Cymenshore - Historical Context

Historical Context

The account of Ælle and his three sons landing at Cymenshore appears in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, a collection of seven vernacular manuscripts, commissioned in the 9th century, some 400 years or more after the events at Cymenshore. It is likely that the legend of Aelle was provided by an oral tradition regarding the legendary beginning of Saxon Sussex. There is very little recorded information after 491 about Sussex until the arrival of Christianity in the 7th century. Information about early Sussex derived from the chronicle has been modified by our knowledge of what was happening elsewhere in England and by a growing body of archaeological evidence.

The chronicle goes on to describe a battle with the British in 485 AD near the bank of Mercredesburne, and a siege of Pevensey in 491 after which the inhabitants were massacred.

Towards the end of the Roman occupation of England raids on the east coast became more intense and the expedient adopted by Romano-British leaders was to enlist the help of Anglo-Saxon mercenaries to whom they ceded territory. Gildas said that the king of the Britons Vortigern invited the Saxons in among them like wolves into the sheep-fold. It is thought that mercenaries may have started arriving in Sussex as early as the 5th century.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the main area of settlement during the 5th century can be identified by the distribution of cemeteries of that period Apart from Highdown, near Worthing and Apple Down, 11 km northwest of Chichester, they are between the lower Ouse and Cuckmere rivers in East Sussex. This area was believed to have been for the treaty settlement of Anglo-Saxon mercenaries

Bell suggested that subsequently Ælle seems to have tried to break out of the treaty area and in about 465 he fought the battle of 'Mearcredesburne', one translation of which is 'river of the frontier agreed by treaty'. The chronicle does not tell us who won the battle, but with the taking of Pevensey in c 471 Ælle extended his territory up to the Pevensey Levels. East of the Levels was an area independently settled by the Haestingas, a people whose territory continued to be regarded as an area apart from the rest of Sussex as late as the 11th century. No pagan cemeteries have been found in this region, and this is an indication that they were already Christian when they arrived. As far as the west of the Arun Valley is concerned, this includes Selsey and Chichester, to date there have been no archaeological finds of the early Anglo-Saxon period. The only known pagan Saxon burials are at Pagham (7th or 8th century AD) and Apple Down.

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