Trading Places

Richard Hodges says the rubbish tips of Anglo-Saxon London and Southampton contain intriguing evidence of England’s first businessmen.

Professor Middleton, the principal character of Angus Wilson’s novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956), disarmingly states: ‘I know nothing whatsoever about Dark Age Trade, or at any rate no more than befits a gentleman.’

Half a century ago, the economy of the Anglo-Saxons was simply not a subject for consideration: emphasis, instead, was placed on their art and culture. But in the year that Wilson’s fictional account of an Anglo-Saxon excavation ap­peared, the archaeologist G. C. Dunning published an essay that changed our perception of Dark Age commerce. Entitled ‘Trade Relations between England and the Continent in the Late Anglo-Saxon Period’, it was a revolutionary step towards recognizing the economy of England after the so-called pagan period (the fifth to late seventh century).

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