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The use of the term "emporia" to refer to the specialized trading (and crafting) sites of the late seventh century to the ninth century owes much to Richard Hodges and especially his Dark Age Economics (1982). Influenced by anthropologists and economic historians, Hodges saw these emporia as centers created on the frontiers of early medieval kingdoms (but largely divorced from their surrounding hinterland) through which kings funneled and controlled long-distance trade in prestige goods. However, it is important to be aware that contemporaries would not have applied the term "emporium" to all the sites Hodges considers. Eighth- and ninth-century sources do refer to Lundenwic (London, England), Dorestad (Holland), and Quentovic (France) as "emporia," but Hamwic (the best-studied and most-famous of Hodges's emporia) is only ever referred to as a mercimonium. Deriving from merx, the Latin for goods, merchandise, or wares, this term also relates to trade and exchange but presumably on a different scale or in different goods. As scholars have come to appreciate the comparative rarity of "emporia" in early medieval Europe, so they have gradually come to use the Old English word wic to refer to the whole class of such settlements. Contemporaries were more discriminating.


Hodges used the presence (or absence) of particular classes of archaeological evidence to divide his "emporia" into three types. Type A emporia were characterized by the presence of exotic material culture and an absence of evidence for permanent structures. Sites such as Dalkey Island (Ireland) were thought to resemble the seasonal fairs referred to in, for example, the Icelandic sagas. However, like other archaeologists, he has devoted most of his attention to so-called type B emporia.

These were permanent, strategically located, and in early medieval terms, substantial settlements. Dorestad (Holland) ran for about 3,000 meters along the old course of the Kromme Rijn at the point where it intersected with the Lower Rhine, and the Lek Ribe (Denmark) was situated where a north-south route crossed a ford in the River Ribe, the latter itself connecting the settlement to the North Sea. Similarly Eoforwic (York, England) lay at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, close to a natural crossing point of the Ouse and on the line of a Roman road. Hamwic (Southampton, England) covered some 45 hectares of the west bank of the River Itchen, at the point where it flowed into Southampton Water and ultimately the English Channel.

Hamwic may have had a population of between 2,000 and 3,000 and, like many other emporia or wics, seems to have been planned. Two north-south roads, connected by a series running east-west, formed a gridlike pattern within a defining (not defensive) enclosure. The roads were lined with buildings, and although these did not differ much from those found on contemporary rural sites, a visitor might have been impressed by the number concentrated in one place. Dorestad is characterized by a series of landing piers (about 8 meters wide) stretching into what would have been the River Rhine. They appear to have been lengthened as the river shifted to the east and were major structuring elements in the layout of the settlement—it was divided into 20-meter-wide parcels, each containing two piers, which ran from the riverside, through the harbor area, and into the vicus (trading zone) to the west. At Ribe a series of parallel ditches divided the settlement into forty or fifty plots, but here the evidence for permanent buildings is less secure. Most archaeologists argue that planning implies the involvement of a central authority (usually the king) in the establishment and running of the emporia; for example, King Ine of Wessex (688–726) at Hamwic and King Angantyr at Ribe. These (and other emporia) have therefore been seen primarily as royal settlements.


Type B emporia are also characterized by the presence of significant quantities of exotic material culture. A cowrie shell (from the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean) and the hypoplastron (shell fragment) of a North African green turtle from Hamwic, a bronze statuette of Buddha from eighth-century contexts at Helgö (Sweden), and pieces of carnelian, garnets, and rock crystal at Ribe illumine connections with points far to the south and east (fig. 1). The sharpening stones, soapstone vessels, and whalebone from Ribe, on the other hand, are indicative of connections with the North. They also stand for the furs that flowed from the northern lands, through emporia like Ribe and Birka (Sweden), to satisfy

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elite demand in the heartlands of Europe. The bone assemblage from Birka reveals that skins of mountain hare, squirrel, beaver, fox, ermine, pine marten, badger, wolverine, and otter were processed at the emporium. At Eoforwic there is similar evidence for the working of beaver and pine marten skins. The value of these furs should not be underestimated. In the ninth century a Norwegian merchant called Óttar grew wealthy on the tribute he exacted from the Saami, and that tribute included the skins of marten, reindeer, otter, bear, and seal. A large ring-headed pin and part of a fitting for an Irish brooch provide evidence for Hamwic's hitherto neglected westerly connections, while Pictish brooches provide the closest parallels for a gilded, penannular brooch terminal from Eoforwic.

The bulk of the evidence for imports from the major wics, however, consists of pottery, mostly from sources in the Rhineland and in northern France and the Low Countries. Kilns discovered near Rouen produced much of the material imported (perhaps via the French site of Quentovic) into Hamwic, although there was also some pottery from Belgium or Holland (or both) as well as Badorf and Mayen wares from the Rhineland. Similarly black and gray burnished wares from northern France or the Low Countries (or both) dominate the imported assemblages from Eoforwic and Lundenwic.

By contrast, the imported pottery from Gipeswic (Ipswich, England) is dominated by the products of the Vorgebirge and Mayen kilns in the Rhineland and thus more closely resembles the assemblages from Ribe and Dorestad. Much of the other "exotic" material culture on these sites can be sourced to the Rhineland—for example, glass vessels, lava quern stones (for grinding grain), and wine barrels (reused to line wells at Dorestad and Ribe). This mention of wine should serve as a reminder that the merchants (and consumers) of early medieval Northwest Europe were probably more interested in the contents than in the vessels (both wooden and ceramic). Analysis of one sherd from Hamwic revealed that the vessel had contained a mixture of meat and olive oil, showing that wine was not the only exotic consumable traded across northwestern Europe.

Although Rhenish quern stones and glass vessels are also found at, for example, Eoforwic and Hamwic, an analysis of the distribution of imported pottery encouraged Hodges to propose the existence of mutually exclusive trading zones—a Rhenish one in the north (including Dorestad, Gipeswic, and Ribe), and a Frankish one in the south (including Hamwic, Quentovic, and now Lundenwic). He believed that the wics or emporia were the linchpins of both networks and that they were consciously established by kings in an attempt to exert greater control over an expansion of prestige goods exchange that threatened their position—if they did not control this trade (and the traders), it is argued, then their social inferiors would have had access to the symbols of power. Their position as chief "ring givers," as the sole arbiters of the social hierarchy, would have been undermined. A letter written by Charlemagne, the Carolingian emperor, to Offa, king of Mercia, in 796 reveals some fascinating insights into the nature of this exchange as well as new perspectives on the objects involved.

In this letter Charlemagne refers to Offa's earlier request for some "black stones" of a certain "length" and tells him to send a messenger with details of "what kind you have in mind and we will willingly order them to be given, wherever they are to be found, and will help with their transport." Charlemagne then informs Offa about his requirement for cloaks of a certain size and asked that they "be such as used to come to us in former times." This all reads like a record of one moment in a well-established, routine, and regular system of exchange. The fact that Charlemagne and Offa got involved in discussions about the exchange of items as (apparently) mundane as "cloaks," and the generally accepted argument that the "black stones" were tephrite quern stones from sources in the Eifel mountains (near Mayen in the Rhineland), reinforces the argument that long-distance exchange in the eighth and ninth centuries was directed and controlled by kings (and emperors).

Research since the 1980s, however, while confirming royal interest in long-distance trade, has somewhat modified the impression that this involvement extended beyond prestige goods to utilitarian objects. Thus David Peacock has presented a convincing case that Charlemagne's black stones, rather than being humble lava querns, were in fact antique black porphyry columns from Rome and Ravenna. As such they were laden with the symbolism of empire and antiquity; they were objects of immense political and social value—the "stuff of emperors." In this light it also seems inherently unlikely that the "cloaks" were simple, utilitarian items. They, too, were probably luxury products—perhaps like the late-eighth-century or ninth-century Anglo-Saxon embroideries preserved at Maaseik (Belgium).

Clearly the exchange of prestige gifts did play a significant part in the political strategies of early medieval kings and emperors. However, it now seems that they did not necessarily involve themselves in the trading of quern stones—although the archaeological evidence for them on sites across northwestern Europe is proof that such trading did take place. The question of the "controlling hand" behind that trade, if not always that of the king, is one to which this discussion will return. However, at this point it should be emphasized that the wics were essentially transhipment points. They were places where goods from afar entered the country before, according to the Hodges model, being forwarded to the king for redistribution. One would not expect to find large quantities of prestige goods at these sites—and this is, by and large, the case. The textual references to columns, embroideries (if that is what they are), and slaves (see the Venerable Bede's reference in Ecclesiastical History of the English People book 4, chapter 22, to the sale, at Lundenwic, of a Northumbrian slave to a Frisian merchant) thus provide useful illustrations of the kind of trade items that might have passed through the emporia.


In his original formulation of the characteristics of type B emporia (in Dark Age Economics), Hodges argued that they would have housed a native work force whose role was to produce for "the mercantile community." The "subsidiary" role attributed to these artisans was a product both of the limited amount of evidence (in 1982) for craft production on the wics and of the attention devoted to overseas exotica. The idea that these sites were primarily concerned with facilitating the exchange of exotica between elites reinforced the impression that they were largely divorced from the region within which they were situated.

However, as excavation and publication progressed in the years since 1982, and the evidence for craft production on the wics accumulated, so it has become clear that scholars have underestimated the significance of production in the Anglo-Saxon economy in general—and on the wics in particular. Hamwic (as in so many other respects) provides the best evidence for the range and scale of artisanal activity; this can be used as the framework for a more general consideration of craft production in the main Northwest European emporia. Since 1982 new insights have accumulated into the role of emporia and wics in the regional economies of the Early Middle Ages.

At Hamwic, as elsewhere (good evidence comes from Ribe), artisanal activities were carried out in and around the buildings that lined the roads, and all forms of craft working were carried out right across the site, with no clear sign of the zoning of particular "industries." The scale of production within each of the properties differed little from that on contemporary rural settlements, but the possibilities offered by the coexistence in close proximity of many different kinds of craft production probably more than offset this "limitation."

One of the most ubiquitous traces of craft production at Hamwic is the debris from ironworking. This usually takes the form of smithing slag found in association with ore, charcoal, furnaces, and raw iron (the same is true at Gipeswic, Lundenwic, and Eoforwic). As at Dorestad, iron was smelted elsewhere (perhaps at Romsey, 14 kilometers to the northeast) and was transported to Hamwic for the production of a wide variety of objects, including chisels, axes, shears, nails, rivets, needles, keys, bells, and knives (at Eoforwic evidence exists for the plating of some of these objects with tin, tin-lead, and copper). The iron ingots worked at Dorestad probably originated on production sites in the Veluwe region, about 40 kilometers to the northeast. By and large the objects made were similar to those produced at Hamwic, but Frankish swords with inlaid blades (among the most prestigious artifacts of the period) might also have been made here.

The working of copper alloys was the most prevalent of the nonferrous metallurgical crafts on all the Northwest European wics. Crucibles, cupels, and molds provide the bulk of the evidence for the production of what seem, for the most part, to have been rather mundane objects—for instance, pins, strap ends, buckle fittings, finger rings, and brooches. There is, however, evidence (usually in the form of molds) for the production of some more decorative (quality) items at Hamwic and Gipeswic; a bone mold for the production of a disk brooch was found at Lundenwic. The bronze workers at Ribe seem to have made jewelry of distinctively Scandinavian type, as if catering for the regional as opposed to the "long-distance" market. Given the rather mundane quality of many of the objects produced on this and other wics, one can probably argue that most production of these sites was destined for regional level exchange. This has significant implications for how scholars understand the emporia (see below).

Precious metals were worked on the wics. Gold and silver were present in cupels and crucibles from Hamwic, and some evidence exists for gilding. Silver objects are rare (as this would have been transshipment site), but they do seem to have been produced from the earliest phase of the settlement. Fragments of gold and silver wire and plate from the excavations at Fishergate in York demonstrate that "prestige" objects were being made at Eoforwic, as does an emerald and two fragments of garnet. It seems certain that sceattas (small eighth-century silver coins) were minted at Ribe, Gipeswic, and Hamwic. Glass was worked (rather than made) at Eoforwic, Ribe, and Dorestad, while the latter two have evidence for the production of amber objects.

Despite the fact that, in most cases, little direct evidence exists for the production of pottery at wics (see below for the exception), there can be little doubt that it should be added to the range of crafts practiced on them. No kilns have been found at Hamwic, but here, as elsewhere, the vast majority of the pottery was produced from local clays, and small, ephemeral kilns would have sufficed to make it. The facts that some of the Hamwic pottery derived from sources about 20 kilometers away and that the sand- and shell-tempered wares from Eoforwic belonged to widespread ceramic traditions suggest that the wics were integrated into regional systems of production and distribution. The production and distribution of Ipswich ware leads to the same conclusion.

Fired in kilns and produced on a slow wheel, Ipswich ware was (mass-)produced in the northeastern part of Gipeswic from the early part of the eighth century. Not only did its manufacture represent a technological advance on any other kind of ceramic production then taking place in England, it was also made in a wider range of forms and achieved a much wider distribution. It is almost ubiquitous on settlements within the kingdom of East Anglia, suggesting that it was made and traded within a regional system focused on the wic. Outside the kingdom of the East Angles (it is found as far north as York and as far south as Kent), it is normally found on elite sites and usually in the form of storage vessels. Although, again, the contents may have been more valuable than the vessel, the production and distribution of the latter does suggest that traditional models may have underestimated the significance of trade within and across the kingdoms of England and the role of the wics in articulating this "economic" activity. A consideration of the bone objects from the emporia leads to the same conclusion.

At Hamwic cattle bone was the preferred material for the production of combs, spindle whorls, needles, awls, and thread pickers (red deer antler was increasingly used in the ninth century). Although there are some variations (the production of playing counters, amulets, and skates at Dorestad; the latter were also made at Eoforwic), the bone workers on the other wics seem to have made a very similar range of products. This implies, again, that production was designed for local or regional consumption—why export a (rather utilitarian) product to a community that also manufactures it? (Combs produced in Hamwic have now been identified in its hinterland—at Abbots Worthy, near Winchester.) The similarity in products created at various wics also points to one of the "benefits" of the concentration of different kinds of artisanal activity. There are some signs of the emergence of an integrated system of production in that many of the bone (and other) tools manufactured there were used in other productive processes.

Textile production would seem to have been one of the most important of these. Weaving pits have been identified in the Six Dials area of Hamwic, while more than five hundred loom weights were found on the site of an extension to the Royal Opera House in Lundenwic. Loom weights were also found at Dorestad, while one of the products of this craft (a fragment of a coarse wool textile) was recovered from an early-eighth-century context at Eoforwic. There is evidence for leatherworking at Hamwic and Gipeswic, and shoes were made on the East Anglian wic. As already noted, furs were processed at Eoforwic and Birka. In fact these animal "secondary products" provide crucial insight into the function (and rationale) of the emporia; the products were made with tools and materials deriving from animals that were supplied from the surrounding region to the craft workers in the wic. These artisans then created objects of varying value. Certain of these, such as the furs and some of the textiles and bone work (an early-eighth-century bone knife handle from Eoforwic was beautifully decorated with scenes of animals in procession) as well as the objects of gold and silver, might have been destined for the elite consumption, prestige goods exchange, or both; the rest (and probably the majority) would have been consumed at the regional level.

rationale and demise

Classic accounts of the emporia saw them as royally controlled foreign enclaves, situated within, yet separate from, the various kingdoms of northwestern Europe. They were seen as nodes in a pan-European exchange system, operated by elites for the benefit of elites—the driving forces of early European history. Some of the gifts exchanged between the kings of northwestern Europe may have passed through the wics; some may even have been made there. However, if the character of the archaeological assemblage in any way reflects the importance of past human activities, it is now clear that artisanal production dominated the lives of most of the residents of early medieval emporia. This production connected them, on a daily basis, with the inhabitants of the surrounding region. It seems likely that the latter "consumed" many of the goods made on the wics, although (given the generic nature of these products) this will remain difficult to prove. What is unquestionable, however, is that the artisans (and possibly traders) on the wic were provisioned, both in terms of food and raw materials, with resources produced in its hinterland.

The remains of rather elderly cattle, sheep, and pigs dominate the faunal assemblage from Hamwic. These animals had evidently served a useful life elsewhere before being dispatched to the wic. The assemblage is noteworthy for the absence of young animals, which would have supplied the better cuts of meat, and for a lack of wild species. It appears that the inhabitants of Hamwic were not able to exercise much choice over the food with which they were supplied, and this is generally taken to support the idea that the wic was created, controlled, and provisioned by the king from his other estates in the kingdom of Wessex.

The evidence from other emporia, however, suggests that Hamwic might, to some extent, be exceptional. There is evidence for farms on the edge of Dorestad and Lundenwic, although the faunal evidence from Eoforwic reveals that at least some of its residents had access to fine cuts of meat (although here too they singularly failed to exploit wild resources). All this might imply a greater diversity of supply to these wics and less than complete royal control over the activities of its residents. Contemporary texts that refer to ecclesiastical landholding in, and trading from, Lundenwic and the suggestion (based on numismatics) that the bishop of York may have exercised some authority over "economic" activities in Eoforwic open up the possibility that nonroyal elites may have played a greater part than previously expected in the functioning of the emporia.

The discovery that some elite settlements (both secular and ecclesiastical) in England show evidence for intensified production from the end of the seventh century (that is, perhaps just before the emergence of the emporia as a phenomenon) raises the intriguing possibility that their development owed at least as much to the expansion of regional systems of production and exchange as to the king's desire for overseas exotica. Similarly work since the 1980s on the continental European economy has emphasized that, although emporia like Dorestad were important and may have linked regional-level production and distribution to the acquisition of goods from overseas, regional networks were structurally more significant to the development of the Carolingian empire and the Carolingian Renaissance. These networks were frequently focused on old Roman cities and castella (forts).

Archaeologists have therefore begun to reassess the significance of the emporia in the economic and political development of the polities that made up early medieval Europe. They were once seen as the "economic" dynamos of early medieval Europe and were thought to be central to the reproduction of kingdoms—they were the places through which kings controlled the importation of the prestige goods that secured and maintained alliances and dependents. As the research accumulates, however, they have come to be viewed as locales articulating overseas trade with the networks of intensified production and exchange being developed around the (usually nonroyal) elites of northwestern Europe. To consider how this new insight affects an understanding of the demise of the emporia, one must return to Hodges's typology.

In fact it can be argued that his type C emporia are not really emporia at all since they are predicated on the demise of long-distance trade. In this event Hodges argues in his Dark Age Economics that "the emporium could either be abandoned or it could continue to function within a regional economy." The former (abandonment) was the fate of most of the "classic" emporia, and this generally took place in the mid–to late ninth century. The Vikings have been blamed for this, as they have been blamed for pretty much anything else that went wrong at this time. They certainly had an effect. Dorestad was regularly sacked from the 830s and was destroyed in 863. Lundenwic was attacked in 842 and 851 and was occupied by a Viking army in 871–872; a deep ditch dug there in the ninth century might be a product of these attacks. Viking disruption of long-distance trade networks may, in fact, have robbed the emporia of their role in linking regional and international "economic" systems. However, one might also argue, as Adriaan Verhulst does in The Carolingian Economy, that the emporia's sudden extinction and the continuity of "old civitates like Rouen, Amiens, Maastricht . . . Tournai . . . [and] younger towns along the rivers (portus) in the interior" demonstrate how ephemeral wics had always been. Whatever one's perspective, emporia and wics remain among the defining characteristics of their age, and Dark Age Economics (despite twenty years of critique) still lies at the heart of archaeologists' attempts to understand them.

See alsoIpswich (vol. 2, part 7); Viking Harbors and Trading Sites (vol. 2, part 7); Trade and Exchange (vol. 2, part 7).


Bourdillon, Jennifer. "The Animal Resources from Southampton." In Anglo-Saxon Settlements. Edited by Della Hooke, pp. 177–195. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988. (One of the first and best discussions of the importance of the hinterlands of wics, based primarily on the faunal evidence from Hamwic.)

Es, W. A. van. "Dorestad Centred." In Medieval Archaeology in the Netherlands. Edited by J. C. Besteman, J. M. Bos, and H. Heidinga, pp. 151–182. Assen, Netherlands: van Gorcum, 1990.

Hill, D., and R. Cowie, eds. Wics: The Early Medieval Trading Centres of Northern Europe. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. (Updated proceedings of a conference held in York in 1991.)

Hodges, Richard. Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne. London: Duckworth, 2000. (See especially chap. 3.)

——. The Anglo-Saxon Achievement. Archaeology and theBeginnings of English Society. London: Duckworth, 1989. (See especially chap. 4. A slightly different perspective on the emporia, with more on artisanal production, but trade and exchange is still central.)

——. Dark Age Economics: The Origins of Towns andTradea.d. 600–1000. London: Duckworth, 1982. (The seminal account of early medieval trade and exchange.)

Jensen, Stig. The Vikings of Ribe. Ribe, Denmark: Den antikvariske Samling i Ribe, 1991. (Much of this short, well-illustrated book is about the pre-Viking emporium [or wic] site and the kinds of activities that took place on these sites.)

Maddicott, John. "Prosperity and Power in the Age of Bede and Beowulf." Proceedings of the British Academy 117 (2002): 49–71. (This overview argues for a relatively prosperous English countryside and emphasizes the significance of the production and exchange of cloth in the eighth century.)

Moreland, John. "The Significance of Production in Eighth-Century England." In The Long Eighth Century: Production Distribution and Demand. Edited by Inge Hansen and Chris Wickham, pp. 69–104. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2000. (Moves away from exchange-focused perspectives on emporia, arguing that they were fully integrated into regional economies and may even have been a product of an intensification of agricultural production.)

Morton, Alan. "Hamwic in Its Context." In Anglo-SaxonTrading Centres: Beyond the Emporia. Edited by Mike Anderton, pp. 48–62. Glasgow: Cruithne Press, 1999. (One of a number of excellent papers from a Sheffield conference that focused on the hinterlands of emporia.)

Peacock, David. "Charlemagne's Black Stones: The Re-Use of Roman Columns in Early Medieval Europe." Antiquity 71 (1997): 709–715. (Makes a convincing case that Charlemagne's "black stones" were in fact porphyry columns rather than lava quern stones.)

Verhulst, Adriaan. The Carolingian Economy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002. (An accessible discussion of the economy of continental Europe in the eighth and ninth centuries that stresses the importance of regional economic networks and sees the emporia as rather "ephemeral.")

John Moreland

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