The medieval ‘New England’: a forgotten Anglo-Saxon colony on the north-eastern Black Sea coast

Extract from an Italian portolan atlas of 1553 of the Crimea, which names Susaco (Sussex) and Londina (London), believed to have been settlements in ‘Nova Anglia’. Wikipedia

A New England on the Black Sea was created more than 500 years before its American successor, naming towns after their homeland like the Pilgrim Fathers.

Fugitives of the Norman Conquest are said to have been rewarded for their gallantry by the Byzantine emperor with an enclave in the Crimea, according to historian Caitlin Green.

Dr. Green’s account of ‘Nova Anglia’ on her blog tells of the 14th-century Icelandic saga of Edward the Confessor which outlines events following 1066.

‘They left their estates and fled away from the land with a great host,’ the old text says.

They were led by Siward, earl of Gloucester, and headed south to the Mediterranean, making a raid on Cueta, North Africa, and slaughtering there.

Afterwards, they made haste to Micklegarth, now known as Istanbul, where they had heard a siege was underway.

They defeated the enemy ships and the saga says that the emperor ‘took wonderfully well’ to the newcomers.

According to the saga he offered the English positions in his personal bodyguard, the Varangians, so impressed was he by the warriors.

But the astute Englishmen asked for land instead.

Rather than deprive his own gentry of their lands, the emperor advised the English of a region across the sea, which had once belonged to the Romans.

The emperor said they could have it if they were able to defeat the barbarians living there.

After countless battles, the saga says that they took the land and named it England.

The saga says: ‘To the towns that were in the land and to those which they built they gave the names of the towns in England. They called them both London and York, and by the names of other great towns in England.’

Despite problems with the narrative, for example there was never a Siward, earl of Gloucester, there remains compelling evidence provided by Dr Green.

It is well documented for instance that the emperor’s Varangian guard went from being largely made up of Scandinavians in the 10th and 11th centuries, to a predominantly English force.

Dr Green told The Times of those who rose through the ranks of Byzantine society who were able to earn titles and land.

Furthermore, old maps seem to show that there were places named by Englishmen, including the town of ‘Susaco’ (Sussex) and the river ‘Londina’ (London).

On her website Dr Green writes: ‘This territory would appear to have been established by the late eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon exiles who had left England after the Norman Conquest and joined the Byzantine emperor’s Varangian Guard, and their control of at least some land and cities here apparently persisted for several centuries, perhaps thus providing a regular supply of “English Varangians” to the Byzantine Empire that helps to explain why the “native tongue” of the Varangian Guard continued to be English as late as the mid-fourteenth century.’

About proverbs6to10

Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor
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