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On the south coast of Hampshire, at the entrance to a natural harbour. Is Portchester Castle, one of the best preserved Roman buildings in Britain.

Portchester Castle, is one of a series of coastal forts built by the Romans in the third and fourth centuries.

Portchester Castle
Portchester Castle

It is still widely accepted that these Saxon shore forts were constructed for defence. To keep out marauding Anglo-Saxons from the other side of the Channel. But, in actual fact, they may have been used for a very different purpose.

In total, 11 shore forts skirt the southern and eastern coast. From Portchester in the South, around the coast, these Shore forts have been taken as an imposing reminder of the Anglo-Saxon threat, all the way up to Brancaster in Norfolk. One of the most easterly of these forts – Burgh Castle – still commands the landscape.

Andrew Pearson “All of this, all the fields over there… Would have been what was termed the Great Estuary – open water, Marsh, tidal creeks – probably until the 12th century.”

Author Andrew Pearson has been re-examining the forts and has come to the conclusion that they may have nothing to do with Anglo-Saxons.

Andrew Pearson
Andrew Pearson

Andrew Pearson “The traditional view is that they are defence against readers from across the Channel. From the peoples who are, in later periods, going to colonise Britain.”

Portchester Castle

The name Saxon shore fort actually comes from a Roman military list. In the 16th century, this list was translated, by famous antiquarian William Camden. What the term Saxon refers to is unclear.

Shore Forts
Shore Forts

Andrew Pearson “What Camden said pretty much went as archaeological fact for many centuries to come. What he hit on was a very evocative idea. It’s very dramatic and very simple. That these forts are put up as defence against the Saxons. This is called ‘the county of the Saxon shore’. If that means being attacked by the Saxons or settled by the Saxons, we don’t know.”

Andrew has found that the huge walls are better suited to protecting goods kept inside the forts. Rather than from attacking enemies from outside.

Author Andrew Pearson “I think these sites are doing much more than defending the coastline. If the Saxons came raiding, it wouldn’t be every month, or every year, or even 10 years, so in terms of what these forts do it’s more likely they have an economic role, perhaps a supply role, rather than this defensive function.”

So you’re suggesting these forts could have been used to help trade from out of Britain rather than stop people coming in?

Defensive Walls
Defensive Walls

Mr Andrew Pearson “Yes, rather than blocking access to the interior. In fact, these are quite the opposite insofar as goods are coming here. And then being shipped out beyond into the Empire.”

Andrew has found no evidence that these forts were built to defend against an Anglo-Saxon invasion. So what is the evidence for invasion?

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Portchester Castle one of the Saxon Shore Forts

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