From the online etymology dictionary:
in native (derived from Old English) words, it most commonly represents Old English an "on" (see a (2)), as in alive, asleep, abroad, afoot, etc., forming adjectives and adverbs from nouns; but it also can be Middle English of, as in anew, abreast (1590s); or a reduced form of Old English past participle prefix ge-, as in aware; or the Old English intensive a-, as in arise, awake, ashame, marking a verb as momentary, a single event. In words from Romanic languages, often it represents Latin ad- "to, at."
[I]t naturally happened that all these a- prefixes were at length confusedly lumped together in idea, and the resultant a- looked upon as vaguely intensive, rhetorical, euphonic, or even archaic, and wholly otiose. [OED]