Sub-Roman Britain

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Sub-Roman Britain in 500 AD, after the Anglo-Saxon defeat at Badon Hill.

Sub-Roman Britain is the name given to Britain from the withdrawal of the Roman legions in 410 AD to the beginning of the seventh century.

History[change | change source]

After four centuries of rule, Roman legions withdrew from Roman Britain at the beginning of the fifth century. However Roman culture and probably a vernacular Latin language survived for another two centuries with a gradual invasion the Anglo-Saxons from northern Germany and the Jutland peninsula.

The invasion was initially halted by the Romano-British, with some attributing the mythical King Arthur, who may have been Ambrosius Aurelianus, a powerful leader in Sub-Roman Britain around the middle of the 5th century. He was renowned for his campaigns against the Saxons, and there is some speculation that he (or his son, according to the historian Gildas) may have commanded the Romano-British forces at the Battle of Badon Hill in 500 AD, which pacified the invaders. The legends about King Arthur and his court fighting the "evil invaders" were the main "expression" of Sub-Roman Britain, often with romantic poetry and tales.

The Anglo-Saxons obtained control of eastern England at the end of the 5th century. After their defeat by King Arthur they stopped their expansion for nearly fifty years, but in the mid-6th century they started expanding again into the English Midlands. Then in the 7th century they expanded again into the south-west and the north of England. The unconquered parts of southern Britain, notably Wales and surrounding areas of western Britain, retained their Romano-British culture, in particular Christianity.

Some Anglo-Saxon histories (in context) refer to the Romano-British people by the term "Welsh", which is an Old English word meaning 'foreigner', referring to the old inhabitants of southern Britain. [1] Historically, Wales and the south-western peninsula were known respectively as North Wales and West Wales.[2]

Recent discoveries have helped document the continuing urban occupation of some Romano-British towns near Watling Street such as Viriconium (Wroxeter) and Venta (Caerwent), in those two centuries.[3]

One of the last Sub-Roman cities to be conquered by the Anglo-Saxons was Deva Victrix (Chester), where Roman "amphoras" were used until 616 AD.[4] The Romano-British may have survived partly because of the Chester city walls; the city had been defended by walls since the foundation of the Deva Victrix fort on the site in 79 AD.

Notes[change | change source]

  1. World Wide Words
  3. Roger White and Philip Barker, Wroxeter: Life and Death of a Roman City, (Stroud: Tempus, 1998)
  4. P. Carrington, Eng. Heritage Bk. of Chester, 53; cf. S. Ward and others, Excavations at Chester: Saxon Occupation within Roman Fortress, 32-5; V.C.H. Ches. i. 238.

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Mann, J. C. Spoken Latin in Britain as evidenced by the Inscriptions, in Britannia 2 (1971)
  • Morris, John. The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650. Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1996. ISBN 1842124773
  • Pearsall, Derek. Arthurian Romance: a short introduction. Blackwell. Oxford, 2005
  • Smith, C. Vulgar Latin in Roman Britain: Epigraphic and other Evidence, in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2.29.2 (1983), pp. 893 – 948
  • Snyder, Christopher A. Sub-Roman Britain (AD 400-600): A Gazetteer of Sites. British Archaeological Reports (BAR) British Series No. 247. Oxford, 1996: Tempvs Reparatvm.

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