Was the early Anglo Saxon period ‘primitive’? part 1: the legacy of the Romans
So, before the advent of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from the European continent, Britain was now embarking on a new age, alone without its Roman protection and orderliness. But was it ’dark’ because it was primitive, ungoverned, lacking in culture and sensitivities?
What happened to the culture and yes, even spirituality of Roman times, and of pre-Roman Britain? Religion, beliefs, gods and their effect on mankind were strong influences on Roman life, demonstrated in their art and craftwork; icons and imagery of beliefs or superstitions (call them what you will) were rife. Did it all disappear in the early to mid-fifth century AD?
Or was Britain ‘dark’ because we simply don’t know to any degree of certainty, because of the paucity of archaeological or documentary evidence, what it was like? So, what if all that did not crumble and disappear from everyday life after the Romans left Britain? After all, why should it all be forgotten in the disappearing flash of Roman swords from our shores? Wouldn’t the British still retain something of their Roman past and indeed of their pre-Roman ways?
Today, we still have our Roman roads, our sites of Roman towns and villas, some have been adapted, some in ruins. Were these splendid constructions simply abandoned in the early fifth century AD and left to rot as the occupying forces left, as we have long believed?
Was the early Anglo Saxon period ‘primitive’? part 2: a mix of cultures
I argue that during the long Roman occupation, rather than two opposing and alien cultures, there would have been a mingling, intermarriage between the ‘invaders and the ‘native’ Britons, Celts, and other groups, that these resulting communities would have perhaps settled, compromised and accommodated each other’s ways.
After the withdrawal of the Roman legions and administrators, the people, the so-called ‘abandoned’ Britons and remaining Romans who had established homes and families after inter-marriage, would have used Roman effects in their subsequent buildings and settlements, and likewise would have retained aspects of their cultural heritage that were important to them, their craftwork, their art, their beliefs.
Granted, there would have been challenges and tensions between different cultures which by the late fifth century would have comprised a complex mix deriving from native groups (Celts, Britons), remaining Romans, occupying warring migrants in the northern territories (Picts, Scots), and new migrants (Saxons, Angles, Jutes). Many Celtic-speaking Britons would have adopted the Christian religion of their forebears and of many converted Romans, yet with the sweep of the Saxons northwards after the Roman withdrawal, paganism returned before a more widespread Christianisation in 597 AD with Pope Gregory’s emissary St Augustine.
Archaeological evidence, including artefacts, indicate that there was a rich culture here which embraced imports from trading across the world: rich religious icons, amphorae for storing wine, red Samian tablewear, glass, gold, jewellery for example, as well as wall hangings, imported olive oil, wine and foodstuffs. Gradually the mix of cultures brought new ideas, skills and an increasing trade to create a wealthy and sophisticated culture in 5th to 6th century England.
Read more of this fascinating period in A Shape on the Air and its forthcoming sequels. Go to …
A Shape on the Air: an early Anglo-Saxon time-slip mystery. “a wealth of historical research”, “fascinating historical period”, “the atmosphere evoked is fabulous, “I just couldn’t put it down”, “the women in this story are both brilliant and strong characters”, “Both the story-lines (in the time-slip) are equally compelling … an amazingly delightful and fast-paced read!”