Britain in south east Africa in 550 AD

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

Amazing to think that British merchants reached Tanzania in the mid 500s. If there was still so much trade going on, why did the economy collapse to completely?

Tanzania? A small number of beads have been found on the East African coast at Dar es Salaam and Kisiju, Tanzania, which have been considered to be early Anglo-Saxon in origin by a number of researchers, including Richard Hodges and Barbara Green, as was discussed in a previous post. Given their likely origin, their rarity within their local context, and their findspots on the coast in an area that had known trading links to the Mediterranean, it has been suggested by Joan Harding that that these beads could have been personal possessions carried by a small number of individuals from Europe, perhaps travelling back along the trade routes that brought elephant ivory, cowrie shells, garnets and other goods from the Red Sea and beyond to fifth- to seventh-century England, although this suggestion does need to be treated with a sensible degree of caution. In this context, it is perhaps worth noting that there is certainly evidence for the presence of people from the England in the Mediterranean region, at least, during the sixth century AD and shortly after, which may be relevant, including as part of a Frankish delegation to Constantinople in the mid-sixth century and as slaves at Rome and Marseille in the later sixth century, whilst an Anglo-Saxon merchant named Botto was definitely based at Marseille during the eighth century AD (Annales Petaviani, s.a. 790). Likewise of potential interest is an increasing body of textual, archaeological and isotope evidence for the presence of people from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean in fifth- to seventh-century Britain, including a reference in the seventh-century Life of St John the Almsgiver to a ship from Alexandria, Egypt, visiting Britain in around 610–20 AD and exchanging a cargo of corn for one of tin.

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