Anglo-Saxon and Viking


After the Romans left in AD 410, Britain was invaded by Germanic tribes – the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. Many local people fled or were killed. The Jutes who settled in Kent were farmers not city-dwellers. For about 100 years the Roman city Durovernum Cantiacorum was abandoned.

A mystery burial in Canterbury of a man, woman, two children and dog dates from the fifth century AD. Scientific analysis indicates this was possibly a family from the continent, though how and why they died is unknown. The display includes reconstructed heads of a woman and a girl.

During the sixth century more people came to live again in Canterbury. They were mainly pagans. Ethelbert, the greatest of Kent’s pagan kings, sought closer links with the continent and married Bertha, a Christian princess whose father had been King of Paris. She persuaded him to welcome a mission from Pope Gregory the Great, which was led by Augustine. He arrived in AD 597, converted Ethelbert to Christianity and baptised 10,000 people. Models for bronze sculptures of Ethelbert and Bertha are on display.

A wooden Cathedral was built. Canterbury became the headquarters of English Christianity and a centre of learning. Beautiful artefacts include jewellery and the Canterbury Cross, which has acquired worldwide fame as a symbol of the Anglican Church. For more Anglo-Saxon finds visit the Beaney, where there is a display in the Explorers & Collectors gallery.

After centuries of relative peace Vikings raided the East Kent area in the ninth and tenth centuries. The bloodiest raid involved an attack on Canterbury. Archbishop Alphege was taken prisoner and, when he refused to be ransomed, he was brutally murdered by pelting with beef bones after a drunken Viking feast.

You can see a Viking knife found by archaeologists in Castle Street, Canterbury, in 1976. Its ivory handle is beautifully with interwoven serpents. A Viking-style Anglo-Saxon comb was found during excavations before building of the Marlowe shopping arcade. There is a Viking-period warrior’s stirrup, found in East Kent, and stirrup mounts from Barham, just outside Canterbury.


10 century Viking knife, found by archaeologists in Castle Street, Canterbury in 1976

10th century Viking knife, found by archaeologists in Castle Street, Canterbury in 1976 © Canterbury Museums and Galleries Collection

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