Tag Archives: Ceawlin of Wessex

All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Five

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

A rough placing of the 'Anglo-Saxon' regions

You’ll be glad to know that this is a relatively short blog!


(At the time thought to be roughly the British civitates of western Atrebates and eastern Durotiges).

If Gildas wrote in the southwest, it may have been this lot who were his virtual neighbours … if they were the enemy and not used by the British as feodorati (federates) against ‘Saxon’ expansion from the east. I have read that they appeared in the area quite early in Hampshire, ca 460, but I’m having trouble getting this verified. It makes a big difference to the southern Badon question if they appeared after the battle and during the supposed ‘peace’.  If there’s someone who can clarify this for me I’d be most grateful.

Whilst they may not have been part of the infamous Adventus Saxonum revolt in the mid-5th century, if they were feodorati, they may still have revolted later. Who knows how often alliances changed. (This is not to forgot that some doubt the whole notion of Germanic feodorati).

They might not have had an option of whose side they were on at Badon if Ælle was their Bretwalda. But, just as there are two side to every story (usually more actually) there are two sides to a river, and if the River Hamble in Hampshire was the boundary it’s not inconceivable that some were on the Brits’ side and the others on the ‘Saxons’ or a Saxon-British alliance.

To address what they were doing here in the first place, and why they never seem to have formed a later kingdom, Stuart Laycock brings up some interesting points in his latest book, ‘Warlords’, (2010) about these Jutes.

“The strongest archaeological indication that something significant was happening in Sussex at this time comes from the strange settlement pattern of the Jutes. [...] Though a small independent Jutish kingdom was formed in the Isle of Wight there is no evidence that the Jutes of South Hampshire ever constituted a separate independent Jutish kingdom. Two main possibilities, therefore, present themselves. Either an Anglo-Saxon warlord in Sussex, perhaps Cissa, or perhaps (if the Chronicle has got the dates really wrong) Ælle himself, was moving Jutes from Sussex dominated Kent to the other end of his realm to guard the western borders, or alternatively, perhaps the British authorities in southern Hampshire, in the civitas of the Belgae, were looking for additional Germanic support against the new confident and expansionist Sussex.” (p123)

He goes on to give archæological evidence as to why he believes they might have been used by the British – all to do with spear heads -  but I’m not qualified to comment. It would be most interesting if he were right as it could mean the British of the area doing deals with the Frankish influenced eastern Kent.

Barbara Yorke, in her contribution to the symposium ‘Regna and Gentes. The Relationship between Late Antique and Early Medieval Peoples‘ , has, like others, wondered just how much the Jutes of Kent, Wight and Hampshire were under the control of the Franks on the continent. A king of the Franks did boast that he ruled some of the Britons, and he just might have!

If they were the enemy, then one of the various rivers, and the dykes to the north, could have been what hemmed them in and created the divide.

With regards to the Isle of Wight, Ruth Waller has this to say …

“The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s date for the seizing of the island by Cerdic and Cynric is proven unreliable by the pagan Saxon cemeteries with clear Jutish origins dating to the Late 5th and Early 6th century cemetery on Bowcombe and Chessell Downs which indicate settlement well before the documentary dates (Arnold,1982). Further evidence from metal detected finds suggest another six possible cemeteries of similar dates could survive, but synthesis of this evidence is required before conclusions can be made.” (Archaeological Resource Assessment of the Isle of Wight: Early Medieval period, August 2006)

If these Jutes were the ‘bad guys’, then they could have retreated to the island.

The above quote is evidence that there was Jutes on the island in the Late 5th and Early 6th centuries.  If they were there in the Late 5th, then they could very well have been in Hampshire at the same time.  It’s not inconceivable that it’s these peoples who the ASC refers to and attached the events to Cerdic and Cynric, who actually came later.

What would happen to these ‘Jutes’ after the defeat at Badon if they were on the losing side? If Badon was in this region they’d suffer the consequences one would think. They may have been the closest to it. This could be the reason they never did become a separate kingdom.


This is the region in which, according to the ASC (which is, of course, untrustworthy for this period), Ælle appears; although no one can be certain of exactly where he appeared from! He’s not even called a king … of anywhere! If he came from somewhere else, then he may not have been a ‘South Saxon’ to begin with, but created such a region. There are arguments that he came from the Continent, just as the Saxons were being defeated in Gaul, but there’s no way of knowing and for this discussion it doesn’t matter.

“The Ecclesiastical History [of Bede] lists the first seven great overlords beginning with Ælle of the South Saxons, whose activities in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are placed between 477 and 491. It seems doubtful whether Ælle really ruled at quite such an early date, especially as the second in the list was Ceawlin of Wessex whose floruit seems to have been the 580s and early 590s.” (Yorke, p16)

… and to quote a Keith Matthews (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) posted on Arthurnet

“What intrigues me is the fact that the death of [Ælle’s] putative son Cissa is placed by the Anglo-Norman historians c 590. We don’t know the authority for this, but Wendy Davies has argued that some of the non-Chronicle material found in these late writers does go back to (possibly Mercian) lost pre-Conquest sources. This would put Ælle in the third quarter of the sixth century, immediately prior to the second Bretwalda, Ceawlin (David Dumville has shown conclusively that the dates for Ceawlin in the Chronicle are pure guesswork and don’t match the data in the earlier king list).”

If Yorke, Davies and Dumville are right, then this rules Ælle out as a Bretwalda at the time of Badon, which makes it that much harder to argue for a large, unified ‘Anglo-Saxon’ military presence there, although it could always have been some other character leading them. Without knowing either Ælle’s or Badon’s actual dates we can’t conclude. However, it could be argued that any large gap between the first and second Bretwaldas was because of the defeat at Badon, and subsequent British dominance, as well as other factors, meaning a Bretwalda couldn’t rise to power during this period. I have to admit, it does seem more logical to me that the Bretwaldas appeared after 550, when the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ expansion and kingdoms appear.

If Ælle was at Badon, then, judging by the relatively small numbers of ‘Saxon’ graves of this region, he was going to have to rely on allies. (That’s if these are representative of the ‘Saxons’ there). Yet to be a Bretwalda he’d need loyal supporters in large numbers on his side. Many of these could have been Britons, but he possibly had ‘Jutes’ and ‘West Saxons’ to draw from.

The burning question would be why, if Bede is right and Ælle was Bretwalda of everything south of the Humber, the eastern ‘Anglian’ peoples would be under his ‘rule’ or follow him? There may be several answers to that, but one (very tenuous) answer that comes to my mind as to why they might have joined him, would be that he said to them something to the affect of, “Look, the Brit’s power base is in Cirencester and most of there warriors were at the southern end of Britannia Prima at the moment. You send some men in from the north and east and push them back, whilst attacking other areas to deflect attention and we’ll come from the south and east and we’ll slaughter them in the middle. We take them and the city and we solve all our problems.”  However, this sounds a bit of a stretch to me, and I wrote it, but stranger things have happened! Another possibility is the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ still functioned under the guise of the old Roman provinces of the east, and if you held power over one of these (or were placed in power) you held power over all those within them?

How many men these ‘Anglian’ areas to the north would be willing send to Badon (if any) is another matter.  (As I’ll explore later, the Brits may not have posed a threat to many of them). The alternatives are alliances to the southern ‘Saxons’ through marriage, which there’s no evidence of, or Ælle threatened or conquered them, which there’s no evidence of … but there’s not much evidence of anything for this period! Another reason could be Ælle was himself from the east.  After all, the next ‘Ælle’ to appear (in the 9th century) was a Northumbrian. Was he named after another famous northeasterner?

If he was the leader at Badon and it was fought in the south, then this would have had massive implication for the ‘South Saxon’ region and the Brits would have been close enough, and, maybe, dominant enough to stop them expanding, creating the long peace. Another possibility is, if the South Saxons were the result of an élite takeover of the British, those British simply swapped sides again for the next X amount of years.

An aside

As an aside, looking at maps like those above (which, I realise, can be misleading) I’m always amazed at how far this Germanic settlement/culture had travelled even by ca 500. Gildas may have said the enemy went home to the east of the island after the initial revolt, but they obviously didn’t stay there very long. (Unless Thompson is right and they returned to their bases in the northeast of what is now England and not Kent or Essex). Gildas also says it wasn’t until they did go back that the fighting against them started and you can understand his conclusions about the Briton’s lack of martial prowess if they couldn’t stop them getting that far. If the Britons did posses remnants of Roman military units as well as militias, they obviously either weren’t in these areas, the ‘enemy’ were of superior quality or some of these British ‘units’ joined them.

Another alternative, which has been forwarded by many others, is that Britannia Prima and many of the civitates of the west also used Germanic mercenaries, such as those possible ones at Dorchester-on-Thames or along the River Avon, as frontier troops, against aggressive neighbours of whatever ethnic origin or location, including British. It could, indeed, be why they were there, and not because they took it by force. If it was more a cultural spread reason then that gives a very different explanation, of course. Alliances through marriage could bring the culture with them, besides those Brits who just liked the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ fashions. However, Gildas certainly doesn’t make it sound like it was a cultural spread.

It also makes me wonder, as many scholars have, if the territories the ‘Saxons’ had were indeed the two old Romano-British eastern provinces of Maxima Caesariensis and Flavia Caesariensis, and Britannia Prima and Britannia Secunda (and Valentia) didn’t care much who was ‘ruling’ them. It was only when they became a direct threat that they really did something about it. But for them to rule ‘provinces’ of this size would take central administration and, as argues by Barbara Yorke and others, they didn’t seem to have this organisation at this stage.  Of course, Ken Dark argues that the British were still in control and Nick Higham that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were actually in control after Badon.

This gets us in to the whole Vortigern/Ambrosius thing, and what it was they ruled and fought for, which I want to stay clear of for this discussion, so I’ll leave it there.

In the next blog I’ll look at the ‘Middle Saxons’, the ‘South Middle-Saxons’ (Surrey), ‘East (‘Jutish’) and West (‘Saxon’) Kent’, ‘East Saxons’, ‘East Angles’, ‘Middle & South Angles’ and the ‘North Angles’.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,



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