Confession of St Patrick
End of Roman rule
After Roman Rule
The Saxon Invasion
The Age of Saints
Pagan Religions in Britain
Ogham and the Irish in Britain
Scotti and Scots
Dark Age Books
Early Welsh History
Britannia - The Failed State: Tribal Conflict and the End of Roman Britain
by Stuart Laycock
It shows how tribal conflict was central to the arrival of Roman power in Britain and how tribal identities persisted through the Roman period and were a factor in the three great convulsions that struck Britain during the Roman centuries. It explores how tribal conflicts may have played a major role in the end of Roman Britain, creating a failed state scenario akin in some ways to those seen recently in Bosnia and Iraq, and brought about the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. Finally, it considers how British tribal territories and British tribal conflicts can be understood as the direct predecessors of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Anglo-Saxon conflicts that form the basis of early English history.
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After Rome: C.400-c.800
Thomas Charles-Edwards (Editor).
The chapters in this volume, each written by a leading scholar of the period, analyse in turn the different nationalities and kingdoms that existed in the British Isles from the end of the Roman empire to the coming of the Vikings, the process of conversion to Christianity, the development of art and of a written culture, and the interaction between this written culture and the societies of the day. Available from:
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The End of Roman Rule
"In 397 Britain was part of a Europe-wide state, the Roman Empire, with a single currency,
a centralised military and legal system, and an elite connected to a transnational culture spanning western Europe and the
Mediterranean with Latin as its official language. While the Roman Empire itself was officially Christian by this date,
most of the ruling elite of Britain remained Pagan, and temples rather than churches dotted the late
Romano-British landscape. The population as a whole appears to have retained pre-Roman, 'British',
tribal and cultural identities and to have spoken a 'Celtic', not Germanic language" [Dark, K. (2000),
Britain and the End of the Roman Empire, Tempus].
Over the next few centuries Britain was transformed. What happened? Why did Roman rule come to an end?
As Dark points out, the end of Roman rule is often portrayed as a uniquely catastrophic, British
event. In fact, it was part of a process that affected the whole Western Roman Empire in 'Late Antiquity' -
itself an unfamiliar term in the British context. Peter Heather (2005: 39-40) comments:
"The old Ladybird Book of British History had a vivid picture of Roman Britain coming
to an abrupt end in the fifth century with the legions marching off and the Roman names for places being superseded (a
composite image of departing soldiers and broken signposts, as I recall it). But this is a mistaken view of what happened. By the
late Empire, the Romans of Roman Britain were not immigrants from Italy but locals who had adopted the Roman lifestyle and everything that
came with it. A bunch of legionaries departing the island would not bring Roman life to an end. Britain, as everywhere else between
Hadrian's wall and the Euphrates was no longer Roman merely by 'occupation'.
Dark outlines four main interpretations in the debate on this period - plus his own view:
- The 'winding-down' hypothesis. Formerly, the prevailing 'establishment' view that
from about 360 Roman institutions and culture gradually declined and, by 450, all but the Christian
church had more or less disappeared. The Romano-Britons went back to their 'Celtic Iron Age' ways in
the West and North while the Anglo-Saxon invaders swept everything before them in the South and East.
- The 'new establishment' view. That there was a dramatic discontinuity between
'Roman Britain' and 'Anglo-Saxon England'. He terms this the 'new establishment' view since this was the interpretation
of many professional archaeologists by the early 1990's. This view held that Roman Britain had functioned
until around 400-430 and then dramatically collapsed. The pagan Anglo-Saxons settled in the East during the 5th century
but there were fewer of them than was believed by the former establishment. The Britons and Anglo-Saxons were virtually identical
in terms of economy, technology and social organisation. But, being Christian, the Britons left
no grave goods and were therefore 'invisible' to the archaeologist. The country was split into small
kingdoms that eventually coalesced politically and militarily. In what is now England, the Anglo-Saxons
dominated and the British culture and language disappeared through inter-marriage and cultural
- Fashion change. A view put forward by Richard Reece who argued that the transformation
in Roman Britain took place in the third and fourth - rather than the fifth centuries. Roman towns
had failed because Britons were not urban-minded. In fact, Roman culture was just a superficial
facade that disappeared with the imperial administration. Instead, village settlements grew up
around Roman villas and, in the east, adopted Anglo-Saxon fashions from a relatively small
number of migrants.
- Two zones. A version of the 'new establishment' interpretation suggested by Nicholas
Higham. He divides Roman Britain in the late fourth century into two zones:
- the east, controlled by a Christian elite that was highly-Romanized;
- the west, with a pagan un-Romanized elite.
The Romanized zone employed Anglo-Saxon mercenaries who rebelled in the fifth century and quickly
took control. The west retained their independence but were under the overlordship of Anglo-Saxon
kings. The Anglo-Saxon rulers retained elements of Roman administration while their western
counterparts adopted Anglo-Saxon culture because of its higher status.
Dark takes issue with all four interpretations. Specifically, he contests a number of key points they
have in common:
- That 5th and 6th century Britain 'was divided into two largely homogeneous cultural
zones, approximately the east ('the Anglo-Saxon area') and (the Celtic') west of what had
been Roman Britain. These were to become 'England' and its 'Celtic periphery' of Wales,
Cornwall and Cumbria.'
- That Kingship was the form of rule prevailing throughout the British Isles from mid-5th century
- That the population of Britain were all at similar social, economic and technological levels.
- The material culture of Roman Britain was no longer produced from the early 5th century, and
was not in use by the middle of that century.
- Paganism dominated eastern (Anglo-Saxon) Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries even if some small
Christian communities remained.
- Towns were not in use between mid 5th century and the seventh century.
- The rulers of eastern Britain all had an Anglo-Saxon culture and religion during that period.
- Britain was somehow different from the rest of Europe.
Dark argues that Britain shared many aspects of Late Antique Romano-Christian culture with its
European neighbours. In fact, he believes, Britain retained more of the Roman traditions than many
other regions of Europe.
The Fall of the Roman Empire : A New History of Rome and the Barbarians
by Peter Heather. The death of the Roman Empire is one of the perennial mysteries of world history. Now, in this groundbreaking book, Peter Heather proposes a stunning new solution: Rome generated its own nemesis. Centuries of imperialism turned the neighbors it called barbarians into an enemy capable of
dismantling the Empire that had dominated their lives for so long.
Heather is a leading authority on the late Roman Empire and on the barbarians. In The Fall of the Roman Empire, he explores the extraordinary success story that was the Roman Empire and uses a new understanding of its continued strength and enduring limitations to show how Europe's barbarians,
transformed by centuries of contact with Rome on every possible level, eventually pulled it apart. Available from:
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