Archive for the ‘Dark ages’ Category

Another day of heavy rain forced us to look for somewhere indoor to visit and so we decided to visit the Arthurian centre at Slaughterbridge on the banks of the River Camel. Slaughterbridge stood at an important ford across the river and therefore was an important strategic site. The name of the village gives a good indication that this is the site of a battle, in fact, its two battles. The first was the battle between Arthur, King of Cornwall and Mordred his nephew, who was in rebellion and took place according to records in 537. The second was in 823 when the Anglo-Saxons under Egbert of Wessex defeated the army of Cornwall and Wessex took control of Cornwall. Numerous artefacts of dark-age weapons have been found on the site, showing this certainly was a battlefield.

On the site, there has also been the discovery of a 13th-century village and an 18th-century garden, but perhaps the most controversial finding is a dark-age stone (c540) found by the river which has both Latin and Ogham (ancient Irish language) inscriptions. The latter is almost unreadable due to erosion, but the Latin inscription has been interpreted by some as reading ‘Here lies Latin(us) the son of Arthur the Great’. An alternative translation and interpretation have read as ‘ Here lies Latinus, the son of Macarius’. Neither the less it is an interesting artefact as it is one of the few gravestones found in Britain that have both Latin and Ogham inscriptions together.

The exhibition and information are very good as they do not seek to verify the legends of King Arthur, merely to present what is known from historical and other sources and to let the visitor make up their own minds about what they believe is true and what is fantasy. My personal conclusion, Arthur was a Celtic War-leader, in the period when the Anglo-Saxons began to enter Britain. He fought to protect the western lands of the British Celts and was to a large degree successful as the Anglo-Saxons didn’t finally gain control of Cornwall till many years after his death.

The site of St Olav's church

The site of St Olave’s church

St Olave’s church no longer exists and today is an open space in Silver St in the city of London. It is uncertain when the church was built. Records exist from 1400 but give little clue of how much earlier it was established. There was some rebuilding carried out around 1600 but the church became a casualty of the Great Fire in 1666 and was totally destroyed. The decision was taken not to rebuild it and a stone memorial reputedly from c 1700 was placed on the site to record the previous presence of the church.

Memorial_Stone,_St_Olave's_Garden,_London_EC1 By Christine Matthews, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Memorial_Stone,_St_Olave’s_Garden,_London_EC1 By Christine Matthews, CC BY-SA 2.0,


St Olave (also St Olav or St Olaf) was born Olaf Haraldson, a Norwegian noble in 995. Early in his life he travelled to Britain, where he learnt about Christianity and also fought alongside King Ethelbert II against the Danes (long-time enemies of Norway). He returned to Norway and eventually became King in 1015. Having converted to Christianity himself he encouraged the spread of his faith throughout the country and encouraged many priests from Britain to travel to Norway. In 1028 he was exiled following a rebellion by a group of Norwegian nobles backed by the Danes. After 2 years he returned to reclaim his kingdom and surprisingly, having supported his removal in favour of a more pro-Danish regime, the Danes failed to support the Norwegian rebels, who were defeated in battle. Unfortunately, Olaf did not live to see victory as he was killed in the decisive battle. His son Magnus the Good succeeded him as King. The cult of St Olave was very popular in the Middle Ages and many churches were dedicated to him including a number in England.

olaf-ii-king-of-norway-killed-at-the-battle-of-stiklestad (From

olaf-ii-king-of-norway-killed-at-the-battle-of-stiklestad (From

I have got into a bad habit when major exhibitions occur. I don’t go initially because they will be too busy and then before I know it they are almost over. So it was with the Celts exhibition at the British Museum, which closes at the end of this week and which I finally got round to seeing yesterday.

Extent of Celtic Culture in Europe - "Celts in Europe" by QuartierLatin1968. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Extent of Celtic Culture in Europe – “Celts in Europe” by QuartierLatin1968. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

The exhibition follows the development of the Celtic culture, a single culture shared by a number of different peoples from eastern ( Czech Republic and Turkey), Central (Switzerland and Germany) and western (Iberia, France and Britain) Europe. It reached it height during the Iron Age and is perhaps most famous for its metalwork, much of which is on display in the exhibition.



The Celtic metalwork is amazing and these were the star exhibits on show.

Photo by Jessica springer (

Photo by Jessica Spengler (


Celtic Shield. Photo by rachel H (

Celtic Shield. Photo by Rachel H (


Celtic Torc. Photo by tallis Keaton (

Celtic Torc. Photo by Tallis Keaton (


It has always been imagined that the culture expanded from a foundation in Central Europe westwards and eastwards, as shown on the map above. However I recently saw a documentary on the TV which reported the apparent finding of ‘bronze age’ Celtic artifacts from Iberia and Britain. Since no such items have been found in central or Eastern Europe, this may, if substantiated, suggest that the origins of the Celtic culture may in fact have been on the lands of the Atlantic coast and spread eastward from there.


The exhibition closes on Sunday.

Aerial view of Tynemouth priory and Castle today

Aerial view of Tynemouth priory and Castle today

During my recent visit to Northumberland, I visited Tynemouth Priory, which is situated on a high rocky headland on the north shore of the mouth of the River Tyne. It was a horrible wet morning and I could not help but feel sorry for those for whom this had been their home. I mentioned this to the people in the information centre and they said that there were actually letters from medieval monks in the Priory describing how they hated the place because of its weather and because the waves crashing on the rocks below would keep them awake at night.


There is evidence that the site was occupied during the Iron Age, but apart from a few small remains it doesnot appear to have been occupied during the Roman period.

Iron Age round-house

Iron Age round-house

It is believed that Tynemouth Priory was founded in the early seventh century. It is recorded that in 651 Oswin, King of Deira, was buried there after being murdered. He was subsequently canonised and the shrine of St Oswin became a site of pilgrimage. He was the first of three Kings to be buried in the Priory. The second was King Osred of Northumbria, also a victim of murder, in 792.
In the ninth century, the Priory was repeatedly attacked by the Danes and despite work to strengthen the defences was eventually destroyed in 875. There seems to have been no inclination to rebuild the Priory at this time and so the site lay unused for about 150 years.
In the reign of Edward the confessor, the land was owned by Tostig, Earl of Northumberland and brother of the future King Harold. He rebuilt Tynemouth as a fortress. During this time the tomb of St Oswin was rediscovered and Earl Tostig planned to found a new monastery on the site. However, in 1065 he had a falling out with his brother, who persuaded the King to exile Tostig from country. Tostig first sought sanctuary on the continent and then with King Malcolm III of Scotland. In 1066, together with the Scots and Norwegians he invaded north-east England. It was an invasion that was to change the course of English history as he chose to invade just a few weeks before William of Normandy would launch his invasion of the south of England. The newly crowned King Harold marched North to meet them and defeated them at the battle of Stamford Bridge, at which Tostig was killed. It was in the midst of the celebrations of this victory that King Harold received the news that William of Normandy has landed in Sussex.
With no progress on the re-founding of the monastery the remains of St Oswin were moved to the monastery at Jarrow.

7th century broach found on site

7th century broach found on site

Portus continued to be expand. In the late second century, there was both an expansion of existing buildings and the building of a new complex – The Grande Magazzini Di Septimo Severus. It was built adjacent to the Palazzo Imperiale. This building is two stories high, the ground floor consisting of a large corridor flanked by secure storage rooms whilst the layout of the first floor suggests offices. It has been suggested by some that this building had some sort of customs function as it overlooked both basins and so was ideally positioned to monitor ship movements.

The evidence seems to suggest that at this time there was a large increase in the trade in marble. Analysis of the remnants found suggest that this was primarily from Tunisia and Egypt. Once unloaded from the ships, this was probably transferred to a large marble yard situated at the junction of the Fossa Triana and the River Tiber, from where it was transferred as required to the Statio Marmorum in the city.

Despite the crises of the third and early fourth century Roman Empire it seems as though. Portus remained an active port. Within two years of Constantine’s adoption of Christianity, it is recorded that there was a Bishop of Portus. Sometime in the period 334-341 it was granted the status of a civitas. This is interesting as it implies there was an attached urban community, the location of which so far has remained undiscovered by excavation, although civil buildings such as a large basilica have been found. One intriguing snippet of historical evidence is a reference to the building of a guesthouse at Portus for the use of pilgrims by a senator Pammachus in 398. Were these pilgrims going to Rome or pilgrims going from Rome to the holy land or somewhere else? The Theodosian law code of 438 contains multiple references to Portus regarding the control of state-owned warehouses and the charges for the import and export cargoes

it appears that Portus went into decline in the fifth century, no doubt as a result of the decline of the influence of Rome itself as power moved to Constantinople in the East and to places such as Ravenna in the West. Despite this, it remained an important port and there is a record of one Sidonius Apollimarus being appointed as the urban prefect for Portus in the mid-5th century. From the late fifth century, there appears to have been a contraction of the port area and we see the construction of new defences centred on and around the hexagonal basin. Little is known of what happened after the fall of the Roman kingdom in Italy in 489. However, we do know that during the Byzantine –Ostrogoth war of 535-553 Portus is recorded by a Byzantine historian Procopus as being an important and strategic prize and it seems following the Byzantine victory Portus continues to function as a port. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Claudian basin was by now silting up and there seems to have been no political will to dredge it. Also from around the late fifth century onwards burials begin to be found in areas outside that of the hexagonal basin, suggesting that these areas were no longer in use for port activities. It has been suggested that the Byzantine port consisted just of the Darsena and the hexagonal basin and that these were accessed via the canal system or that a limited path was dredged through the Claudian basin.

It may be that despite the decline of the ports usage the town continued to be of some importance as there seems to be evidence of a refurbishment of the basilica in the sixth and seventh centuries. The last historical record of use for the port is when in 715 the fleet of Pope Constantine is recorded as sailing from Portus

Portus today

Portus today


Posted: June 16, 2014 in Dark ages, History
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A meeting at the British Museum enabled me to finally visit the Viking exhibition in the new exhibition gallery a few days before it closed.

British Museum
Photo by Allan Harris (

The exhibition chose to focus away from the traditional view of Vikings as blood hungry raiders who pillaged the neighbouring territories and instead to look at them in terms of their culture, craft and explorations.
There were many beautiful objects gathered from collections all over the world which bore witness to their skill as craftsmen.

British Museum: Viking badges "The Penrith Hoard"
photo by Moorina (

British Museum
The Lewis Chessmen
Photo by Allan Harris (

The geographical range of goods discovered told the tale of their wide ranging exploration and their involvement in Kingdoms from Byzantium in the east to Ireland and Normandy in the West.
The centre of the main hall is the reconstruction, together with some original timber, from the largest Viking warship ever unearthed at Roskilde in Denmark. It is over 37m long and is estimated to have had around 70-80 oars and a probable crew of 100 warriors.

photo by Wolfgang Jung (

The Sea-wolf
photo by Zoe (

A very interesting exhibition and a great start to the new gallery. The exhibition closes on June 22nd. So if you can get along and see it.