact on the wider historiography of early-medieval British history... a major accomplishment by a promising young scholar...”  (Speculum: the Journal of the Medieval Academy of America, 2013)
“This book, based on the author’s doctoral thesis, explores the relationships between British and Anglo-Saxon populations in post-Roman Britain and the formation of kingdoms, using Lincolnshire as a case study... As an exploration of the aftermath of Roman Britain, the relationships between native populations and immigrant communities, and the mechanisms behind the development of subsequent administrative units, this book makes for a very thought-provoking read... It is a welcome addition to our understanding of the early centuries of post-Roman Britain.” (Medieval Archaeology, 2013)
“This book should recommend itself to the introductory reading lists of history and archaeology students but will also serve the general reader well... This study draws upon the combined application of history, archaeology, place-names, and early literature to reconstruct its narrative —approaches that one would wish to see duplicated across the country... This book not only provides a narrative for Lincolnshire but also reinforces the potential value of similar approaches elsewhere in Britain while at the same time offering a compelling introduction to the challenges of studying this period of Britain’s past.” (Midland History, 2013)
“[F]ully engaged with up-to-date scholarship and operating assuredly across all relevant disciplines... Not only does it offer a sophisticated study of Dark-Age Lincolnshire but it also makes an important contribution to wider debates about the ending of Roman Britain and the beginnings of Anglo-Saxon England... This inter-disciplinary exploration of *Lindes offers a new standard for regional work. It also provides a model capable of explaining how Roman Britain transmuted into Anglo-Saxon England... this book makes an important contribution to the central historical debates and will provide an important point of reference as to how we model the British/Anglo-Saxon interface for the next generation.” (N. J. Higham, Lincolnshire History & Archaeology, 2015)

Friday 27 November 2020

Some Arabic and Persian accounts of the export of tin from Cornwall to Egypt and Iran in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries

The aim of the following piece is simply to share some interesting accounts of the tin-trade in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, particularly one written in Arabic and another in Persian. Taken together, these two accounts suggest that tin from southwestern England (i.e. Cornwall and Devon) was exported via southern France to both Egypt and ultimately Iran in this period, with it being used by potters in the latter area to make tin-opacified ceramic glazes.

A tin-glazed vase made in 14th-century Persia, now in The Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro; click the image for a larger view (image: Caitlin Green).

The first account to be considered here is a short but intriguing section from the early fourteenth-century Taqwīm al-buldān, 'Survey of the countries' (1321), of Abū l-Fidāʾ, a Syrian prince of the Ayyūbid family, which offers both a general description of England and a short but intriguing section detailing the export of tin from England to Alexandria, Egypt, via southern France. The section that deals generally with England is explicitly derived from the earlier work of Ibn Saʿīd al-Maghribī, who was born born near Granada in 1213, lived for a time in Egypt, and died in 1286, and runs as follows: 
And the islands of Britain are eleven islands. Of the famous islands is the island of England (Inkiltarah). Ibn Saʿīd said: And the ruler of this island is called al-Inkitār in the History of Salāḥ ad-Dīn (Saladin) in the wars of ʿAkkā (Acre). His capital in this island is the city of Lundras (London). He continued: And the length of this island from south to north, with a slight inclination, is 430 miles. Its width in the middle is about 200 miles. He continued: And in this island are mines of gold, silver, copper, and tin. There are no vines because of the sharpness of the frost. Its inhabitants bring the precious metals of these mines to the land of France, and exchange them for wine. The ruler of France has plentiful gold and silver from that source. In their country (sc. England) is made the fine scarlet cloth from the wool of their sheep, which is fine like silk. They place coverings over the animals, to protect them from rain, sun, and dust. In spite of the wealth of al-Inkitār and the extent of his kingdom, he admits the sovereignty of al-Faransīs (the French king), and when there is an assembly, he performs his service by presenting before (the ruler of France) a vessel of food, by ancient custom.(1)

The mention here of mines that produce tin is noteworthy. The tenth-century Persian Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam, written for a prince of Gūzgan in northern Afghanistan in c. 982, intriguingly describes Britain as an 'emporium' (bārgāh) of Spain (Andalus) and also makes mention of 'numerous mountains, rivers, villages, and different mines' in Britain, but doesn't specify the nature of these mines, unlike Ibn Saʿīd and Abū l-Fidāʾ.(2) Interestingly, the above description of the specific characteristics of the mines of England seems to have been picked up fairly rapidly by other authors aside from Abū l-Fidāʾ. For example, its influence can be seen in the Jāmiʿ al-tawārīkh of Rashīd al-Dīn (completed in Īlkhānate-era Iran, c. 1307–16), and in Banākatī's derivative Rawżat ūli’l-albāb, written in 1317 at Banākaṯ, Transoxiana (in present-day Tajikistan, Central Asia), although their description is expanded slightly to say that in Anglater—England—there are 'many remarkable mountains, innumerable mines of gold, silver, copper, tin, and iron, and different kinds of fruit.'(3

After the above general description of England, Abū l-Fidāʾ offers brief discussions of Ireland and of another Atlantic island where gyrfalcons and polar bears are said to be found (the former reportedly being popular with the Sultan of Egypt and the latter being said to have skin that is soft to the touch). Later on, however, he returns to the question of the export of metals from England when discussing Toulouse, France, in another section that is explicitly derived from the work of Ibn Saʿīd al-Maghribī:

Ibn Said said: And to the east of Bordeaux is the city of Toulouse... The river (sc. Garonne) is south of it, and ships from the Encircling Ocean ascend it, with tin and copper, which they bring from the island of England and the island of Ireland. It is carried on pack-animals to Narbonne, and taken from there on the ships of the Franks to Alexandria.(4)

Needless to say, this statement is undoubtedly interesting, offering, as it does, good evidence for the long-distance export of tin from southwestern England during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The first half of the route described here is certainly an ancient one, bearing a striking similarity to the tin route described by Diodorus Siculus in the first century BC (probably drawing on the lost account of Pytheas, a fourth-century BC traveller from Marseille). He says that those who dwell in southwestern Britain 'work the tin into pieces' and sell it to merchants who 'carry it from there across the Straits of Galatia or Gaul; and finally, making their way on foot through Gaul for some thirty days, they bring their wares on horseback to the mouth of the river Rhone'. Although the route described by the above Arabic account is slightly more detailed than that recorded by Diodorus, and obviously has an additional stage from France to Egypt, the coincidence is notable, and a find of a sixth-century cruciform brooch from eastern England in south-eastern France near to Castelnaudary, Aude (about midway along the route from Toulouse to the Mediterranean), arguably offers some confirmation that the same overland route from England to the Mediterranean was indeed in use in the intervening period too.(5)

A fourteenth-century, tin-glazed jug decorated with lustre and cobalt, made at Ray, Iran, and now in the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro; click the image for a larger view (image: Caitlin Green).

The second, Persian account of the medieval tin trade is less specific about the source of the tin than this, but is nonetheless important. In particular, it offers us some idea of where a portion, at least, of the tin from southwestern England was transported to after it reached thirteenth-/fourteenth-century Egypt, as well as the purposes to which it might be put. The account itself is from a treatise on ceramics by Abū l-Qāsim Qāshānī of Kashan, Iran, that was written in c. 1300–01, based on the date of the earliest, autograph manuscript. This treatise mentions the importation of tin to Iran from Western Europe or Farangistān, a name strictly meaning the land of the Franks (the French) that was applied generally to Western Europe north of the Iberian Peninsula: 

The vessels, ingredients and materials which serve as raw materials for these people [manufacturers of tiles and other ceramic objects] are many... One of these is the form of tin called raṣāṣ. Its mines are known in many places. The first is that from Farangistān. In Farangistān it is cast in the form of pieces and stamped with a Farangī stamp as prevention against adulteration...(6)

The account then goes on to list two other sources of tin, one to the north of Iran (in the middle Volga area of modern Russia) and another to the east in 'China' (possibly Malaysia), before including details on how such tin could be used in the making of white and turquoise ceramic glazes.(7) Suffice to say, in the present context this account is of considerable interest. The tin from Farangistān mentioned here must have almost certainly originated in southwestern England, based on both what we know of tin production in this era and the above Arabic account of Abū l-Fidāʾ/Ibn Saʿīd al-Maghribī, with its reference to French merchants transporting English tin to Alexandria. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the tin from the middle Volga in Russia may also have ultimately come from England too, as there were no medieval native sources of tin in that region and tin does, in fact, seem to have been imported into Russia from England via Germany earlier in the medieval period.(8

Two fragments of mina'i bowls probably made in the city of Kashan in the early thirteenth century, both featuring a tin-opacified glaze, now in the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro; click the image for a larger view. The left bowl, TRURI 900.479, seems to show a young prince sitting cross-legged, whilst the right bowl, TRURI 900.478, shows a male equestrian figure (image: Caitlin Green).

In consequence, it can be said that the two main accounts under consideration here seem, when taken together, to suggest that tin from Cornwall and Devon was very probably making its way across to Iran in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, where it was used to create tin-opacified white and turquoise ceramic glazes by manufacturers of pottery and tiles. In this context, it is worth observing that Cornish or Devonshire tin was definitely used for a similar purpose in sixteenth-century Italy, and Anna McSweeney has recently argued that it was probably used for making opaque ceramic glazes in medieval Iberia too.(9) So, for example, in 1417 a potter named Hacen Muça was paid by a French merchant from Montpellier, Joan Lorenç, in lead, tin and cobalt to undertake work that he was to deliver to the port of Valencia in two months, presumably using tin obtained by this French merchant from southwestern England, and in 1325 another contract specifies that the potter Mahomet Bensuleyman and another saracen from Manises, eastern Spain, would be paid in advance with lead and tin for the kiln loads that they were to supply.(10

Whether earlier Islamic ceramics using tin-opacified glazes similarly depended on tin from southwestern England is a matter of speculation, but it is interesting to observe that the earliest such glazes seem to have their origins in Egypt in the eighth century AD, which is perhaps suggestive, given that tin seems to have been known as 'the Brittanic metal' in Egypt only a century earlier.(11) Finally, it should be noted that the tin imported into Iran from medieval England was almost certainly used for purposes other than the creation of ceramic glazes. Tin was, for example, a key ingredient in both the making of bronze vessels and the creation of tin opacifiers for glass; assuming, as seems reasonable, that Abū l-Qāsim's observations on the sources of tin hold for other uses of this metal as well, then tin from southwestern England/Farangistān is likely to have played a part in the creation of metal and glasswork as well as ceramics in thirteenth-/fourteenth-century Iran.

A mina'i ware jug with seated figures and sketches, made in Central Iran in the late 12th or early 13th century, earthenware with polychrome enamels and gold over a turquoise glaze; now in Cincinnati Art Museum (image: Wikimedia Commons).


1.     D. N. Dunlop, 'The British Isles according to medieval Arabic authors', Islamic Quarterly, 4 (1957), 11–28 at pp. 24–5 (my emphasis); M. Reinaud, Géographie d'Aboulféda, 2 vols (Paris: A L'Imprimerie Nationale, 1848), vol. 2, pp. 265–6. Note also the reference to 'fine scarlet wool... which is fine like silk'; the fame of English wool and the regard in which it was held in medieval Europe is well-known, but this reference and two further ones in the early fourteenth century from Rashīd al-Dīn and Banākatī to 'exceedingly fine scarlet cloth' from England imply that the fame of English wool products reached well beyond Europe and even so far as Central Asia in the early fourteenth century. 

2.     See further now C. Green, 'Britain, the Byzantine Empire, and the concept of an Anglo-Saxon ‘Heptarchy’: Harun ibn Yahya’s ninth-century Arabic description of Britain', in Global Perspectives on Early Medieval Britain, eds. K. L. Jolly & B. Brooks (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, forthcoming); Ḥudūd al-‘Ālam, ‘The Regions of the World’ – A Persian Geography 372 A.H. – 982 A.D., ed. and trans. V. V. Minorsky (London, 1970), chp 4 (p. 59) and chp 42 (p. 158).

3.     Dunlop, 'British Isles', p. 26.

4.     Dunlop, 'British Isles', p. 25; Reinaud, Géographie d'Aboulféda, p. 307. See D. G. König, Arabic-Islamic Views of the Latin West: Tracing the Emergence of Medieval Europe (Oxford, 2015), p. 279, for Ibn Saʿīd al-Maghribī's own text of this section; note, he says that the tin and copper is taken by ships from Narbonne to Alexandria, but isn't explicit as to the ships used. 

5.     R. Penhallurick, Tin in Antiquity (London: Institute of Metals, 1986), pp. 141–2; B. Cunliffe, The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek (London: Penguin, 2001), pp. 57, 76, 79–80; J. Hatcher, English Tin Production and Trade Before 1550 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), p. 24; C. R. Green, 'The Anglo-Saxons abroad? Some early Anglo-Saxon finds from France and East Africa', blog post, 7 May 2016, online at

6.     J. W. Allan, 'Abū'l-Qāsim's treatise on ceramics', Iran, 11 (1976), 111–20 at 111, 112 and 120. Note, underlined passages are found only in the later of two manuscripts of this treatise, dating from the sixteenth century, whilst those unmarked are found in the manuscript of 1300–01. On Farangistān/Firanja/Ifrand̲j̲a, see B. Lewis and J. F. P. Hopkins, 'Ifrand̲j', in Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition, ed. Bearman et al., consulted online on 25 November 2020,, and P. M. Cobb, The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (Oxford, 2014), pp. 15–19; on the entire Iberian Peninsula being known to geographers as al-Andalus, see A. G. Sanjuán, 'Al-Andalus, etymology and name', in Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, ed. K. Fleet, G. Krämer, D. Matringe, J. Nawas, and E. Rowson (Leiden, 2018), consulted online on 26 November 2020,

7.     See further on tin-opacified glazes in the Islamic world and their origins and spread, M. Matin, 'Tin-based opacifiers in archaeological glass and ceramic glazes: a review and new perspectives', Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 11 (2019), 1155–67, especially pp. 1161–2; M. Tite et al., 'Revisiting the beginnings of tin-opacified Islamic glazes', Journal of Archaeological Science, 57 (2015), 80–91; E. Salinas, 'From tin- to antimony-based yellow opacifiers in the early Islamic Egyptian glazes: Regional influences and ruling dynasties', Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 26 (2019), 101923; and E. Salinas et al., 'Polychrome glazed ware production in Tunisia during the Fatimid-Zirid period: New data on the question of the introduction of tin glazes in western Islamic lands', Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 34.A (2020), 102632.

8.     A. McSweeney, 'The tin trade and medieval ceramics: tracing the sources of tin and its influence on Mediterranean ceramics production', Al-Masāq: Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean, 23 (2011), 155–69 at pp. 165, 166; Allan, 'Abū'l-Qāsim's treatise on ceramics', pp. 112, 118.

9.     McSweeney, 'The tin trade', especially pp. 164–9.

10.     McSweeney, 'The tin trade', p. 168.

11.     Penhallurick, Tin in Antiquity, pp. 10, 237; Matin, 'Tin-based opacifiers'; Tite et al., 'Revisiting the beginnings'; Salinas, 'From tin- to antimony-based yellow opacifiers'; E. Salinas et al., 'Polychrome glazed ware'.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2020, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Saturday 21 November 2020

More monstrous landscapes of medieval Lincolnshire

A previous post on here listed a number of field and other local minor names from Lindsey that made reference to folkloric and monstrous creatures inhabiting northern Lincolnshire; the aim of the following brief discussion is to offer some further names of the same type, based this time on the Place-Names of Lincolnshire, volumes 1–7. Once again, it should be noted that the majority of these names derive from medieval and early modern sources and suggest the existence of local folklore and tales, long since lost, focused on the pits, mires, fields, pools and mounds of the pre-Modern Lincolnshire landscape.

J. R. Skelton's 1908 illustration of Grendel, who is described as a þyrs/thyrs in Beowulf (image: Wikimedia Commons).

Old Norse þurs (thurs)/Old English þyrs (thyrs)—a giant, a monster/ogre/demon

A word indicating a giant or similar monster with a dangerous or destructive nature; most famously found in the Old Norse compound hrímþursar, the 'frost giants', and as a description of Grendel in line 426 of the Old English poem Beowulf. It seems to indicate a malevolent, fen-dwelling monster of the Grendel type, with the Old English Maxims II saying that þyrs sceal on fenne gewunian ana innan lande, 'the þyrs (giant, ogre) shall dwell in the fen, alone in his realm'; compare the Thrusmyre in Edlington parish, 'a mire, Old Norse myrr, inhabited by a þurs'. The names below imply a number of features thought to be either inhabited by—or made by—such creatures in the medieval/early modern Lincolnshire landscape; note, the dates indicate the year in which the name is first documented.

  • Thirsewell, Thorsey Nab, Glentham (1220)—'spring haunted by giants', sometimes with nabbi, 'hill/knoll'.
  • Thyrstpit, Usselby (1372)—'giant-pit' or 'demon-haunted pit'; note, the compound þyrspyt etc is first recorded in a ninth-century Old English charter.
  • Thurspits, Bottesford (1679)—'the pits, hollows haunted by giants, demons or goblins'.
  • Low Thrush pits/Upper thrushpit, Ashby near Scunthorpe (1750)—'the pit/hollow haunted by a demon or giant' or 'giant-pit'.
  • Trusdall, Nettleton (1577)—'the share of land haunted by a demon or giant'.
  • Tursfeild Crosse, Scawby (1669)—'the field haunted by demons, giants or goblins' + cros, 'cross'.
  • Threshole, Saxilby and Ingleby (1766)—'the hollow occupied by a giant or demon'. Note, Bishop White Kennett, in a glossary written in c. 1700, defines a 'Thurs-house or Thurs-hole' as 'a hollow vault... looked on as enchanted holes'.
  • Thirspitts, Waltham (1601)—'the pit occupied by a giant or demon'.
  • Thuswelle closes, Hemswell (1670)—'spring haunted by a giant or demon'.

Image from the title page of 'Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests' (1629); Robin Goodfellow is generally considered a type of hob or hobgoblin (image: Wikimedia Commons).

Middle English hob(be)—a mischievous spirit/hobgoblin

A word for a mischievous spirit or goblin; a hob in Northern and Midland English folklore was a rough, hairy, creature of the 'brownie' type, whose work could bring prosperity to farms but who could become mischievous or dangerous if annoyed. Household variants might be given new clothes to get them to leave forever, although other hobs lived outside in caves or holes. The normal form in Northern and North Midland counties was apparently Hobthrus or Hobthrust, which is a compound of Middle English hob(be), 'a hobgoblin', and thurs(e), 'a devil, evil spirit', from OE þyrs/ON þurs, 'a giant, monster'; note, Dickins considers hob to be in fact an abbreviation of hobthrus, with the latter being the original form and the hob as a creature thus being a less-malevolent development of the Old Norse þurs (thurs)/Old English þyrs (thyrs).

  • Hob Lane, East Halton (1804)—'a lane haunted by a hobgoblin'; see also the Hoblurke recorded at East Halton in the 1200s in the previous post. A tale of a hobthurst (hob + thurs) from East Halton was collected by Mabel Peacock around the turn of the nineteenth century, when it was apparently living in the cellar of Manor Farm in an iron pot and was described as 'a kind of devil' and 'a little fellow with a big head'. He would apparently help the farmer on occasion, for example driving sheep to the barn so that they could be sheared, although he was also mischievous and once left the wagon on top of the barn; the farmer was meant to leave the hobthrust a linen shirt for his help each year, but when he gave the creature a hempen shirt one year instead, the hobthrust set up an angry wail and refused to ever help on the farm again.
  • Hobbing hole, Lissingleys in Buslingthorpe parish (1846)—'hollow frequented by a hobgoblin', presumably somewhere on the ancient medieval common pasturage and meeting-place of Lissingleys, now in Buslingthorpe parish but before 1851 an extra-parochial area shared between the surrounding parishes.
  • Hobthrust Dale, Burton-upon-Stather (1698)—'the share of land haunted by a hob-thrust, a goblin', with hob-thrust as above.
  • Hobtrust Lane, Goxhill (1775)—another name involving the compound hobthrust < hob(be) + thurs(e). Note, Goxhill is a neighbouring village to East Halton, above.

Jane Eyre encountering Mr Rochester's horse, which she at first mistakes for a Gytrash, a Northern English variant of the 'shag foal' (image: Wikimedia Commons).

The 'Shag Foal'
—a rough-coated goblin horse

Also known as the Tatterfoal, he was goblin horse or donkey that was common across Lincolnshire and seems to have had a preference for hills; he is also said to have haunted Spittle Hill at Frieston, Ogarth Hill at Tathwell, Kirton-in-Lindsey, South Ferriby, and Boggart Lane at Roxby (below). According to Westwood and Simpson, something akin to the 'shag foal' was first mention by Gervase of Tilbury in c. 1211, when he termed it a 'grant'; Eli Twigg of Asgarthorpe in the nineteenth century described the shag foal as 'a shagg'd-looking hoss, and given to all manner of goings-on', including catching hold of anyone riding home drunk, pulling them from the saddle, and 'scaring a old woman three parts out of her skin, and making her drop her shop-things in the blatter and blash, and run for it'.
  • Shag Foal, Ulceby in North Lincolnshire (1826)—a piece of land haunted by a 'shag foal'.

The road from Roxby to Winterton Cliff House in 1898, showing the position of Roxby Mill; this was presumably known as Boggart Lane in the 1830s, where a 'shag foal' was seen by a young man as he passed Roxby Mill  (image: David Rumsey).


'Boggart' was a general northern term for a frightening creature that might be a ghost, malicious fairy or minor demon, with outdoor boggarts generally haunting pits, wells or lonely lanes.
  • Bogger Furlong, Caistor (1649)—a furlong in the old open field that was haunted by a boggart.
  • Boggart Lane, Roxby (1830s)—the boggart haunting this lane, also known as Goosey Lane, may be identical with the 'shag foal' met by a young man as he passed Roxby Mill, which was 'sum'ate as big as a watter-tub' and 'a gret shagg'd thing', with huge eyes; it 'shooved him roond wheniver he tried to slip past it'.

J. R. Skelton's 1908 illustration of the slave in Beowulf who stole the dragon's golden cup, thinking to redeem himself, and thus awoke the dragon (image: Wikimedia Commons).

Dragons, trolls, elves & other creatures

  • Drakehou, drackhole, Owmby by Spital (1330)—probably the hollow inhabited by a dragon, although the earliest form has the second element Old Norse haugr, 'mound, barrow', which would fit with other early-recorded dragons; as the Old English Maxims II puts it, Draca sceal on hlæw, frod, frætwum wlanc, 'A dragon belongs in a mound, old and proud of treasures', and compare Drakelow, Derbyshire, æt Dracan hlawen in 942, which is Old English dracan hlāw, 'the dragon's mound'.
  • Drakehord, Nettleham (1348–9)—Old English dracanhord, 'dragon's hoard'; see above.
  • Draykmoor, Tetney (1764)—Middle English drāke, 'a dragon', + mōr, 'a marsh'.
  • Poke Close, Willoughton (1554)—'the goblin infested enclosure', pūca, compare 'Puck of Pook's Hill'.
  • Trolleheudland, Goxhill (1309)—'the headland (place where the plough turned) haunted by a troll'.
  • Aluehou, Tetney (12th century)—a Scandinavian name meaning 'the mound, haugr, haunted by elves',
  • Scrittecroft, Scothern (1216–72)—'croft, small field' + scritta, probably with the sense 'devil, wizard', cf. ON skratti.
  • Grimesdic, Dunholme (1154–89)—'Grim's ditch', with reference to the Óðinn-name Grímr used as a synonym for the devil.
  • Grimeshow, Nettleham (1348–9)—'Grim's mound/barrow, ON haugr', with reference to the Óðinn-name Grímr used as a synonym for the devil.

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