Sunday, April 25, 2010


Early Viking raids followed a similar pattern: their preferred victims were monasteries along the coast, places where two or three ships full of raiders were enough to carry off all the valuables and get away before local fighting men arrived.

Ireland's rich deposits of gold, silver, and copper have been mined since ancient times. Precious and semi-precious stones were also found on the island—emeralds, sapphires, amethysts, topaz, freshwater pearls, and "Kerry diamonds." And the Irish have a long tradition, dating at least to 2000 B.C, of producing metalwork of very high quality.

These native materials and skills combined with religious devotion to make the monasteries and convents of Ireland the richest in the British Isles and, as a result, the favorite targets of Viking raiders.

A chronicler in Munster bewailed the "immense floods and countless sea-vomitings of ships and boats and fleets so that there was not a harbor nor a land port nor a dun nor a fortress nor a fastness in all Munster without floods of Danes and pirates." The chronicler went on to report how the Vikings "ravaged [Munster's] chieftainries and her privileged churches and her sanctuaries, and they rent her shrines and her reliquaries and her books."

Archaeologists have discovered many sublime examples of Irish metalwork, stripped from holy places, in Viking graves throughout Scandinavia. How many other comparable works were melted down or lost?

Books were the sole Irish treasure that the Vikings did not prize. Once a book's gold or silver covers had been pried off, the Vikings had no further interest in it. They tossed books into fires, trampled them under foot, or dumped them in the sea or a nearby lake, causing Irish monks to lament the "drowning" of their precious manuscripts.

As the pillage, destruction, and slaughter spread across the country, some Irish monks gathered up their books and fled to the Continent. Many joined monastic communities in France, Germany, Belgium, or the Netherlands, or offered their services as teachers at the schools founded 20 or 30 years earlier by Charlemagne. Other monks chose the missionary life, carrying Christianity to remote corners of Austria and Switzerland. Irish monks had always been wanderers, but this exodus from Ireland was different.

There was a genuine sense among the monks of Ireland that their civilization was on the edge of extinction. If Irish sanctity and scholarship and artistry were to survive, they believed, it would have to be in foreign lands.

Alfred the Great’s defence against the Vikings

A reasonable attempt at illustrating the larger sized English ships and therefore their crew’s advantage in battle. Alfred responded to the threat by constructing a fleet of large longboats, each of which could carry a hundred men, to meet and fight off the invaders before they landed. This navy’s first battle was against four Danish ships in the Stour Estuary in 882, but it was his victory over the invading forces in the Thames estuary and off the coast of Essex in 897 that won Alfred the epithet ‘the Great’. King Alfred is now considered to be, in a way, the founder of the Royal Navy.
The treaty with Guthrum gave Alfred the breathing space he needed to fortify and revitalize Wessex. As the last outpost of independent England, it was essential for Wessex to have an efficient military.

Throughout his realm, Alfred built strongholds known in Anglo-Saxon as burhs (the origin of the modern English word "borough"). Each held a garrison of about 160 men, plus an undetermined number of servants to do all the cooking, cleaning, and tending of horses. Traditionally the English army moved on foot, but Alfred realized that given the speed with which the Vikings struck English targets, the English must be able to respond quickly, too. The burh garrisons, therefore, were all cavalrymen. For the same reason, the king established his burhs in close proximity—none was more than 20 miles away from another.

The expense of maintaining the burhs fell upon the local lords, even if that lord was a bishop. (High churchmen had always insisted that they ought to be exempted from such obligations, but in times of crisis English kings compelled the bishops to assume their share of the cost of defending the realm.)

Alfred also reorganized Wessex's army, keeping half of the men on duty at any given time. And although Alfred is famous as the father of the English Navy, kings before Alfred had used war ships. Nonetheless, recognizing that swift ships were just one more advantage the Vikings held over the English, Alfred brought over from Frisia (modern-day Holland) skilled shipwrights to build his new navy.

Responding to the sad state of religious and intellectual life in England, Alfred refounded ruined abbeys and convents, brought over learned monks from France to reestablish schools, and set the example for the revival of literacy in the land by personally translating religious and secular books from Latin into English.

Guthrum gave Alfred seven years to rebuild his kingdom, but then the double-dealing Viking broke the treaty and invaded Wessex in 885 and laid siege to Rochester. But Alfred's new military defensive measures worked. Mobilizing his standing army, his burh garrisons, and his navy, he broke the Danish siege easily, then sent his fleet up the River Thames to capture London.

In 886, after seventeen years of occupation under the Vikings, London was in English hands again. Alfred pressed his advantage by requiring, in a new treaty with Guthrum, that English Christians under Viking rule in the Danelaw enjoy the same legal protections as the settlers from Scandinavia; beaten and humiliated, Guthrum agreed. Four years later, Guthrum, apparently without giving Alfred any more trouble, died in Hadleigh.

The Invasions Continue
In spite of Guthrum's defeat and death, the Vikings continued to mount sporadic raids on Alfred's territory. But a serious invasion with eighty ships was mounted from France in 892, led by a Viking chief named Hastein who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of the Loire Valley. He ordered part of his force to disembark in Kent, then beached his ships at Benfleet in Essex. Danes from East Anglia and York joined Hastein's army, but once again Alfred's military proved its worth. The infantry harried the Vikings, while Alfred's navy destroyed many of Hastein's long ships in a battle off the coast of Devon in 893. After several more reverses on land, Hastein and most of his army retreated up the old Roman road, Wading Street, to Chester.

Bad luck pursued Hastein's army for another three years. The Vikings abandoned Chester in 894 and invaded northern Wales, but the ferocious resistance of the Welshmen and the lack of supplies forced the Vikings to retreat. The next year they attempted to establish a base on the River Lea north of London, no doubt positioning themselves to take the city back from Alfred, but the English hit them so hard that the Vikings had to retreat for safety into the Danelaw, leaving their dragon ships behind. In 896, the Vikings were encamped along the Severn when Alfred attacked again. The Vikings scattered: Some went north to York, and others sailed back to France in hope of easier plunder.

As the sole English king of the old stock, Alfred became an inspiration and arguably even a rallying point for the English, especially for the English in the Danelaw. He had come back strongly from almost certain annihilation, smashed his enemies, reclaimed his kingdom, and made that kingdom so strong it could drive off or defeat every Viking invasion for the rest of his life.

But Alfred also realized that there was more to a nation than military strength. So he revived learning and literature, reformed the English legal code, founded new monasteries to replace the ones destroyed by the Vikings, and brought over monks from the Continent to get the new communities off to a strong start.

Rarely has a country teetered so closely on the brink of destruction than did England in 878. Rarer still has it fallen to one man to bring his nation back from near-disaster. Yet that was the destiny of King Alfred; without him, England as we know it would not exist.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pre-Norman Castles in Britain?

 Offa's Dyke

A map of the Burghs of Alfred's Wessex, taken from the Burghal Hidage.
For almost a century, historians have debated whether the Normans introduced the idea and practice of castle-building when they conquered England in 1066. We do know the Saxons built long dykes, earthen ramparts flanked by deep ditches that barred passage between regions. Of these, Offa's Dyke is arguably the best known. Erected in the late eighth century by the king of Mercia, the linear earthwork stretched along the border between England and Wales and performed a defensive function. At least in theory, the earthen barrier prevented the Welsh in Powys from storming into England.

In addition to earthen embankments, the Saxons constructed other fortifications prior to the Norman Conquest. Excavations at some earth and timber castles in England, including Goltho and Stamford in Lincolnshire and Sulgrave in Northamptonshire, have revealed the presence of pre-Conquest timber halls fortified to some degree with earthworks underneath the Norman castles. Goltho, for example, may have been enclosed as early as the mid-ninth century with earthworks and a ditch. Whether or not the defended halls served the same function as the Norman castles that replaced them remains unestablished, yet it seems reasonable to presume that the homes of the leading Saxons would have required at least some form of protection, particularly from the Vikings, who were in full swing at this time, and also from regional rivals. These fortified halls may represent an early form of "castle" as defined in this book. Some historians characterize these sites as "burns," individual structures that centered a Saxon lordship and where the local leader received payments and services from the populace;4 others apply the term only to the fortified communal settlements occupied by the Saxons during the early Middle Ages.

The Burghal Hidage written in the early tenth century, documents that Alfred the Great, King of Wessex from AD 871-899, established thirty-three burns at a distance of 20 miles apart to prevent the Danes from taking over southern England. The unusual record provides fascinating details of each burh, detailing its size, the length of the ramparts, and the number of men needed to garrison the site. Saxon builders often reused existing Roman walls as ready-made enclosures for a new burh, but also constructed timber-revetted earthen ramparts to defend the settlements. While some burns primarily served a military purpose comparable to a Roman fort, many were noteworthy administrative or population centers. New inhabitants received land in the burhs in exchange for providing defensive support when necessary; the system seems notably similar to feudalism, the establishment of which historians generally credit to the Normans. The largest Saxons burhs included Wallingford in Oxfordshire, Southwark near London, Wareham in Dorset, and Chichester in West Sussex.

Considerable evidence also exists that the Saxons established a burh known as "Bircloyt" at Rhuddlan, in Denbighshire, which was later superseded by a motte castle, built by Robert of Rhuddlan to establish a Norman presence in an area long controlled by the Saxons. In short, even though archaeologists have unearthed evidence that the Saxon leaders may have erected private residences that were fortified to some degree, they apparently favored the defended community settlement, which confirmed their dominance in the area and also provided protection from outside attack. True castles, however, did not arrive in Wales until the Norman incursion after 1066.

In pre-Norman Wales, native Celtic rulers lived in large halls, known as "neuadd," protected by weakly fortified walls. Some, like Dinefwr in Carmarthenshire, were later rebuilt as stone castles. Royal courts evidently served as the main residence, the "llys" or royal palace, of the native princes. Like the neuadd, each llys was enclosed with a defensive wall. The llys at Rhosyr, near Newborough on the Isle of Anglesey, was only recently excavated. Notable finds included the foundations of two timber halls, lengths of the stone enclosure wall, and other structures. Such structures suggest functional similarities with medieval castles, in that the llys was a private residence with some degree of fortification and was used to carry out the business of the commote (or district) in which it was centered. However, at best, these structures should probably be classified more as residences than as fortified structures.


 Cadbury Castle and environs
The phenomenon of fortification-building was not new to the Middle Ages. For millennia, humans have felt the need to protect themselves and their territory and have erected fortifications to provide safety and security from the elements and also from covetous neighbors. Well before the first castle arrived in England, fortified settlements occupied craggy hilltops and jutting coastal headlands throughout the British Isles. Many still dominate those sites and are easy to spot on a day's outing. Many, like Maiden Castle in Dorset, date to the Iron Age and have acquired place-names that imply a dual usage as a properly fortified military residence. In some ways, the military terminology can be extended to cover many of these fortifications. Nonetheless, these premedieval structures lacked the essential ingredient that would otherwise characterize them as true castles: private ownership.

The univallate and multivallate sites of prehistory offered substantial protection from an attack or prehistoric livestock rustling, functioning as fortified communal settlements (comparable to medieval walled towns) rather than individual ranches. The group's leader or chief probably lived in a separate, private dwelling at the site, but his home was just one part of the whole complex, which often formed a densely occupied settlement. Some hillforts and promontory forts, which guarded headland settlements, served as supply and distribution centers, granaries, animal pounds, and possibly as military establishments or ritual sites. Many times, embedded rings of steep-sided earthen ramparts and deep ditches defended the entire settlement, sometimes cut into chalk-beds, buttressed with timber posts or compacted stone, and stockaded with timber palisades. Like medieval castles, many defended settlements were fronted with substantial gateways. However, these prehistoric earthwork forts were never intended exclusively for use as fortified private residences.

Arguably Britain's most legendary Iron Age fort, Cadbury Castle commands a hilltop overlooking the tiny village of thatched stone cottages in South Cadbury, Somerset. Long touted as the site of King Arthur's Camelot, archaeological excavations directed by Leslie Alcock from 1966 to 1970 targeted portions of the enormous multivallate fort, the summit of which covered 18 acres. The effort revealed that the fort was occupied as early as 3300 BC, during the Neolithic era, and that Bronze Age and Iron Age peoples added the defenses, lined the concentric ramparts with limestone slabs and deepened the ditches. By 100 BC, the entire set of four ramparts and ditches had been completed and small huts and storage pits filled the summit and accommodated the expanding settlement.

During the first century AD, the Romans devastated the hilltop settlement, the home of the Durotriges, members of the Celtic tribe based at Dorchester (then known by the Roman name, Durnovaria) who commanded at least twenty hillforts in southern England, including mammoth Maiden Castle. The bodies of thirty adults and children slaughtered by the Romans lay buried at the southwest entrance to Cadbury Castle until their discovery in the 1960s. In addition to collecting scores of pottery sherds imported from France and the Mediterranean, archaeologists discovered the remains of a large timber hall, dating to about AD 500. Whether or not the man who spawned the Arthurian legends actually called this place his palace, someone of considerable status —perhaps a chieftain —decided the hillfort should be reoccupied and ordered the construction of the timber framed structure. Perhaps, the leader administered justice and watched over the surrounding lands from this fine vantage point and guided his community into a period of sought-after calm after the Romans retreated from England. Some historians believe Cadbury Castle could very well have been the inspiration for Camelot.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Britain's prehistory

Britain has not always been an island. It became one only after the end of the last ice age. The temperature rose and the ice cap melted, flooding the lower-lying land that is now under the North Sea and the English Channel.

The Ice Age was not just one long equally cold period. There were warmer times when the ice cap retreated, and colder periods when the ice cap reached as far south as the River Thames. Our first evidence of human life is a few stone tools, dating from one of the warmer period s, about 250,000 BC. These simple objects show that there were two different kinds of inhabitant. The earlier group made their tools from flakes of flint, similar in kind to stone tools found across the north European plain as far as Russia. The other group made tools from a central core of flint, probably the earliest method of human tool making, which spread from Africa to Europe. Hand axes made in this way have been found widely, as far north as Yorkshire and as far west as Wales.

However, the ice advanced again and Britain became hardly habitable until another milder period, probably around 50,000 BC. During this time a new type of human being seems to have arrived, who was the ancestor of the modern British. These people looked similar to the modern British, but were probably smaller and had a life span of only about thirty years.

Around 10,000 BC, as the Ice Age drew to a close, Britain was peopled by small groups of hunters, gatherers and fishers. Few had settled homes, and they seemed to have followed herds of deer which provided them with food and clothing. By about 5000 BC Britain had finally become an island, and had also become heavily forested. For the wanderer-hunter culture this was a disaster, for the cold-loving deer and other animals on which they lived largely died out.

About 3000 BC Neolithic (or New Stone Age) people crossed the narrow sea from Europe in small round boats of bent wood covered with animal skins. Each could carry one or two persons. These people kept animals and grew corn crops, and knew how to make pottery. They probably came from either the Iberian (Spanish) peninsula or even the North African coast. They were small, dark, and long-headed people, and may be the forefathers of dark-haired inhabitants of Wales and Cornwall today. They settled in the western parts of Britain and Ireland, from Cornwall at the southwest end of Britain all the way to the far north.

These were the first of several waves of invaders before the first arrival of the Romans in 55 BC. It used to be though t that these waves of invaders marked fresh stages in British development. However, although they must have brought new ideas and methods, it is now thought that the changing pattern of Britain's prehistory was the result of local economic and social forces.

The great "public works" of this time, which needed a huge organisation of labour, tell us a little of how prehistoric Britain was developing. The earlier of these works were great "barrows", or burial mounds, made of earth or stone. Most of these barrows are found on the chalk uplands of south Britain. Today these upland s have poor soil and few trees, but they were not like that then. They were airy woodlands that could easily be cleared for farming, and as a result were the most easily habitable part of the countryside. Eventually, and over a very long period, these areas became over farmed, while by 1400 BC the climate became drier, and as a result this land could no longer support many people. It is difficult today to imagine these areas, particularly the uplands of Wiltshire and Dorset, as heavily peopled areas.

Yet the monuments remain. After 3000 BC the chalk land people started building great circles of earth banks and ditches. Inside, they built wooden buildings and stone circles. These "henges", as they are called, were centres of religious, political and economic power. By far the most spectacular, both then and now, was Stonehenge, which was built in separate stages over a period of more than a thousand years. The precise purposes of Stonehenge remain a mystery, but during the second phase of building, after about 2400 BC, huge bluestones were brought to the site from south Wales. This could only have been achieved because the political authority of the area surrounding Stonehenge was recognised over a very large area, indeed probably over the whole of the British Isles. The movement of these bluestones was an extremely important event, the story of which was passed on from gene rat ion to gene ration. Three thousand years later, these unwritten memories were recorded in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of Britain, written in 1136.

Stonehenge was almost certainly a sort of capital, to which the chiefs of other groups came from all over Britain. Certainly, earth or stone henges were built in many part s of Brita in, as far as the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, and as far south as Cornwall. They seem to have been copies of the great Stonehenge in the south. In Ireland the centre of prehistoric civilisation grew around the River Boyne and at Tara in Ulster. The importance of these places in folk memory far outlasted the builders of the monuments.

After 2400 BC new groups of people arrived in southeast Britain from Europe. They were roundheaded and strongly built, taller than Neolithic Britons. It is not known whether they invaded by armed force, or whether they were invited by Neolithic Briton s because of their military or metal working skills. Their influence was soon felt and, as a result, they became leaders of British society. Their arrival is marked by the first individual graves, furnished with pottery beakers, from which these people get their name: the "Beaker" people.

Why did people now decide to be buried separately and give up the old communal burial barrows? It is difficult to be certain, but it is thought that the old barrows were built partly to please the gods of the soil, in the hope that this would stop the chalk upland soil getting poorer. The Beaker people brought with them from Europe a new cereal, barley , which could grow almost anywhere. Perhaps they felt it was no longer necessary to please the gods of the chalk upland soil.

The Beaker people probably spoke an Indo-European language. They seem to have brought a single culture to the whole of Britain. They also brought skills to make bronze tools and these began to replace stone ones. But they accepted many of the old ways. Stonehenge remained the most important centre until 1300 BC. The Beaker people's richest graves were there, and they added a new circle of thirty stone columns, this time connected by stone lintels, or cross-pieces. British society continued to be centred on a number of henges across the countryside.

However, from about 1300 BC onwards the henge civilisation seems to have become less important, and was overtaken by a new form of society in southern England, that of a settled farming class. At first this farming society developed in order to feed the people at the henges, but eventually it became more important and powerful as it grew richer. The new farmers grew wealthy because they learned to enrich the soil with natural waste materials so that it did not become poor and useless. This change probably happened at about the same time that the chalk uplands were becoming drier. Family villages and fortified enclosures appeared across the landscape, in lower lying areas as well as on the chalk hills, and the old central control of Stonehenge and the other henges was lost.

From this time, too, power seems to have shifted to the Thames valley and southeast Britain . Except for short periods, political and economic power has remained in the southeast ever since. Hillforts replaced henges as the centres of local power, and most of these were found in the southeast, suggesting that the land successfully supported more people here than elsewhere. There was another reason for the shift of power eastwards. A number of better-designed bronze swords have been found in the Thames valley, suggesting that the local people had more advanced metalworking skills. Many of these swords have been found in river beds, almost certainly thrown in for religious reasons. This custom may be the origin of the story of the legendary King Arthur’s sword, which was given to him from out of the water and which was thrown back into the water when he died.

The mid-eighth century of a settlement at Staraia Ladoga.

This was situated beside the inflow of a settlement at Staraia Ladoga. (See Map A). This was situated beside the inflow of the little river Ladozhka into the river Volkhov, 13 kilometres up the Volkhov from Lake Ladoga. At Staraia Ladoga in the late twentieth century only the area nearest the town is cultivated. The surrounding countryside consists of forests and enormous stretches of bog, no less impenetrable in the early middle ages. A surface area of 2,500 metres has been excavated systematically. The bottom- most substratum of the lowest stratum, 'Horizon E 3 ', has been dated precisely with the help of dendrochronology, the technique which seeks to establish an absolute chronology from the sequences of tree rings discernible in the wood used for structures, paving and so forth. Dendrochronology's methods of dating are more or less free of controversy and the dating of the settlement's earliest 'micro-horizon' to the 750s has met with general acceptance. Almost as certain has been the attribution to a Scandinavian craftsman of a set of smith's tools, found in a 'production complex' for working in wood and metal in this same substratum. The 26 pincers, hammers, tongs and so forth found in the 'complex' have precise analogies in kits found in Scandinavia proper. In other words, persons from afar were working at Staraia Ladoga from the first. 

In construction technique and lay-out the large wooden houses with heating apparatus in their centres are not dissimilar to those of indisputably Finno-Ugrian settlements, but they could as well be Scandinavian workmanship, and the virtual absence from the stratum of the eighth and earlier ninth centuries of finds of ornaments or tools classifiable as Finnic is striking. The indigenous population of the surrounding countryside was Finno-Ugrian, but it was very sparse indeed. Thus outsiders, and probably only outsiders, were the founders. This is shown most clearly by the finds of leather shoes, combs and other personal belongings characteristic of Scandinavians. The combs are found from the lowest substratum onwards. They are believed to have been made by itinerant craftsmen. 

The earliest types of combs are likely to have been brought to Ladoga by their owners, or were worked up on the spot: they were not objects of barter or gift exchange. For most Scandinavian adults of either sex possessed a comb, and made frequent use of it on their hair. Combs were valued, and had some decorative features, but they were not de luxe. Clay pitchers of the type known as 'Tatinger ware', made somewhere in Francia, have also been found at Staraia Ladoga - as well as at other trading settlements in the Baltic region. Scandinavian-style tools and everyday articles have, then, been found at Staraia Ladoga, and an obvious inference is that the earliest frequenters of the site were Scandinavians. They were not, though, the only ethnic group at Staraia Ladoga in the first generations of its existence: Baits were also present. There must have been some activity or commodities which attracted a medley of persons to this seemingly inhospitable and previously uninhabited spot in the mid-eighth century. The question is: what? 

The answer comes from joining up the three above-mentioned developments in a straight line of cause and effect. Staraia Ladoga's formation may be seen as a function of the influx of silver dirhams into the north-west, while this in turn could be regarded as the consequence of the Abbasids' less belligerent policies and their striking of huge quantities of dirhams. The arrival of dirhams in the north does in fact seem most likely to have been a by-product of the Abbasids' accession and active promotion of commerce. The hoard whose youngest coin dates from 786-7 is the earliest to have been discovered in the north up to now. This suggests that exchanges between the Middle East and the far north-west started or resumed soon after the Khazaro-Arab warfare abated. The location of this hoard was none other than Staraia Ladoga, and it is not a freak phenomenon. Another apparently complete hoard, having a youngest dirham of 808, has been found to the south of Staraia Ladoga. Still more significantly, oriental coins have been excavated on the site of two successive wooden buildings at the bottom of the settlement's 'Horizon E 3 '. Thus silver coins from the Middle East were to be had at Staraia Ladoga in the very earliest buildings and in effect they constituted its basic raison d'etre. This would mean that news of the Abbasids' output of silver coins reached the shores of the Baltic within a few years. But we cannot be sure that trade between the Middle East and the fur-yielding regions to the north of the Kama ever stopped entirely. And the Swedes probably continued to go on hunting or bartering expeditions to Lake Ladoga after the sixth century, while their settlements on the Aland islands continued. They may also have been intermediaries in the long-distance connections between the Arctic north and Anglo-Saxon England: by the late eighth century walrus ivory was being used in Anglo-Saxon carvings.

If movement of populations along the great river valleys of the northern forest zone was more or less incessant, news of traders bearing silver from the Moslem south could have travelled quite rapidly. And that silver could move fast between the Middle East and the north-west is shown by the sequence of coins in structures at Staraia Ladoga. A silver piece struck in Tabaristan in 783 has been found in a structure built over one containing an earlier Tabaristan coin, issued in 768. Silver is not the only commodity of external origin to be found in the earliest substrata of Staraia Ladoga. Amber from, most probably, the coasts of the southern and south-eastern Baltic occurs in the form of small ornaments and also as unworked raw material. The lumps of amber were carved and drilled (without any heating process) into beads and pendants in workshops such as the 'complex' where the 26 smith's implements were found. Amber was highly valued and it was frequently reworked. Finds of amber are fairly plentiful at Staraia Ladoga, in stark contrast to anywhere else in the north-west. Glass beads have been found in very great profusion at Staraia Ladoga. In the lowest two substrata of 'Horizon E 3 ', the variety of shapes and colours is particularly wide, and these layers contain some of the most inherently valuable types, silvered beads and silver beads covered with light-brown glass to give the effect of gold. A workshop for glass-making has recently come to light at Staraia Ladoga and it appears to have started functioning at the beginning of the ninth century. But it probably depended on imported scrap for its raw material, and it cannot have produced every type of bead found at Ladoga. Many, probably most, of the beads represent imports. Furthermore, the beads found are too numerous to have been intended only for use by the earliest habitues of Ladoga. They were continuously being brought or manufactured so as to be exchanged for other commodities, and while at first many of them were made of silver or were of intricate construction, these types gave way during the ninth century to simpler, though still brightly coloured ones. Presumably the latter were less valuable, and reflected growth in the volume of commercial activity. 

This archaeological evidence points unmistakably to the original function of Staraia Ladoga. It was a trading post, and diverse crafts to service the trade were practised there. In fact, there is evidence that amber beads were being fashioned on the spot even before the first wooden structures were built at Staraia Ladoga. There may have been a brief period when workshops with drainage channels were in seasonal operation but no actual settlement had been established. Craftsmen were making things from the 750s in the forementioned 'production complex', whose forge had walls of light wickerwork and lacked any solid roofing. Clearly, business developed rapidly. The decision of the 'founding fathers' then to take up permanent occupation and build a number of wooden residences and workshops would have been quixotic, had they not felt reasonably confident of at least an intermittent supply of goods to buy and to sell. The site of Staraia Ladoga was probably chosen on account of its water-communications. Downstream lay Lake Ladoga, which seems to have debouched directly into the sea in the earlier middle ages, while a few kilometres upstream lay a series of treacherous rapids. Staraia Ladoga's relative isolation, set back from Lake Ladoga itself and in a kind of no-man's-land, recommended it to outsiders seeking to enrich themselves without risk of disturbance from local inhabitants. It was bleak, yet accessible by water. 

Staraia Ladoga's contacts also reached far to the west, judging by the finds of Scandinavian-style combs and Tatinger-type pitchers. These are among the more humdrum of the objects which form a kind of trail, spidery but persistent, eastwards from Hedeby across the Baltic via Central Sweden or along the southern Baltic coast. The earliest firmly datable hoards of dirhams in the Baltic region, of c. 800, form a similar distribution pattern and amber, albeit a natural product on the south shore of the Baltic, is found in only a very few other sites, notably Birka and Staraia Ladoga. Beads belonging to several of the types known in Ladoga have been found in ample quantities at Birka. Their place of manufacture is uncertain, but at least some types were probably made in the Rhineland or elsewhere in Francia or the Mediterranean basin. These scattered bits of evidence imply a nexus of long-distance exchanges and ventures which were essentially for the purpose of gain. They were not primarily objects of gift-exchange between members of ruling or noble elites. The combs made of bone or deer antlers are particularly suggestive in this respect, for they belong to types which have been found as far west as Dorestad in Frisia, York and Dublin. They were everyday objects, of less value than ornaments of precious metal, and so less likely to be kept in use, or on display, indefinitely. They were therefore sensitive to changing fashions in design and decoration and, one might suppose, responsive to the peculiarities of local tastes. Yet combs of the same date show a striking uniformity of size, proportions and ornament. It seems that they were made by itinerant craftsmen who shuttled constantly from trading post to trading post in the Scandinavian world. Using materials which they obtained on the spot, they worked up these combs for local customers.