The massive ancient linear earthwork that provides the sole commemoration of an extraordinary Anglo-Saxon king and that gives its name to one of our most popular contemporary walking trails remains an enigma. Despite over a century of study, we still do not fully understand how or when Britain’s largest linear monument was built, and in recent years the views of those who have studied the Dyke have diverged even about such basic questions as its physical extent and purpose.
This book offers a fresh perspective on Offa’s Dyke arising from over a decade of study and of conservation practice by its two authors. It explores the specifically Mercian and English context for its creation, and identifies ‘political places’ along its route that may have pre-existed it. As well as reviewing past studies of the Dyke and debates about its character, the authors identify build practices not previously noted. They demonstrate the fundamental uniformity of the design of the earthwork, including in Gloucestershire, and show how it facilitated surveillance of the landscape at key locations. Offa’s Dyke is explained as the most dramatic among several devices of hegemony deployed by the Mercian regime of the late eighth/early ninth century, and as the key element in an early Welsh Marches frontier paralleled in Charlemagne’s contemporary European empire.
On Offa’s Dyke (Gladys Mary Coles) vi
Foreword: Christopher Catling (Secretary, Royal Commission on
the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales) xi
Prefatory notes xiii
Introduction: Landscape and hegemony: Offa’s Dyke in dual perspective 1
PART ONE: THE BACKGROUND REVIEWED
1 Offa’s Dyke in profile: character, course and controversies 10
2 Studying Offa’s Dyke: a cumulative inheritance 55
3 The Mercians: a border history 93
PART TWO: THE EVIDENCE EXPLORED
4 Placing the Dyke in the landscape 122
5 The structure of the Dyke 164
6 Building and operating the Dyke 214
PART THREE: THE CONTEXT RE-APPRAISED
7 In a frontier landscape 254
8 The material of Mercian hegemony 298
9 Offa’s Dyke: power in the landscape 334
Epilogue: Reconnecting Offa’s Dyke in the twenty-first century 365
Appendix: Selected Offa’s Dyke profiles 377
List of Figures 427
"This is an important work every student and scholar of the early middle ages should tackle and interrogate."
"...this new book has set out an exciting research agenda that addresses not just archaeological questions, but bigger issues to do with such matters…"
"There is something for everybody in Keith Ray and Ian Bapty’s 'Offa’s Dyke'."
"This is an important contribution to the ongoing study on Offa's Dyke, a valuable successor to Cyril Fox's British Academy volume… [the authors] have certainly provided us with considerably more to think about."