The Organisation of the Mid–Late Anglo-Saxon Borderland with Wales

Keith Ray


With hardly any written documentation concerning the creation of Offa’s Dyke or for the contemporary communities that it affected, the intricacies of how the Mercian-Welsh frontier was organised during the late eighth and early ninth century and afterwards can seem entirely unknowable. This article addresses the question of the likely variable character of the long and undoubtedly complex frontier in reference to some location-specific existing archaeological evidence and close study of the form of the Dyke and other contemporary features in the landscape. One of the key elements of this attempt at detection of early frontier organisation therefore involves looking at the potential role of the inherited Roman road network especially where it runs parallel with the Dyke. Two examples based upon archaeological excavations in Herefordshire are noted here as providing clues as to the diversity of frontier structuring. The first example is the uncovering of a mid–late Anglo-Saxon fortified enclosure at Breinton just to the west of Hereford in 2018 that has at last added some substance to the possibility of the past existence of sophisticated military infrastructure including fortresses close to the Mercian/Welsh frontier. A key factor in the organisation of the pre-Norman frontier at least from the English side could have been the location of ‘quasi-military personnel’ close to the Dyke and to the inherited routeway system. Certain entries in the county-based Domesday surveys of Circuit V for the border counties are briefly re-examined here to consider the implications of the spatial distribution of a single category of specialised freemen. This highlights the importance of Leintwardine and the Roman road south from Shrewsbury as a key location: a possibility underlined by discoveries made during an excavation in the 1990s.


Anglo-Saxon; borderlands; Mercia; Offa's Dyke; Roman roads; Wat's Dyke

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