The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. - 600 A.D.

  Studies and Speculations by Howard Wiseman.

Original text and maps copyright Howard Wiseman 1997-2014.
Last Modified: 6th February 2014

Introduction

The historical era began in Britain with the Roman conquest in the first century A.D. From then until the present the darkest age is that of the 5th and 6th centuries. It is dark because of the general decline in the level of civilization e.g. the end of coin minting and pottery manufacturing, the reversion to timber buildings etc. But even more so it is dark because of our ignorance of even the most crucial historical events. This is not because of the lack of contemporary writing; we have a greater quantity of first-hand observation (due especially to the 6th century cleric Gildas) from this era than from some of the preceding Roman centuries. But Gildas was not a historian and his long-winded sermon contains relatively little useful information. Also, far more "happened" to society and the state in the fifth and sixth century, including long-running wars between the Britons and the invading Anglo-Saxons and Scots, than during the relatively uneventful Pax Romana. Thus there is a great deal of uncertainty in the history of this era; not even the broad features are agreed upon by all historians, and historians who do agree on the veracity of certain events may assign them dates which vary by more than a generation.

This uncertainty, plus the relatively paucity of sources available, has made this period of history a favourite for amatueur historians, in which I include myself. It is also interesting as the time when Britain (south of Hadrian's wall) was transformed from a Roman diocese into the kingdoms of the Saxons and the Britons --- the forerunners of England and Wales today. Finally, it is of course the time of the "real Arthur" (if he existed) --- the most famous historical figure (if he was historical) from the first millenium of British history.  In order to keep my work to a manageable size I have deliberately concentrated on the history of what had been Roman Britain; that is, of that part of the Island south of Hadrian's wall. Some events in Ireland and north of the wall are mentioned, but most only in so far as they affected the history of Britain. Also, ecclesiastical history receives only minimal attention from me even though its sources for the 5th and 6th century probably outweigh all others.

This website contains a variety of different pieces by me, all on the same theme, but with different intents:

This first part (1997-) is a quasi-narrative history (20 000 words long) told using only quotations from the primary (and early secondary) sources. As explained in the preface to that page, this history should not be taken too seriously. It is a possible history, but the unreliability of most of the early sources, and the sketchiness of the reliable ones, rule out any history that is both trustworthy and detailed.

This second part is a collection of my publications. Two are refereed papers: one published in 2000 in Parergon, and the other in 2011 in the Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association. There are a number of reviews published from 2003 on in The Heroic Age, a free, online journal dedicated to the study of the Northwestern Europe from the Late Roman Empire to the advent of the Norman Empire. I've also created a wikipedia article.

This third part (2001-) is a discussion of just how limited our knowledge is of this period of British history. I also present snippets of widely differing chronologies, all of which are consistent with the sources.

This fourth part (2003-) attempts to give a chronology (like the first part) but using only the reliable sources (as discussed in the third part). It is my best guess at what really happened and I think it has a fair chance of being on the right track. I also discuss the archaeological evidence, and what this may reveal about the tribes and polities of the time, including maps.

This fifth part (2008-) rates a large number of historical novels (or series of novels) by several criteria. It also provides detailed reviews of several of my favourites, plus a discussion of chronologies chosen by different authors.

This sixth part (2008) is not by me at all; it is a reproduction of the hitherto unpublished final installment in the Albion trilogy by novelist Patrick McCormack. This is, in my view, one of the best historical novels of Arthurian Britain (see my reviews page). A preface to the book explains how I came to be publishing it on this site.


In addition to the above, I have the following planned additions:



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