The Heroic Age, Issue 8 (June 2005)
History informs us that the political relationships members of the Northumbrian elite sought to cultivate during the sixth to the seventh centuries tended to be situated around the eastern coastline of England rather than among their seemingly contiguous inland neighbors. It has been suggested that this would seem to indicate a preference for maritime travel. However, questions of navigability of waterways and ship technology are paramount. This paper seeks to combine a desktop survey of the northeast coast of Britain and its attendant inland waterways with an overview of Anglo-Saxon ship technology to compare the estimated travel times by the various routes available, i.e., land and sea, in order to place the politico-religious relationships formed by the Northumbrian elite during the sixth and seventh centuries into a geographical context.
The focus of this paper is the role that transportation routes and technology played in structuring the developing political communities in northeast England during the sixth and centuries, particularly the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. The paper aims to combine an analysis of political actors in the region during the middle decades of the seventh century with a brief overview of recent research on the period in historical geography and archaeology as a means of interpreting the emerging political communities at the time. Towards this, three interrelated topics are discussed. First, the political landscape of the region during the sixth and seventh century is examined to provide a background for the analysis. Second, the physical landscape of the region is examined to determine which modes of travel were most advantageous. Finally, the question of Anglo-Saxons maritime technology is discussed.