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Coordinates: 52°20′38″N 3°02′56″W / 52.344°N 3.049°W / 52.344; -3.049 Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
(Welsh: Clawdd Offa) is a large linear earthwork that roughly follows the current border between England
England
and Wales. The structure is named after Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia
Mercia
from AD 757 until 796, who is traditionally believed to have ordered its construction. Although its precise original purpose is debated, it delineated the border between Anglian Mercia
Mercia
and the Welsh kingdom of Powys. The Dyke, which was up to 65 feet (20 m) wide (including its flanking ditch) and 8 feet (2.4 m) high, traversed low ground, hills and rivers. Today the earthwork is protected as a scheduled monument. Some of its route is followed by the Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Path; a 176-mile (283 km) long-distance footpath that runs between Liverpool Bay
Liverpool Bay
in the north and the Severn Estuary
Severn Estuary
in the south. Although the Dyke is conventionally dated to the Early Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
of Anglo-Saxon England, research in recent decades – using techniques such as radioactive carbon dating – has challenged the conventional historiography and theories about the earthwork.

Contents

1 History

1.1 Background 1.2 Early scholarship 1.3 Later research 1.4 Contrary evidence

2 Current

2.1 Statutory protection 2.2 Candidate World Heritage Site 2.3 The Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Centre 2.4 Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Path

3 Cultural importance 4 See also 5 References 6 Bibliography 7 External links

History[edit] Background[edit]

The extent of Mercia
Mercia
during the Mercian Supremacy, showing the line of Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
(red)

Wat's Dyke
Wat's Dyke
in brown; Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
in red

Schematic cross-section of Offa's Dyke, showing the design intended to protect Mercia
Mercia
against attacks/raids from Powys.

The generally accepted theory about much of the earthwork attributes its construction to Offa, King of Mercia
Mercia
from 757 to 796. The structure did not represent a mutually agreed boundary between the Mercians and the Kingdom of Powys. It had a ditch on the Welsh (western) side, with the displaced soil piled into a bank on the Mercian (eastern) side. This suggests that Mercians constructed it as a defensive earthwork, or to demonstrate the power and intent of their kingdom. Throughout its entire length, the Dyke constantly provides an uninterrupted view from Mercia
Mercia
into Wales. Where the earthwork encounters hills or high ground, it passes to the west of them. Although historians often overlook Offa's reign due to limitations in source material, he ranks as one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon rulers – as evidenced in his ability to raise the workforce and resources required to construct Offa's Dyke. The construction of the earthwork probably involved a corvée system requiring vassals to build certain lengths of the earthwork for Offa in addition to the normal services that they provided to their king. The Tribal Hidage, a primary document, shows the distribution of land within 8th-century Britain; it shows that peoples were located within specified territories for administration. Early scholarship[edit]

Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
near Presteigne, Powys

The first historians and archaeologists to examine the Dyke seriously compared their conclusions with the late 9th-century writer Asser, who wrote: "there was in Mercia
Mercia
in fairly recent time a certain vigorous king called Offa, who terrified all the neighbouring kings and provinces around him, and who had a great dyke built between Wales
Wales
and Mercia
Mercia
from sea to sea".[1] In 1955 Sir Cyril Fox published the first major survey of the Dyke.[2] He concurred with Asser
Asser
that the earthwork ran 'from sea to sea', theorising that the Dyke ran from the River Dee estuary in the north to the River Wye
River Wye
in the south: approximately 150 miles (240 km). Although Fox observed that Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
was not a continuous linear structure, he concluded that earthworks were raised in only those areas where natural barriers did not already exist. Sir Frank Stenton, the UK's most eminent 20th-century scholar on Anglo-Saxon England, accepted Fox's conclusions. He wrote the introduction to Fox's account of the Dyke. Although Fox's work has now been revised to some extent, it still remains a vital record of some stretches of Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
that still existed between 1926 and 1928, when his three field surveys took place, but have since been destroyed. Later research[edit] In 1978, Dr Frank Noble challenged some of Fox's conclusions, stirring up new academic interest in Offa's Dyke. His MPhil thesis entitled " Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Reviewed" (1978) raised several questions concerning the accepted historiography of Offa's Dyke. Noble postulated that the gaps in the Dyke were not due to the incorporation of natural features as defensive barriers, but instead the gaps were a "ridden boundary", perhaps incorporating palisades, that left no archaeological trace. Noble also helped establish the Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Association, which maintains the Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Path. This long-distance footpath mostly follows the route of the dyke, and is a designated British National Trail. John Davies wrote of Fox's study: "In the planning of it, there was a degree of consultation with the kings of Powys
Powys
and Gwent. On the Long Mountain near Trelystan, the dyke veers to the east, leaving the fertile slopes in the hands of the Welsh; near Rhiwabon, it was designed to ensure that Cadell ap Brochwel retained possession of the Fortress of Penygadden." And, for Gwent, Offa had the dyke built "on the eastern crest of the gorge, clearly with the intention of recognizing that the River Wye
River Wye
and its traffic belonged to the kingdom of Gwent".[3] Ongoing research and archaeology on Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
has been undertaken for many years by the Extra-Mural Department of the University of Manchester. Interviews with Dr David Hill, broadcast in episode 1 of In Search of the Dark Ages
In Search of the Dark Ages
(aired in 1979), show support for Noble's idea. Most recently Hill and Margaret Worthington have undertaken considerable research on the Dyke. Their work, though far from finished, has demonstrated that there is little evidence for the Dyke stretching from sea to sea. Rather, they claim that it is a shorter structure stretching from Rushock Hill north of the Herefordshire Plain to Llanfynydd, near Mold, Flintshire, some 64 miles (103 km). According to Hill and Worthington, dykes in the far north and south may have different dates, and though they may be connected with Offa's Dyke, there is as yet no compelling evidence behind this. However, not all experts accept this view.[4] Contrary evidence[edit] 'Ofer' means 'border' or 'edge' in Old English, giving rise to the possibility of alternative derivations for some border features associated with Offa.[5] The Roman historian Eutropius in his book Historiae Romanae Breviarium, written around 369, mentions the Wall of Severus, a structure built by Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus
who was Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
between 193 and 211:

Novissimum bellum in Britannia habuit, utque receptas provincias omni securitate muniret, vallum per CXXXIII passuum milia a mari ad mare deduxit. Decessit Eboraci admodum senex, imperii anno sexto decimo, mense tertio. Historiae Romanae Breviarium, viii 19.1

He had his most recent war in Britain, and to fortify the conquered provinces with all security, he built a wall for 133 miles from sea to sea. He died at York, a reasonably old man, in the sixteenth year and third month of his reign.

This source is conventionally thought to be referring, in error, to either Hadrian's Wall, 73 miles (117 km), or the Antonine Wall, 37 miles (60 km), which were both shorter and built in the 2nd century.[6] Recently, some writers have suggested that Eutropius may have been referring to the earthwork later called Offa's Dyke.[7] Most archaeologists reject this theory.[8][9][10] Evidence has been found that challenges the accepted date of the Dyke's construction.[11] In December 1999, Shropshire
Shropshire
County Council archaeologists uncovered the remains of a hearth or fire on the original ground surface beneath Wat's Dyke
Wat's Dyke
near Oswestry, England. Carbon dating
Carbon dating
analysis of the burnt charcoal and burnt clay in situ showed it was covered by earth on or around AD 446. Archaeologists concluded that this part of Wat's Dyke, so long thought of as Anglo-Saxon and a mid-8th-century contemporary of Offa's Dyke, must have been built 300 years earlier in the post-Roman period.[12] In 2014, excavations by the Clwyd- Powys
Powys
Archaeological
Archaeological
Trust focused on nine samples of the Dyke near Chirk. Radio carbon dating of redeposited turf placed the construction between the years 541 and 651, and lower layers of construction are dated to as early as 430. This evidence suggests that the Dyke may have been a long-term project by several Mercian kings.[13] Current[edit] The England–Wales border
England–Wales border
still mostly passes within a few miles of the course of Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
through the Welsh Marches. A 3-mile (4.8 km) section of the Dyke, which overlooks Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey
and includes the Devil's Pulpit near Chepstow, is now managed by English Heritage. Statutory protection[edit] All sections of Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
that survive as visible earthworks, or as infilled but undeveloped ditch, are designated as a Scheduled Monument. However, some parts of the Dyke may also remain buried under later development.[14] Some sections are also defined as Sites of Special
Special
Scientific Interest, including stretches within the Lower Wye Valley SSSI and the Highbury Wood
Highbury Wood
National Nature Reserve. Parts are located within the Wye Valley
Wye Valley
and Shropshire
Shropshire
Hills Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Most of the line of Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
is designated as a public right of way, including those sections which form part of the Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Path.[14] In August 2013, a 45-metre (148 ft) section of Dyke, between Chirk
Chirk
and Llangollen, was destroyed by a local landowner. The destruction of the Dyke to build a stable was said to be like "driving a road through Stonehenge" but the perpetrator escaped punishment.[15] Candidate World Heritage Site[edit] In 2010, the Dyke was proposed by the Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Association and local authorities for World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
status.[14] Part of the proposal stated:

Offa’s Dyke is a victim of its very scale, nature, meaning and historical success. It is located in two countries, six local authority areas, multiple ownerships and multiple land-use contexts. The main professional stakeholders – such as the English and Welsh path and heritage management agencies – are organisationally and functionally separate. The ancient monument is now often seen as secondary to the modern path, and heritage advice about individual dyke sections is not generally coordinated via any connected overview of the values of the whole monument. Moreover, despite the lasting legacy of Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
for English and Welsh communities alike, there is limited public awareness of the monument and its remarkable link to modern ideas of national identity.

The proposal was rejected in 2011.[16]

Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Centre at Knighton, Powys

The Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Centre[edit] The Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Centre is a purpose-built information centre in the town of Knighton, on Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
on the border between England (Shropshire) and Wales
Wales
(Powys). Some of the best remains of the earthworks can be seen within a two-minute walk from the centre. Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Path[edit] Main article: Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Path The Offa's Dyke Path
Offa's Dyke Path
(Welsh: Llwybr Clawdd Offa) is a long-distance footpath close to the England– Wales
Wales
border. Although large sections are close to the Dyke itself, the Path is longer, and in some places passes at some distance from the earthworks. Opened in 1971, the Path is one of Britain's longest National Trails, stretching for 283 km (176 mi) from the Severn estuary
Severn estuary
at Sedbury, near Chepstow, to Prestatyn
Prestatyn
on the north Wales
Wales
coast.[17] There is a visitor centre at Knighton.[18] Cultural importance[edit] The dyke has a cultural significance symbolising the separation between England
England
and Wales: a symbolism similar to Hadrian's Wall between England
England
and Scotland
Scotland
in the Scottish Marches:

[It] was customary for the English to cut off the ears of every Welshman who was found to the east of the dyke, and for the Welsh to hang every Englishman whom they found to the west of it.[19]

See also[edit]

England
England
and Wales Scots' Dike Götavirke
Götavirke
(Geatish Dyke) Danevirke
Danevirke
(Danish Dyke) Wansdyke Black Pig's Dyke Silesia Walls

References[edit]

^ Asser, Life of Alfred, p. .14 ^ Fox 1955 ^ Davies, John (2007) [1993]. A History of Wales. London: Penguin. pp. 65–66.  ^ Ian Bapty review of Hill and Worthington, Offa's Dyke: History and Guide, 2003 ^ Old English translation for 'ofer', Wiktionary.org ^ Smith, William (1875). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray. p. 762.  Eutropius uses the figure cxxxii (132) milia passuum. As a Roman mile ≈1,479 metres (4,852 ft), 132 Roman miles = 195 km (or 121 statute miles); Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
is around 192 km long (a little over 119 statute miles). ^ Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd, The Keys To Avalon, Element Books, 2000, ISBN 1-86204-735-9 ^ CPAT: New book claims that Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
is Roman!, article by Ian Bapty ^ "What is Offa's Dyke?". The Clwyd- Powys
Powys
Archaeological
Archaeological
Trust. 16 October 2009.  ^ Matthews, Keith. "Was Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
actually the 'Wall of Severus'".  ^ "Latest thinking about OFFA'S and WAT'S DYKES". New Welsh Review 52. 16 October 2009.  ^ Hannaford, H.R (1999). Archaeological
Archaeological
Investigation on Wat's Dyke
Wat's Dyke
at Maes-y-Clawdd, Oswestry. Archaeology Service, Shropshire
Shropshire
County Council.  "The excavation produced some residual deposits of worn sherds of Roman Samian ware and coarseware pottery. The report suggests that the dyke should be 'regarded as being contemporary with the other great 5th century linear earthwork, the Wansdyke in Wiltshire . . . an achievement of the post-Roman kingdom of the northern Cornovii, rather than a work of 7th–8th century Mercia.' However, Dr David Hill, senior research fellow, Centre for Angio-Saxon Studies, University of Manchester ('Offa Versus The Welsh' – British Archaeoiogy, December 2000) has argued for a date later than the 6th century for Wat's Dyke – that it was constructed as Gwynedd and North Powys
Powys
briefly became a unified state. Evidence from both dykes suggests, he says, that people were not settling or spending much time in these 'wild zones'." ^ "Offa's Dyke: built by multiple kings?". Current Archaeology. XXV, No. 3 (291): 6. June 2014.  ^ a b c "UK Tentative List of Potential Sites for World Heritage Nomination: Application form: Offa's Dyke", Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Retrieved 3 August 2014 ^ "Allowed to bulldoze Offa's Dyke... because he claimed didn't know it was there!". Wales
Wales
Online. 4 June 2014.  ^ Nathan Rowden, " Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
misses out on audacious heritage bid", County Times, 29 March 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2014 ^ " Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Path". Retrieved 6 April 2012.  ^ Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Centre, VisitWales.com ^ George Borrow, Wild Wales
Wales
(from folklore)

Bibliography[edit]

Cyril Fox, Offa's Dyke: a Field Survey of the Western Frontier Works of Mercia
Mercia
in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries AD (London, 1955) David Hill and Margaret Worthington, Offa's Dyke: History and Guide (Stroud, 2003) Frank Noble, Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Reviewed, MPhil thesis Open University (1978). Partly published in Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Reviewed, ed. Margaret Gelling (Oxford, 1983) Tyler, D.J. "Offa’s Dyke: a historiographical appraisal," Journal of Medieval History (2011) 37#2 pp 145–161

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Offa's Dyke.

Wikisource
Wikisource
has the text of the 1921 Collier's Encyclopedia
Collier's Encyclopedia
article Offa's Dyke.

Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
Association website Clwyd- Powys
Powys
Archaeological
Archaeological
Trust: Introducing Offa's Dyke How Offa's Dyke
Offa's Dyke
created a genetic barrier between the English and the Welsh BBC Gene Stories article History and research Offa's Dyke

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