Book Review: Offa and the Mercian Wars: The Rise and Fall of the First Great English Kingdom


by Chris Peers

Barnsley, S. York., Eng. : Pen & Sword / Havertown, Pa.: Casemate, 2012. Pp. x, 198. Illus., maps, table, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1848844433

A notable early Anglo-Saxon King and his Kingdom

Offa of Mercia (r. 757-796) ruled what are today the English Midlands.  Long regarded as the most effective Anglo-Saxon ruler before Alfred the Great (r. 871-899), Offa has never had a real biography, until now.  Offa was hardly what one would think of when imagining a “Dark Ages” ruler, an able warrior, administrator, and organizer, sufficiently powerful to institute and carry out construction of what is still one of England’s greatest engineering works, “Offa’s Dyke.”  To write it, Peers, author of several other works in military history, not only sifted through the standard traditional and scholarly literature to collect what is known about Offa, but has filled in gaps by comparison with contemporary government and society in other Anglo-Saxon kingdom.  In fact, about half the book passes before Offa takes the stage.  This allows Perry to discuss the complex religious, political, diplomatic, and military environment in which Offa rose to power and within which he functioned with considerable success for nearly four decades, demonstrating abilities that his successors could not match. 

Offa and the Mercian Wars is an excellent look at life in Anglo-Saxon times, and at an overlooked but very important ruler.  

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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