Wic wic is wich? The Anglo-Saxon trading settlement

The most prominent type of settlement associated with trading activities in the Anglo-saxon period was the Wic, an Anglo-Saxon loan word from the Latin Vicus meaning a dwelling, farm, hamlet, or subsidiary settlements. The Wics were communities very similar to those found in rural areas with the distinction of servicing trade and industry.

Most communities began as self sufficient, growing enough food to feed only themselves, making cloth only for themselves, making tools and weapons only for themselves. Once society began moving towards a more organised and structured way of life where tasks could be shared amongst a few, a surplus could be created. This surplus, whether in food or other desirable materials, could then be traded with neighbours for something that your community might not be able to produce.

Some communities became well known for a specific commodity or craftsmanship and people would travel further afield to acquire this resource. With more people coming into this one centre for a particular commodity some clever people realised that it would make sense to try and sell their wares at this centre also. Wic’s then were centres of trade and industry which were known locations where people either came to sell their produce, or came because that town was the centre for a specialised commodity (such as honey or a particular cheese or ale) or because there was a high concentration of tradesmen there (metalworking, boneworking, woodworking, textile production, leatherworking, pottery).

The centres that did best were also located along rivers, seaports or at a crossroads. Some famous examples are Hamwic (Southampton), Ipswich, London (Lundenwic) and of course York (Eorforwic). Notice how they all have wic/wich at the end of their Anglo-saxon names?

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