Ancient History & Civilisation


THE PROVINCES OF BRITAIN fell out of the Roman system round about the year 410. They then largely disappear from view for the next two hundred years, one modern historian rightly calling these the ‘lost centuries’ of British history.1 When they came back into view in c.600 AD, much of the rich farmland of lowland Britain (the area covered essentially by modern England, the heartland of the old Roman province) had on the face of it fallen into the hands of outside invaders. Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons had replaced indigenous Celtic- and Latin-speakers as the dominant social elite. Two hundred years before, Angles and Saxons had been roaming lands the other side of the North Sea. Within the same timeframe, the provinces of Roman Gaul suffered a similar fate, falling under the political domination of intrusive Germanic-speaking Franks, whose previous haunts had been east of the Rhine. The degree of cultural change in Gaul was nothing like so complete as north of the Channel. South of the River Loire, many of the sixth-century descendants of the old Roman elites of the region were still enjoying the landed estates accumulated by their ancestors under imperial rule, and much of their material and non-material culture retained a distinctly sub-Roman flavour. Even in Gaul, however, things were very different north of the Paris basin. There, the use of Germanic languages spread westwards at the expense of Latin and Celtic, and neither historical nor archaeological evidence gives much sign that the Roman gentry and aristocracy of this region was still recognizably in place by 600 AD.

The Frankish takeover of northern Gaul poses many of the same questions as the Anglo-Saxon seizure of lowland Britain. How central was migration to the political and cultural changes observable in these north-western corners of the Roman world? And what form did that migration take? In the past, Anglo-Saxon and Frankish expansions have both been seen as western expressions of the great and pan-Germanic phenomenon of Völkerwanderung which burst into action at the end of the Roman imperial period. More recently, they have been recast as examples of the more limited migration model known as elite transfer. The classic archetype of elite transfer, as we saw in Chapter 1, is the eleventh-century Norman conquest of England. Its outlines are comprehensively documented in Doomsday Book, which tells us who owned what land in the country both before the Normans arrived – on 5 January 1066, to be precise: ‘the day that King Edward [the Confessor] lived and died’, in its own evocative language – and twenty years later. Its evidence leaves us in no doubt that the incoming Normans in small but politically significant numbers had inserted themselves as the new landowning class of England in between. Can the same limited form of migration satisfactorily explain the transformations that unfolded in lowland Britain and northern Gaul in the fifth and sixth centuries? A more comparative approach suggests that they can’t, and taking the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon cases together, instead of separately, as is usual, helps explain exactly why not.


It can’t seriously be doubted that migration played some part in transforming Roman Britain into Anglo-Saxon England, but visions of its extent have varied dramatically. In the nineteenth century, it was generally thought that large numbers of immigrants had, in England at least, more or less entirely displaced the indigenous Romano-British population of Celtic origin, driving any survivors westwards into Wales, Devon and Cornwall, or across the sea to Brittany. Victorian, Edwardian and even later schoolchildren were brought up to believe in an Anglo-Saxon invasion which started with Hengist and Horsa in Kent and rolled triumphantly onwards. This vision of the past rested substantially on surviving narrative sources, particularly Gildas’ Ruin of Britain and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. These were always recognized as a touch on the thin side, but could be mined for a story of unremitting hostility between Anglo-Saxon invader and indigenous Celt, and of the invader’s eventual success. By 1900, it rested on much larger blocks of evidence too: language and place names. The overwhelming majority of the place names of modern England were by then known to descend from the Germanic tongue of the Anglo-Saxons, not the Celtic of the Romano-British, and the latter had also left little obvious trace on the modern English language. Celtic roots could be detected only in the names of some main rivers. The great age of Victorian railway-building had added a third plank to the argument. A whole series of cemeteries excavated in the later nineteenth century, as branch lines multiplied, provided plentiful evidence of a post-Roman material culture brought by the invaders from the continent, and very little of any surviving Romano-British population. The term hadn’t yet been coined, but, in traditional views, the Anglo-Saxons were considered to have engaged in a highly effective process of ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Since the 1960s, broad consensus has broken down into sometimes vitriolic disagreement. No one now believes in mass ethnic cleansing, and no one believes that there was absolutely no migration, either. The range of opinions in between is vast, but two broad clusters can be identified. Many historians and some archaeologists perceive the evident Anglo-Saxonization of lowland Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries to have been brought about through a hostile takeover, which involved large numbers of migrants from northern Germany and the Low Countries. A second group of opinion, on the other hand, sees the process as having been effected by many fewer continental European immigrants, whose cultural norms then spread broadly and essentially voluntarily through the existing population: elite transfer followed by cultural emulation. This is subscribed to by some historians but many more archaeologists, and is obviously heavily influenced by the general rejection of the old mass-migration models inherent to culture history.2Why is there so much disagreement?

Sources of Controversy

Here again, as with so many of the subject areas tackled in this book, the escape from nationalist visions of the past has had a profoundly liberating effect. No one would now suppose that Celts and Anglo-Saxons must have been hostile to one another simply because they were Celts and Anglo-Saxons. And, in fact, after 600 AD, historical sources show that the different kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England were just as likely to fight each other as their surviving sub-Romano-British counterparts, and would sometimes even ally with the latter against their fellow Anglo-Saxons. The post-Roman world of largely western and northern Britain also varied enormously within itself. One of the most exciting discoveries of recent years has been the revelation, from close analysis of the language used in inscribed standing stones, that there survived in western Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries a Romance-speaking substantially Roman elite, while their more northern British counterparts were always Celtic-speaking.3

But if shifting world views have allowed existing evidence to be read in new ways, reinterpretation has also been driven forward by real gains in knowledge. Another great advance of the last fifty years has been an increased understanding of exactly how developed Roman Britain actually was. The study of pottery sherds gathered by surface collection has combined with strategically placed excavation to show that the population of late Roman Britain was in fact extremely large. An absolute figure cannot be generated (recent estimates run between 3 and 7 million, a massive margin for error), but it is now generally accepted that the English countryside was being exploited with greater intensity in the fourth century than at any subsequent point before the fourteenth. Roman Britain was no backwater, as Victorian scholars tended to suppose, but a thriving part of the Roman world. The idea that virtually its entire population could be driven westwards by invaders is thus much more difficult to sustain than when H. R. Loyn wrote, ‘The story of Anglo-Saxon settlement, when looked at in depth, yields more of the saga of man against forest than of Saxon against Celt.’4

The fact that modern English place names are so overwhelmingly of Anglo-Saxon origin has also been reinterpreted. Most of them – it has emerged – were formed only several centuries after the initial Anglo-Saxon takeover, when rural settlement structures finally became more permanent. The crucial moment was the linked emergence of stable landed estates – manors – and villages, a development that gathered pace only after c.800 AD and lasted through to the eleventh century. By that date, Anglo-Saxon had long been the dominant tongue of the landowning class, so it was hardly surprising that its new estates received Anglo-Saxon names. By the same token, however, since this naming process began two to three hundred years after the initial Anglo-Saxon settlement, place names have become much less good evidence that their Celtic and Roman antecedents had been swept away by a deluge of Germanic settlers. More than two centuries of intervening history is plenty of time, potentially, for the Germanic language to spread through an indigenous population by processes of cultural assimilation.5

Pretty well everyone would accept these three basic shifts in understanding. The beginning and end points of the process of Anglo-Saxonization are also clear enough. Lowland Britain (much of what is now England) was a highly developed part of the Roman world in c.350 AD, but by 600 was dominated by Germanic-speaking elites who thought of themselves as having come from continental Europe in the intervening period. What role migration had played in all this, and how the indigenous population had fared, however, are matters of fierce debate.

That this much disagreement is possible tells you instantly that the available evidence suffers from serious limitations. A first key issue is what, exactly, was the state of Roman Britain by c.400 AD? Few doubt that it had been flourishing fifty years earlier. Its towns, admittedly, were not showing the same degree of private investment in public monuments as they had in previous centuries. But this was a common phenomenon right across the late Roman world, and needs to be understood against shifting patterns of local elite life, and not as a simple economic phenomenon, as it tended to be in the past.

It is worth pausing a moment to explore the argument. In the fourth century, patterns of Roman landowning elite life shifted decisively away from their local home towns towards imperial service. The whole point of the private investments they had previously made in the public urban monuments of their local towns had been to win power there. But, by the fourth century, this was no longer such an attractive game to play. To deal with a series of problems collectively known as the Third-Century Crisis, above all the rise of Persia to superpower status, the Roman state had confiscated all the local funds that had previously made winning power in your home town such a worthwhile goal for local Roman elites. By the fourth century, exercising power in your home town involved great responsibilities, but much less spending power. The fun of spending taxpayers’ money could now be experienced only by those operating in imperial rather than hometown service. Not surprisingly, local Roman elites right across the Empire shifted their spending priorities appropriately. Instead of trying to win power at home, elite investment was increasingly directed towards preparing their children for, and moving further up within, the bureaucratic structures of imperial service. The public face of towns suffered accordingly, but this was fundamentally a cultural and political phenomenon, and not a sign of economic crisis in any straightforward sense.6

The evidence from rural Roman Britain fits this broader pattern well. For in the fourth century, Britain’s villas were flourishing as never before. They show every sign of great wealth, with much remodelling, which saw, in particular, pictorial colour mosaics replace black and white geometric ones, and the appearance of private Christian chapels. In the old days this used to suggest a nice parallel with the arrival of colour TV, but that was so long ago now that most of my students have no idea that television ever used to be available only in black and white. The really big question, however, is how much of this rural prosperity endured to 400 AD. Of the 135 excavated British villas that have produced some Roman coins, for instance, the sequence came to an end for sixty-five of them in c.360. Does this mean that the villa economy of Britain – a much better indicator of the general health of Roman provincial life than the towns – started to decline at that point, or just that coins – never a very central feature of Roman economic exchange – were not circulating in the same way?

Some have argued the case for major dislocation, a recent historiographical trend being towards what in archaeological jargon is known as ‘systems collapse’. This argues that Roman social, economic and hence political systems were all breaking down in Britain by 400, so that the end of properly Roman Britain had internal causes and that subsequent Anglo-Saxon migration wandered more or less into a power vacuum. The argument finds some further support in a seeming withdrawal of the regular Roman army from the Hadrian’s Wall line in the 390s. The forts were still occupied, but the kinds of metalwork associated with Roman regulars are confined after this date to lowland Britain, suggesting to some that independent local chieftains had taken over the frontier forts. The evidence from the forts is ambiguous, however, and the general state of Roman Britain in c.400 AD does basically turn on when exactly the villa economy collapsed. Here the lack of precise dates is a problem. If the villa economy was unravelling in the later fourth century, then the end of properly Roman Britain was nothing to do with Anglo-Saxon invasion. But if the villas ended anytime after 410, the Anglo-Saxons start to appear much more likely suspects.7

When it comes to working out how things developed from this disputed beginning, the evidence just gets worse. Historical sources are particularly thin on the ground. One alone – The Ruin of Britain by the monk Gildas – was composed by a British native who was a more or less contemporary observer. The precise date at which he wrote is much disputed, but it must have been somewhere between the late fifth and the mid-sixth century. The work’s big drawback, though, is that Gildas was not trying to write history, but putting together a moral tract for British kings of his own times, in which he occasionally drew on past events to illustrate points he wished to make about the present. A kind of narrative outline of the Anglo-Saxon takeover can be gleaned, but it is sparse and incomplete at best – and, in fact, some very different suggestions have been made as to how it should be read.8 To supplement Gildas, there are a few more or less contemporary references to events in Britain in continental sources, and some very late, wildly episodic materials gathered together in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Some of the Chronicle’s stories may well reflect actual events. Its entries mostly refer to kings and their conquests, and some of this might have been recalled with a degree of outline accuracy. Sometimes, too, the events even make sense against the landscape, notably the battle of Deorham in 577 which is said to have brought Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath under Anglo-Saxon control. A visit to the site, now the grounds of Dyrham Park just outside Bath, is enough to show you why. Set on high ground, it dominates the territory around. But in overall terms, the Chronicle’s coverage is both limited and problematic. It really deals only with the three kingdoms – Wessex, Kent and Sussex – which later formed part of the ninth-century realm of King Alfred the Great, under whose auspices the text reached its extant form. Large areas of what became Anglo-Saxon England – from Essex to Northumbria – either receive little (Mercia and Northumbria) or no (Essex) coverage in an annalistic history which is anyway remarkable for its almost total lack of detail. Many years have no events ascribed to them, and those that do rarely get more than a couple of lines. For teaching purposes, the modern English translation of its entire coverage of the fifth and sixth centuries can be conveniently photocopied on to two sides of A4, and even then the text is not exactly crowded. What it contains is a series of disjointed episodes, not a connected narrative. Moreover, the form and the chronological problems of the text both suggest that, at some point, someone had had to guess the dates at which events ascribed to great heroes of the past, probably in oral stories, had actually occurred. Such a process is discernable in some continental sources of the fifth and sixth centuries which were also drawing in part on oral materials, and these guesses were never completely uneducated. Some sense of chronology, for instance, could be deduced from the kinds of family trees and king lists that were the standard paraphernalia of royal dynasties, and could be used to order events of which the memory had survived attached to particular individuals, such as kings who had won various battles.9 They were guesses, not certain knowledge, however, and that, combined with the sheer paucity of information, makes the Chronicle of only limited use.10 Our general knowledge of Anglo-Saxon history only starts to increase from c.600, with the arrival of the Christian missionaries. This marks the effective limit of detailed historical knowledge in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. After this date, Bede preserves a great deal of independent information. Before it, he largely depended on Gildas, and so still do we.

Of archaeological material there is, it seems, a greater mass. The huge amount of information we have about Roman Britain sits alongside some thirty thousand burials which belong to the early Anglo-Saxon period. But these burials were the remains of some ten to fifteen generations, deposited between the mid-fifth and late seventh centuries, a time when even conservative estimates of the population of lowland Britain would reckon its total never less than a million. Even this many burials, therefore, represents no more than a tiny sample of the original population. Two further problems make their interpretation difficult. First, dating is far from precise. No more Roman coins were imported into Britain after c.400 AD. Scientific dates (carbon-14 or dendrochronological) also remain rare since many graves were excavated before these methods had become available. So for the most part, dating has to be based on the stylistic development of the objects buried with the corpses. As we have seen in other contexts, this kind of dating can locate burials to within twenty-five years or so, which is much better than nothing. But when a developing sequence of archaeological materials is being related to known history, such a window is sometimes too imprecise to be sure whether a set of burials preceded or followed a given set of events.11

The second problem is more fundamental. These early Anglo-Saxon burials take two basic forms. In central and southern England, archaeologists have uncovered a large number of quite small inhumation cemeteries, some of the burials being richly furnished with gravegoods. Further east, in parts of East Anglia and along the northeast coast, a smaller number of much larger cremation cemeteries have been excavated (Map 11). The cremation cemeteries raise few problems of attribution. A cremation habit was entirely foreign to late Roman Britain, and both the burial form and the identifiable objects that survived the cremation process have direct antecedents in fourth- and early fifth-century materials from south-eastern Jutland. There is not much doubt, then, that Germanic-speaking immigrants from the Jutland region generated the cremation cemeteries of eastern England.12

The inhumation cemeteries are more problematic. For one thing, they contain a large number of burials without gravegoods. Who were these people? Were they poorer Anglo-Saxons, left-over Romano-Britains, whose standard burial rite had indeed been unfurnished inhumation, or people who just chose not to bury their dead with gravegoods? Likewise, while there is little doubt that many of the items found in the furnished graves (brooches, sleeve fasteners, weapons and so on) were first made and used by continental Germanic-speaking populations, this is not true of them all, and, more generally, it can be argued that their appearance and spread in England is not a safe guide to the extent of Anglo-Saxon immigration. Unlike the cremation rite of eastern England, the dress items found in the inhumation cemeteries were not lifted lock, stock and barrel from one particular corner of the Germanic-speaking continent. Particular combinations of items eventually became confined to specific corners of England, but many of these items originated in disparate areas of Germania. Sleeve fasteners, for instance, became a distinctive element in the dress of early Anglo-Saxons living just inland from the Wash, but whereas most of what they wore had disparate origins the fasteners themselves had only been found earlier in parts of western Norway.13 It looks, in other words, as if the process that unfolded in lowland Britain was similar to that underlying the so-called Danubian style of Attila’s Empire (Chapter 5). New and distinct Anglo-Saxon dress combinations coalesced out of a wide variety of sources in lowland Britain in the fifth century.

If dress items and habits were being passed around between different groups of Germanic immigrants, there is no obvious reason why they could not also have been passing from Anglo-Saxon immigrants to Romano-British natives. We are all now comfortable with the idea that under certain conditions new identities can be adopted. This tends to happen particularly when old identities are in flux, which was true both for Anglo-Saxon immigrants and Romano-British natives in the fifth and sixth centuries. The boundaries of the new Anglo-Saxon kingdoms differed from the pre-existing political structures of Britain, and there is no reason to suppose, either, that they had been transposed from the continent. Famously, individuals with British names – Cerdic and Cynric – appear in the ancestry of the ruling house of Wessex, and the late seventh-century law code from this kingdom, known as Ine’s Law, explicitly mentions the presence within it of substantial landowners of indigenous non-Anglo-Saxon descent. These are strong indications that Wessex may have been created by a complex Anglo-Saxon/Romano-British double act, rather than a simple Germanic conquest. The cemetery of Warperton in Warwickshire also provides a so far unique example of a chronological progression from late Roman to Saxon-style burials within the single graveyard. This too is suggestive of processes of cultural assimilation. Particularly since many of the inhumation cemeteries continued in use for two hundred years, from the fifth into the sixth and seventh centuries, by which time there must have been much intermingling between immigrant and native, it is perfectly reasonable to question whether continental dress accessories can really be used as a guide to the origins of the corpse found displaying them.14

Neither the available archaeological nor the available literary evidence answers in any straightforward way, then, the key questions about the extent and nature of Anglo-Saxon immigration. Nor, unfortunately, is there any immediate prospect of new methodologies or sources of information filling the gap. DNA testing and isotope analysis have both come on stream in the last decade or so to offer new paths forward, but neither looks likely to provide easy answers. So far, it is unclear whether ancient DNA can really be extracted from fifth- and sixth-century skeletons preserved in typically damp British conditions. The jury remains firmly out, and while it is deciding, less direct routes have been explored. The most important concerns the distribution of particular gene combinations within the male Y chromosome among modern English males. This is potentially very useful. The Y chromosome is handed down unchanged over time from father to son through the male line, and there is one gene combination which can with some plausibility be linked to an intrusive population group of males moving from northern continental Europe into lowland Britain in the middle of the first millennium AD. This gene combination is now very widely distributed among modern Englishmen, being found in 75 per cent or more of those sampled.

But how should this exciting new evidence be interpreted? The researchers initially argued that their findings confirmed what the Victorians had always thought, that something akin to ethnic cleansing took place during the Anglo-Saxon invasions with the 75 per cent distribution among the modern population reflecting a 75 per cent replacement of males in the fifth and sixth centuries. Given, however, that arriviste Anglo-Saxon males formed – on any estimate – a new elite in the land, and had therefore greater access both to food and to females, you have to figure that they had a bigger chance of passing on their genes to the next generation than the indigenous Romano-British. And more recent mathematical modelling by the same researchers has shown that you don’t have to make that breeding advantage very large for the 75 per cent result among the modern English population to have been generated from an intrusive male group that was originally no larger than 10–15 per cent of its fifth- and sixth-century counterpart. Self-evidently, therefore, the modern DNA evidence is not going to settle the quarrel between those favouring mass Anglo-Saxon migration and those persuaded by elite transfer and emulation.15

Nor does isotope analysis look any more promising in overall terms, although it generates fascinating individual results. This technique works on the basis that the mineral contents of an individual’s teeth carry the signature of where they grew up, transmitted into the chemical composition of dental remains by the water drunk as a child or teenager, depending on whether you’re looking at baby or adult teeth. Some of these chemical signatures can be recognized as belonging to particular regions, where those regions are geologically distinct. Potentially, therefore, you might be able to show whether an individual buried in Anglo-Saxon clothing really came from the continent, or was an identity-swapping Romano-British wolf. The problem, however, is that the technique will work only for first-generation immigrants. The child of two echt Jutlanders, if born after they crossed the North Sea, will have grown up with absolutely East Anglian teeth. Much expensive sampling and a lot of very precise chronological identification would be required, therefore, for isotope analysis to produce any broad conclusions. And given that the offspring even of first-generation Anglo-Saxon immigrants will have had British teeth, I doubt that it ever will. For the moment, therefore, neither isotope nor DNA analysis offers us an obvious way past the intellectual impasse between mass migration and elite transfer originally generated by the limitations of the traditional historical and archaeological evidence.16

So by themselves, the available bodies of source material set up an intellectual problem, but offer no obvious solution to it. The historical evidence is much too thin to provide a convincing picture of what went on in lowland Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries, while the major transformations in material culture can be explained either in terms of mass invasion or mass cultural emulation. The new understanding of late Roman Britain, likewise, shows that the province’s population was much too large to make ethnic cleansing even the remotest possibility, but the linguistic evidence from post-600 AD shows precious little sign of indigenous influence on the Germanic tongue of the Anglo-Saxon world which emerged from Britain’s late antique Dark Age. The argument is more than a little stuck, but if we think first about the evidence of the Anglo-Saxon migration flow itself rather than its effects upon Britain, and then reconsider the issue of mass migration versus elite transfer from a more comparative perspective, it does become possible to move the argument past its traditional roadblocks.

Adventus Saxonum

The historical work of the Venerable Bede, written in his Jarrow monastery in the early eighth century, provides two dates for the Adventus Saxonum: the arrival of Saxon invaders in Britain. The first is 446, based on Gildas’ record that the British appealed for imperial assistance to Aetius, de facto ruler of the Roman west in the mid-fifth century, when he was ‘consul for the third time’. Gildas did not date this appeal, but Bede had access to Roman consular lists which told him that Aetius’ third consulship fell in the year 446. His other date is c.450–5, derived from a Kentish dynastic tradition of his own time that its founders had established themselves in that south-eastern corner of Britain during the joint reign of the Emperors Marcian and Valentinian III.17 Among more modern scholars, however, there is widespread agreement that, whatever its scale, the flow of Anglo-Saxon migration into lowland Britain was not a one-off event, but a long-extended process.

The only account of its origins is to be found in Gildas’ Ruin of Britain. This tells us that the Anglo-Saxon takeover stemmed from extensive attacks made by Picts and Scots (from Ireland and Scotland respectively) upon the British provinces after they had dropped out of the Roman imperial system. Plenty of controversy surrounds the details, but other contemporary sources tell us that in 406 or thereabouts the Roman army in Britain had put up the usurper Constantine III, who shifted his command to Gaul to fight the Rhine invaders. Eventually, perhaps in 409, the British provinces revolted again, breaking away – it seems – from the usurper’s control. Shortly afterwards, they may or may not have received a letter from the western Emperor Honorius telling them that they would have to look after their own defence. At this point, however, such a letter would have been no more than de jure recognition of the de facto situation. Honorius could do nothing to help, and the Britons found themselves in a decidedly sub- or post-Roman situation.18

It is at this point that Gildas apparently picks up the story. The difficulties facing the Romano-British, now independent, eventually became so severe, that

they convened a council to decide the best and soundest way to counter the brutal and repeated invasions and plunderings . . . Then all the members of the council, together with the proud tyrant, were struck blind; the guard . . . they devised for our land was . . . the ferocious Saxons . . . A pack of cubs burst forth from the lair of the barbarian lioness, coming in three keels, as they call warships in their language . . . On the orders of the tyrant they first of all fixed their dreadful claws on the east side of the island,ostensibly to fight for our country, in fact to fight against it. The mother lioness learnt that her first contingent had prospered, and she sent a second and larger troop of satellite dogs . . . [Eventually the Saxons] complained that their monthly allowance was insufficient . . . and swore that they would break their agreement and plunder the whole island unless more lavish payment were heaped upon them. There was no delay, they put their threats into immediate effect . . . A fire heaped up and nurtured by the hand of the impious easterners spread from sea to sea. It devastated town and country round about, and, once it was alight, it did not die down until it had burned almost the whole surface of the island and was licking the western ocean with its fierce red tongue.

Despite all these defeats, which caused many British, Gildas tells us, either to surrender themselves into slavery under the invaders, or flee overseas, the Romano-British were not finished. Even when Aetius turned down their final appeal for imperial assistance, they continued to resist. One of their number, the famous Aurelius Ambrosius, historical prototype of the mythical Arthur, organized a counterattack which culminated in a great British victory at the siege of the unidentified Badon Hill. After this, prosperity returned to the island, a happy state of affairs that lasted for the entire and considerable intervening period down to the moment that Gildas wrote.19

One major problem with Gildas’ account from the modern historian’s perspective is chronological imprecision. When did the events he describes begin? Gildas gives no indication at all of when the council might have issued its original and ill-fated invitation to the Saxon mercenaries. Bede clearly supposed that all the action from invitation to revolt and beyond unfolded in quick succession, and hence dated the arrival of the Saxons to 446, on the basis of the appeal made in the middle of the mayhem to Aetius when he was consul for the third time. Most modern scholars would argue that the action was much more drawn out, on the basis of contemporary sources of reasonable quality which record some major Saxon attacks on Britain already in c.410. This makes it likely that the original invitation for mercenary assistance would have been issued a generation or so before Bede supposed, which is compatible with Gildas’ actual wording. Gildas’ account then becomes a brief summary of a lengthier sequence. A more extended chronology also fits well with the fact that the earliest datable Saxon remains in England belong to the 430s.20

As for the Saxon revolt that spread its fire ‘from sea to sea’, the best chronological fix we have on this part of the action may come from a continental source, the so-called Gallic Chronicle of 452 (so called in a fit of wild scholarly fancy because it was put together in Gaul in 452), which reports that Britain fell to the Saxons in 441/2. This chronicle was composed only a decade after the reported events, and we know that considerable contact had continued between the Romano-British and Roman Gaul after 409 – on which more in a moment – so that it is actually a pretty decent piece of evidence. There are other possible ways of construing events, certainly, but it seems most natural to associate Gildas’ mercenary revolt with the mayhem of the early 440s. And by the 460s, at least one important British leader was operating in northern Gaul, in the Loire region, which would tie in with Gildas’ report that some British fled overseas. And even if you were to deny this specific association, one period of major Saxon invasion and British disaster would anyway have to be dated to the mid-fifth century on the basis of the Chronicle.21 That, however, wasn’t the end of the story. Gildas closed his historical excursus on a remarkably high note, which is one reason why his text has sometimes been considered a late fake. Thanks to Aurelius Ambrosius, the Romano-Britons were eventually successful, and, while detailed geography is non-existent, the general sense of Gildas’ account is that in the forty-year peace that followed Badon Hill the Saxons were confined, at most, to the eastern end of the island. Most historians would date this peace to sometime between 480 and 550 AD.22

When Bede’s detailed historical narrative begins in earnest, however, with the arrival of the Roman mission in Kent in 597, virtually all of lowland Britain was firmly under Anglo-Saxon control. Either there had been further dramatic Anglo-Saxon advances in the mid-to late sixth century, or the level of Romano-British success implied by Gildas is massively misleading. The available evidence suggests the former. For what it’s worth, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle places a major expansionary phase in the history of Wessex in the late sixth century when, under the leadership of one Ceawlin and his nephew Ceolwulf, great tracts of Devon and Somerset first passed into Anglo-Saxon hands. Despite the text’s problems, this may preserve echoes of an important later phase of expansion. Most of the royal dynasties that controlled the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which appear in Bede’s History, likewise, seem to have descended from an ancestor whose floruit dates to the last quarter of the sixth century rather than earlier.23This again suggests that something important happened after Gildas had finished writing.

Continental evidence adds further weight to the argument, showing that Saxon populations remained highly mobile into the sixth century. One substantial group of Saxon migrants, reportedly twenty thousand strong, moved south in its middle years, eventually participating in the Lombard invasion of Italy. Another established an enclave at the mouth of the Loire at more or less the same time (the 560s).24 Such unimpeachable evidence of continued demographic upheaval in the Saxon homeland makes it entirely plausible to suppose that still more Saxons were at the same time following the route to Britain. Continental influence from a different direction also shows up in some of the later archaeological materials. Contacts of some kind between Scandinavia and East Anglia, quite possibly a new migration flow from Norway in particular, were established from the late fifth century, and there is some reason for thinking that the East Anglian royal dynasty had Scandinavian roots. Bede, in fact, generally agrees with the archaeology. He reports that Germanic immigration into Britain drew upon a very wide range of manpower: not just the Angles, Saxons and Jutes he mentions in the first book of his Ecclesiastical History, but also Frisians, Rugi, Danes and others besides.25Burials in the Anglo-Saxon inhumation cemeteries increase in frequency, likewise, from the late fifth century onwards: from one in every four years in c.500 AD to one every two to three years by c.600.26 This can be explained in several ways: the conversion of Romano-British to Anglo-Saxon cultural norms, or a natural increase in numbers among the immigrants. All the same, something apparently tipped the balance of power established at Badon Hill firmly in favour of the Germanic-speaking immigrants – or at least the dominance of their cultural forms – in the mid-to late sixth century. In all probability, continued immigration from the continent played some part in the process.

Sparse and difficult though it is, then, the evidence strongly suggests that continental migration to Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries took the form of a flow, like that of Germanic-speakers south to the Black Sea in the third century or of Lombards towards the Middle Danube in the fourth and fifth (Chapters 3 and 5), or indeed of the Vikings to the west in the ninth, rather than a single concentrated pulse as was the case, for instance, in 376. Its minimum duration would appear to have been c.410 to 575, although even this might be a substantial underestimate. The movement was probably also not continuous, ebbing and flowing with the lows and highs of the struggle it generated with elements, at least, of the indigenous Romano-British population. Unless Gildas is substantially misrepresenting the career of Aurelius Ambrosius – and there is no reason to think he was, since to do so would have undermined the case he was trying to make to a British political audience who knew these events for themselves – immigration into Britain must have become considerably less attractive after the native victory at Badon Hill. Interestingly, both Gregory of Tours and Procopius note the presence of Germanic-speakers from north of the Channel among the continental Franks in the first half of the sixth century, suggesting that this period, which coincides with the aftermath of Badon Hill in most chronologies, even saw some reverse migration.27 Furthermore, the flow clearly recruited from a wide geographical area, to judge both by Bede’s historical account of the migrants’ origins and the geographically diverse origins of the material culture that spread among them.

None of these sources gives you any sense of the overall numbers of immigrants involved in this highly extended flow. Many of the individual migrant groups, especially at the beginning, may well have been small. According to Gildas, the initial force of mercenaries came in just three boats, and could therefore have numbered little more than a hundred men. Three ships is possibly something of a folklore motif, however, and not all the groups need have been that small.28 On the continent, groups of Saxons up to twenty thousand in number – explicitly including women and children – took to the road in the fifth and sixth centuries, and some larger groups of this type may possibly have come to Britain. The large cremation cemeteries of eastern England, for instance, look like the remains of more unified migrant groups than the smaller inhumation cemeteries of southern England, though they are certainly not the burial sites of groups twenty thousand strong. It is likely enough, too, that the migration flow would have had to respond to the changing nature of British resistance. It is the central drift of Gildas’ narrative summary, and the basis of his unflattering comparison with the current state of affairs, that Aurelius Ambrosius had pulled substantial numbers of the native British together into a reasonably united response to the Saxons, but that this strength was now being dissipated by competition amongst his lesser successors. The immigrants, of course, would necessarily have had to respond in kind to Ambrosius’ success, fielding more substantial forces of their own to resist the greater level of British resistance that he organized. Even if the immigrants started out in small parties, therefore, concerted British counterattack would have forced them to reform into larger units.

There is no narrative evidence to support this vision of ebb and flow, but its reality might well be reflected in, and is certainly compatible with, the seemingly late arrival into England of the ruling dynasties of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of c.600 and beyond. These were perhaps the leaders who provided the greater unity necessary to turn the tide of war once more in an Anglo-Saxon direction. If accepted in its outlines, such a picture of the migration flow would have many parallels. The evolution of migration flows into new forms to overcome obstacles, or to allow a range of greater ambitions to be fulfilled is, as we have seen, a common thread from the third-century Goths to the ninth-century Vikings, to the nineteenth-century Boers. It is also, of course, an underlying constant in work on group identities, that they form and strengthen in the face of conflict (Chapter 1). Nonetheless, it is important not to overstate the military problem that even a more united Romano-British world presented. The Saxons never faced an opponent with anything like the military power of the western imperial state encountered by continental migrants on to Roman soil. Hence it is not surprising that the end result of the Anglo-Saxon takeover was a multiplicity of smaller kingdoms, certainly at least ten and perhaps many more, in c.600. The new kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England encompassed military forces which added up to far more than a few boatloads, but the lower degree of danger faced on British soil was insufficient to make them go through the kind of process of political unification that proved necessary to the Visigoths, Vandals, Franks or Ostrogoths, all of whom were operating in contexts requiring military forces in the tens of thousands.29

It is also certain that the migration flow included women and children. The first mercenary groups presumably were all-male, but female dress items of continental Germanic origin (again, especially brooches) provide much of the archaeological evidence unearthed from the cemeteries. Some of this material could have arrived without women attached, destined for Saxon invaders’ Romano-British brides; but to suggest that there were no women at all looks rather forced, not least since migrant groups of Saxons on the continent certainly took women and children with them. There are two possible reasons why Saxon groups migrating to Britain may have been skewed to the male gender. The first is again the smaller scale of some of the action. Before the era of Aurelius Ambrosius, military retinues numbering in the few hundreds might have been sufficient to carve out niches within Britain for intrusive Saxon leaders. If so, these leaders would have had less or no need to recruit followers more broadly within their home societies, and hence there was less likelihood of men with families becoming involved. The second was logistics. The large-scale land-based migrations of this period – all those documented, at least – moved baggage and the physically less able in huge wagon trains, thousands of vehicles strong. This must have been cumbersome enough, but shifting families, animals and baggage across the Channel or North Sea to Britain represented an entirely different order of logistic difficulty. Shipping non-combatants would not only have meant finding more ships, but would also have incurred many other costs.

Nonetheless, comparative evidence suggests that we should not overstate the likely effect of either factor. There is unimpeachable DNA evidence that the ninth- and tenth-century Norse took Scandinavian women with them to Iceland in substantial numbers, as well as other females they had picked up in the meantime from Scotland, Ireland and the northern and western isles. About one-third of modern Icelandic female DNA is derived from Norwegian ancestry. Even if the immediate forebears of these ancestors had moved over the North Sea first, so that the Norwegian babes journeying to Iceland came only from the islands or mainland of northern Britain, this would stress only that the initial Norse settlements in Britain had involved Norse women in large numbers. And all of these ninth- and tenth-century sea crossings – from Scandinavia to the northern British Isles and from there on to Iceland – were longer, more difficult and more costly than those of the fifth and sixth centuries that brought Anglo-Saxons to southern Britain. It is also the case that a substantial female presence is required to explain the degree of language change that followed in southern Britain. We will return to this issue in more detail in a moment, but the dominance of the immigrants’ Germanic language, which was essentially untouched by native British Celtic tongues, could never have occurred, in the absence of Saxon grammar schools, if Germanic mothers had not been teaching it to their children.30

If the overall scale of Anglo-Saxon migration into lowland Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries is highly debatable, we can make some headway with its nature: namely, an extended flow of population over time which included women and children. Thanks to the dearth of historical sources, we are again short of explicit information about its causes, but it is a pretty safe bet that an overriding motivation among the migrants was the wealth of the relatively developed Romano-British agricultural economy. Gildas’ account indicates as much. In his view, it was the prospect of good pay that brought the original Saxon mercenaries to England, and their subsequent revolt focused on ransacking the island for everything they could find once they couldn’t extract any more cash.31 Having made themselves supreme, they then took control of the landscape – the primary means of wealth production in this fundamentally agricultural world – to ensure their prosperity in the longer term. By 400 AD, the Romano-British economy may or may not have been past its mid-fourth century peak, but either way it was still much more developed than the rural world inhabited by the Anglo-Saxons on the other side of the North Sea. And in fact we have unimpeachable evidence that this greater wealth had long held an attraction for Germanic populations from less developed landscapes over the water.

Saxon pirates had been finding their way across the North Sea to lowland Britain from at least the mid-third century. And although narrative accounts to this effect are lacking – one major sea-borne Saxon raid on northern Gaul is reported in some detail by Ammianus, but none on Britain – we have impressive indirect evidence that Saxon sea raiders had remained a threat to Romano-British landowners throughout the fourth century. From the late third, the central Roman authorities operated a unified military command which encompassed both sides of the Channel and the eastern shoreline of Britain. Its commander disposed of naval flotillas and garrisons, and a string of powerful fortifications some of which survived the Saxon takeover. The massive fortifications of Portchester (just outside modern Portsmouth) were formidable enough, indeed, to fulfil many functions right through the medieval period and down to the Napoleonic War, when it served as a prison camp for French sailors. This whole collection of men and materiel was designated the litus Saxonum – ‘the Saxon Shore’ – leaving no doubt as to the threat it was designed to counter (Plate 15). That the Romans should have bothered to maintain a military investment on this scale suggests that Saxon sea raids, if usually small, were nevertheless an endemic problem.32

In the drawn-out migration flow of the fifth and sixth centuries, there was plenty of time for subsidiary motives to come into play as well. Sea levels were rising in the North Sea, to the extent that some continental communities may have been more ready to move because their traditional way of life was under threat. More than a few longstanding coastal villages – including many of the terpen we met in Chapter 2 – came to an end in this period. Abandonment stretched, in fact, over a very wide area: from the Frisian coast to the Elbe–Weser region, all the way to Schleswig-Holstein. In the past, this phenomenon led some to suggest that rising sea levels were the fundamental cause of Anglo-Saxon migration, but this is overstating the case. Eastern England, where many of the migrants ended up, was also affected by rising sea levels, and eventually land was abandoned well beyond the coastal regions of Saxony as the fifth century turned into the sixth. At most, then, rising sea levels can have been only a secondary factor. By the sixth century too, Merovingian Frankish power began to intrude aggressively into the Saxon homeland. It was this political factor that prompted the exodus of those twenty thousand Saxons who eventually joined the Lombards, and there is no reason why Frankish pressure should not have led others to join their peers across the North Sea. Nonetheless, a broadly voluntary, economic motivation was probably the main cause of the Anglo-Saxon migration flow, since it began long before the Franks became a factor. This is also suggested by its basic nature.33 A drawn-out process, as opposed to a sudden surge of migrants, does more suggest the steady pull of economic attraction than the impact of major political crisis, such as that which propelled the Goths across the Danube in 376.

As the existence of the litus Saxonum also shows us, the active field of information necessary for any migration flow already existed between lowland Britain and northern Germania by the year 400. Anglo-Saxon migration was exploiting known routes, and in some ways represented merely an extension of a pre-existing tendency towards Germanic expansion in this direction. The wealth of Roman Britain was well known to Saxon raiders of the third and fourth centuries, whose understanding no doubt included plenty of information about coastal and North Sea waters, and the best routes to take to target areas. This will also have included considerable knowledge of inland areas, since all rivers leading to the interior of Britain will have been part of the zone explored by ship-borne attack. First-millennium boats were small enough to go far inland along the rivers and were not restricted just to immediate coastal hinterlands. Gildas’ account suggests that this fund of information continued to expand as the fifth century progressed, very much as a developing knowledge base underpins modern migration flows. The first Saxons may well have been a mercenary outfit, as Gildas reports, hired by former or potential victims of previous predations to help in their defence. Such a move had been prefigured, it seems, at the end of the third century, when a usurping Roman commander in Britain, Carausius, initially appointed to fight Saxon and Frankish pirates, incorporated some of them into his forces. It was also fairly common in the later Viking period. Sea raiders were difficult for land-based forces to combat. News of the mercenaries’ prosperity led others to join them on the British side of the North Sea. This need not always have been the deep, dark plot that Gildas supposed. The original mercenaries may have signed up in good faith, but, as the situation developed – in other words as the information field expanded – their ambition increased, perhaps, or new Saxon groups with greater ambitions saw the opportunity for self-enrichment on a grand scale and moved in on the action, just as small-scale raiders in the Viking period were eventually supplanted by more important leaders with larger followings.34

It was not new geographical information about lowland Britain, then, that transformed Saxon raiding into Saxon migration as the fifth century progressed, but an increased understanding that the previous political and strategic situation had been transformed out of all recognition. As long as Britain remained part of the Roman Empire, any serious attempts by continental Saxons to annex its landed assets were doomed to failure. The forces of the litus Saxonum were more than powerful enough to deal with raiders not smart enough to beat a hasty retreat: exactly the fate suffered by those Saxon raiders who turned up in Gaul in the time of Ammianus. Once Britain fell out of the Roman system, however, much more than the odd hit-and-run raid became possible, and not only for ambitious Saxons. As Gildas reports and other evidence confirms, raiders and even immigrants from Ireland and Scotland – Scots and Picts respectively – were also queuing up to feast on the remains.35 The pull of a developed, Roman-style economy underlay the entire sequence of events, and, as with the other migration flows we have examined, the intermixing of politics and economics could not be clearer. The wealth of lowland Britain could become available to Saxon migrants only if they took its political control into their own hands, and this only became possible when Britain lost its Roman umbrella. It took perhaps as much as a generation for the continental intruders to realize how vulnerable their preferred British targets now were. Raiding seems to have begun already, as we have seen, in c.410, but it was c.440 before the situation turned really nasty, at least according to continental observers. This is a plausible time lag for the Anglo-Saxons either to come to realize that the old blocks on full-scale expansion had been removed, or to develop a range of new ambitions that went beyond raiding to outright annexation.

Prevailing political structures also shaped the action on another level. Compared with contemporary migratory phenomena on the continent, what’s striking about the Anglo-Saxon case is how much evidence there is for small-scale activity. By 600, the end result of the migration flow was, as we have seen, a series of relatively small Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The same is true of the Romano-British world, which, in the era after Aurelius Ambrosius at least, fragmented in political terms. Looking at this pattern, one recent study has questioned why there were so few examples from fifth-century continental Europe of the kind of local takeover of power evident in the person of Aurelius Ambrosius, or in the quite small kingdoms which dominated Cornwall and Wales in Gildas’ day.36

In part, this oddity was a result of transport logistics, whose impact went far beyond a possible skewing of gender ratios. Anglo-Saxon migration into Britain had to take the form of an extended flow of population rather than a single pulse of invasion because of the impossibility of transporting large numbers of people across the North Sea at one go. In one respect, the evidence is equivocal. We don’t know whether the population of Jutland customarily used ships with sails in the fifth century or not, and oar-powered vessels could have transported large numbers of passengers only on a one-way trip since there was little room in them for other than the rowers themselves. But sail-powered ships were available just a little way down the coast in Roman Channel ports, and there is no reason to suppose that their captains were not being paid to carry Saxons in larger numbers to Britain (as their counterparts elsewhere carried Goths and others across the Black Sea in the third century, and the Vandal–Alan coalition across the Straits of Gibraltar in 429). Other Saxons, as we know, were making their way as far as the Loire at the same time, which would have been one hell of a row. More important than the sail issue, therefore, is the fact that the available ships were all small, and limited in number. Just as more modern migration across the Atlantic was limited to a steady trickle until the advent of transatlantic liners in the later nineteenth century, so it was logistically impossible for large numbers of Anglo-Saxons to arrive en masse on the British coast.37

But the political context, too, played a crucial role in shaping the British outcome. On the continent, migrants were forced to operate in large concentrations because they needed to put substantial military forces into the field, whether to survive in the face of Roman imperial power or to escape from Hunnic control. No such constraints operated in Britain. Local government in the Roman provinces, not least the raising of taxes, operated on the basis of the city territory – the civitas – and it was thus that sub-Roman Britain seems to have continued. It was the tax revenues of these city units, no longer handed over to the Roman state, which provided, it seems, the Anglo-Saxon mercenaries’ pay. The boundaries of some of the easternmost, therefore presumably the earliest, Anglo-Saxon kingdoms – East Anglia, Essex, Lindsey and Kent (Map 11) – roughly correspond to likely civitas boundaries, suggesting that they might have been founded by migrants taking over the relevant civitates (cities) as still-functioning entities. But thesecivitas territories were not very large, and could never have supported large armed forces. This state of affairs must have evolved in the time of Aurelius Ambrosius. From this point, perhaps, you did have to organize a larger migration force if you wanted to carve out a nice piece of lowland Britain from the now more organized Romano-British. Even so, no sixth-century Romano-British king could field anything like the armies available to the Roman state or Attila the Hun, so the difference in requisite magnitude was still enormous, and any British military-cum-political unity proved only temporary. One of Gildas’ main declared motives for writing was precisely the fact that the political leaders of his own generation (and he names five kings) were squandering the Ambrosian inheritance by petty internal squabbling.38

As far as we can reconstruct it, therefore, the Anglo-Saxon migration flow was no Völkerwanderung and little resembled the old culture-historical model of mass movement combined with ethnic cleansing. It was a long-drawn-out phenomenon, not an event as Bede’s single date for the Adventus Saxonum might lead you to think. Many of the groups involved were perhaps small, especially at the beginning, but probably increased in scale as obstacles were encountered. Women and children also participated. The motivation was a desire to profit from the wealth of lowland Britain’s developed agricultural economy, but secondary factors affected at least the speed of the flow at different moments, and there was also a strong political dimension, since the wealth of Britain could only be accessed fully by seizing control of the land. For all the shortage of information, therefore, the Anglo-Saxon migration into lowland Britain clearly took the form of a predatory population flow. And, as the comparative literature on migration would suggest, it is also fairly easy to work out the profound effect of factors such as the availability of information, logistics, and the evolving political-cum-strategic context in which it was operating.

But what about the question we have so far avoided? Was the Anglo-Saxon migration flow a case of elite transfer, or need we think in terms of a different migration model?

The Limits of Emulation

It’s worth considering what is at stake. In its classic form, the elite-transfer/cultural-emulation model would suggest that incoming Germanic-speakers represented only a small percentage of the total population that either partly or wholly replaced the indigenous Romano-British landowning elite. The bulk of the Romano-British population remained in place and massively outnumbered the immigrants, but, over time, absorbed the latter’s material and non-material culture until immigrant and native became indistinguishable. What you essentially see is an overwhelming majority of Romano-British voluntarily exchanging their group identities to become Anglo-Saxons. The underlying purpose of this model is specifically to show that massive material and non-material cultural transformation in a Germanic direction can reasonably be explained by only a limited number of Anglo-Saxon immigrants having come across the North Sea. More generally, it is part of a broader argument downplaying the importance of Anglo-Saxon migration as an agent of major change. For in most of the variants put forward, what happens in Roman Britain before the Anglo-Saxons arrive (for example, the collapse of Roman structures), and the reaction of the natives to their arrival (their voluntary decisions to become Anglo-Saxons), are at least as important as the migration flow itself. As such, the model was originally, and in its variant forms has continued to be, framed in reaction to past overuse of the invasion hypothesis.39

The other side of the argument has become harder to define, since no one now believes that the incoming Anglo-Saxons wiped out or expelled virtually all the native population. Anglo-Saxon ‘mass’ migration just isn’t what it used to be. In a very real sense, it is now defined negatively, against the elite-transfer model. Fundamentally, it amounts to the proposition that there were too many Anglo-Saxon migrants for them to be categorized as just an aristocratic elite, and, more generally, that they – rather than the indigenous population by their own free choice – were responsible for the cultural and other transformations that unfolded in lowland Britain. So Anglo-Saxon numbers are at the heart of the argument, along with the overall nature of their relations with the indigenous population. Were the Romano-British free to respond to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons as they chose, or were the immigrants aggressive and politically dominant? Of these two issues, the question of numbers is at first sight the more problematic, since it is precisely on this issue that none of our sources provides straightforward information. We have only very broad estimates of the native Romano-British population in c.400 AD, and little of substance on the scale of the subsequent Anglo-Saxon migration flow. But if we don’t obsess about precise numbers, a more productive way forward begins to emerge.

The place to start is with the revolution in the organization of the countryside which unfolded in the fifth and sixth centuries. Late Roman Britain was divided into a number of large and medium-sized estates, many run from villas: substantial country houses-cum-estate-centres. Land, as in much of the Roman world, was unequally distributed, with large quantities in the hands of a relatively small landowning class. By c.600, this property distribution had been replaced with another, worked out on a very different basis. Not only had all the villa buildings fallen out of use, but the estate boundaries, too, had failed to survive. In only one or two cases has it even been suggested that old Roman estate boundaries were still in use in the Anglo-Saxon period, and none of these has been convincingly proven. In effect, the economic map of the countryside had been totally redrawn. By 600 AD, Anglo-Saxon kings had delineated larger zones for the purposes of taxation, but much of the farming was based on much smaller units than the old Roman villas, and it was not until the ninth century that large centrally organized estates began to re-emerge in the English countryside. These were the first of the manors, which went on to become a dominant feature of the countryside by the time ofDoomsday Book.40

This shows us immediately that the Anglo-Saxon takeover was not a simple case of elite transfer after the classic pattern of the Norman Conquest, half a millennium later. By the time the information recorded in Doomsday Book was gathered, twenty years after Hastings, the indigenous Anglo-Saxon aristocracy had been swept away, its lands transferred to William the Conqueror’s chief henchmen: the so-called tenants-in-chief. The process reached down to more local elites, the gentry, because the tenants-in-chief in turn enriched their more important followers by granting them economic rights over large amounts of the land that they themselves had received. This secondary process was as much a political necessity as the Conqueror’s original gifts to his tenants-in-chief, because it was the loyal service of all these men that had made the conquest possible, and they were consequently expecting a share in the profits of their joint military enterprise. As a result, the Anglo-Saxon gentry as well as the aristocracy lost ownership of their land, even if some still survived as tenants on property they had previously owned.

But a central feature of the process was that none of this property-swapping disturbed existing estate boundaries, or changed the working pattern of the manorial economy. As functioning farming units, the manors continued to operate. There were some alterations in detail, and a convincing argument can be made that elements of the Anglo-Saxon peasantry suffered a considerable demotion. Fundamentally, however, manorial estate boundaries and the general working of the rural economy were left undisturbed by the massive transfer of property rights which resulted from the Normans’ great victory. This was the best possible economic outcome for the Norman conquerors. The main activity of a manor was arable agriculture – growing grain – using a centrally directed labour force, but it still needed its pasture-lands and woods to provide for the animals and people without whom the estate could not function. Any disturbance of these arrangements would have lowered agricultural outputs and the new estate owners’ incomes.41

The Anglo-Saxon takeover of the fifth and sixth centuries, by contrast, did not see anything like such a straightforward transfer of property. The new Anglo-Saxon landowning elites did not simply take possession of existing villa estates, even though this would, in economic terms, have been much the best option. Like the manors of the eleventh century, Roman villa estates were integrated farming units whose output had provided the wealth for a very prosperous class of rural landowners. Changing villa boundaries meant disturbing the actual functioning of the rural economy, and there is good evidence that this process, as you would expect, led to substantial declines in rural output. While the overall area under cultivation did not change markedly (this is shown by pollen analysis), even if some marginal areas were abandoned, more complicated estate structures fell out of use. Some of the Roman-era drainage mechanisms around the Thames at Dorchester, for instance, were not maintained into the Saxon period, and a less sophisticated ‘scratch plough’ generally replaced the heavy Roman ploughs previously in use. The latter were expensive items of capital equipment because of the costs incurred in generating enough spare fodder to overwinter the draught animals required to pull them. Presumably the smaller farming units of the early Anglo-Saxon era could not afford to maintain them, even if they had wanted to.42 This also goes a long way towards explaining why the old towns of Roman Britain lost what was left of their urban character. They had not been centres of industrial production, anyway, but, ‘agro-towns’, existing to serve certain functions in a relatively developed agricultural economy, in return for which some food surpluses found their way out of the countryside to feed the urban population. If you disturbed the organization of the rural economy, particularly by simplifying its functioning and reducing total output, you would be cutting away at the roots of this kind of urbanism, so that it is not surprising that the towns as such disappeared in the post-Roman period, even if they sometimes retained an administrative importance, with new Anglo-Saxon royal palaces being established within their boundaries.43 The next question, therefore, is an obvious one. Why did the Anglo-Saxon takeover break up existing Roman estate structures, even though this brought with it substantial economic costs?

One line of approach has located the answer to this conundrum in developments internal to Britain before the Anglo-Saxons arrived. Some have seen the British rebellion of 409 reported by Zosimus as a kind of peasants’ revolt which not only threw off central Roman control but overturned the established social domination of the villa landowning class. The villas, of course, would be a natural casualty of such an uprising. More recently, Guy Halsall has argued that the villa estate structure of lowland Britain crumbled as a direct consequence of its separation from the imperial system under whose umbrella it had emerged, but he identifies a different sequence of development. In his view, the position of the villa owners at the top of the social heap depended on the relationships they had forged with the Empire, and when those ties were broken after 410 AD, they had to work much harder to maintain their elite status. The profits from their estates, which they had previously used to build and decorate their elaborate villas and for other forms of conspicuous consumption, or to trade for valuable items of Roman manufacture (Mediterranean foodstuffs, fine pottery and so on), now had to be distributed locally instead, as gifts to establish networks of supporters. These networks replaced the Empire in structural terms, allowing the landowners to maintain their position in the new conditions, but were relatively expensive, leaving little or no surplus for them to invest in the old forms of conspicuous expenditure. As a result, villas and trading patterns quickly disappeared, and a competitive burial ritual – ‘furnished inhumation’ – grew up among them in lowland Britain as these men staged lavish funerals, depositing much finery with the dead as part of the struggle to maintain their social position.44

The plain peasants’ revolt version of the argument is not convincing. Despite the prevailing chaos, the contemporary Roman west throws up almost no evidence of this kind of activity, but plenty of local elites taking power into their own hands, and precisely in contexts where central imperial authority had failed to answer local needs. In 409 or thereabouts, Constantine III had long since abandoned his British base and his attention was focused firmly on Italy and Spain, where he was trying simultaneously to supplant the Emperor Honorius and to deal with the Rhine invaders who were now established south of the Pyrenees. To my mind, and here I am in full agreement with Halsall, the British rebellion is much more likely to have been of this standard kind, a response to Constantine’s neglect rather than a social revolution that was in any sense anti-Roman. Equally important, the Life of St Germanus of Auxerre portrays a distinctly Roman-looking elite of lowland Britain seeking help from a still Roman continent against both invasion and heresy in the 420s and 430s. Romance (simplified Latin) remained the spoken language of lowland British political life well into the fifth century, and I am also inclined to believe that Gildas’ famous reference to the British seeking help from the Roman generalissimo Aetius, ‘three times consul’, rests on something concrete. All this would mean that a Romanized British landed class was still looking in a Roman direction, and had held on to some of its Roman structures as late as the 440s. This makes the class-warfare argument unappealing.45

Halsall’s version of internal systems collapse is a much more possible explanation for two of the central phenomena in the fifth-century transformation of the British lowlands: that the villas disappeared and that inhumation furnished with graveoods came into fashion. In assessing the argument, however, it is only reasonable to point out why it exists. Halsall is the scholar we met in Chapter 1 who has argued that to sidestep migration in explanations of archaeological change ‘is simply to dispose of an always simplistic and usually groundless supposition in order to enable its replacement with a more subtle interpretation of the period’. His explanation of developments in lowland Britain is entirely in line with this world view, since it is fundamentally internalist. The villas disappeared because of a crisis within lowland British society, which prompted hugely expensive competitive funerary display, and Anglo-Saxon immigrants are denuded of any major role in the action. But while the invasion hypothesis was certainly overused in the past, there can be problems with an a priori determination to deny migration any role of importance. The danger is that any argument will command assent among like believers just because it moves the historical spotlight away from migrants, whatever its intellectual and other qualities.46 And in this case, I would argue that there is a much more straightforward explanation for the disappearance of the villas available if you are not worried about being considered a simple-minded migrationist, and the virtues of economy and Occam’s razor should not be forgotten. Equally important, the alternative explanation also does a better job of accounting for all the available data.

For one thing, it’s not clear that there was scope in the fifth century circumstances for Halsall’s vision – of the villas literally crumbling away through a purely British, internal political process – actually to have worked its way through in the decades after 409. According to the Gallic Chronicle of 452, Saxon attacks had already begun around the year 410, and the villas – large, isolated country houses of the wealthy – were both highly vulnerable to attack and obvious targets. We have encountered in Chapter 2 the looted contents of one of their number which Alamannic raiders failed – for once – to get back across the Rhine. More generally, whenever Roman frontier security broke down in any region, villas were the first to suffer.47 There is every reason to expect, therefore, that any increase in outside attack would have affected the villa network immediately. To my mind, this makes it unlikely that a fairly lengthy process of internal erosion would have had time and space after 409 to unfold untouched by outside attack.

Equally important, the collapse of the villa network and the rise of furnished inhumation are not the only phenomena that need to be explained. What Halsall’s argument (or any version of internal-systems collapse) doesn’t easily explain is the degree of cultural change that accompanied the socioeconomic revolution of the fifth and sixth centuries. Not only did the villa estates of lowland Britain disappear, but by 600 AD the region’s Latin-speaking Christian elite had been replaced by Germanic-speaking non-Christians. Halsall of course recognizes this, and accepts that there has to have been a significant degree of Anglo-Saxon migration to account for these shifts even if he provides no real mechanism to explain them, and is trying, overall, to decouple migration from what he sees as the more fundamental process of socioeconomic transformation. The profound nature of these cultural changes, however, needs to be taken fully into account.

For one thing, most of the items buried with the dead in the furnished graves were Germanic, but this is only part of the story of Germanization. What’s really striking about the written Anglo-Saxon language, which survives in a variety of texts dating from just after the year 600 all the way down to the Norman Conquest, is how little it was actually influenced by indigenous British Celtic. Loanwords are few and far between, and there is almost no Celtic influence on its grammatical structures. This is telling us something important: that the spoken language in the various local dialects of the new landowning elite of lowland Britain as it had emerged by 600 AD, the tongue that provided the basis for the extant written form of the language, was not only thoroughly Germanic, but also firmly insulated from contact with the native Celtic tongues of Britain. And in this era, language was transmitted within families, especially through mothers on whom most childcare devolved – one reason, as we have seen, why the Anglo-Saxon flow must have included large numbers of women. Incidentally, this also explains why, in later medieval examples where migration did generate large-scale language change, this occurred only when a peasant population (even an elite one of free, if fairly small-scale, landowners) was involved in the action, and was never generated by very small-scale aristocratic elite transfer along Norman Conquest lines alone.48

Similarly intense cultural transformation can be found in other areas too. Roman society was divided in the first instance into free and slave classes, with freemen subdivided further into honestiores (higher) and humiliores (lower). The honestiores were essentially the landowning class. Anglo-Saxon society as it emerges in our sources after c.600 AD shared the categories of free and slave with the Roman system, but added to it a third: the half-free or freed class, a non-slave group which remained in permanent hereditary dependence on particular members of the freeman class. The free class was subdivided into gradations measured by different wergilds – social value as expressed in their ‘life price’, to be discussed in a moment – but all are envisaged as landowners, or at least landholders. This same triple division of society is found among all the continental Germanic groups of the post-Roman period, whereas the permanent freedman concept in particular was quite foreign to Roman society, where the offspring of freedmen became fully free. In all probability, therefore, this categorization of social classes had its origins among the Germanic immigrants. It’s not impossible to imagine each of these post-Roman Germanic-dominated societies evolving a tripartite division of society independently, but it seems unlikely.49

Taking full account of these cultural transformations allows us to redefine the problem. Clearly we need to explain the break-up of the villa estate network in the fifth and sixth centuries and the appearance of burials containing Germanic clothing accessories and weaponry. But at the same time we need to account for the fact that the new elite of c.600 AD spoke a Germanic language untouched by Celtic, and that society had been reordered along Germanic lines. Given this combination of phenomena, an altogether simpler explanation for the collapse of the villa structure suggests itself, one that raises no chronological problems and accounts for both socioeconomic and cultural revolution.

It starts by thinking a bit harder about that classic case of elite transfer, the Norman Conquest of England. What happened in the eleventh century, as we have seen, was that individual manors changed hands, as Doomsday Book graphically illustrates, but the prevailing network of manors was left undisturbed – the best outcome in both overall economic terms and for the individual manor owners. But the Norman Conquest could work in this fashion only because the incoming Norman elite was of the right order of magnitude to be able to take possession of the existing manor network without having to subdivide the estates. Thanks to Doomsday Book we can see what happened in some detail. By 1066, there were approximately nine and a half thousand manors in the English countryside, and the Norman settlement redistributed their ownership amongst an incoming elite of about five thousand families. The king, his tenants-in-chief, and various Church institutions each owned many manors by 1086, but this still left enough for each member of the new elite to receive his own estate. But what if William and his henchmen had had too many supporters to reward to give each his own manor? What if there had been fifteen or even ten thousand supporters of sufficient importance in the Conqueror’s following each to require a reward in the form of a property stake in the newly conquered kingdom? In that case, the political imperative to reward those supporters who had put William in control of England’s agricultural assets would have overriden the economically desirable outcome of leaving the highly productive estate network untouched. Kings and lords who did not satisfy the expectations of their most important supporters did not tend to stay kings and lords for very long. Not for nothing is generosity – measured in gifts of gold but also of land – highlighted as the key virtue of an early medieval lord.50 Had the incoming Norman elite been too large to be accommodated within the pre-existing estate structure, then the manors would have had to be broken up for political reasons, despite the economic costs of doing so. The Norman Conquest can be seen as a very particular type of situation, where the incoming elite and the available agricultural production units broadly matched each other in scale.

The fact that, by comparison, the equally complex and productive Roman villa network was not left similarly undisturbed by the Anglo-Saxons is highly suggestive. Again, it would have been both much simpler and better in economic terms for the new arrivals to keep existing agricultural production units intact. The new Anglo-Saxon kings of lowland Britain would have had a more productive rural economy to tax, and the new elite would each have received a more valuable landed asset. But both of these considerations could only be secondary to the greater imperative of rewarding loyal supporters. As in the years after the Conquest, rewarding loyal service must have been the process that drove Anglo-Saxon land annexation forward, and in fact a king’s ability to find landed rewards remained a crucial dynamic in the longer-term development of the Anglo-Saxon world. As the seventh century progressed, it was the three kingdoms that could expand into open frontiers (Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria), and hence provide land that would attract a greater number of warriors, that eventually emerged as the great powers of the pre-Viking era.51 The fact that, despite the economic costs of doing so, the countryside was entirely reordered in the fifth century strongly suggests that the number of Anglo-Saxon followers to be accommodated in the landscape was too great for them simply to replace the existing Roman landowning class on a one-for-one basis.

This explanation of the break-up of lowland Britain’s villa estates makes excellent sense in the broader context of what we know about the patterns of development prevailing in the Roman and Germanic worlds by the end of the fourth century. Although both were thoroughly agricultural, the two economies were operating at substantially different levels of development. The Roman world, including its British provinces, was dominated by a relatively small, relatively rich elite, whereas the Germanic economy supported a less rich, but numerically broader (freeman?) elite. The Anglo-Saxon migration flow brought this second type of elite into the socioeconomic context that sustained the first, and something had to give. Given the political necessity for Anglo-Saxon leaders to reward the loyal military service of their retainers, it was the old socioeconomic order that had, eventually, to be remade. The detail of when and how this happened is not clear. Some Roman estates seem to have remained active at the beginning of the Saxon period, which is what you might expect. Initially, immigrants may have been willing to live off the distributed production of existing estates. But once they became more numerous and/or developed a sense that their control of the landscape was permanent, prompting them to demand a share of its capital resources, existing estate boundaries had to be redrawn, and overall output headed firmly downwards.52 The partition of the ‘white’ farms in Zimbabwe in recent years, where the sum of the parts has proved unequal to the whole, gives something of an analogy here.

Exactly how much larger this new Anglo-Saxon elite was than its Roman predecessor is difficult to say. The proportion of landowners to landless peasants in both the Roman era and the manorialized Middle Ages has been estimated as at most about 1:10, and was probably substantially less. Few would now share Sir Frank Stenton’s vision of an early Anglo-Saxon society composed almost entirely of free peasant warriors, but social and economic power was quite widely distributed, as we have seen, among continental Germani of the late Roman period. Manorialization and the generation of a more restricted social elite – recreating something much more like the socioeconomic set-up that had sustained the narrower Roman upper class – unfolded only from the eighth century. One interesting line of argument has suggested that the presence of weapons in graves of the fifth to seventh centuries might actually reflect those making a claim to free status, since it was demonstrably not simply a means of distinguishing warriors. If so, the free class of the early Anglo-Saxon period may have represented something closer to half the male population, since up to half of male graves contain weaponry of some kind. Such evidence as there is from the sixth-century continent, however, suggests that the free class there was perhaps more in the region of one-fifth to one-third of the total population, making a half look rather high. Perhaps social structures among the Anglo-Saxons were more egalitarian, or possibly the intermediate semi-free class, which also had some military obligations, buried its dead with weapons too.53 Either way, the disparity in scale between Roman and Germanic elites is clear.

This still makes the Anglo-Saxon takeover of lowland Britain a kind of elite transfer. One recent estimate, for instance, calculates the maximum possible ratio of immigrants to natives – even after Romano-British demographic collapse – at no more than 1:4, and Victorian-style ethnic cleansing out of the question.54 In numerical terms, substantially fewer immigrants than indigenous natives were caught up in the total genetic mix of the new Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that had come into existence by the year 600. The comparison with the Norman Conquest, however, is highly instructive. Unlike its Norman counterpart, the new Germanic elite of the fifth and sixth centuries was too numerous to be accommodated within the existing socioeconomic framework, so that a fundamental reordering of the basic means of production had to follow. The situations generating these profoundly different outcomes must be carefully distinguished, no matter that the immigrants were in the minority in both. To classify both under the same heading of elite transfer is confusing in analytical terms, as it leads you to miss some key points of particularity and difference.

But what can be said about the other key issue, the kinds of relationship operating between immigrant and native? How free were indigenous Romano-British to choose their own fate, as Anglo-Saxon kings took control of the countryside. No one would now suppose that there had to have been hostility between native Romano-British and incoming Anglo-Saxons simply by virtue of their different ethnic backgrounds, and some voluntary renegotiation of identity on the part of the indigenous population is certainly possible. More specifically, Ine’s Law, the seventh-century law code, shows that there was a Romano-British component within the landowning elite of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex as late as the 690s, as we have seen, and there is no obvious reason why at least some Romano-British landowners should not have become valued members of the entourages of earlier Anglo-Saxon kings as well. When thinking about how much of this went on, though, it is important to bear in mind the basic purpose of the Anglo-Saxon migration flow. Developing from raiding and mercenary service into outright annexation of landed assets, it did, by its very nature, put Anglo-Saxon immigrants into direct competition with the surviving landowning elites of sub-Roman Britain for control of the means of wealth production. We don’t have to suppose, necessarily, that all Romano-British landowners were wiped out in an initial apocalypse, but neither is Gildas’ image of violence and terror likely to have been pure imagination. Land seizures do not tend to go pleasantly: even that of the Normans, relatively antiseptic in some ways, was thoroughly brutal in places, not least in the infamous Harrying of the North in winter 1069/70 when food stocks were deliberately destroyed and tens of thousands died.55

It is also important to look at the terms under which native landowning elites continued to hold their positions within seventh-century Wessex. Who these non-Saxon landowners were is itself an interesting question. Wessex was expanding westwards into a still British West Country in the seventh century, and some have wondered whether these British landowners were recent additons to the kingdom rather than long-term survival artists from Hampshire or Wiltshire, but there is no way to be certain. Either way, even if their lands had not been taken from them immediately, Ine’s law accords these men only half the social value – as expressed in their wergild or life price – of an Anglo-Saxon of equivalent wealth. This was a highly significant proviso. The wergild was a crucial element of social status, the basis on which all kinds of compensations were calculated when it came to resolving disputes. As one recent study has pointed out, the difference in wergild between immigrant and native landowners of equivalent wealth might even provide the key to the eventual disappearance of any non-Anglo-Saxon landowners who did survive the violence of initial contact. Because of the difference in wergilds, then, if a hypothetical immigrant and a hypothetical indigenous landowner got into a dispute, and even if a court judged fairly – giving an equal number of verdicts in either direction – the net result over time would still have been a transfer of wealth from native to immigrant. The latter’s higher wergild would always mean that the compensation settlements he received were twice as high as he had to pay out for any similar offence.56

This more specific evidence is really only confirming what we might anyway deduce from the political context. As the Anglo-Saxon immigrant flow established its dominance over different parts of the landscape of lowland Britain, indigenous landowners will have had every reason to want to cross the political-cum-ethnic divide and become Anglo-Saxons. That was the only way in the longer term that they could hope to hold on to the highly unequal property distribution that had made them so powerful in the Roman era. Just because they wanted to, however, doesn’t mean that they were able to. Incoming Anglo-Saxon migrant leaders (in so far as they could control the process)57 had every reason not to allow them to – not, at least, in large numbers, since they had their own warrior followings to reward. And these followers were much more politically important to the new kings than any Romano-British landowners, because it was they who had put those same kings in power. As has shown up in so many contexts, unfortunately,Homo sapiens sapiens really is predatory enough to want to seize the wealth of others and to organize and perpetrate any violence that might be necessary in the process. And even if, as an indigenous landowner, you did manage not to lose your estates immediately, then as Ine’s law emphasizes, you were still not certain of a secure future.

Relations between incoming Anglo-Saxons and the non-landowning elements in Romano-British society, by contrast, would not have been so competitive, since the latter did not own the assets that the immigrants were trying to seize. It is also true (even though I don’t believe in a peasants’ revolt) that these non-landowning classes will not have had any great community of interest with the villa owners, since the latter formed a highly privileged elite who were living off the fruits of their labours. There is every reason again, therefore, why indigenous non-landowners would have wanted to win acceptance as newly recruited Anglo-Saxons. Whether they would have been likely to succeed in significant numbers, however, is again doubtful. As was true of our Roman merchant in the Hunnic Empire, allowing someone of subordinate status to move into the dominant group necessarily involves treating them better: that is, self-evidently, why people always want to move across such divides. But by the same token, dominant groups lose the capacity to exploit promoted subordinates as thoroughly as before, and this always imposes limits on such promotions. In this instance, having just taken ownership of the excellent arable land of lowland Britain, Anglo-Saxon immigrants had great need of a mass of subordinates to do all the heavy manual labour that arable agriculture always involved before the invention of tractors. While the interests of the non-landowning classes of former Roman Britain were not so diametrically opposed to those of the immigrants as their landowning compatriots, therefore, there were still excellent reasons why the immigrants would not have been ready to allow them wholesale access to the new elite of lowland Britain. Laws and charters demonstrate, in fact, that large numbers of slaves and semi-free were central to the social structure of the new Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that formed, and I would suppose that much of the indigenous non-landowning population of lowland Britain found itself consigned to these subordinate classes, even if there were occasional success stories, similar to that of our Roman merchant turned Hunnic warrior.

Viewed from this perspective, the lack of indigenous influence on the Anglo-Saxon language acquires yet greater significance. Since language was taught within families and not through formal education, the lack of any detectable British influence on the Germanic language of the new dominant elite from c.600 onwards is very suggestive. Had this elite encompassed large numbers of Britons-turned-Saxons, you would expect a fair amount of indigenous linguistic influence to show up in its lingua franca. That there should be so little demonstrates that the new elite was substantially dominated by the immigrant component.58

Unless you come to the subject with a predetermination to prove that migration is never an agent of significant change, it is difficult to avoid the overall conclusion that Anglo-Saxon migration played a huge role in remaking the social, political and economic foundations of lowland Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. Decoupling this landscape from the Roman imperial system, which had profoundly shaped it up to 400 AD, was bound to push its history in new directions. The relatively small, relatively rich class of villa owners owed their prosperity to that system, and became instantly vulnerable once their ties to it were broken. In my view, like their peers elsewhere in the Roman world, they are likely to have had sufficient social power to maintain their position if their only problem had been social subordinates within the British provinces. They were not, however, the only problem. Britain’s wealth was well known to its neighbours, who had been raiding it for centuries, and once central Roman protection was withdrawn the villa owners were always going to struggle to hold on to their thoroughly unequal share of its assets, in the face of Picts, Scots or Anglo-Saxons.

Even if better dating evidence for the collapse of villa society were eventually to lead to the conclusion that Roman society fell apart before Saxon assault became significant, moreover, this would only partly alter the picture. For one thing, as we will examine in more detail in the next chapter, Romano-British landowning society was cast adrift by its Roman mother ship only because of the damage inflicted upon central imperial structures by other immigrants into the continental territories of the western Empire after 405. More specifically, it was also the Anglo-Saxon migration flow that dictated what happened afterwards: the fact that a relatively small dominant elite was replaced by a relatively large one, and that major cultural changes, linguistic and others, moved lowland Britain in a decidedly Germanic direction. Everything suggests that the indigenous population had only a limited capacity to decide its own fate in these centuries.

Fundamentally, therefore, a combination of elite transfer followed by cultural emulation cannot satisfactorily explain the transformations observable in lowland Britain between 400 and 600 AD. But nor was the Anglo-Saxon takeover a mass replacement of the existing indigenous population. In deciding how we might usefully recategorize it, it is helpful first to explore the analogous transformations unfolding simultaneously in northern Gaul, where the largely more recent archaeological evidence allows us to look more closely at the response of an indigenous society facing, in circumstances similar to the Romano-British, the arrival of land-grabbing outsiders.

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