A recent purchase in a Norwich shop, was a used book: The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green. The Society of Antiquities. 1973. Caistor-by-Norwich, or as it is also known, Caistor-St Edmund, is located close to the confluence of the River Tas with the River Yare, in East Norfolk. The Anglo-Saxon cremation urn cemetery there, was built outside of the walls of Venta Icenorum, a Romano-British town. The book's authors suggest that the cemetery belonged to Anglo-Saxon mercenary soldiers, that were employed to defend the town, and their families that they brought over. This fits the context of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, as proposed by traditionalist historians that support the accounts made in later centuries by Gildas and by Bede. In this context, these finds could be suggested to have belonged to the very first East Anglians
I could wax on about it's extensive finds catalogue, and illustrations:
But instead, I'm going to copy here, a passage from the above book that I read this morning, after recieving an email from Stephen Arbon, concerning the Anglo-Saxon settlement of East Anglia.
"The suggested reorganization of the town defences in the third century implies a community still sufficiently large and viable to warrant such an expense. The enclosure of some 35 acres must indicate that this area was thought worth defending. Until the whole system is securely dated uncertainty must remain. But the existence of external bastions does indicate that the defences were probably improved in the later part of the fourth century. Further evidence for the existence of an adequate defensive system at the time comes from the forum and Building 4. Five pieces of military equipment of the type associated with barbarian troops of this period have been found on these two sites, while a sixth was included in a nineteenth century collection. All are late fourth - or early fifth century types and indicate the presence of a military force stationed in or near the town at this time. A bone sword guard was picked up after ploughing in 1969 in the area of the Baths. This too can perhaps be associated with the users of the metal objects. By this time also, if the dating here suggested for the earliest barbarian burials in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery is correct, Germanic folk were already cremating their dead only some 400 yards outside the east gate of Venta.
It may also be significant in this context to note that a number of pieces of so-called 'Romano-Saxon' pottery have been recorded from the Roman town. One such, unstratified, has already been published; three others are here illustrated on fig. 70. Pottery of this kind has been held to indicate the impact of Germanic decorative taste on ceramic fashions in the later days of Roman Britain. It certainly displays motifs that were popular beyond the Roman frontiers at this time; where datable, it occurs mostly in late fourth-century contexts, and its distribution lies mainly in those eastern parts of Britain where the barbarian influence was likely to be felt at the earliest date. The presence of this hybrid pottery is another piece of evidence for the cultural conditions prevailing at Venta in its final phase.
Caistor is in fact one of the few Roman towns in Britain where Romano-Saxon pottery, late Roman military equipment, and early Germanic cremation cemeteries have all been found in close association. The relationship between the soldiery to whom the military equipment found in the town belonged and the folk whose cremated remains were buried outside the walls is difficult to determine. It is most natural to suppose that these finds represent two aspects of the same phenomenon, a body of Germanic mercenaries who in life defended the walls in their final form and in death were buried, in accordance with continuing Roman practice, outside. If as is suggested by the presence of beads in some of the earliest urns, they had their families with them, they too would have been settled somewhere close at hand. It may be objected that barbarian irregulars in Roman, or sub-Roman employment would be unlikely to cremate their dead with such persistence as the earliest users of the cemetery appear to have done. It is true that most cemeteries of Germanic troops that have been recognized in Roman frontier areas on the Continent consist of inhumations, and the well known Dorchester burials are a similar instance in this country. But it has to be remembered that most of the continental laeti in northern Gaul came of Frankish stock or from related German tribes beyond the Rhine who had long been familiar with Roman ways, while the Angles and Saxons who first settled at Caistor came from regions much further afield in north Germany and southern Scandinavia on which Roman civilization had made little cultural impact. And, while it is true that no objects of Roman uniform equipment have been recognized in our cremation urns, such instances have been recorded in north German cremation cemeteries, indicating no doubt that individual Saxons who had served in Roman irregular units did sometimes return home to die and be cremated in accordance with their own ancestral customs. At Caistor and elsewhere in eastern England such folk had fewer opportunities to return home to the Continent: they had come here to stay, and they continued to cremate their dead in their new homeland, unaffected by Romano-British habits, for which, in any case, they probably had some contempt.The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green. The Society of Antiquities. 1973.
A surviving stretch of Venta's wall at Caistor St Edmund.
An information board at the site of the old Roman town.
Drawing of Romano-British potsherds from a site that I recorded in Thetford Forest many years ago. The bottom left sherd is of the type known as Romano-Saxon pottery.
In conclusion, I'm not prepared to take sides on this one. we know that some very early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries surround the old Roman town of Venta Icenorum in Norfolk. We still don't know with any degree of certainty what was the relationship between the town and these cemeteries. Another Anglo-Saxon cemetery has been found close to the walls of the Roman shore fort nearby at Burgh Castle. Did they arrive as Gildas indicated, as invited guests and mercenaries?