The Anglo-Saxon period is a peculiarly formative period in English history. It is in this period that the origins of the English language and sense of nationhood can be found. The naming of the country and its constituent regions, towns, and villages, together with much of the current settlement distribution, is also largely a product of the Anglo-Saxon period. Indeed in many diverse areas of culture, from the use of coinage to Christian religious practice, the Anglo-Saxon period established an unbroken chain that continues to this day and thus shaped something of the character of English national life.
Indeed across Europe, during the early medieval period, many of the modern states of the Continent began to take shape, establishing enduring cultural and political distinctions. It is little wonder that many groups in the modern era have passionately promoted particular visions of the early medieval past. For better or worse, it is so often seen as a cultural and national starting point in the contemporary construction of group identity. It is thus a fascinating, if loaded area in which to conduct archaeological research.
In the case of Essex, we still have a politically distinct region that has endured since at least the seventh century. In the area of the traditional county of Essex we find an eastward-looking region on the front-line of many of the social, political, and economic upheavals of the early medieval period. As a result, Essex (taken together with its early polyfocal centres in the London region) presents us with an opportunity to explore the mechanisms and expressions of these formative changes, adding to a growing body of research on other contemporary regions around the eastern North Atlantic. The focus of this monograph is then to delve into the origins of this 1400-year-old region; to examine those first links in the unbroken chain.
The study presented in this monograph examines social identity, economy, and socio-political development in Anglo-Saxon Essex, between AD c.400 and 1066. The earlier date is set knowingly during the Roman period, so as to allow the inclusion of early artefacts of relevance to the creation of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ communities in Essex. This is the first time that there has been a comprehensive synthesis of the archaeological evidence for the entire duration of the Anglo-Saxon period in Essex. Furthermore, this study is the first to integrate London into an analysis of Essex.