Story Category: Legacy

Brighton in the Dark Ages

Stafford Road man from the Saxon times

This is a legacy story from an earlier version of our website. It may contain some formatting issues and broken links.

Friday 29th July was the Day of Archaeology 2011. It provided the opportunity to find out all about the world of archaeology, with 400 archaeologists blogging about their work. So, with this in mind, here’s a look at a local discovery revealing another slice of Brighton’s history.


In 1884, during the building of St Luke’s Church hall in Exeter Street, two adult male burials were uncovered with grave goods including shield bosses and spear heads. Later, in 1893, three shield bosses and a sword unearthed in Stafford Road were presented to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. These discoveries suggested the existence of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the area.

In 1985, building works at a house off Stafford Road triggered an archaeological rescue operation when workmen uncovered more Anglo-Saxon burials. Over a Bank Holiday weekend, the remains of three skeletons were uncovered, two male and one female, all dating from around the 6th Century AD. One of the males had died aged about 30 from a serious head wound inflicted by a sword and his skull also exhibited an earlier healed head wound from which he had survived. He was buried with his shield, spear and possibly an iron knife. There is no evidence of cause of death for the other male, aged about 35-40. He was fairly tall at 5’ 11” and robust, although his dental health was poor, demonstrated by evidence of tooth loss and abscesses.

The female skeletal remains were disturbed and damaged by the workmen. However it was determined that she was aged around 40-45 when she died, comparatively old for the early Anglo-Saxon period, and also had poor dental health. She was buried with objects which were likely of most value to her including two copper alloy brooches, two copper alloy rings and a pair of copper alloy tweezers.

Life for these early Saxon settlers appears to have been relatively short-lived and sometimes pretty brutal. Suffering a violent death was not uncommon and life expectancy beyond the age of 40 appears to of been rare. The deficient dental health of two of the skeletons indicates a fairly poor diet and lack of personal hygiene, all of which would have increased vulnerability to disease. This small insight into life in Brighton during the early Anglo-Saxon period suggests it may have been at times somewhat bleak.

Andy, Volunteer Local History & Archaeology

The Judgement of Paris

Judgement of Paris

This is a legacy story from an earlier version of our website. It may contain some formatting issues and broken links.

The Judgement of Paris, Harry Morley, 1929, FA001004

The Judgement of Paris, Harry Morley, 1929, FA001004

On Thursday 5 May registered electors in Brighton & Hove will have the chance to vote in both a local election and a national referendum. The decisions they make will determine the way the city is run for the next four years, and will shape the way future national governments are elected. As a voter, it can seem like a heavy responsibility. But as you pause at the ballot box, spare a thought for the young man depicted in this painting.

Harry Morley’s Judgement of Paris tells of an episode in Greek mythology that had fatal repercussions. Paris, a prince of Troy, had been abandoned as a baby after his father, King Priam, learned of a prophecy that he would cause the downfall of Troy. Raised as a shepherd, Paris’s innate nobility surfaced in an unusual sense of fairness. This reputation came to the gods’ attention when his prize bull was beaten in a contest by the disguised form of Ares, the god of war. Rather than contesting the result, Paris chose to graciously accept defeat.

Zeus, the chief Olympian god, asked Paris to settle a long-running dispute. Years earlier, he had held a banquet to mark the wedding of Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis. In order not to spoil the occasion, Zeus forbid the goddess of discord, Eris, from attending. Determined to disrupt the event, Eris threw a golden apple into the banqueting hall. The apple was marked ‘for the fairest one’ and immediately caused a squabble. Three goddesses fought over the apple for many years: Hera, the wife of Zeus; Athena, the goddess of wisdom; and Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Tired of the dispute, Zeus asked the fair-minded Paris to judge. All three goddesses tried to gain his favour with promises. Hera offered him vast kingdoms; Athena proffered wisdom and skill in war; Aphrodite promised him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite.

Although he chose the least martial option, Paris’s decision had devastating consequences. Once restored as a prince of Troy, Paris was granted the love of Helen, the wife of the Spartan king, Menelaus. Enraged, the Greeks raised an enormous army to take Helen back. For ten long years war waged between Europe and Asia. Eventually, Paris was killed and Troy was utterly destroyed.

This episode has proven popular with artists, including Peter Paul Rubens and Lucas Cranach the Elder. It is not merely a famous story, but an incident loaded with dramatic tension. Although a mythical tale, it is a form of tension that many of us recognise. We may not be asked to judge the beauty of goddesses, but we all know of moments when we have faced important decisions. Participating in elections is just one example.

But there is one uncertainty in Morley’s painting. Unlike many artists who have depicted this story, he does not focus on Paris considering his decision. In this work, Paris has clearly made his choice. The shepherd-prince on the left looks past the figures of Hera and Athena towards the back of Aphrodite. Paris has chosen love, but has Morely captured the moment he has made his decision? Or was Paris always committed to the path of love? Was he a floating voter or a man of firm allegiance?

The Judgement of Paris can be seen in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery’s Twentieth Century Gallery. Details of the 5 May elections can be found on the Brighton & Hove City Council website.

Kevin Bacon
Digital Development Officer
Royal Pavilion and Museums