History Files


Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Saxons & Jutes of Southern England




MapSuth Seaxe (South Saxons / Sussex)
Incorporating the Hæstingas

Three entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle associate the transition from British to Saxon authority of the south coast of England with the exploits of a chieftain named Ælle. The entries are evidently derived from a lost saga recalling the more memorable events in a career of conquest that, however short-lived, made Ælle the acknowledged first Bretwalda of the Anglo-Saxons.

In AD 477, a Saxon group under Ælle's leadership landed at Cymensora or Cumenesora (a location probably represented by the Owers Banks, off the low-lying Selsey peninsula and now submerged beneath the sea). This landing seems to have been unexpected as far as the defenders of the proposed British territory of Rhegin are concerned. They were beaten off after trying to push these barbarian raiders back into their boats. The victorious Saxons then settled around the area of Selsey Bill (between Kent and Portsmouth on the south coast), and were isolated by The Weald from the British territories that still operated to the north (although only for a short time, as the Saxons of the Suther-ge were already making inroads along the Thames).

FeatureGiven Ælle's status, it is reasonable to place the South Saxons as major players in the defeat of Mons Badonicus (circa 496), with Ælle leading the attacking forces as Bretwalda. Such is Ælle's authority from the moment he arrived that it is possible he was a recognised person of authority from the European homelands. However, the defeat may have lost him his kingdom, either immediately or soon afterwards, as no further mention is made of it and no Saxon burials are found there for another century. Whatever their political situation, any South Saxons who may have remained in the area (and even this seems unlikely unless they threw in their lot with the local Britons and abandoned Saxon customs) were isolated until the kingdom's re-emergence in the mid-seventh century.

A separate band, known as the Hæstingas, settled around what later became Hastings (which of course bears their name). Little is known about them, but they may have been Jutes from Kent, migrating down the coast to find a good spot for settlement. They eventually become subject to the authority of the South Saxons, but their identity remained a strong one well into the eleventh century. Other South Saxon elements may also have drifted west to join Jutish groups in forming the original kingdom of the West Seaxe which was subjugated by the Gewissae under Cerdic from 495.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with details of late sub-kings of Sussex by David Slaughter, and with additional information from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)), from Place-names of Sudsexe, Domesday Book (1086), from Charters of Selsey, S E Kelly (1998), from Kelly's Post Office Directory (Sussex) (1867), from Kings and Queens, Lambert and Gray (1991), from Flowers of History, Roger of Wendover (1237), from Old English Dictionary, Bosworth & Toller (1898/1921), from The Place Names of England & Wales, J B Johnston (1915), from Arthur's Britain, Lesley Alcock (1978), from Murray's Classical Atlas for Schools, G B Grundy (Ed, Second Edition, 1963), from The Medieval Traveller, Norbert Ohler (1995), from The Times Atlas of World History, Geoffrey Barraclough (Ed, Fourth Edition edited by Geoffrey Parker, reprinted 1997), from Roman Britain: A New History, Guy de la Bédoyère, and from External Link: Vortigern Studies.)

477 - 514?

Ælle / Aelle

First Bretwalda, and clearly an important personage. Died 514?


Newly arrived Saxons under Ælle and his sons, Cymen, Wlencing, and Cissa, land their three ships at Cymens ora ('ora' meaning 'shore'). They beat off the Britons who oppose their landing (part of the proposed British territory of Rhegin), driving them to take refuge in the great forest called Andredesleag (the Weald). These Saxons quickly become known as the Suth Seaxe.

Map of Rhegin
Aelle of the South Saxons
The coming of Ælle and his apparently pre-established status as Bretwalda spelt eventual defeat and death for the Britons of modern Sussex, and quite possibly led to the siege of Mons Badonicus, while above is a map of the south coast territory of Rhegin for about AD 477, showing the principle British settlements


The Suth Seaxe defeat the Britons at Mearcraedes burna (modern location unknown). The name of the location has been plausibly interpreted to mean 'the stream of the agreed frontier' (from the word 'mierce', meaning 'boundary'). It may therefore relate to a boundary based on one of the river valleys which serve to divide the Sussex coastal plain and its hinterland into naturally self-contained sections. There is, however, no means of knowing which valley is known by this name in the fifth century, but it does seem to suggest a temporary frontier between Briton and Saxon.

It is interesting to note that the Suth Seaxe turn eastwards, along the line of the Weald, rather than westwards into the fertile open plains of Hampshire. It suggests that this section of the Saxon Shore is comparably easy to pick off (although it still takes Ælle fourteen years to achieve this). Could Ambrosius Aurelianus be defending Hampshire from Caer Gloui and Amesbury with a much stronger force that is capable of annihilating Ælle's still small force?


The British fort of Anderita (Saxon Andredesceaster, modern Pevensey in East Sussex) is attacked and conquered by Ælle and Cissa and its entire garrison is slaughtered by the Suth Seaxe in what must be a desperate fight. An old local tradition states that the Britons make their last stand on Mount Cayburn. Their defeat seems to end any British opposition in the region. As theorised by David Slaughter, sometime afterwards, a Saxon chieftain named Maella founds a settlement nearby at what is now South Malling.

FeatureNoviomagus (Regnum), the possible capital of the proposed British territory of Rhegin (situated on the western border of the newly founded Saxon territory), is left highly vulnerable by this loss. It seems that it is partially destroyed during the completion of Ælle's conquest of the area (and probably falls to the Suth Seaxe, or at least becomes tributary to them).


FeatureThis is the probable date of the battle of Mons Badonicus - at the very least it would seem to be the correct decade based on available evidence. Not mentioned in surviving Anglo-Saxon records, the most likely chain of events is that it is Ælle, as Bretwalda, who leads the attack on the Britons in the region of Caer Baddan. This force is defeated by the Britons, with heavy casualties. If present, the Suth Seaxe warband must itself suffer badly from this defeat as the Suth Seaxe are so weakened that they now drift into obscurity for around 150 years. British Rhegin quite possibly reasserts its independence, although an event at Portchester in 501 recorded in the annals of the West Seaxe probably signals its final end.

Ælle's route is probably northwards towards the Thames Valley (the Weald would still be passable along one of the Roman roads, possibly the Sussex Greensand Way which may have been built to link several villas to Stane Street - the main Noviomagus-London road). There he builds up his forces from the large numbers of Saxons there (along with a probable force from Kent), and then heads westwards along the upper Thames Valley until he emerges through the Goring Gap. It seems creditable to assume that the north-facing Wansdyke, constructed in the fifth or sixth centuries, has been put up by British forces in Wiltshire in the face of just such a threat of Saxons breaking through from the Thames Valley. It may either have been constructed to ward off this very attack (and perhaps channel the attackers towards Badon), or in response to it, to ensure that no future attacks of this nature could take place. In that it is very effective until the West Seaxe break through in 577.

Portchester Castle
The Roman walls of Portchester Castle (British Caer Peris) would still have been standing when this former Saxon Shore fort was captured by a Saxon chieftain in AD 501, possibly ending the independence of the territory of Rhegin

514? - 567?



after 523? - 563

Wine? / Wine Cissing?

Co-ruling ealdorman. Wincheling, son of Cissa?

c.514 - c.550

Following the Roman withdrawal, the former capital of Rhegin, Noviomagus, has declined but has remained occupied. Now the rebuilding of the town is begun by Cissa, despite his actual existence being questioned by some scholars. The city's old name is forgotten in favour of that of its new ruler, becoming Cisseceaster (Cissa's fort, using a hard 'c' which is pronounced like a 'k' - modern Chichester).

c.514 - c.600

Is the kingdom lost to the Britons? The Suth Seaxe clearly lose their prominence and are not mentioned in any records until the middle of the seventh century. Following Badon, strong Jutish influences from Kent enter the land, suggesting an extension of Kentish rule over the eastern parts of the territory, but the Suth Seaxe still remain very isolated.

FeatureThe later 'kings' do not claim descent from any of Ælle's sons. The possibility is that his line had largely been destroyed and did not survive Cissa (if he even existed). A century and a half later, other families have risen to prominence and it is from these that the kings are selected. Unfortunately, no authentic king list remains and there is no clear definition of a strong kingdom led by a single individual. Instead the kings themselves rule in groups of three or four at a time, with power being shared equally and indivisibly between then. This smacks of a confederation or council of sorts, and a union of several groups - a power-sharing arrangement to make smaller groups stronger together, or an enforced division of power by a governing overlord.


The West Seaxe under Ceolwulf fight a campaign against the Suth Seaxe. The result is unrecorded, suggesting either defeat for the invaders or a stalemate unworthy of recording. The threat posed by the West Seaxe could be the reason for the re-emergence of the Suth Seaxe, but still no rulers are known by name. However, the evidence from charter witness lists vouches for the existence of all of the noblemen who are mentioned below. There are fifteen genuine South Saxon charters that have survived from the period, and probably many more that have been lost.

fl c.661 - c.685


Baptised after being persuaded by Wulfhere of Mercia. Killed.


The first reference to Æthelwalh is in the same year that Wulfhere of Mercia gains hegemony over the kingdom. It has been suggested that Æthelwalh himself is a younger son of Cynegils of the West Seaxe, although how he comes to be made king is unknown (Mercia's influence has been put forward as a reasonable answer, the aim being to establish a group to oppose the West Seaxe on their coastal border). He is obliged to marry Eafe, daughter of the Christian King Eanfrith of the Hwicce, and to accept baptism.


The Meonware and the Isle of Wight are ceded to the Suth Seaxe by Mercia, sealing the alliance between the two kingdoms after Æthelwalh's baptism. This is part of Wulfhere's policy of encircling and pressuring the West Seaxe. This event also marks the full re-emergence of the Suth Seaxe after nearly two centuries of complete obscurity.

c.675 - c.685


Sub-king. Deposed or replaced?


FeatureWith Northumbrian dominance now completely thrown off, Mercia regains dominance over Lindsey and retains it until 874. A border is agreed by Æthelred with the Northumbrians (their King Ecgfrith being Æthelred's brother-in-law), fixing the border at the River Humber in perpetuity. Lindsey is settled as a Mercian province some time afterwards. It must also be in this period in which the Tribal Hidage is compiled (mentioning the Suth Seaxe).

Tribal Hidage (left) and Grammar of Ælfric (right)
The Tribal Hidage is almost certainly Mercian, although some still argue for a Northumbrian origin, but the British Library version shown here, Harley 3271, is an eleventh century miscellany which includes, amongst others, the Grammar of Ælfric, abbot of Eynsham


Following Æthelwalh's conversion, the Suth Seaxe people are converted to Christianity by Bishop Wilfred of Northumbria, rather later than much of the rest of Anglo-Saxon England.


Æthelwalh is killed by Caedwalla of the West Seaxe and the kingdom is plundered before Berhthun and Andhun can drive him off. It is these two ealdormen who no doubt lead the Suth Seaxe attack against Kent later in the same year.

c.685 - c.686


Ealdorman. Led the kingdom as joint ruler. Killed.

c.685 - c.686


Ealdorman. Led the kingdom as joint ruler.


Eadric of Kent, bitter that his uncle holds what he sees as 'his' throne, betrays the king by making an alliance with the Suth Seaxe. He encourages them to attack Kent, possibly using as a carrot the somewhat disputed settlement of the Jutish Hæstingas (in the modern Hastings area, to which they have migrated from the Isle of Oxney region in Kent). The Suth Seaxe also appear to be sympathetic to Mercia (or perhaps even allied to them), while Kent's sympathies lie with the West Seaxe, so the attack is also part of the larger sweep of political manoeuvring in England. Hlothere is killed in the ensuing battle but the Suth Seaxe appear not to gain from the victory.


MapThe Suth Seaxe pay the price for not gaining an advantage in 685 by being subjugated by the West Seaxe. Caedwalla kills Berhthun, gaining revenge for the ealdorman driving him out of the territory in 685. There seemingly follows a break in the governance of the Suth Seaxe by their own people until two more kings emerge as joint rulers. Alternatively, the previous sub-king, Ecgwald  has been put forward as being Caedwalla's man of the Suth Seaxe, his sub-king until his own abdication in 688.

c.686 - 688?


Restored by Caedwalla? Succeeded by Nothelm in 688?

fl 692 - 717

Nothelm / Nunna

Son? Nunna is the shortened form of Nothelm.

fl c.692 - c.700

Wattus / Watt

Joint ruler until at least 700 (charter signing).


Wihtred succeeds in freeing Kent of all foreign usurpers and vassals, and agrees with Ine of the West Seaxe on the borders of Kent, Suthrige and the Suth Seaxe (which confirms the Kentish loss of Surrey, along with the disputed Jutish Hæstingas territory in Sussex, with only the Isle of Oxney remaining in Kent). Together, the West Seaxe and Kent hold the line against Mercia in this period, limiting its ability to interfere south of the Thames.

Isle of Oxney map
The Isle of Oxney still lies within the borders of Kent, close to Romney Marsh, but unlike today, the rivers around it were not silted up and it was a true island - a perfectly defendable location (click on image to view full sized)

fl c.700


Ealdorman. Joint ruler with Nothelm and Watt.

fl c.710


Joint ruler with Nothelm.

fl c.714 - 722


Joint ruler with Nothelm, then prime ruler. m Æthelthryth.

722 - 725


fl 725 - 758


c.758 - c.772


Deposed by Mercia?

c.765 - c.772


Joint sub-king. Reappointed by Mercia in 776 (?).

c.765 - 772


Joint sub-king. Reappointed by Mercia after 785.

c.765 - 772

Ælhwald / Ælfwald

Joint sub-king. All sub-kings are removed from power in 772.

770 - 772

Sussex is subjugated by Offa of Mercia and is made a dependency. All of the royal sub-kings are removed and many are apparently demoted in status. The Hæstingas are the last to be conquered, in 771. Offa appoints sub-kings to govern in his name, little more than puppets (although they may still be relatives of the previous kings, albeit demoted ones).

772 - ?

Osa / Oswald

Sub-king appointed by Offa of Mercia. Bishop of Selsey.

776? - after 785


Sub-king reappointed by Offa of Mercia.


The charter of Oslac is dated to this year, and is the only original South Saxon charter to have survived. No permission is sought from Offa for this land grant to a certain St Paul's Church. The charter is drawn up during a period between 776-785, when Kent has temporarily thrown out Mercian domination, thereby giving Oslac a measure of kingly independence. At this time Suthrige is held by the West Saxons and, without Kent in his possession, Offa has no direct overland access to Sussex. Even so, Oslac's grant is later confirmed by Offa and his co-ruling son, Ecgfrith.

? - 791


Sub-king reappointed by Offa of Mercia.

791 - 825

The kingdom may be ruled directly from Mercia, although this is unclear. Offa is in his declining years by now but still rules with an iron fist and is still capable of re-conquering any dependency which attempts to revolt (such as East Anglia in 793).


Ecgberht of Wessex defeats the mighty Mercians at the Battle of Ellandon. The sub-kingdoms of Essex, Sussex and Suthrige submit to him, and Sussex is ruled by his son, Æthulwulf, who is based in Kent. Sussex soon becomes little more than a province of Wessex, and then of a united England.