More on the Tribal Hidage

Table 1 The three recensions of the Tribal Hidage

On the page “The first Mercian Lands”, 1 have drawn on information in the document known as the Tribal Hidage, as part of the investigation into the location of the original Mercian lands. In this short note, I consider this document in a little more detail. Table 1 above gives a summary of the three separate recensions of the Tribal Hidage. The description of the polities from Recension A is given, together with the location where there is general scholarly agreement. As noted in the main text, there are two combined lists – Primary (P) and Secondary (S). The Hidages from the three recensions are then also given. It can be seen that these vary somewhat. The sum of the hidages in all three recensions is given for both lists A and B. In Recension A, a false total is given for the total hidage of 242,700. 

Figure 1. Tribal Hidage. “Firm” locations of regions in the primary and secondary lists  (figure 3 in main text)

(P1- Myrcna lands; P2 – Wocensætna; P4- Pecsætna: P5 – Elmedsætna: P6 – Lindesfarona mid Hæþfeldlande: P7 – Suþgyrwa: P8 – Norþgyrwa: P11 – Spalda; P13 – Herefinna : P14 – Sweordora P15 – Gifla : P16- Hicca: P18- Noxgaga: P19 – Ohtgaga; S1 – Hwinca; S2 – Cilternsætna; S6 – Færpinga; S9 – Eastwilla; S10 – Westwilla; S11 – Eastengle; S12 – Eastsexena; S13 – Cantwarena; S14 – Suþsexena; S15 – Westsexena)

It was noted on “The first Mercian Lands” that the clockwise ordering of the primary and secondary lists seems to be a very deliberate tactic on behalf of the original compiler of the list – see figure 1 above. At the risk of pushing this schema too far, it is worth asking the question if the location of the polities whose locations are not known can be inferred by imposing this clockwise presentation scheme. Thus let us consider those polities in table 1 where no location is given.

  • Westerna (P3). Scholars usually identify this as one of the Magonsaete in south Shropshire / Herefordshire, somewhere in Wales, or the region around Chesire. Higham would see it as representing the tribute payment of the Welsh Overkingship from somewhere in Gwynedd. It does not seem to the author that the Magonsate is a possibility as this kingdom seems to have been established late in the 7thcentury i.e. after the Tribal Hidage was compiled. The clockwise rotation would best place this polity in Wales or the Cheshire region. My preference would be to see it as the Western half of the Civitas of the Cornovii that was ultimately to become the kingdom of Powys, which fits best with both the name and the clockwise rotation.
  • East and West Wixna (P9 and P10). Within the Fenland there seems to be a subsiduary clockwise rotation, at least based on those polities identified by Oosthuizen.  If this is the case then the East and West Wixna would lie somewhere on the Fenland margin between the Gwyre and the Spalda. This is not however consistent Oosthuizen’s analysis.
  • Wigesta (P12). The clockwise rotation within the fens would place this to the south and west of the Spalda.
  • Wiht gara (P17). This is taken by most scholars to be the Isle of Wight. The present author finds this very difficult to believe, as it lies within the primary list, but is separated from all the other polities in that list by those in the secondary list.  In the author’s view this probably represents a typographical error, with the original name being confused for the (more familiar) name for the Isle of Wight. The clockwise rotation would see this region in the Bedfordshire area. 
  • Noxgaga (P18) and Ohtgaga (P19).It has already been argued on “The first Mercain Lnds”, that the clockwise rotation places these two sizeable entities in the Northanptonshire /Leicestershire area.
  • Hendrica (S3).The Ciltern sætna and Hendrica together have an assessment of 7000 or 7500, suggesting they are subdivisions of one unit. If so this would obviously place the Hendrica in the Chilterns area, which is consistent with the clockwise rotation of the secondary list.
  • Unecunga-ga (S4).This name is clearly corrupt and no convincing location seems to have been proposed.  Again, the clockwise rotation would suggest that it be placed somewhere in the Oxfordshire area.
  • Arosætna (S5). Conventionally, this polity is identified as being in the valley of the River Arrow in Worcestershire and Warwickshire. However there is no indication elsewhere that this area was ever anything other than part of the Hwicce, and I find it difficult to accept this identification. The clockwise rotation would again suggest that this be placed somewhere in the Oxfordshire region.
  • Bilmiga (S7) and Widerigga (S8). Various locations have been suggested for these entities, including the area of Lincolnshire to the west of the Wash, and regions in Eastern Northamptonshire. Both these suggestions however cut across the boundary between primary and secondary lists i.e. between the Midlands and Southern Overkingships. The clockwise rotation would see them best placed in the south Midlands area perhaps in Buckinghamshire or Hertfordshire. 

It has been noted above that the hidage values are generally expressed in terms of a duodecimal system for the smaller polities, and in units of 7000 for the middle sized polities. The larger kingdoms seem to have punitive assessments of 30,000 or 100,000. One must approach these numbers with a very great deal of caution and be very wary of giving them too great a significance. In an early study of the Tribal Hidage,Russell (1947)give an interpretation of the significance of the numbers in a tour de force of somewhat dubious arithmetic and remarkable assumptions of copyists errors to show hidden additions and totals throughout the list. What he actually demonstrates is the remarkable flexibility of the duodecimal system to provide all sorts of totals and subtotals from any subset of numbers. However there are perhaps two numbers that do have some significance – the figure of close to 36000 of the primary list of the Tribal Hidage (excluding the original Mercia), and the approximate 144,000 total of the primary and secondary lists excluding Wessex. Both these numbers have rich biblical symbolic meanings, which would have been well appreciated by later copyists, and in particular latter might be thought to emphasize the totality of the tribute being paid by the Midlands and Southern overkingships. These numbers are not of course exact, but there is perhaps some indication that those who later edited the lists attempted to make the additions more precise.  For example Recension C removes a 100 hides from the 900 for the Wigesta, which would reduce the overall total for the primary list (excluding the original Mercia) to 36,000 – although he also removes 600 from the Pecsaete and 598 (!) from the Herefina, which destroys this calculation. A similar change of 100 hides would also bring the overall total for the two lists to 144,000 (excluding Wessex), although this is again obscured by other minor changes (which are possibly copyists errors). It is not argued here that the numbers in the list should be seen as having any particular significance – but rather that later editors and compilers thought that this might be the case and tried to make them fit to what they believed were appropriate numbers. 

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