Tribal Hidage

Tribal Hidage

The Tribal Hidage is a list of territorial assessments in Anglo-Saxon England which lists regions and the number of hides those regions contained. The earliest copy of the document is British Library, MS Harley 3271 [ [] HTML version of British Library, MS Harley 3271 ] which dates from the 11th century. A slightly different recension survives in a number of later medieval manuscripts containing legal tracts on the history of London. Though we do not know the date for or context surrounding the list's creation, it is generally understood to have been created in Mercia sometime between the mid-7th and mid-9th centuries. [Mercian origins, see Blair, "Tribal Hidage". For an alternative, Northumbrian, theory of its origins, see Higham, "An English empire", chapter 3.]

The Regions

The Tribal Hidage lists a complicated array of regions and their hidage assessments. Sizes range from small Mercian regions such as "suth gyrwa" and "east wixna" (300 hides) to an estimate of 100,000 hides for Wessex. The assessment is much more detailed in what is now the midlands, strongly suggesting that this was a Mercian document. Other kingdoms, which have been referred to as part of the 'Heptarchy', are counted as much larger units.

*East engle (East Anglia) - 30,000 hides
*Eastsexena (Essex) - 7,000
*Cantwarena (Kent) - 15,000
*Suþsexena (Sussex) - 7,000
*Westsexena (Wessex) - 100,000

It is not clear why these larger regions were juxtaposed alongside numerous smaller regions. Other regions, such as Hwinca (Hwicce, 7000 hides) and Ciltern (4000 hides) were also of considerable size. Many of the groups listed are highly obscure: some can only be identified and localised with the aid of place-names, and a few cannot be confidently localised at all.

The complexity of the document may mirror the complexity of political structures in early Anglo-Saxon England, an important criticism of the concept of "Heptarchy".


It is not clear for what purpose the Tribal Hidage was created, though it may have been a tribute list. Most importantly, it demonstrates that assessments in hides were made in this period, and most probably earlier. Bede makes passing references to hide assessments in his "Ecclesiastic History", written in 731. Anglo-Saxon kings must have utilised assessments to extract labour and resources for the creation of projects such as Offa's Dyke. Military service, tax and payments in kind were assessed on the hide level in later Anglo-Saxon England and Tribal Hidage shows this may have been happening earlier.

Alfred of Wessex used a similar hide assessment system in Wessex to manage his new system of "burhs", resulting in the document known as the Burghal Hidage. The number of men required to man the wall of a town or fort was given in land units.



*S. Basset ed. "The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms", (Leicester University Press, 1989)
*John Blair, "The Tribal Hidage", in "The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England". eds. Michael Lapidge et al (Blackwell, 1999) ISBN 0-631-22492-0
*James Campbell et al, "The Anglo-Saxons", (Penguin, 1991), pp. 58–61
*David Dumville, 'The Tribal Hidage: an Introduction to its Texts and their History', in "The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms", ed. S. Bassett (Leicester, 1989), pp. 225–30
*N.J. Higham, "An English empire: Bede and the early Anglo-Saxon kings", (Manchester U.P., 1995), pp. 74–111. ISBN 0-7190-4424-3

External links

* [ Text of Tribal Hidage] The text of several recensions of the Tribal Hidage transcribed and compared on the Georgetown University Web site

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