This chapter is concerned with the period between the mid-seventh century and the end of the eighth century. This was an era which saw the establishment of major trade networks centred on the North Sea littoral. Essex was in the middle of these developments and consequently its archaeology reflects many of the major themes of this new era. As in Chapter 2, here we will review the evidence from dress accessories, pottery, and coinage in detail, prior to a general discussion on the structure of life for communities in this North Atlantic region.
Unlike the evidence from earlier centuries, few dress accessories have survived from this ‘middle’ period. Those that have and that are overtly display items, reveal significant connections across the North Sea. In particular, Francia appears to have been one of the more significant maritime links.
As will be underlined, it is in pottery and coinage that the building maritime focus of this region is best elucidated. This chapter also highlights more clearly the evolving picture from the archaeological evidence of intraregional zones of interaction. This was suggested from the dress customs of the earlier centuries in particular. Now in the seventh and eighth centuries, this is shown especially by the origin of coins used – showing general exchange relationships – as well as imported pottery. The evidence suggests that north-west Essex had a stronger relationship with areas to the north; northern Essex was peripheral to an East Anglian core; while the south was influence by the Thames region and Kent, and the east participated fully in coastal and cross-Channel exchange. These findings should remind us of the predominantly local scale of agency even when discussing relatively large European networks. A key finding is the discovery of a series of sites in accessible areas that show evidence of having operated as points of exchange within this long-distance network. This is important as it shows a wider engagement with exchange networks than has been suggested classically (e.g. Hodges 1982, 1989).
As in the previous chapter, dress items, ceramic artefacts and coin types will be discussed in turn, though grouped by region of origin. It is hoped that this presentation will aid the non-specialist reader, by providing a comprehensive overview of much of the material available in seventh- and eighth-century contexts in England and the debates and commentary that surround it.