West Sussex outline map with UK.png

Cymenshore (also : Cymensora,Cumeneshore, Cumenshore, Cimeneres horan, Cymeneres horan.)[1] is the place in Southern England where according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ælle of Sussex landed in 477 AD and battled the Welsh with his three sons Cymen, Wlencing and Cissa.[2]


Historical context

Later engraving of a picture commissioned in 1519 showing Cædwalla confirming a grant of land, at Selsey, to Wilfrid. The position of the presentation is probably where the Mixon is today based on the location of the church in the top left of picture ( at Church Norton).[3]

The account of Ælle and his three sons landing at Cymenshore, in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, marks the legendary beginning of Saxon Sussex.[2][4][5]

The chronicle goes on to then describe Ælle's battle with the British in 485 AD near the bank of Mercredesburne, and his siege of Pevensey in 491 after which the inhabitants were massacred.[6][7] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of seven vernacular manuscripts, commissioned in the 9th century, some 400 years or more after the events at Cymenshore and it is likely that the information on these early dates was provided by an oral tradition.[8][9] There is very little recorded information after 491 about Sussex until the arrival of Christianity in the 7th century.[10]

The scarce information about early Sussex derived from the chronicle has been supplemented by what was happening elsewhere in England and by a growing body of archaeological evidence.[10]

Towards the end of the Roman occupation of England, raids on the east coast, mainly by Picts, became more intense, and the expedient adopted by Romano-British leaders was to enlist the help of Anglo-Saxon mercenaries to whom they ceded territory.[10] Gildas said that the king of the Britons Vortigern invited the Saxons in among them like wolves into the sheep-fold.[11] It is thought that mercenaries may have started arriving in Sussex as early as the 5th century. [10][12]

Archaeological evidence suggests that the main area of settlement during the 5th century can be identified by the distribution of cemeteries of that period [13] Apart from Highdown, near Worthing and Apple Down, 11 km northwest of Chichester, they are between the lower Ouse and Cuckmere rivers in East Sussex.[10][14] This area was believed to have been for the treaty settlement of Anglo-Saxon mercenaries [15]

Bell suggested that subsequently Ælle seems to have tried to break out of the treaty area and in about 465 he fought the battle of 'Mearcredesburne', one translation of which is 'river of the frontier agreed by treaty'.[10] The chronicle does not tell us who won the battle, but with the taking of Pevensey in c 471 Ælle extended his territory up to the Pevensey Levels. East of the Levels was an area independently settled by the Haestingas, a people whose territory continued to be regarded as an area apart from the rest of Sussex as late as the 11th century.[10] No pagan cemeteries have been found in this region, and this is an indication that they were already Christian when they arrived.[16] As far as the west of the Arun Valley is concerned, this includes Selsey and Chichester, to date there have been no archaeological finds of the early Anglo-Saxon period.[15] The only known pagan Saxon burials are at Pagham (7th or 8th century AD) and Apple Down.[14]


Although there is no archaeological evidence for Ælle's existence or his invasion, there is some lexical evidence for the existence of Cymensora, the place where the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle AS 477 say he landed.[17][5] The word ora is found only in placenames where Jutish and West Saxon dialects were in operation (mainly in southern England). [18] It is possible that the stretch of low ground along the coast from Southampton to Bognor was called Ora "the shore", and that district names were used by the various coastal settlements.[18] They include Ower near Southampton, Rowner near Gosport, Copnor in Portsmouth, Marker in West Thorney, Itchenor, Chalder Farm, Keynor Farm, Honer in Pagham and Bognor.[18] According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle Cymensora is named after Cymen, one of Ælle's sons and thus would mean Cymen's landing place or shore.[2][17][5]

Selsey area

Section of 1695 map of Sussex showing location of Cymenshore (spelt Cimenshore on map)
Remains of jetty at Wytherings location(grid reference SZ8797)

Evidence for Selsey area

The Selsey area, is traditionally the most popular candidate for Cymenshore. The tradition is based largely on two charters that refer to a place with a similar name in the boundary clause to that cited in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.[2][19][20][21] The charter that defined the land award to St Wilfrid at Selsey, in the 7th century, by King Caedwalla is actually a 10th century forgery.[19] The relevant section of the forged charter, says (in Latin):

"Ab introitu portus qui appellatur Anglice Wyderinges, post retractum mare in Cumeneshore, sic uersus occidentalem plagam iuxta mare usque Rumbruge,... "

and the translation is:

"from the entrance of the harbour which is called in English Wyderinges round where the sea falls back at Cumenshore then towards the western shore at Rumbruge.."

A further source is from the Charter of Byrhthelm , which is believed to be genuine and is to do with some land that had been seized from the See of Selsey, it confirms that the boundary is from Wytherings Mouth and Cymenshoran in the east to Hormouth in the west:

"Þis sinde þat land gemeare to Selesie. Arest æt Wedering muðe, þa be sæ on Cymeneres horan, swa west be sæ oð Ðribeorgas, forð be stronde to cwuenstane 7 forð be strande on Horemuðen, ".[22]

Rumbruge/ Rumbridge (alias "thri beorg"- three barrows and is now the Medmerry Bank), is believed to have been an islet and trading port off the southwest coast of the Manhood Peninsula, that has long since succumbed to the sea and Wytherings mouth was part of what is now Pagham Harbour.[23][24][25]

Pagham Harbour

Pagham Harbour currently is a nature reserve, however in earlier times was a working harbour with three ports, one at the western end at Sidlesham Mill known as Wardur, one at the other at the entrance to the harbour and known as Charlton and one on the Pagham side known as the Port of Wythering (Wyderinges).[26][27] The port of Wardur was part of 'New Haven' a development in the Middle Ages.[28] The Port of Wythering was overrun by the sea in the 13th century and the whole harbour eventually silted up and ceased to be navigable, except for small craft.[29]

The Owers

Just off the tip of Selsey Bill, to approximately 11 km SSE, are groups of ledges and rocks known as the Owers.[30][31][32]

The Owers showing possible location for Cymenshore

Outer and Middle Owers

Some historians such as Hunter-Blair identify the Outer Owers and Middle Owers as the landing place for Ælle.[20] However this is problematical as the coastal erosion pattern means that this section of the Owers would not have been part of the shoreline for at least 5000 years.[33] The Outer Owers are approximately 11 km off Selsey Bill and the erosion pattern suggests that the shore would have been 2 – 3 km seaward 5000 years ago.[31][33]

The Mixon

Camden's description of Selsey and the ancient little City[34]

To the south of Selsey Bill lies the Mixon rocks.[31]

It is believed that, in the Iron Age, the Atrebates (one of the Belgae tribes) built their Oppidum in the Selsey area and Richardson speculates that the Mixon could be the site of Cidade Celha (the Old City) and therefore Cymensora.[24][35][36][37][38]

The archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Mixon would have been the shoreline during the Roman occupation, with it not being breached by the sea until the 10th or 11th century.[39] [40][41] As late as the 17th century, it was reported that the remains of the ancient little city could be seen at low tide.[34]


The Manor of Keynor is situated at the western end of Pagham Harbour.[42] Selsey based historians Edward Heron-Allen and Francis Mee favour the Keynor area of Sidlesham for Cymenshore, they suggest that the name Keynor is derived from Cymensora.[43][44] However Margaret Gelling asserts that Keyn-or actually means Cow - Shore in Old English.[45]

Other possible locations


Welch believes that the location for Cymenshore is more likely to be in the Ouse-Cuckmere area of East Sussex, his reasoning is that there is no archaeological evidence to support a landing at Selsey.[15] However Richardson states that the place names with the Old English, ora element of Cymensora are very common along the Hampshire and West Sussex coastline but not around the Ouse-Cuckmere area.[46] There is also a suggestion that the archaeology off the Selsey coast has just not been fully realised yet[47]


Section of 1583 Dutch map showing Rumbridge (Weenbrug)[48]

Shoreham has also been cited as a possible location, for example in 1906 Hilaire Belloc in his Hills and the Sea when discussing St Wilfrid he said:

...But those memories were getting worse and worse, for it was nearly two hundred years since the ships of Ælle had sailed into Shoreham ,which showed him to be a man of immense determination, for it is a most difficult harbour, and there were then no piers and lights)--it was nearly two hundred years, and there was only the least little glimmering twilight left of the old day.[49]

See also


  1. ^ "S. E. Kelly, Charters of the Selsey, Anglo-Saxon Charters Volume VI. p. 12 and p. 118 - Kelly believes that The Owers is where Cymenshore was. Also she gives the alternate spellings as Cumeneshore, Cumenshore, Cimeneres horan, Cymeneres horan
  2. ^ a b c d ASC Parker MS. 477AD."Her cuom Ęlle on Bretenlond 7 his .iii. suna, Cymen 7 Wlencing 7 Cissa, mid .iii. scipum on þa stowe þe is nemned Cymenesora, 7 þær ofslogon monige Wealas 7 sume on fleame bedrifon on þone wudu þe is genemned Andredesleage."
  3. ^ Richardson.The Owers . pp. 66-73. Discussion on the location of the Old City
  4. ^ Bell. p. 64.The account marks the beginning of Saxon Sussex.
  5. ^ a b c Welch. Anglo-Saxon England. p. 9. - When Aella and his three sons land from three ships on a beach named after one of the sons, we are reading legend rather than history.
  6. ^ ASC Parker MS. 485AD."Her Ęlle gefeaht wiþ Walas neah Mearcrędesburnan stęðe."
  7. ^ ASC Parker MS. 491AD."Her Ęlle 7 Cissa ymbsæton Andredescester 7 ofslogon alle þa þe þærinne eardedon; ne wearþ þær forþon an Bret to lafe. "
  8. ^ Bately. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. pp vii-ix.
  9. ^ Jones.The End of Roman Britain. p. 71.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Bell. Saxon Sussex in Archaeology in Sussex to AD 1500 : essays for Eric Holden. p. 64 - Bell discusses the reasons for the early migration of AS mercenaries into Sussex and the archaeological evidence for the early Saxon period in Sussex.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Morris. Dark Age Dates. pp. 145-185. Morris explains that Gildas had misplaced in his narrative his one datable event, Bede had failed to spot that the date was 20 years out, and it is Bede's date that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle follow.
  13. ^ Bell.- Six Anglo-Saxon cemeteries provide the bulk of the archaeological evidence for the early period; these are Highdown, near Worthing, and the group between the rivers Ouse and Cuckmere: Alfriston, Selmeston, South Malling Beddingham and Bishopstone. They all seem to have been of moderate size: those which have been fairly fully excavated are Highdown, with over 170 graves; Alfriston, 150-160; and Bishopstone, 118. Inhumation was the predominant rite in each case, but a proportion of cremations was present at Highdown (about. 28) and Bishopstone (6).
  14. ^ a b Down.Chichester Excavations. p. 9. 282 cremations and inhumations were recorded.
  15. ^ a b c Welch.The South Saxons : pp. 23-25)
  16. ^ Welch.(1971)Late Romans and Saxons. pp. 232-237
  17. ^ a b Richardson. The Owers - Discussion of derivation of the name Cymen Ora, p. 57
  18. ^ a b c Gelling. Placenames in the Landscape. pp. 179-180
  19. ^ a b Kelly. Anglo-Saxon Charters VI. pp. 3-13.
  20. ^ a b Hunter Blair. Roman Britain. p. 176.
  21. ^ Gelling and Cole. The Landscape of Place-Names. pp. 199-210.
  22. ^ Kelly. Anglo-Saxon Charters VI. Charters of Selsey. Charter 20, Bishop Brithelm Charter. S.1291 pp. 85-91 - A man known as Ælfsige seized the land at Selsey, Byrhthelm was brought in to resolve the dispute. Kelly discusses the Charter and suggests who Ælfsige may have been. Possibly the Bishop of Winchester? Kelly explains that Charter 1. ( the land award to Wilfrid) was a forgery. However there is a genuine document that lies behind Charter 20. Brithelm was attempting to get land restored from the original endowment.
  23. ^ Wallace. Sealevel and Shoreline Between Portsmouth and Pagham for the past 2500 years. Part 2 Chapter 2 p. 12
  24. ^ a b Richardson. The Owers, pp. 64 - 65, Map on p. 93 gives an indication of the shoreline as it would be in the 6th century, with locations for Cymenshore and Rumbruge.
  25. ^ Kelly. p. 76. Discussing the Aethelstan charter of 930AD (s.403) - The starting place was 'three barrows' (thri, beorg), which gave rise to the lost placename Rumbridge, thought to be between Medmerry and Wittering.
  26. ^ Salzman.'The City of Chichester: The port', A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3 (1935), pp. 100-102. [1] Date accessed: 14 August 2009 - Information on the now abandoned ports in Pagham Harbour and a discussion about the City of Chichesters claims.
  27. ^ 'Selsey', A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4: The Rape of Chichester (1953), pp. 205-210. [2] Date accessed: 26 October 2009 - This includes a history of the harbour of Wythering.
  28. ^ 'Sidlesham', A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4: The Rape of Chichester (1953), pp. 210-215. [3] Date accessed: 10 October 2009 - Bishop Stephen de Bersted (1262–7) established a 'new township of Wardur', to encourage which he granted that the tenants should have their land freehold at 14d. the acre and should be free of toll in all his fairs and markets. There is no later evidence of this settlement; but perhaps the 'free court of Newehavene' held every three weeks in Sidlesham in the 14th century may be connected with it.
  29. ^ 'Pagham', A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4: The Rape of Chichester (1953), pp. 227-233. [4] Date accessed: 14 August 2009
  30. ^ The Shell Channel Pilot, p. 12, This book is a modern book mainly for leisure craft, it gives useful information on how to get into port and also various hazards out to sea.
  31. ^ a b c Admiralty Chart: Channel East (Chichester to Beachy Head) - This chart provides details of the coastal waters around Selsey Bill including the location of the Owers. The modern distances were based on the location of Selsey Bill being 50° 43′ 21.62″ N, 0° 47′ 16.77″ W , Outer Owers Light Beacon 50º38.59N 0º41.09W
  32. ^ Solent (Pilotage Information and Charts)- The Solent to Selsey Bill,,, retrieved 27 October 2011 
  33. ^ a b SCOPAC. Sedimentary Study from East Head to Pagham. Section 1.1 - The Standing Conference on Problems Associated with the Coastline (SCOPAC) was established in 1986 and consists of local authorities, the Environment agency and others. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that the coastline was some 2 to 3km seawards of where it is now at about 5,000 years
  34. ^ a b Camden. Britannia. p. 228
  35. ^ Down. Roman Sussex-Chichester and the Chilgrove Valley. p. 52.The main oppidum of this shrunken kingdom was probably at Selsey
  36. ^ Richardson p. 65, We have seen that the Genoese cartographer , Pietro Vesconte, on a chart of 1313, used the name Ciuita(city)
  37. ^ Richardson. The Owers, p. 76
  38. ^ Stenton. Anglo Saxon England. pp. 17 - 18
  39. ^ SCOPAC. Archaeology (2006)p. 132 -A Roman wall, a quarry, a standing stone and a presumed Roman lighthouse have all been reported by divers in the vicinity of the Mixon rock.
  40. ^ Wallace. “The search for Roman Selsey”, The Underwater book pp136 – 145. Pelham. Ruins of an old Roman fort and also ballista ammunition have been found at the site.
  41. ^ SCOPAC. Sedimentary Study from East Head to Pagham. Section 1.1 Barrier breaching and shoreline recession associated with rising sea-level and storm events caused The Mixon to become an offshore bank, or shoal, probably at about 950-1050 AD
  42. ^ 'Sidlesham', A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4: The Rape of Chichester (1953), pp. 210-215. [5] Date accessed: 14 August 2009
  43. ^ "Selsey Bill. Historic and Prehistoric", Heron-Allen, p. 88
  44. ^ "A History of Selsey",Mee,p. 10, Phillimore (1988)
  45. ^ Gelling. The Landscape of Place Names. pp. 208 - 209
  46. ^ Richardson. The Owers, pp. 58 - 59
  47. ^ SCOPAC Sediment Transport Study 2003 East Head to Pagham. Section 2.2 Selsey Bill. There is a rich, only partially explored, offshore archaeological legacy of submerged Romano-British, Saxon and early medieval landscape features, partially recorded in documentary and archival records.
  48. ^ Richarson.The Owers pp. 63 - 65. Discussion on derivation of Weenbrug and why there are two instances of it on the map.
  49. ^ "Hills and the Sea" Belloc pp. 117 - 118. Belloc was a historian and keen yachtsman, he knew the waters off the South Coast quite well so it is interesting to hear his commentary on the waters around Shoreham.


  • "Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Manuscript A:The Parker Chronicle". Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  • Bately, J.M., ed (1986). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Cambridge: D.D.Brewer. ISBN 9780859911030. 
  • Bell, Martin (1978). Saxon Sussex. In Drewett, p. L. (ed.), Archaeology in Sussex to AD 1500 : essays for Eric Holden. 
  • Belloc, Hillaire (reprinted 1996). The Hills and the Sea. Marlborough. ISBN 0810160099. 
  • Brandon, Peter (1978). The South Saxons. Chichester: Phillimore. ISBN 0850332400. 
  • Camden, William (Updated English version 1701). Brittannia Vol 1. London: Joseph Wild. 
  • Carter, Dave; Bray, Malcom (2003). "Sediment Transport Study East Head to Pagham Harbour". SCOPAC. Retrieved 20 October 2010. 
  • United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (2005). Admiralty Chart: Channel East (Chichester to Beachy Head) (Map). 
  • Cunliffe, Tom (2000). The Shell Channel Pilot, The South Coast of England and North Coast of France (3rd ed.). Cambridgeshire: Imray. ISBN 0 85288421. 
  • Down, Alec; Martin Welch (1990). Chichester Excavations 7: Apple Down & the Mardens. Chichester District Council. ISBN 0850170028. 
  • Down, Alec (1978). Peter Drewett. ed. Archaeology in Sussex to A.D.1500 (Research reports / Council for British Archaeology):Roman Sussex-Chichester and the Chilgrove Valley. London: Council for British Archaeology. ISBN 090031267X. 
  • Gelling, Margaret (2000). Place-Names in the Landscape. London: Phoenix. ISBN 1842122649. 
  • Gelling, Margaret (2000). The Landscape of Place-Names. Stamford: Tyas. ISBN 1 900289 26 1. 
  • Heron-Allen, Edward (1911). Selsey Historic and Prehistoric. Duckworth. 
  • Hunter-Blair, Peter (1963). Roman Britain and Early England. Norton. ISBN 0-19-821716-1. 
  • Jones, Michael E. (1998). The End of Roman Britain. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801485305. 
  • Kelly, S. E (1998). Anglo-Saxon Charters VI, Charters of Selsey. OUP for the British Academy}. ISBN 0-19-726175-2. 
  • Mee, Frances (1988). A History of Selsey. Chichester, Sussex: Philimore. ISBN 0850336724. 
  • Morris, John (1965). Jarrett and Dobson. ed. Britain and Rome : Dark Age Dates: Essays presented to Eric Birley on his 60th Birthday. Kendal. 
  • Richardson, W.A.R. (2000-2001). The Owers. The English Placename Society Journal 33. 
  • Salzman, Louis Francis (facsimile edition 1973). A Victorian History of the County of Sussex: Volumes 3. London: Victoria County History. ISBN 0712905871. 
  • Salzman, Louis Francis (facsimile edition 1973). A Victorian History of the County of Sussex: Volumes 4. London: Victoria County History. ISBN 071290588X. 
  • Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (2006). SCOPAC Research Project - Archaeology & Coastal Change: Project Report. Southampton: SCOPAC. 
  • Stenton, Frank (3rd Edition 1971). Anglo Saxon England. London: OUP. ISBN 9780192801395. 
  • Wallace, Hume (1996). Sealevel and Shoreline between Portsmouth and Pagham for the past 2500 years. Part 2. Published by the Author. 
  • Wallace, Hume (1968). Kendall McDonald. ed. The Underwater Book: The Search For Roman Selsey. London: Pelham for BSAC. 
  • Welch, M. G. (1992). Anglo-Saxon England. English Heritage. ISBN 0-7134-6566-2. 
  • Welch, M.G. (1971). Late Romans and Saxons in Sussex. Britannia II. Journal of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. 

External links

  • Sidlesham Parish Site - Information on how to find Keynor - Note Keynor Lane on map and Earnley (suggested area for Rumbruge)immediately to the west.
  • St Thomas a Becket - Parish Church at the East end of Pagham Harbour near to Wythering. St Wilfrid gave Pagham to the Archbishops of Canterbury when he left Selsey, and they are still the patrons of this church. A Saxon burial urn was found near to the church in the 1950s and now is on display in the south aisle.
  • SCOPAC - Standing Conference on Problems Affecting the Coastline's website.
  • Movable Type Scripts - Useful site for calculating distances based on the latitude/ longitude bearings. It will also provide a map of the locations. You can use this to calculate the distances between Selsey Bill and the various Owers rocks.
  • Online translation of the 1607 edition of Camden's Britannia- See section 4. of the Sussex pages for description of Selsey.

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