The Ending of Roman Britain

The Ending of Roman Britain

The Ending of Roman Britain

The Ending of Roman Britain

Synopsis

Why did Roman Britain collapse? What sort of society succeeded it? How did the Anglo-Saxons take over? And how far is the traditional view of a massacre of the native population a product of biased historical sources?A. S. Esmonde Cleary explains what Britain was like in the fourth century AD and how this can be understood only in the wider context of the western Roman Empire. His emphasis is on the information to be won from archaeology rather than history, leading to a compelling explanation of the fall of Roman Britain and some novel suggestions about the place of the post-Roman population in the formation of England.

Excerpt

Any book such as this one will inevitably betray the results of its author’s archaeological and intellectual upbringing, and the hands of those who have had a part in this. As a schoolboy I was very fortunate to be in Winchester in the late ’sixties. There for five summers I worked on the late Roman cemetery at Lankhills and on the Roman and mediaeval town site at Lower Brook Street. Digging in Winchester in those days one could not but help be made aware of the immense potential of archaeology as a source of information. I am ever grateful to Don Mackreth, site director at Lower Brook Street, for tolerating and encouraging my early archaeological enthusiasms. As an undergraduate at London I was taught by Richard Reece, and in common with all others who have sat at his feet I was always interested and stimulated by what he had to say, and sometimes provoked or outraged. From him I learnt always to question, but also to have a care for the evidence. As a postgraduate at Oxford, my supervisor Sheppard Frere and his then Research Assistant Roger Goodburn held me on a loose rein, giving me ample time to explore the magnificent collection of the Ashmolean Library. Thereby I learnt a great deal more archaeology than I ever would have from sticking to my research topic. Since coming to Birmingham several generations of students with their uncomfortable questions and their expectation of being coherently taught have forced me to discriminate between what I thought I knew and what I could actually demonstrate. At Birmingham I have also been extremely fortunate to have as long-suffering colleagues Steve Bassett, Martin Goodman and Chris Wickham. They have all read this book in draft and commented extensively on both form and content. Each of them stands outside Roman Britain looking in, and is thus generally better able to see the wood for the trees than the habitual toiler in this (dis)Enchanted Forest. Their comments have improved this book beyond all measure. To these three, to the others mentioned here, and to a host of others my thanks are due. They may recognise their imprint here; whether that is a bitter or a sweet experience I leave to them to decide.

Books are not just intellectual abstractions: they are also concrete objects which need to be realised. Peter Kemmis Betty at Batsford has my gratitude not only for having the courage and taste to commission this book, but also for his encouragement along the way and his treatment of the deadline as a metaphysical rather than a real-life concept. And finally my thanks go to Philip Farrar who bore the latter stages of the writing of the book with a fortitude and placidity which in themselves did much to help in getting the book finished.

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