chapter  4
Medieval cities
Pages 48

Classical antiquity was a civilization based on the city. By contrast, the barbarian Germanic invaders dwelt in the countryside: there were no towns in their homelands north of the imperial frontiers. While some of the new Germanic kings had palaces in Roman cities (Ravenna, Pavia and Toledo are examples) and much of the former Roman administration was preserved, the barbarians continued to prefer rural life. A tentative explanation of their avoidance of cities comes from Hobley (1988, p.69). He draws on an ancient text which, commenting on the Germanic invaders of Roman Gaul and their dread of the Roman cities they encountered, states that they perceived city walls as a trap, and that they reminded them of the walled tombs of their ancestors. Hobley is thereby led to suppose that ‘town walls represented a formidable psychological barrier, as well as a physical one’ to the Saxon invaders of Britain. And so he can account for the ‘total lack of archaeological evidence in London for Saxon occupation within the walls’ in the sixth and seventh centuries, ‘notwithstanding unprecedented programmes of excavation over the last twelve years’. To which he adds that ‘the early Saxon settlers were farmers who preferred open settlements’.