View Chapters

Book: Case Studies in the Silk Roads Archaeology

Chapter: 10. A Comparison of the Role of Religion in the Development of Urban Places around the North Sea and in Japan

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.42857


During the 6th to 10th centuries in northern Europe, around the North Sea, and in Japan, two major world religions, Christianity and Buddhism, play a perhaps a critical role in the development of urban places. Institutions of monasticism and kingship interacted to implant continental models of towns. In England some of the Christian evangelists, starting with Saint Augustine, brought a late Roman concept of the city with them. The contemporary early-medieval conceptualisation of a town may have been a complex construct based on the ecclesiastic ideal of a city, perhaps in part based on ideas expressed within Augustine’s City of God; the reality was more prosaic. We can also see around the North Sea that trading settlements develop into urban layouts. Many of these sites have the term wic incorporated in the place-names. These seem to be separate from the ecclesiastical centres. With conversion to Christianity large-scale burial monuments, like those at Gamla Uppsala and Sutton Hoo, stop being constructed. Japanese urban forms imported from China are replicated in the layout of new palaces and towns. First in the Nara basin at Asuka then a little later at Nara itself. The adoption of the Chinese urban forms is confident, with major settlements implanted by the ruling Yamato clan, influenced by monastic communities. Similarly in Japan large burial monument building came to an end, coincident with the adoption of Buddhism. Here though the scale of these burial monuments was much greater: Kofun tombs are some of the largest monuments from antiquity anywhere in the world. Our project, Nara to Norwich: Art and belief at the extremities of the Silk Roads AD 500- 1000, will look at the archaeological evidence available pointing towards religious influence upon urban settlements. How landscapes of conversion progressed with the adoption of Christianity and Buddhism by ruling groups.

Chapter Contributors

  • Andrew RJ Hutcheson ( - ahutcheson) 'Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, University of East Anglia '