The outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea.Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1902)
The barbarians push us back to the sea, the sea pushes us back to the barbarians; between these two kinds of death, we are either drowned or slaughtered.Gildas (c. 504–70), On the Ruin of Britain
The Matter of England: Land, Sea and Identity in the Horn Legend
Romance tales are crowded with accounts of people who are exposed to the sea against their will, but the topos is of course much older. In his groundbreaking study, ‘Setting Adrift in Mediaeval Law and Literature’, J. R. Reinhard discusses the custom of setting people adrift in (mostly) unseaworthy boats, and he classifies the extant literary instances into a number of categories. Reinhard concludes that in Celtic custom and, to a lesser extent, in some Germanic communities (as, indeed, was the case in Roman practice), there existed a code of punishing criminals and sometimes even presumed offenders by setting them adrift in a boat equipped with only the most necessary provisions, which, at most, amounted to providing them with only one oar.
By the twelfth century it was no longer necessary for the culprit or suspect to share the same belief system as the group performing the ritual. As Thomas of England's Romance d'Horn (henceforth RH) opens in medias res, the Saracen king Rodmund has conquered Horn's native Suddene and killed Horn's father, King Aalof.