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The German Ocean

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The German Ocean examines archaeological and historical evidence for the development of economies and societies around the North Sea from the beginning of the twelfth century until the mid sixteenth century. It draws in material from Scandinavia to Normandy and from Scotland to the Thames estuary. While largely concerned with the North Sea littoral, when necessary it takes account of adjacent areas such as the Baltic or inland hinterlands.

The North Sea is often perceived as a great divide, divorcing the British Isles from continental Europe. In cultural terms, however, it has always acted more as a lake, supporting communities around its fringes which have frequently had much in common. This is especially true of the medieval period when trade links, fostered in the two centuries prior to 1100, expanded in the 12th and 13th centuries to ensure the development of maritime societies whose material culture was often more remarkable for its similarity across distance than for its diversity.

Geography, access to raw materials and political expediency could nevertheless combine to provide distinctive regional variations. Economies developed more rapidly in some areas than others; local solutions to problems produced urban and rural environments of different aspect; the growth, and sometimes decline, of towns and ports was often dictated by local as much as wider factors.

This book explores evidence for this ‘diverse commonality’ through the historic environment of the North Sea region with the intention that it will be of interest not only to historians and archaeologists but to those who live and work within the historic environment. This environment is a common European resource with much to contribute to a sustainable future – the book provides an archaeological contribution to the understanding of that resource.

Published: Feb 10, 2017

Book Contributors


Section Chapter Authors
List of Maps Brian Ayers
List of Figures Brian Ayers
Acknowledgements Brian Ayers
Maps Brian Ayers
Introduction Brian Ayers
Chapter 1
The Region in 1100 Brian Ayers
Chapter 2
12th- and 13th-Century Consolidation Brian Ayers
Chapter 3
The 14th Century: Increasing Wealth and Increasing Pressures Brian Ayers
Chapter 4
The 15th Century: Towards Greater Sophistication Brian Ayers
Chapter 5
Merchants and their Impact Brian Ayers
Chapter 6
The 16th Century: A New World Brian Ayers
End Matter
End Notes Brian Ayers
Bibliography Brian Ayers
Subject Index Brian Ayers
Placename Index Brian Ayers

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The German Ocean is a tour-de-magnum-force. The book is a real eye-opener with a mass of interconnected data set in context.
Andrew Rogerson, Senior Archaeologist (Norfolk)

This book is a magnificent analysis of archaeological contributions to an understanding of the impact of human interaction across the North Sea region over a period of five hundred years. It is a 'must-have'.
Dirk Rieger, Abteilung Archäologie Lübeck

For those working with or interested in British medieval archaeology, this book is invaluable for introducing new ideas and providing signposts to exciting new research being carried out both at home and abroad.
Archaeology Scotland

Elegantly written and full of extraordinary detail, it draws upon a huge amount of major archaeological excavations. Ayers' story fascinates in its sweep and detail.
Richard Hodges, President, American University of Rome in World Archaeology

The breadth of its vision is astonishing. Even the best informed archaeologist will find a new building or excavation among its pages or in its vast bibliography. It reveals, in particular, the riches of archaeology in the medieval towns of the Netherlands and northern Germany, as well as eastern England, all illustrated with numerous colour pictures.
British Archaeology

It is a great pleasure to welcome this most recent addition to the Studies in Medieval Archaeology series, through which Ayers’ life-long passion and erudition shine through.
Medieval Archaeology

This marvellous book is a definitive text that is all the more significant because the subject, the interconnectedness of the nations around the German Ocean, although of the greatest importance, has not previously been covered in any depth. Packed with archaeological evidence, very fully referenced and clearly illustrated, the book is an essential source for any researcher, field archaeologist or historian working on the medieval period from the western coast of Russia to the English Channel.

The scope of this volume will ensure a broad readership who will no doubt be delighted by the high production values of this full colour edition and Ayer's lucid, engaging prose.
Centre of East Anglian Studies Newsletter

Archaeologists concerned with maritimerelated sites in the region, whether at landscape level or a single boat-find, will find it an invaluable guide to setting their work into context. And historians whose areas of interest border on the North Sea will find information here that does not figure in documentary sources, but which can be integrated with them to advantage.
The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology

… this clearly-written volume, although undertaken from a decidedly archaeological perspective, also provides many inter- or transdisciplinary - bridges to other branches of research, especially to history. This is certainly the great advantage of the book: Ayers' text with its subject-specific perspective on urban centres, buildings and trade routes can adopt historic approaches in a synergetic way …
Francia Recensio

Ayers makes a compelling case on how archaeology can shed light on the 'diverse commonality' of the medieval societies around the North Sea. A very rich and well-documented book.
The Medieval Low Countries

The Equinox series on European medieval archaeology has here been expanded with another good sourcebook for archaeology students and other interested readers. The German Ocean is in fact a superb stepping-stone to the topic, both thanks to the first such kind of transregional synthesis in medieval archaeology as well to the long list of references, which help to delve much deeper into the places, materials and people of medieval Europe around the North Sea and to observe better the many connections between them. The wait of readers has been long but has certainly been worthwhile.
Medieval Settlement Research

In a nutshell, The German Ocean is a remarkable work of synthesis of the material evidence accumulated over the past forty years for the emergence of a consumerist mercantile culture in the ports and towns of the region, each exploitative of its hinterland ecologies.
Antiquaries Journal