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A map of places named in the Burghal Hidage

Eorpeburnan is the first place identified in the Burghal Hidage, a document created in the late 9th or early 10th century, that provides a list of thirty three fortified places mainly in Wessex. It details the location of fortifications designed to defend the West Saxon kingdom from the Vikings but also the relative size of burghal defences and their garrisons. Eorpeburnan is designated as having a hidage of 324, its precise location is lost in history, but scholars have suggested some possible sites.[1][2]


Eorpeburnan is the first of thirty three fortified places (burhs[3]) in the ancient Kingdom of Wessex, that is listed on a document that has come to be known as the Burghal Hidage.[4] The document that was created in the late 9th or early 10th century was named by Frederic William Maitland in 1897.[4][5] The network of burhs, listed in the Burghal Hidage, was part of Alfred the Great's response to a series of raids and invasions by the Vikings.[4][6]

The location of the burhs were chosen to defend the main road and river routes into Wessex from Viking attack.[7] They were also a place of refuge, being sited such that any of the Anglo-Saxon rural population would be no more than 20 miles (32 km) from their nearest burh.[7] In addition the burhs became secure regional market centres and a place to mint coins, particularly after 973 when the coinage was reminted every five years or so.[8][9][10]

Eorpe~ the first element of the name Eorpeburnan is possibly a personal name or the Old English for dark and the ~burnan probably means stream.[11]

Modern location of Eorpeburnan[edit]

Although the location of Eorpeburnan is not known for sure, the various fortifications in the hidage are approximately 40 miles apart and they are listed, in a clockwise direction, around Wessex with Eorpeburnan being the first. Thus the location for Eorpeburnan can be approximated.[1]

Castle Toll[edit]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in the year 892 a 'great host of the Danes came up into the estuary of the Limen (now the River Rother), with two hundred and fifty ships' it further describes how they stormed a half finished fortress.[12][13] It is possible that the fort described by the chronicle is Castle Toll, Newenden in Kent.[14][15] However, some historians have argued against Castle Toll being Eorpeburnan as the Burghal hidage does not provide for the defence of Kent.[12]


The town of Rye has also been suggested as the site of Eorpeburnan. Rye is in Sussex and the hidage makes provision for the defence of Sussex. The second location listed in the Burghal Hidage is westwards of Rye at Hastings. However, there is no firm evidence of Anglo-Saxon occupation in the Rye area, if any Saxon work existed, no trace remains now. An excavation in the 1980s revealed the remains of a ditch, although it was not possible to date it.[12] A more extensive survey was carried out in the 19th century in the town ditch area, when more of the archaeology was intact.[12] [16] It has been possible to deduce the length of wall for each of the listed burhs based on the figures provided by the hidage.[17] The length of the town ditch, in Rye, equates well to the hidage, listed for Eorpeburnan.[12] [16]


  1. ^ a b Hill. A gazetteer of Burghal Hidage sites in Hill/ Rumble The Defence of Wessex: The Burghal Hidage and Anglo-Saxon fortifications. Manchester: University Press, pp. 189-231
  2. ^ Haslam. King Alfred and the Vikings in Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 13. p. 136
  3. ^ Lavelle. Fortifications in Wessex. p. 4 - Burh does not mean fortified town per se. Anglo Saxons used the word to denote any place within a boundary which could include private fortifications or simply a place with a hedge or fence round it.
  4. ^ a b c Hill/ Rumble. The Defence of Wessex. p. 5
  5. ^ Maitland. Domesday Book and Beyond. pp. 502 – 503
  6. ^ Stenton, F. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ a b Wood, Domesday Quest, p. 86
  8. ^ Welch. Anglo Saxon England. pp. 127-129
  9. ^ Wood, Domesday Quest, p. 124
  10. ^ Hill/ Rumble. The Defence of Wessex. p. 160
  11. ^ Nicholas Brooks. The Unidentified Forts of the Burghal in Medieval Archaeology Vol. 8. p. 81
  12. ^ a b c d e Kitchen. The Burghal Hidage: towards the identification of Eorpeburnan in Medieval Archaeology. Vol 28. pp. 175-178
  13. ^ ASC 892
  14. ^ Davison. The Burghal hidage fort of Eorpeburnan in Medieval Archaeology, Vol. XVI. pp.81-86
  15. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1013041)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  16. ^ a b Holloway. History and Antiquities of the Ancient Port of Rye. p. 589
  17. ^ Hill. The origins of Saxon Towns in Brandons. The South Saxons. p. 183