The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


St Ebba’s Chapel, Ebb’s Nook, Beadnell, Northumberland

St Ebba’s Chapel near Beadnell (looking west). Photo Credit: Anne T.

NGR: NU 23964 28707.  The grassed-over scanty remains of St Ebba’s Chapel are situated on a narrow promontory known as Ebb’s Nook (Snook), which juts out into the North Sea, on the opposite side of Beadnell Harbour, near Seahouses. Northumberland. These grassy humps and lumps are all that remains of a 12th or 13th century chapel named after St Ebba or Æbba, a Northumbrian princess who died in 683 AD. There are also some earthworks surrounding the ruined chapel (E side) which are said to be those of a small pre-Conquest monastery possibly founded by St Æbba, the step-daughter of King Æthelfrith of Bernicia, who is ‘one and the same’ as St Abb, abbess of a monastery at Coldingham, near Eyemouth, on the East Berwickshire coast. She was also the sister of St Oswald, King and Martyr (d 642).

The chapel site can be reached by going through Beadnell village (north end): going (south) along Harbour Road and then Marl-borough Road. At the south end where the road bends to the southwest take the footpath (south) for a short while between the buildings, and then (east) along the promontory (Beadnell Point), with Little Rock in the distance; the chapel ruins are about half-way along this narrow, grassy promontory.

Nigel & Mary Kerr (1982) tell us that: “The situation of the small ruined chapel at Ebb’s Nook is all-important. It stands bleakly beside the North Sea, looking up the forlorn and storm-swept coast of Northumbria, and we may well wonder at the piety and faith which made men choose this of all places to build a chapel. There can be few more powerful examples of the juxtaposition of the spiritual and elemental than this small outpost of Christianity.

“The ruins of the chapel, originally a simple two-roomed structure of nave and chancel which was later extended by a western annexe, were uncovered in 1853. There is no certain date for the building, but the place name recording its associations with St Ebba, stepdaughter of Ethelfrith, king of Northumbria, suggests a site of ancient usage.

The first view of St Ebba’s Chapel near Beadnell. Photo credit: Anne T.

“St Ebba, whose feast day is 25th August, fled from Northumbria to Scotland when Edwin invaded the kingdom in 616. She later became a nun and was famed for her wisdom. She reputedly secured the release of St Wilfrid one occasion by telling Ecgfrith, the king who had imprisoned him, that his wife’s illness was a divine punishment for depriving the saint of his freedom: he was speedily released! Later, however, St Ebba was criticized for relaxed state of her community of nuns at Ely. Particular attention was drawn to the nuns’ weaving of fine clothes with which they sought to attract attentions of ‘strange men’. Despite this temporary lapse from grace, Ebba’s reputation for holiness continued after her death, and she was especially venerated during the 12th century in the north of England and south Scotland following the discovery of her relics.

“Perhaps, therefore, the little chapel on Ebb’s Nook is of the 12th century, and was constructed when her cult underwent a revival. But in lieu of direct evidence to the contrary, we will follow the confident assertion of the 19th-century excavators that this was the site of a chapel dedicated to her during the halcyon days of Northumbria in the 7th century.”

Northumberland National Park Guide (1990) tells us that:  “The small pile of grass-covered rubble near the point is the re-mains of Ebba’s Chapel, a 13th century structure excavated in 1853 after being buried for many years. Ebba was the sister of King Oswald; she may have been responsible for the building of a small chapel on this site in the 7th century. The stones and debris of the chapel have been colonised by thrift and scurvy-grass.”

St Ebba’s Chapel (north doorway and wall). Photo credit:  Anne T.

David Hugh Farmer (1982) has much more on St Ebba or Ebbe, saying she was: “first abbess of Coldingham (Berwickshire). Daughter of Ethelfrith, king of Northumbria, she fled to Scotland on his death in 616, when Edwin conquered Northumbria. Later she became a nun at Cold-ingham and subsequently abbess of this double monastery. In 672 Etheldreda was separated from her husband, King Egfrith, with the counsel of Wilfrid, and became a nun under Ebbe (who was her aunt) before founding her own monastery at Ely. In 681 Egfrith visited Cold-ingham with his second wife Ermenburga, who was then seized with some kind of sudden illness. Ebba, now famous for wisdom, interpreted this as a punishment for the imprisonment of Wilfrid, disobedience to Roman decisions in his favour, and the theft of his relics and reli-quaries by Ermenburga. Egfrith released Wilfrid; Ermenburga restored the relics and soon recovered.

“Not long afterwards, the aged Ebbe was warned by the priest Adomnan of the relaxed state of her community. The nuns were said to spend their time weaving fine clothes, to adorn themselves like brides or to attract the attention of strange men, while both monks and nuns alike neglected vigils and prayers. In spite of Adomnan’s threat of divine punishment, the community mended its ways only for a little while. A few years after Ebbe’s death, the monastery was burnt down (686). These failures of Ebbe’s community did not destroy her reputation for holiness. Her name was given to Ebchester and to St Abb’s Head, where the remains of a fort possibly indicate the site of her monastery. Interest revived in her during the 12th century, following the discovery of her relics in the late 11th. At this time, according to an account attributed to Reginald of Durham, she was known from York to Lanark. Calendar evidence for her feast comes from Durham, Aberdeen, and Winch-combe, while Durham and Coldingham shared her relics.  She is also the titular of a church and street in Oxford.  The present church at Coldingham (part of the priory founded by Durham) is more than a mile away from Ebbe’s monastery. Feast 25th August.”   

The 19th Century parish church in the centre of Beadnell village is also dedicated to the local saint, Ebba. There are three late 18th Century (restored) limekilns at Beadnell Harbour (east side).

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Photos (above) are the © copyright of Anne T. Many thanks Anne for your help and kindness. Please see the Link:  https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=50082&m_distance=0.0

Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1982.

Kerr, Nigel & Mary, A Guide to Anglo-Saxon Sites, Granada Publishing Limited, St Alban’s, Hearts, 1982.

Northumberland National Park, Walks on the Northumberland Coast, Northumberland County Council National Park and Countryside Department, Eastburn, South Park, Hexham, 1990.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86bbe_of_Coldingham

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beadnell

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1008563

https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=8230

https://www.channel4.com/programmes/time-team/articles/series-19/st-ebbas-chapel-by-the-sea/453

More info here:  https://www.scribd.com/document/239530531/Time-Team-St-Ebba-s-Chapel-Beadell

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 


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Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, South America

Stepped pyramid of El  Castillo at Chichen Itza. Photo credit: James Stephen Strickland.

‘Temple of the Warriors’ at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, before all the trees were cleared away.

Latitude 20.684285. Longitude -88.567783. In the north of the Yu-catan Peninsula, Mexico, South America, lie the ancient ruins of the Mayan city of ‘Chichen Itza’ (meaning “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”), which is located in Tinúm Municipality (Yucatan State) some 38 kilometers (24 miles) to the west of Valladolid on the 180 road – just to the southeast of the village of Piste. This remarkable, and quite mysterious site, is a large complex of Mayan temples, halls, strange beast sculptures, human-figure statues (there is a reclining stone figure of Chac Mool at the Temple of the Warriors), and also carved walls, and, in the centre of the court-yard is the stepped pyramid of ‘El Castillo’ (also called the ‘Temple of Kukulkan’). The ruined buildings and temples are thought to date from the Pre-Columbian period 550 AD to 1250 AD and to span three historical Mayan periods: Late Classic, Terminal Classic and Post Classic. Today, this much-visited archaeological site, covering four-square miles, comes under the guardian-ship of ‘The National Institute of Anthropology and History’. Chichen Itza was by far the largest of all the Mayan cities. There are antiquities displayed from Chichen Itza in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.

Wonders Of The World (1930) says of Chichen Itza: “The city, as it stands to-day, consists of a group of six stone buildings which are more or less intact, and the remains of numerous other stone structures in various states of ruin. All authorities agree that these buildings were the palaces of chiefs and officials, temples for the worship of the Maya gods and religious establishments for the housing of the priestly castes, the abodes of the poorer classes being palm-leaf huts, which have long since disappeared, but which in all probability were built in the same manner as the natives erect them to-day. 

Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza, before the restoration work had taken place.

Stepped Pyramid of El Castillo at Chichen Itza. Photo Credit: James Stephen Strickland.

“The Eyes of Jade: The building which is the most magnificent is, to give it its Spanish name, El Castillo. This is a truncated pyramid faced with solid slabs of stone with a building on top. From the ground-level to the top of the building it is over one hundred feet high, while the base lines of the pyramid are round about two hundred feet each. The four sides all but face the four cardinal points, and on each of them is a gigantic stairway leading to the summit. The main entrance to this building is on the northern side, looking towards the sacrificial pool.  The doorway, which has now partly fallen, still bearing traces of its former magnificence.  It is twenty feet wide and the lintel was supported by two pillars carved in the pattern of snakes and ending at their bases with enormous, open-mouthed, flattened heads of these reptiles, the now empty eye-sockets being at one time filled with eyes of polished jade.                                                        

A carved stone serpent (snake). Photo: James Stephen Strickland.

The stone carved animal heads.

“The building was erected for the purpose of a temple, and inside the doorway is the Maya Holy of Holies which was used only for the per-formance of the most sacred rites.  Whether the ghastly sacrificial acts celebrated on the pyramids of Mexico, in honour of the God of War and the Sun Diety, were enacted in this temple is not known, but it would seem probable that those flattened heads of serpents on the platform of the pyramid  served another purpose than that of  an ornamental base for the door-pillars.  If it was a fact that human sacrifices similar to those performed in Mexico were practiced in Yucatan, then it was on the flattened heads of these serpents that the ceremony of tearing the palpitating heart out of the human sacrificial victim’s body was performed by the Maya priests, and the body, scarcely lifeless, was rolled down the side of the pyramid to be sacramentally eaten by the hundreds of worshippers congregated on the plain below.

El Castillo (Temple of Kukulkan). Photo: James Stephen Strickland.

“Home of the Rain God: From the northern base of El Castillo a forest path, showing traces here and there of the remains of a cemented roadway, leads to one of the grimmest pools in the world. It is one of the wells, or cenotes, from which Chichen takes its name. An enormous circular basin, two hundred feet in diameter, its sides drop sheer and perpendicular over one hundred feet to its limestone basin. As you stand adventurously on the brink and, clutching the branch of a tree for safety, gaze over its precipitous edge into the black water seventy feet below, you do not wonder that the ancient Maya saw in its sepia depths the home of their Rain God. In a report sent to Madrid from Yucatan, in 1579, the sacrificial ceremony of throwing human victims into the cenote to appease the wrath of the Rain God in times of drought was described, but for centuries there was nothing to verify this tale. In 1906 the dredging of the bottom of the cenote was commenced, and several human skulls and bones were brought to the surface. On closer examination these human remains proved without exception to be those of females of immature age, and this confirmed once and for all the truth of the early Spanish report.

“To the south-west, one hundred and thirty yards from El Castillo, is what is now known as the Tennis Court. Running north and south are two parallel walls twenty-five feet high, thirty feet thick, two hundred and seventy-four feet long and one hundred and twenty feet apart. The court was used for a ball game of which the ancient Maya were very fond. It was played by teams whose object it was to get a ball made of rubber through a hole in a stone disc jutting out from the upper part of the wall. 

Chichen Itza ‘Wall of the Skulls’. Photo: James Stephen Strickland.

“The Mayas at Play: One of these big stone discs, measuring all but an inch of four feet in diameter, pierced through its eleven and a half inches of thickness with a hole one foot seven inches in diameter, is still in position. The Spanish historian tells us that the ball was bounced from the hips of the players through the ring, and the winning team had the right to take as their prize all the clothes of the spectators. At each end of the court stand the remains of a small temple, and on the eastern wall at the southern end is a building called the Temple of the Tigers, which gets its name from an elaborately carved frieze design of these animals around the wall coping. On the walls of the interior of this building are the most remarkable Maya paintings that have so far been discovered. They depict the scenes of everyday life as it was lived by the Mayas before the coming of the Spaniards, in greens, reds, blues, and yellows. The designs are crude and out of proportion, but much can be gleaned of the life of the past inhabitants of Chichen.

The Nuns House (Casa de las Monjas) at Chichen Itza, Yucatan.

El Caracol or ‘The Observatory’ at Chichen Itza, in Yucatan.

Workers without Tools:  To the south of El Castillo stands a ruined building, known as the Caracol, from a ‘“winding staircase”’ by which the top is reached from the interior. The building is turret-shaped and stands on two terraces one above the other, the lower one measuring two hundred and twenty feet by one hundred and fifty feet. The top of the building was about sixty feet from the ground-level and on it was originally an observation platform, which was, it is believed, used for the study of the heavens and was possibly connected with sun and star worship. Only a short distance from the Caracol is another building which is a fine example of Mayan architecture. It is known as the Casa de las Monjas (‘“Nuns’ House”’), probably on account of its having been set apart for the housing of that body of young maidens who were known to have performed special services in the temples, and whose ultimate fate was in all probability the cenote. It has well withstood the elements for four centuries, and given a good idea of Maya architectural ornamentation.

“The other buildings standing to-day at Chichen Itza are: the Akad-zib (‘“House of Mysterious Writing”’), which gets its name from a series of Mayan hieroglyphics over the doorway; the Chichanchob (‘“Red House”’), in allusion to the remarkable, possibly symbolic, decorations on the interior walls, which take the form of a hand painted in red, which design is, curiously enough, found also in parts of Asia; and a small building close against the Casa de las Monjas.”

There is an article (1952) in the book ‘Gods, Graves, And Scholars’ by Ceram, recalling the expedition to Chichen Itza of Edward Herbert Thompson, the American explorer. The following is a part of that article, in which we are told that: “A full moon was shining down on the jungle. Accompanied only by an Indian guide, the American explorer and archaeologist Edward Herbert Thompson—fifteen hundred years after the Mayas had left their cities and made a break for the country farther north—was riding through the New Empire that they had built for themselves, which had collapsed after the arrival of the Spaniards. He was searching for Chichén Itzá, the largest, most beautiful, mightiest, and most splendid of all Mayan cities. Horses and men had been suffering intense hardships on the trail. Thompson’s head sagged on his breast from fatigue, and each time his horse stumbled he all but fell out of the saddle. Suddenly his guide shouted to him. Thompson woke up with a start. He looked ahead and saw a fairyland.

“Above the dark tree-tops rose a mound, high and steep, and on top of the mound was a temple, bathed in cool moonlight. In the hush of the night it towered over the tree-tops like the Panthenon of some Mayan acropolis. The Indian guide dismounted, unsaddled his horse, and rolled out his blanket for the night’s sleep. Thompson could not tear his fascinated gaze from the great structure………Steep stairs overgrown with grass and bushes, and in part fallen into ruins, led from the base of the mound up to the temple. Thompson was acquainted with this architectural form, which was obviously some kind of pyramid. He was familiar, too, with the function of pyramids as known in Egypt. But this Mayan version was not a tomb, like the pyramids of Gizeh. Externally it rather brought to mind a ziggurat, but to much greater degree than the Babylonian ziggurats it seemed to serve mostly as a stony back providing support for the enormous stairs rising higher and higher, towards the gods of the sun and moon.

“Thompson climbed up the steps. He looked at the ornamentation, the rich reliefs. From the top, almost 96 feet above the jungle, he surveyed the scene. He counted a dozen scattered buildings, half-hidden in shadow, often revealed by nothing more than a gleam of moonlight on stone. This, then, was Chichén-Itzá. From its original status as advance outpost at the beginning of the great trek to the north, it had grown into a shining metropolis, the heart of the New Empire. Again and again during the next few days Thompson climbed on to the old ruins. ‘“I stood upon the roof of this temple one morning,”’ he writes, ‘“just as the first rays of the sun reddened the distant horizon. The morning stillness was profound…..Then the great round sun came up, flaming splendidly, and instantly the whole world sang and hummed. The birds in the trees and the insects on the ground sang a grand Te Deum. Nature herself taught primal man to be a sun-worshipper and man in his heart of hearts still follows the ancient teaching.”’

Sacred Well of Sacrifice or (Cenote) at Chichen Itza, which was dredged by E. H. Thompson.

Ceram (1952) adds that: “In one respect at least, Edward Herbert Thompson was very much the Schliemann of Yucatan, for when he pushed forward to Chichén-Itzá he was staking everything on a book that no one but himself took at all seriously. Schliemann himself could not have acted more credulously. Thompson also brings Layard to mind, for like Layard, who set out on his first expedition with only £60 in his purse and one companion to guide him, he plunged into the depths of the jungle with the most meager backing. And when he ran into difficulties that would have cowed any other man, he reacted with all of Petrie’s stub-bornness. We have seen that when the world was excited by Stephens’s first discoveries, the question was hotly debated whether the Mayas were the descendants of the people of the lost Atlantis, one of the lost tribes of Israel, an offshoot of the primordial American Indian stock, or what not. As a budding archaeologist, Thompson defended the Atlantean theory of Mayan descent in an article published in 1879 in a popular periodical. This was one of his very first ventures into print. The special problem of origins slipped into the background of his critical consciousness, however, when he actually went to Yucatán in 1885. At this time he was twenty-five years old, the youngest man in the American consular service. Once on the spot, he had no time for theory. It was an instinct rather than a considered judgment that drew Thompson to Yucatán. He took a long chance on the validity of Diego de Landa’s reports. In one of the volumes written by the archbishop he discovered the story of the Sacred Well, the cenote of Chichén-Itzá. Basing his account on old Mayan stories, de Landa described how, in times of drought or disaster, processions of priests and common people went to the Sacred Well of Sacrifice to propitiate the angry gods who lived in the depths. The marchers brought offerings with them to appease the diety, including beautiful maidens and captive warrior youths. After solemn ceremonies the maidens, de Landa said, were cast into the well, which was so deep that no victim ever rose to the surface.

“But there was to be more to de Landa’s story.  It was a custom, he said,  to throw in rich offerings after the sacrificial victims—household utensils, ornaments, gold. Thompson had read that ‘“if this land once contained gold, the largest part of it must be in the Well.”’ Generally this description had been dismissed as a quaint old tale with a great deal of rhetorical flourish and little factual basis. But Thompson accepted it as gospel truth, and he was determined to prove the validity of his belief. When he looked down on the Way to the Well of Sacrifice from the pyramid platform, little did he know what toil was to be his before arriving at the goal.” 

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

All the coloured photos are by James Stephen Strickland. Many thanks James. 

Ceram C. W., Gods, Graves, And Scholars — The Story of Archaeology, Victor Gollancz Limited in association with Sidgwick And Jackson Limited, London, 1952.

Wonders Of The World (forward by Sir Philip Gibbs, K.B.E.,) Odhams Press & Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., London, 1930.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chacmool

https://www.visitmexico.com/en/main-destinations/yucatan/chichen-itza

https://www.chichenitza.com/

http://www.haciendachichen.com/ruins.htm

More info here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/06/science/chichen-itza-mexico-mayan.html

http://museu.ms/museum/details/16762/national-museum-of-anthropology

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/world-heritage/chichen-itza/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 

 

 


Fairy Holes Cave, Whitewell, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire

Fairy Holes Cave by Andy Davis (Geograph)

OS Grid Reference: SD 6553 4678. On a tree-clad limestone hill above the River Hodder at Whitewell in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, there is a large cave or rock shelter where, from Prehistoric times, evidence of human habitation has been found. The cave is located on the south-facing slope of New Laund Hill, just to the south of New Laund farm. There are two smaller caves close by, but this larger cave proved to be of great archaeological interest back in the late 1940s, 1960s, and again in more recent years, when there were many finds including a fragment of a Bronze Age collared funery urn.   To reach Fairy Hole Cave cross over the River Hodder via the stepping stones opposite St Michael’s church, and head up beside the woods for 300m or so. There are two footpaths, the first might not be accessible, but on the second footpath at New Laund farm walk to the southwest (above the woods) for 215m; then walk down into the woodland to find the larger of the three caves on this south-sloping side of the hill, high above Whitewell and the River Hodder.

Fairy Holes Cave, Whitewell (artefacts).

Sarah Thomlinson in her work ‘Life In Bronze Age Times‘, writes about Fairy Hole Cave, saying: “This cave is situated on the south facing slope of New Laund Hill in Bowland Forest. It is 20m. long, 1.8m. wide and 3m. high. Excavations of the cave floor have shown that it was a domestic living site for prehistoric man. Some of the finds are pictured left. Among them are pottery fragments, including a piece of collared urn, which were discovered on the flat platform at the mouth of the cave. They tell us that the cave was occupied during the middle Bronze Age, 1600 — 1500 B.C. Pieces of red raddle were also found . Red raddle is a coloured clay which was used as a paint for decoration. A number of animal bones have been identified as be-longing to domesticated cattle, fallow deer and rabbit. Evidence of metal working was provided by lumps of bronze slag, the waste product from smelting . However, a stone pounder and fragments of flint show that stone working was still going on.”

The site entry ( No. 9) in the‘Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin’ (1984) for the parish of Bowland-with-Leagram. Site Name: Fairy Hole Cave. N.G.R. SD 655 468. Primary Reference: Musson 1947. Disposition of Finds: L.C.M.S. “Fragment of pottery, reconstructed by C.F.C. Hawkes as a small (7½” high) collared urn, found in excavating a limestone cave. Hawkes suggested domestic use. Illustration from Musson (left) 1947 – Plate B.” And also given is the Bibliography: Musson, R. C. (1947). A Bronze Age cave site in the little Bolland area of Lancashire: report of excavation. LCAS 59 (1947) 161 – 170. Please note Bolland should probably mean ‘Bowland’.

John Dixon (1992) does not mention Fairy Hole Cave in this volume. However, he does tell that a Roman or Bronze Age Camp used to exist opposite the Keeper’s House in Whitwell village, according to W. Thompson Watkin (1883) who referred to the earlier 1849 ‘Topographical Dictionary’ (7th Ed.) by Lewis; but that all traces of this have gone. John refers to Whitaker’s ‘History of Whalley’, adding here that that author mentions there used to be the remains of a small encampment and also a cairn of stones which contained a kist vaen and skeleton opposite the same Keeper’s House. The Keeper’s house is now the local inn. So maybe both authors were talking about same site?, John suggests.

John also adds that in 1984 a large round stone was found in the river near to the inn. On closer inspection, archaeologists declared the carved-out stone to be a mortar used for grinding food grains, and they dated it to the Bronze Age. This stone is now locally known as ‘The Whitewell Stone’, which is today housed in the hotel in the village.

Sources & related websites:-

Dixon, John & Mann, Bob, Journeys Through Brigantia  (Volume Eight) The Forest of Bowland, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1992.

Edwards, Margaret & Ben, Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 2/3, May & July 1984.

Thomlinson, Sarah & O’Donnell, John, Life In Bronze Age Times, (A Resource Book For Teachers), Pendle Environmental Studies Group, Curriculum Development Centre, Burnley.

Photo (top) by Andy Davis:  https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5428095

FAIRY HOLES CAVE – WHITEWELL.

https://www.uclan.ac.uk/research/explore/projects/sheltering_memory.php

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowland-with-Leagram

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=4776

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.


2 Comments

The Saxon Shore Forts Of South-East England And East Anglia

Map of The Saxon Shore Forts (Wikipedia)

Map of The Saxon Shore Forts (Wikipedia)

   There were originally 10 or possibly even 11 ‘Saxon Shore Forts’ (Litus Saxonicum) commanded by an officer with the title of ‘Comes litoris Saxonica per Britanniam’ or ‘Count of the Saxon Shore’. Most were built in the late third century though others have an earlier origin. Richborough incorporates older buildings, as does Reculver. Dover was already a militarised site. Nine are referred to in the Notitia Dignitatum, a military text from the late 4th early 5th century. A 10th fort may have existed at Walton Castle, near Felixstowe, but this has now been lost to the sea.

   The forts are all similar in that they are located near sea harbours or river estuaries, suggesting that their purpose was to prevent sea-borne invaders getting inland. Each could support a substantial garrison either infantry or sailors. All are of a similar structure – massive walls with bastions for mounting ballistae and surrounding ditches and, ramparts for extra protection.

    A parallel defence system contemporary with the Saxon Shore Forts the Litus Saxonicum exists on the other side of the Channel from Mardyck near Calais to the estuary of the Garonne. However this system is not as close knit with five of these forts not on navigable rivers. Rather the issue here seems to be the defence of key positions rather then a shoreline.

    From the north we have Brancaster (Branodunum) OS grid ref: TF 7821 4404 located between Burnham Market and Hunstanton, covering 6 ½ acres of standard trapezoidal shape, and with walls 9 foot thick of which nothing now remains above ground.

Mid-19th Century Illustration of Burgh Castle (Wikipedia).

Mid-19th Century Illustration of Burgh Castle (Wikipedia).

   Then Burgh Castle (possibly Gariannonum) OS grid ref: TG 4745 0461 is now well back from the sea with walls 11 foot in width and in places still 15 foot in height enclosing 5 acres. Three sides of the walls remain. Six bastions appear to have been added at a later date after the fort was constructed.

    Further south in Essex lies Bradwell (OS grid ref: TM 0313 0810) on the Blackwater Estuary (possibly Othona) with sections of 3 walls originally surviving, one with a bastion.

    On the Watsum River in Kent lies Reculver (Regullium) OS grid ref: TR 2274 6930 which was once on a broad waterway between the Isle of Thanet and the coast, but now sadly eroded by the sea. The walls of this fort were 8 feet thick surrounding an enclosure of standard Roman shape and protected by a ditch and earth rampart. Much has been lost to the sea. Also of note at Reculver are the ruins of a church founded about AD 669 by Egbert, King of Kent. There was a nave 37 feet long and a chancel with an apse. The towers, which remain, were added in the 12th Century.

Richborough Roman/Saxon Fort (photo credit: Midnightblueowl for Wikipedia).

Richborough Roman/Saxon Fort (photo credit: Midnightblueowl -Wikipedia).

   Richborough (Rutupiae) beside the river Stour at (OS grid ref: TR 3245 6018) has perhaps the most imposing remains, and the longest history. It is possible that this is where the Romans landed in AD43 under the command of Aulus Plautius. Defensive ditches have been found enclosing a large area. And 40 years later a marble monument in the form of a triumphal arch 82 feet tall with a façade of Italian granite was erected ‘possibly’ to commem-orate the event. The foundations remain. There is also evidence of occupation in the 2nd Century, when it seems to have been a civilian settlement with temples, an amphitheatre and a mansio (hotel). A fort with earth ramparts with triple ditches remains of which are extent dates from the second half of the third century with a stone walled fort of standard Roman shape and bastions replacing it soon after. At this time also the monument was converted into a look-out post. Finds from archaeological digs are housed in the site museum.

    Dover (Dubris) OS grid ref: TR 3193 4133 lies buried under the modern town (Queen Street) and is more famous for its Pharos (lighthouse) explored elsewhere on this web site. The Fort dates from the 2nd Century – being reused later as part of the ‘Saxon Shore’ defence.

    Lympne (Portus Lemanis) lies on Romney Marsh (on private land) OS grid ref: TR 1170 3420 and is marked by a few walls tilted at odd angles and, an east gate. The fort appears ho have been constructed as an irregular pentagon rather than of the usual trapezoidal shape.

Pevensey Castle Roman Walls (photo credit: Mortimer - for Wikipedia).

Pevensey Castle Roman Walls (photo credit: MortimerCat – for Wikipedia).

   Pevensey (Anderida) OS grid ref: TQ 6388 0504 lies at the mouth of the River Ashbourne in Sussex. Excavations here have shown evidence of wooden buildings. Pevensey is unusual in that the walls defer from the usual square plan into an irregular oval enclosing some 10 acres. The 12-foot thick walls initially look Medieval, but are in fact largely Roman. Bastions were placed at intervals around the wall and still look very imposing today. Not only did the Normans reuse the castle building, a keep on the south eastern side, but it was again reused in the second world war; a pair of machine gun posts can be seen as can a ‘pillbox’ on top of one of the bastions.

    Porchester (Portus Adurni) in Hampshire. On Verne Hill overlooking Portland Harbour OS grid ref: SU 6242 0452, completes the group. Of a square shape the walls have gates on the west and east and a defensive ditch surrounding them. There were originally 20 bastions and 14 survive. Archaeological evidence shows that a high status Anglo Saxon residence was established later within the walls. Again the building seems to have impressed the Normans. They resurfaced the walls and built a keep in the northwest corner. Other buildings followed in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. In the Southwest corner there is also a large church – part of an Augustan Priory built in 1133.

    For most of the 19th and 20th Centuries two theories held sway over the reasons for the development of the Saxon Shore defences. The first was that they were there to control an existing settlement of Saxon migrants (there is some evidence of Saxon settlers in the archaeological records), the second to prevent Saxon marauders from plundering that part of the coast. Whilst this was probably the case with the second half of the 4th Century, it was not really the case with the 3rd Century, and archaeological evidence (coins) now suggests they were built in the late 3rd Century when the Saxons were presenting as troublesome pirates rather then invaders intent on plunder. It is more likely that they were established by the Gallic Emperor Cariusus – mentioned elsewhere on this website. It has also been suggested the forts were established to protect the supply of goods back and forth from and to the continent. All four theories may have merit at different times during the 3rd and 4th Centuries.

Antoninianus Carausius Coin (photo credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. - for Wikipedia).

Antoninianus Carausius Coin c 290 AD (photo credit: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. – for Wikipedia).

   Carausius reigned from 286 to 293. According to the 4th Century writer Eutropius Carausius was of Belgic origin, had joined the fleet and had rapidly risen through the ranks bringing him to the attention of the Tetrarch – the two emperors and their two assistant Caesars who ruled the Roman world. He was put in charge of dealing with the Saxon Pirates but allegations were made against him that he had been allowing the Saxons to continue their piratical activities apprehending them and seizing their loot for himself. Recalled and fearing the worst he set himself up as Emperor in Northern Gaul and Britain. This theory suggests the forts were built by Carausius to defend his territory against the might of Rome. But the Tetrarch’s resources were stretched and Cariusius was tolerated instead. In 293 the Tetrarchy recovered Northern Gaul weakening Carausius’ position and leading to his assassinated by his Chief Minister, Allectus. Constantius Chlorus took his time but recovered Britain for the Empire in 296/7; Allectus being defeated and killed near Farnham.

    Archaeological evidence shows that during the 4th Century the forts continued in use probably supplanted with a series of signal-stations, which could have provided warnings of incursions, using fire and smoke. When Rome withdrew from Britain at the beginning of the 5th Century the forts fell into disrepair. Internal buildings were mainly of wood so they disintegrated leaving just the walls as a reminder of what had been. 700 years later the walls were still standing and some of the forts were requisitioned by the Normans as defensive positions, as status symbols and, as accommodation for the elite of the new invaders.

Sources: Cottrell, Leonard., ‘The Roman Forts of the Saxon Shore’, HMSO, 1964.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Shore

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richborough_Castle

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anderitum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carausius


Great Sphinx, Giza, Egypt

Great Sphinx at Giza, Lower Egypt.

Great Sphinx at Giza, Lower Egypt.

Latitude 29.975350. Longitude 31.137500. Ancient site at Giza in Lower Egypt, 12 miles south-west of Cairo. The ‘Great Sphinx’, also known as ‘the Sphinx of Hamaldis’, whilst during the time of the ‘New Kingdom’ it was called ‘Horus of the Horizon’ and, in modern Egyptian Arabic ‘the Terrifying One’ – (Wikipedia). It stands just 200 metres from the Pyramid of Khafra, and is known to the local inhabitants as ‘the guardian of the Giza necropolis’. The nose of the sphinx was apparently chopped off back in the 7th century AD and, not as many historians had once thought, by the cannons of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in 1798, but I suppose that made for a good story!

Giza Image 9627 (photo by Thebrookelynway for Wikipedia)

Giza Image 9627 (photo by Thebrookelyn-way   for Wikipedia)

The great sphinx dates from the 4th dynasty of the pharaohs (2,575-2,467 BC) and is thought to represent Khafra, who ruled between 2,558-2,532 BC). However, some historians now think the statue might date from the New Kingdom (1,570-1,070 BC), according to author Cathal Coyle in his “very concise” article ‘Famous Landmarks’ in the magazine ‘Ireland’s Own’.  This gigantic crouching limestone monument, located on the western bank of the river Nile, is 66 feet high, 63 feet wide and 220 feet in length; and has the body of a lion and the head of a human, possibly Khafra, but there is no certainty about that.

   Author Cathal Coyle in his magazine article says that: “When Khafre came to power during the 4th Dynasty, he constructed the Great Sphinx by  using limestone core blocks weighing hundreds of tons in his temples. His craftsmen also created more than 200 statues; 22 of these were at least three times life size.”

   Coyle goes on to say: “Representative of two Egyptian gods – the pharaoh god and the lion god, the sphinx combines the body of a crouching lion with the head of a human. In ancient times, it is thought that the face and body were painted dark red and the head cloth was yellow with blue stripes.” There are said “still” to be traces of this red paint on the head of the sphinx, especially ‘it is said’ near one of the ears.

   “Although there has been great speculation about the nose of the Great Sphinx, it is not actually known what happened to it. The drawings made by European travelers of the 16th and 17 centuries to Giza show the sphinx’s face complete with a nose.”

   “By the time of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in the early 19th century, the nose was missing. One possible suggestion is that the face of the sphinx was the victim of target practice by the French army! Some scholars also believe that the sphinx originally had a beard. Pieces of the beard discovered by excavation are in the British Museum in London.”

   “Much controversy has surrounded the Great Sphinx, including whether or not it was actually carved as late as the 4th Dynasty. An accumulating body of evidence, both archaeological and geological, indicates that the Sphinx is far older than this – and was only restored by Khafre duting his reign.”

   Cathal Coyle goes on to add that: “Some  archaeologists have also suggested that it was a memorial to a Pharaoh, but other scholars believe the Sphinx functioned as an astronomical observation device that marked the position of the rising sun on the day of the spring equinox. Later Egyptian rulers worshipped it as an aspect of the sun god, calling it Hors-Em-Akhet or ‘Horus of the Horizon.”

   “What saved the Great Sphinx from complete destruction is the fact that it had been submerged beneath the desert sand for most of its existence.”

   “Between 1816 and 1858, a series of adventurers, including Giovanni Caviglia and Gaston Maspero, attempted to clear the sand from around the body of the Sphinx but were each forced to abandon the project due to the enormous amount of sand. Finally, between 1925 and 1936, the French engineer Emil Baraize was successful in clearing the sand to reveal the base of the Sphinx.”

   “Repairs to the Sphinx have been made over the centuries by the Pharaohs Tuthmosis IV and Ramesses II, and also during the Roman era. In the 1980’s, during a six-year period, more than 2000 limestone blocks were added to the body of the Sphinx and various chemicals were injected in the hopes of preventing the deterioration. This treatment was not successful and sadly contributed to further deterioration. The Great Sphinx at Giza continues to deteriorate because of the humidity and the ever-increasing smog from nearby Cairo.”

   Author Cathal Coyle concludes his article by saying that: “The focus appears to be on preservation rather than further explorations; but towards the end of 2010 during routine excavation work in the area of the monument, Egyptian archaeologists discovered large sections of mudbrick walls which were part of a larger wall which stretched for 132 metres around the Great Sphinx.”

Sources:

Coyle, Cathal., Famous Landmarks, Ireland’s Own, (various dates), Wexford, Ireland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Sphinx_of_Giza