Medieval Urbanization: reviewing the sequence and character town development in medieval Europe

By reconsidering the archaeological evidence and its relationship to the accepted documentarily-based schemes for town development in medieval Europe, a different chronological sequence has been proposed. Instead of steady and uninterrupted growth from the tenth century, it is possible to argue that within this overall pattern there were times when urban development stopped or was even reversed. For example, in as series of articles the following revisions have been proposed:

- that after the intensive phase of land exploitation and exchange in the eighth and early ninth centuries, in England (unlike Frankia) there was a dramatic change in the nature of the exchange network that initiated a series of economic changes that influenced the character of exchange for the rest of the middle ages

- in southern England there was a period between the foundation of the military burhs in the later ninth century and their becoming urban settlements in the later tenth and eleventh centuries. This modifies the view that the burhs were simultaneously founded as both military forts and towns.

- ongoing work suggests that the accepted view that the twelfth century saw a phase of intense urbanization that continued to increase in the thirteenth needs reconsideration. The archaeological evidence suggests that the majority of twelfth-century towns were functioning as centres for the aristocracy and that there was little evidence for growth, but more for the lack of it during most of that century. However, from the 1180s the character of urbanization changed with a phase of intensive growth that reflected the need of most of the population to have access to towns as craft and trading centres.

- in addition the archaeological evidence is being reviewed to assess the extent to which it can provide new insights into the economic character of the later fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries.

Outputs to date

Medieval Towns and Urbanization in R. Gilchrist and A. Reynolds (eds), 2009, Reflections: 50 years of medieval archaeology, 1957-2007, SMA Monograph 30, Maney, Leeds, 255-70.

The Long and the Short in R. Goddard, J. Langdon and M. Müller (eds) 2010, Survival and Discord in Medieval Society. Essays in honour of Christopher Dyer. Brepols, Turnhout,.11-28.

Overview: Trade, Exchange and Urbanization in H. Hamerow, D. Hinton and S. Crawford (eds) 2011. The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, Oxford University Press, 503-14.

Exchange, Coinage and the Economy of Early Medieval England in J. Escalona and A. Reynolds (eds) 2011, Scale and Scale Change in the Early Middle Ages: Exploring landscape, local society and the world beyond, Brepols, Turnhout, 253-72.

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