Catalogue


A people's history of Britain /
Rebecca Fraser.
imprint
London : Chatto & Windus, 2003.
description
xvii,829 p. : ill., maps, 25 cm.
ISBN
0701169370
format(s)
Book
Holdings
Subjects
geographic term
More Details
imprint
London : Chatto & Windus, 2003.
isbn
0701169370
catalogue key
5166822
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
Roman I have chosen to begin the story of Britain in the year the Romans came, fifty-five years before the birth of Christ, over 2,000 years ago. Before Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire's greatest general, led his first expedition ashore, the country's stormy seas isolated her from the traffic of the European continent. Apart from her own inhabitants, no one knew very much about the place, though there were rumours. How far did it stretch north? Were its forests impenetrable? Was it really an island? Was its mineral wealth extraordinary? Since at least the fourth century before Christ, that is 250 years before Caesar appeared, the natives had been mining highly prized gold and tin for export at the Island of Ictis (St Michael's Mount) on the extreme south-western tip of Britain, and they had trading links as far afield as the Mediterranean. As a result of this trade, in 300 BC the Greek colony of Massilia, or Marseilles, had sent one of its citizens named Pytheas on a reconnaissance trip to Britain. Pytheas had noted the friendly nature of the inhabitants. It was said that the Britons' relations further east had some secret method of transporting vast blue stones from a more mountainous region. On a great plain north-east of their chief port in Dorset, they or perhaps their gods were said to have erected the enormous circle called Stonehenge which was used for religious ceremonies. But Pytheas' description is a mere fragment reported in a later work. Since the British tribes could not read or write, they remain as mysterious and fabled as their distant ancestors, the small, dark, long-headed Neolithic or New Stone Age invaders who started to arrive from the Mediterranean in 3000 BC. That British Neolithic man hacked at the soil with deer antlers to grow a little wheat, and that he used flint-headed arrows to kill game for food have had to be deduced from what archaeologists have found in their long barrow graves. It is only when we get to Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War that we are able to read the first written description of the country known to the Romans for 400 years as Britain. By the time of Pytheas and Caesar himself the inhabitants of ancient Britain were mainly what have come to be known as Iron Age Celts. Like the Iberians in Spain and the Gauls in France, they were members of the great military aristocracy which until the rise of the Rome city state in the third century BC were masters of the trade routes between northern and central Europe and the Mediterranean. The Celts were the second wave of invaders to follow Neolithic man to Britain, but they came 2,000 years later, around 1000 BC. Between Neolithic man, whose great monument is the stone-circle temple at Avebury in Wiltshire, and the Celts another wave of invaders had arrived. These invaders were round-headed Bronze Age people, originally from the Rhineland, who reached Britain in about 1900 BC. They were a stronger, larger race than Neolithic man, though still dark and swarthy, and they swiftly occupied England from the east coast of Yorkshire down to Surrey. This more sophisticated race is sometimes known as the Beaker People because of the drinking vessels found in their graves. They could make tools from bronze; they built Stonehenge; they buried their dead in individual round barrows. But in their turn about 1000 BC their way of life was challenged by a new, more powerful civilization. From the first millennium BC the Celts of eastern Europe were migrating west. The expansion of the Germanic tribes at their back encouraged them to move into northern and western Europe, particularly into France, Spain and Britain, bringing with them what is known as the Iron Age. Their peoples were sophisticated enough to known the secret of mining iron ore out of the ground - they could extract the iron ore by heating it. Then they worked the more difficult metal by beating layers of it together. This enabled them
First Chapter
Roman

I have chosen to begin the story of Britain in the year the Romans came, fifty-five years before the birth of Christ, over 2,000 years ago. Before Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire's greatest general, led his first expedition ashore, the country's stormy seas isolated her from the traffic of the European continent. Apart from her own inhabitants, no one knew very much about the place, though there were rumours. How far did it stretch north? Were its forests impenetrable? Was it really an island? Was its mineral wealth extraordinary?

Since at least the fourth century before Christ, that is 250 years before Caesar appeared, the natives had been mining highly prized gold and tin for export at the Island of Ictis (St Michael's Mount) on the extreme south-western tip of Britain, and they had trading links as far afield as the Mediterranean. As a result of this trade, in 300 BC the Greek colony of Massilia, or Marseilles, had sent one of its citizens named Pytheas on a reconnaissance trip to Britain. Pytheas had noted the friendly nature of the inhabitants. It was said that the Britons' relations further east had some secret method of transporting vast blue stones from a more mountainous region. On a great plain north-east of their chief port in Dorset, they or perhaps their gods were said to have erected the enormous circle called Stonehenge which was used for religious ceremonies.

But Pytheas' description is a mere fragment reported in a later work. Since the British tribes could not read or write, they remain as mysterious and fabled as their distant ancestors, the small, dark, long-headed Neolithic or New Stone Age invaders who started to arrive from the Mediterranean in 3000 BC. That British Neolithic man hacked at the soil with deer antlers to grow a little wheat, and that he used flint-headed arrows to kill game for food have had to be deduced from what archaeologists have found in their long barrow graves. It is only when we get to Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War that we are able to read the first written description of the country known to the Romans for 400 years as Britain.

By the time of Pytheas and Caesar himself the inhabitants of ancient Britain were mainly what have come to be known as Iron Age Celts. Like the Iberians in Spain and the Gauls in France, they were members of the great military aristocracy which until the rise of the Rome city state in the third century BC were masters of the trade routes between northern and central Europe and the Mediterranean. The Celts were the second wave of invaders to follow Neolithic man to Britain, but they came 2,000 years later, around 1000 BC. Between Neolithic man, whose great monument is the stone-circle temple at Avebury in Wiltshire, and the Celts another wave of invaders had arrived.

These invaders were round-headed Bronze Age people, originally from the Rhineland, who reached Britain in about 1900 BC. They were a stronger, larger race than Neolithic man, though still dark and swarthy, and they swiftly occupied England from the east coast of Yorkshire down to Surrey. This more sophisticated race is sometimes known as the Beaker People because of the drinking vessels found in their graves. They could make tools from bronze; they built Stonehenge; they buried their dead in individual round barrows. But in their turn about 1000 BC their way of life was challenged by a new, more powerful civilization.

From the first millennium BC the Celts of eastern Europe were migrating west. The expansion of the Germanic tribes at their back encouraged them to move into northern and western Europe, particularly into France, Spain and Britain, bringing with them what is known as the Iron Age. Their peoples were sophisticated enough to known the secret of mining iron ore out of the ground - they could extract the iron ore by heating it. Then they worked the more difficult metal by beating layers of it together. This enabled them to achieve a major advance on bronze or flint tools, and with their stronger iron spears they easily defeated the Bronze Age peoples. They could also travel faster in chariots furnished with iron wheels and drawn by horses that they loved so much they had them buried with them in their graves.

Tall and fair skinned with red or blond hair and blue or green eyes, the Celts were not only physically quite dissimilar to Bronze Age man, they also spoke a different language. No one is quite sure why two kinds of Celtic languages developed. Goidel, from which comes the word Gaelic, was spoken in Ireland and Scotland, and Brythonic is the family from which Welsh, Breton and Cornish derive. Unlike the cave-dwelling Neolithic man, the Celts built their own huts with posts sunk in mud and woven branches for the roof. Although at first they lived in hill forts enabling them to command the countryside, they developed ploughs and were soon farming the surrounding land in small square fields, a shape that would continue through Roman times. Some of those who settled in south-west England lived in lakeside villages, island-like enclaves designed for protection. The Celts were ruled by queens as well as kings, and might even be led in battle by women.

By the first century BC Britain (or Britannia, as the Romans called it) had attracted Caesar's hostile attention. He wished to put an end to the use of Britannia as a sanctuary by the leaders of Gaul (a country covering roughly the territory of modern France) rebelling against their Roman overlords. Archaeologists have shown that in the first century AD the inhabitants of Britain's south coast, sailing from their chief port of Hengistbury Head in Dorset, had a great deal of trade with Gaul. Within Caesar's lifetime southern Britain and northern France may have been ruled by a Gallic overlord called Diviacus. Caesar believed that the Britons' powerful religious leaders, the Druids, were also helping to foment trouble. The rebellious Belgae in north-west Gaul, what is now Belgium, had close relations across the Channel in Britain to whom they were in the habit of fleeing in times of trouble. These Belgae, who were now known as Catuvellauni after their leader Cassivellaunus, had settled there from Gaul within living memory. Making Britannia a province of the Roman Empire would finally break the power of the Belgae, whom Caesar was determined to destroy. It would also usefully add to his reputation as a great man by extending the empire even to the edge of the known world. Expanding the empire's territories, rather than administering them, was how glory and power were won in the uniquely militaristic society of Caesar's Rome.

Gathering information about Britain's harbours and landing places was one reason why Caesar sailed across the 'Ocean' (the Channel) on his first expedition in 55 BC. He landed with some difficulty owing to a spring tide which swamped his heavy transport ships. He noted that the houses and inhabitants of Britain seemed very similar to those of Gaul, with the striking difference that rich or poor the British men were shaved of all bodily hair (except for the upper lip, where they grew long moustaches) and painted with a blue dye called woad. Their reddish hair was also worn very long, often with a headband. They knew how to cure hides for export and had a good trade with the continent in iron, cattle and corn, using gold and iron bars in a rudimentary currency system. But as Caesar approached the shores of Kent at what is now Deal the woad-covered Britons looked wild and primitive as they whirled in their chariots on the cliffs above him. Because they wore skins Caesar assumed that they could have no knowledge of cloth-weaving, which to a Roman was one of the marks of civilization. But the ancient Britons' appearance was misleading. They knew how to spin wool, how to weave it into garments and how to dye it with colours from flowers and insects. Indeed they usually wore long woollen tunics, cloaks and robes fastened by intricate articles of jewellery in swirling patterns which their talented smiths made out of gold, silver and enamel. They were half naked when they were first seen by Caesar only because that was their battle costume. Their Celtic relations, the Gauls across the channel, fought completely naked.

Caesar nevertheless continued to believe that, although the people of Cantium (his translation of the name he heard them use for their country - that is, Kent) were in fact fairly civilized and knew how to grow grain, Britons who lived further north did not know how to cultivate crops and lived on what they hunted. It was true that compared to Roman civilization, with its advanced precision engineering which enabled the Romans to build stone bridges, roads and aqueducts, its architectural science which threw up palaces and forts, its military and political science, the Britons seemed childlike, ignorant and superstitious. They were ruled by the white-robed Druids, who regarded mistletoe as sacred and practised human sacrifice, burning their victims in wicker cages. Hares, fowl and geese were also sacred, which meant they could not be eaten - although the Britons liked them as pets. The Britons were said to love poetry, but they were also extremely quarrelsome.

Caesar found Britannia's climate more temperate than that of Gaul, though much wetter, and by his water clock he could confirm that being further north the nights in this strange new country were shorter than on the continent. Moving inland he came upon a great river in the east of the country about eighty miles from the south coast which he called the Thamium, a Latin approximation of the name the ancient Britons gave to what we still know as the Thames. He was impressed by the bravery of the British warriors and by their methods of chariot warfare, describing them in considerable detail. In particular he observed their brilliant control of their horses, which they drove fearlessly down steep slopes at full gallop only to turn them in an instant. They would then run along the pole of the chariot to the yoke and urge the horses onwards.

Despite the apparently lower form of civilization that prevailed in Britain, neither of Caesar's two expeditions reflected much glory on him. His famous wisecrack 'Veni, vidi, vici' (I came, I saw, I conquered), never applied to Britain. His first invasion ended in stalemate because the effect of British tides was unknown to a man brought up in the tideless Mediterranean, and he failed to land enough soldiers to secure the country. He attempted another invasion from Boulogne a year later, in 54 BC with a huge force of twenty-eight warships and 800 transports (built lower for British waters) and this time was more successful. Under the ensuing peace treaty the British tribes were meant to send tribute to Rome once a year, but the invasion ended inconclusively when Caesar had to dash back to Gaul to stamp out a rebellion.

Caesar might say that the Cantii of Kent, the powerful Trinovantes of Essex and the Iceni of Norfolk had surrendered to him, but unlike when the real conquest of Britain took place under the Emperor Claudius ninety years later he left no garrisons behind. Though he and his legions had crossed the Thames it was only the defection of the Trinovantes of Essex which saved the Romans from being driven out of the country by the sheer weight of the British numbers. For once the squabbling British tribes had united, under Cassivellaunus. In the face of the separate peace reached by the Trinovantes, Cassivellaunus decided it was wiser to make terms with Caesar. But these were hardly onerous. There was no sense that Britain now formed the most westerly outpost of the empire. Caesar himself does not seem to have believed that he had really conquered Britain. He never ordered a Triumph, the traditional way of showing off new acquisitions by parading the natives as slaves around Rome. The only trophy he is said to have displayed was a corselet made of British freshwater pearls (he was very disappointed by the lack of silver in Britain). He may have been pleased to leave a country whose climate the first-century Roman historian Tacitus would call 'objectionable, with its frequent rains and mists', where crops were slow to ripen but quick to grow due to the 'extreme moistness of land and sky'.

Then Caesar's attention was diverted by the Civil Wars back in Italy, and his successors too had more pressing concerns than Britain. For almost a hundred years the Britons under their kings and chiefs were free to carry on the existence of their ancestors, but very subtly and slowly their lives were changing. They were increasingly in contact with Rome at both diplomatic and trade levels. Britain was now selling grain to the Roman Empire and buying olive oil and wine from Roman traders in exchange, as we can tell from their presence in late-first-century BC British graves. Highly wrought artefacts of Roman workmanship — such as the silver cups found at Hockwold in Norfolk — previously believed to have been the property of Roman officers after the invasion are now thought to be gifts to an important pre-conquest British chieftain from the Roman government. Increased contact with Roman-educated Gauls escaping to Britain — for example, Commius, who had helped Caesar with the attempted invasion, but who became king of the Atrebates in the Sussex area — brought more Roman habits into Britain. By the end of the first century BC a number of kings in southern England, including Tincommius, Commius' son, who lived at Silchester in Hampshire, had their own mints. They were striking their own coins inscribed in Latin and calling themselves 'rex' even though they could not themselves read or write.

The most important of these kingdoms were those ruled by the descendants of Cassivellaunus, whose tribe the Catuvellauni had massively extended their territories since Caesar's departure. The lands of the Catuvellauni stretched in a semi-circle from Cambridge and Northampton down through Hertfordshire to Surrey, south of what became London. By the beginning of the first century AD they were ruled by King Cunobelinus (Shakespeare's Cymbeline), whose coins bear the letters CUNO. The early-second-century Roman historian Suetonius called him King of the Britons. It was because of a row between Cunobelinus and his son Adminius that the far-off and still mysterious country of Britain once more came to the attention of the authorities in Rome. For Prince adminius, who had been banished by his father, fled to Rome and the court of the Emperor Caligula.

Now that Britain had been put on the map for the Romans by Caesar, conquering it had remained for the Roman government a perpetual but distant ambition: having resisted Caesar the country had acquired a certain glamour. With the arrival of the exiled British prince adminius, imperial interest was once more aroused. The Emperor Caligula began preparations for a new invasion. He built boats, gathered arms and raised money and troops. Whether he ever really arrived at the cliffs of Dover, and was so put off by their height that he set his disgusted soldiers to gather shells of the seashore as 'spoils of the ocean' in place of 'spoils of war' is not clear. Satirical jokes about the cruel Emperor Caligula were often told, so one cannot be sure whether the report is fact or fiction.

But nine years later, in AD 43, Caligula's preparations were taken up when his cousin, the eccentric but energetic new emperor Claudius, needed a military conquest to secure his shaky throne. It was under Claudius that the subduing of Britain began in earnest, as it was turned into a Roman province held by military garrisons in forts erected systematically across the country. This time the Roman invaders — four legions consisting of 20,000 soldiers plus 20,000 auxiliaries — would occupy the country up to Scotland and stay for four centuries. After his military commander Aulus Plautius had defeated the Britons north of the Medway, Claudius arrived with elephants to make a triumphant progress through Cunobelinus' former capital Camulodunum, or Colchester, in Essex. Conquering Britain brought much-needed political credit to Claudius.

By the end of the first century AD Britain had been completely integrated into the empire as the province Britannia. Roman military tactics and Roman armour had ensured that after only six years of fighting, 40,000 Romans had subdued hundreds of thousands of British Celts, conquering England up to the Rivers Trent, Severn and Dee. However, despite the formidable superiority of the Roman invaders, some hope remained among many ancient Britons of re-establishing their independence and throwing the Romans off their island. The extent of the British tribes' obsession with personal liberty would impress and amaze the sober Romans, who had to crush their many rebellions. But their spirited bravery was not enough. What counted most against them was the tribes' fatal habit of treachery. This meant that their one source of strength - their great numbers - was never used against the Romans. Tacitus believed that 'nothing has helped us more in war with their strongest nations' than the British tribes' 'inability to co-operate'. Their universal tendency was to make separate treaties with Rome and then to turn on one another. Never has there been a better example of Caesar's maxim 'divide and rule' than in first-century Britain. Had the tribes only united as they had under Cassivellaunus, by sheer weight of numbers they might have held the Romans at bay.

Claudius was careful to establish good relations with many British kings and queens. Another method of pacifying Britannia was immigration. Old soldiers started arriving in Britain from Italy to make a new life; as a reward for their thirty years of service to the Roman Empire they were given grants of British land in what were called 'veterans' colonies'. This was the traditional Roman way of turning a country into a Roman province. Nevertheless, for nine long years under another of Cunobelinus' sons, the chieftain Caractacus, a dangerous British patriotic resistance continued in the west on the borders of Wales. These Britons refused to be driven off their land to make way for Roman colonies, and were further enraged by the governor Ostorius Scapula's calls for all the British tribes to disarm.

Caractacus' followers were a tribe called the Silures. Swarthy and curly haired, believed by Caesar to be of Spanish origin, they had a reputation for extreme ferocity. Under Caractacus their fame spread as far as Italy, where it was considered extraordinary that a barbarian chieftain could defy the resources of imperial Rome. Caractacus waged an early kind of guerrilla warfare, moving his men from territory to territory. But having taken cover in Shropshire, the land of the Ordovices tribe, he made the mistake of thinking that, given the vast numbers of Britons flocking to join him, he could defeat the Romans in pitched battle. In words which would win the admiration of Roman contemporaries and confirm their view of the central importance of liberty to the British character, Caractacus told his men that there was no point in living if all they had to look forward to was a miserable existence spent in hiding: they must win their freedom back or they would be enslaved for ever.

Caractacus had chosen the site of his stand well. With looming cliffs behind them, and protected by a river and man-made ramparts, the long-haired, moustachioed, blue-skinned tribes shook their spears at the enemy, whooping and uttering fierce guttural yells. But brave though they were, and though their iron shields and spears were admirably robust, they stood little chance against the Romans' superior battle tactics: their missiles and rocks shattered harmlessly against the Romans' armour and against their famous tortoise formation, in which they placed their shields together like an umbrella. Moving implacably forward the Roman soldiers stormed the ramparts. The battle was over almost before it had begun. The advance party of auxiliaries attacked, throwing javelins, while behind them marched the well-protected infantry in close formation, silently and methodically cutting down all who had escaped the auxiliaries. The surviving British tribesmen had to run for the hills.

Caractacus fled east and threw himself on the mercy of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, the powerful tribe who with the Parisi ruled the part of northern England today called Yorkshire. But Cartimandua had allied herself to the Romans, so Caractacus was shipped off to Rome with his wife and children. There he continued to impress the Romans by his unbreakable spirit. Unlike other captives who marched past the emperor howling for mercy, Caractacus maintained a proud and resolute bearing undiminished by his haggard appearance. Limping after his wife and brothers and his little children, all of them bound in chains, he suddenly stepped out of the procession, approached the emperor's dais and addressed him boldly. Caractacus told Claudius that only fate had given victory to the emperor and not to him, and that the emperor should not be surprised that Caractacus was sorry to lose. The emperor might want to rule the world, but did it follow that everyone else would welcome enslavement? If he had surrendered without a blow neither he nor the fact of his capture would have become famous. 'If you kill me they will be forgotten,' he said, 'but show mercy, and I shall be an eternal reminder of your clemency.' Claudius was so moved by the speech of the barbarian prince that he ordered Caractacus' chains to be struck off, and he and his family freed.

In Britain itself, however, the Romans' humiliating treatment of the conquered tribes continued to arouse resentment. A slave-owning society themselves, the Britons considered that the Romans were treating them like slaves. This was the fault of the first Roman governor of Britain, Ostorius Scapula. The Roman Empire everywhere relied on the co-operation of local chieftains if it was to be successfully Administered. What made a difference was the nature of the local ruler, whether he was a sensitive and thoughtful man. Ostorius Scapula did not possess the same diplomatic touch as the emperor Claudius, who had received the friendly British tribes with ceremony and respect.

Ostorius Scapula turned a blind eye to local taxes raised illegally from the inhabitants of Colchester in order to build an enormous statue of the Emperor Claudius — a monument which the religious Britons disliked as a visible sign of the occupying power. He did nothing to prevent ex-servicemen taking Essex land illegally from the Trinovantes for their veterans' colony; indeed he probably profited from it himself. Since the British showed no mercy in their guerrilla attacks on the veterans, the veterans in turn showed no mercy to the Trinovantes, throwing them out of their homes and seizing their land. Normally Roman garrisons were punctilious about making sure veterans' colonies observed the terms of the treaties, but the soldiers in Essex had their eye on British land when their own thirty-year service was up, so they ignored the veterans' misbehaviour. When Ostorius died of exhaustion from battling the Silures, his militaristic successor Suetonius Paulinus did nothing to soothe an already inflamed situation by launching a military attack on the sacred island of Anglesey, the home of the Druids. Paulinus believed that if he could extirpate that nest of rebels the British resistance would die a natural death.

By AD 61 relations between the Romans and the British tribes were already in a bad way. It was particularly bad north-east of London around Colchester and in Norfolk where the Trinovantes' neighbours the Iceni tribe had still more to anger them. Their dying king Pratusagus had tried to ensure that his wife Queen Boudicca was protected from the bad treatment being meted out to the Britons by making Rome co-heir to his kingdom with his two daughters. Instead of being satisfied by this the local military commander had flogged the beautiful red-haired queen with rods and raped her two teenage daughters. The Romans then destroyed her houses and removed her household treasures — her silver flagons, engraved mirrors and gold jewellery disappearing into the commander's quarters. Finally he expelled her and the Iceni from their lands, which the Romans at once subjected to an orgy of destruction.

Paulinus, being new to his command, had no sense of the anger burning among the British tribes and failed to see that the real threat to Rome's regime lay not in Wales but in East Anglia. Directly he had turned his back on East Anglia and set off to lay waste Anglesey, across the country the furious Iceni rose. With the queen were the Trinovantes and all the other tribes pushed beyond endurance. While Paulinus and his soldiers were in Wales, building boats to take them across to Anglesey, in Essex Queen Boudicca had gathered an army of 120,000 men, three times the strength of the Roman legions in Britain. These forces surged into the new Roman town of Colchester, which its arrogant settlers had foolishly built without walls. Having destroyed it, including the Temple of Claudius, and routed the Ninth Legion, they streamed on to London (Londinium).

It was the common opinion among the Roman command that had Suetonius Paulinus not rushed back south Britain would have been lost to Rome. As it was, Paulinus sacrificed London to save the province of Britain. The citizens implored him for help but, though Londinium was the trading centre of Roman Britain, Paulinus sent no troops. He regarded London as indefensible because it was really a collection of merchants' settlements, being unwalled and not garrisoned. Having massacred its citizens, the vengeful Britons put London to the torch. So great was the heat that Roman buildings were reduced to a layer of red clay which to this day lies thirteen feet deep below the city's pavements. A part of it can be seen where it has been exposed by archaeologists beside the Barbican, near the Museum of London.

Meanwhile the British horde swept on. They are estimated to have killed 70,000 Roman settlers, but they looted indiscriminately and never thought of destroying important military targets like forts and garrisons. Queen Boudicca, standing in her chariot spear in hand, a heavy yellow torc round her neck, and her red-gold hair in two long plaits held in place by a headband, made a series of magnificent speeches as she drove around the tribes drawn up on the battlefield. But, despite their enormous numbers, when they met Paulinus in the Midlands the Britons once again came to grief in pitched battle against the Romans. The assembled chiefs could not agree on a battle plan and around 80,000 of their men were killed by 10,000 Roman soldiers. Refusing to allow her beloved girls to fall into the hands of the Romans again, Boudicca forced them to drink poison from a golden cup and then drank it herself. When Paulinus found her, the great queen was dead, but she looked as peaceful as if she were asleep, clasping her daughters in her arms.

Two thousand extra Roman troops had to be rushed over from Germany to ensure that the victory in southern Britain was permanent. Because there had been no one left to look after the crops, famine weakened the resistance of the British tribes, but nothing seemed to crush their spirit or curb their sharp tongues. When the emperor sent an ex-slave named Polyclitus with still more troops to advise Paulinus on the better management of the province, the Romans were astonished by the way the Britons even in their darkest hour clung to the idea of freedom and dared to jeer at the spectacle of such a great general as Paulinus having to obey a slave. But Wales and northern Britain remained unconquered. By the late 60s, raids by the Parisi tribe of Humberside, the Brigantes of Yorkshire (who had turned hostile) and the Silures and Ordovices of Wales made it necessary for further Roman onslaughts to subdue the recalcitrant British tribes.

From AD 68 onwards, successful campaigns by a series of Roman governors brought the rest of the island, up to southern Scotland, at least temporarily under imperial control. Roman forts to garrison the conquered areas were established at York, Caerleon and Chester in the early '70s and new northern roads carved their way across the landscape from York to Corbridge to Newstead and as far as the River Tay. The most famous of these first-century governors was Agricola, who in seven great campaigns between 74 and 84 completed the conquest of north-west Britain and established a sturdy system of roads and forts to defend her. By AD 78 he had defeated the Ordovices in Shropshire, conquered Anglesey and stationed the Twentieth Legion at Chester in a new fortress; the next year he constructed a road from Chester to Carlisle (which he fortified) and placed garrisons between the Solway Firth and Tyne. He next took his legions as far as the Moray Firth in Invernesshire, and at the Battle of Mons Graupius defeated the massed tribes of the Caledonians, as the Romans called the northern Picts. He went on to build a series of forts in southern Scotland between the Firth of Clyde on the west coast and the Firth of Forth on the east, and this line formed the Roman frontier. Agricola also established a naval base at Dover for a new British fleet, sent an expedition to northern Scotland that rounded the north coast and visited the Orkneys, and may even have contemplated invading Hibernia - the Roman name for Ireland.

Agricola was in Britain for only ten years, before being recalled in AD 84 by the jealous and cruel emperor Domitian who feared that the great governor might be about to make a bid for the imperial throne. Agricola did much to reconcile the Britons to their fate as a Roman province. He kept a weather eye open for rebellion but did not humiliate the tribes. The southern garrison towns of Roman Britain became centres of enlightenment and improvement for the British. The warlike Celts were transformed into Roman citizens who took pride in wearing the toga, as Agricola's son-in-law Tacitus reported with some surprise. Agricola destroyed enmity from within. He deliberately took the sons of British chiefs and educated them in the Roman curriculum, the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic or logical argument) and the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music), the classical liberal arts. This upbringing, and the adoption of the Roman language, created a new generation of Britons tied to Rome by invisible but unbreakable bonds.

Agricola made a point of using members of this elite in the Roman civil service as administrators, for he admired what he considered to be the Britons' naturally fearless character. Once trained he believed they made better civil-servant material than the more servile Gauls. He thus created what amounted to a fifth column in Britain among the wealthier classes. The new southern Romano-Britons' loyalty was to Rome only. They delighted in the new Roman way of life. Agricola had a governor's palace and basilica built in London and during his period as governor the grand Roman palace known as Fishbourne was built.

The Roman concept of the market place or forum encouraged trade to flourish in the new towns Agricola built. A spate of building produced Exeter, Lincoln, Cirencester and St Albans, with their public baths, amphitheatres and forums after the Roman fashion. Noble stone and marble façades enclosed splendid courts of justice where the written Roman law was consulted and measured out. It was an entirely different experience from being tried in a forest glade by Druids. Roman law relied on knowledge of what had been done in the past, a much quicker and fairer way to reach decisions.

Wealth began to flow into Britain as the Romans oversaw the export of lead and tin, which the country had in abundance — particularly in the south-west. Classical observers like Tacitus were dismayed by the ease with which the ancient Britons took to a grander lifestyle, for they had admired their primitive vigour which compared so favourably to the decadence of imperial Rome. As the new Roman Britons of the south gloried in the modern conveniences such as public baths, it was lucky for them that Agricola remained alert for trouble, for the British tribes of the north and west were a constant threat.

Agricola had had a profound effect on Britain. In the south-east the country became very similar to the rest of the Roman Empire, with Latin as the official written and spoken language. Much of the population learned to read and write, as education was highly valued by the Romans. The landscape too was transformed, as dark, thickly wooded oak forests near which lurked the Celts' small damp wood-and-wicker huts gave way to great clearings and plains. Here magnificent towns were built, busy with the commerce made easy by the laying of swift, straight roads, for the Roman system of government was essentially municipal. In the towns or just outside them were the elegant stone villas in which lived the wealthy Britons who were allowed to hold public office and be magistrates or senators. Their homes, which had running water brought to them by pipe and aqueduct, were heated by hypocausts and their walls were decorated with coloured frescoes, of the kind that can be seen at Pompeii. These leading Britons organized the raising of taxes to be sent back to the imperial coffers in Rome, and slaves and freedmen worked for them in the fields outside the cities, growing crops and tending sheep to produce the delicate Roman wool.

It was the Romans' policy to allow the countries they conquered to worship their own deities, although they would not tolerate the ancient Britons' practice of human sacrifice. The Celts' religion was pantheistic — that is, they saw gods or spirits everywhere, in streams and trees and so on. Over time their shrines came to merge with those to Roman deities. At Bath, where the Roman baths survive as grandly as they did 2,000 years ago, the shrine to Minerva was erected on the site of an ancient Celtic shrine. Something similar happened with aspects of the Britons' civic organization. Outside the Roman towns the councils of the old Celtic tribes like the Silures and Atrebates were adapted so that they could continue almost like local councils of the imperial administration.

Many of the English names of the months date from the Roman occupation. January derives from Janus, the two-faced deity who looks backwards and forwards to the past and coming year, and who was actually adopted by the Romans from the Egyptians. March comes from Mars the God of War, July from Julius Caesar and August from his nephew Augustus, another great emperor for whom the Latin poet Virgil wrote the Aeneid. Although the later Anglo-Saxon invasions meant that the names of Anglo-Saxon gods were applied to several days of the week, much that is of Roman origin remains. Many British customs and sayings derive from the Roman occupation: several wedding customs, including the wedding cake, the ring, bridesmaids and pages and the bride's veil are Roman. So are a number of our funeral customs, including putting flowers on the grave. The cypress and yew trees we plant in graveyards were the trees of mourning in Rome. The Romans said the Latin for 'bless you' when somebody sneezed — even the emperors used it. They also believed that your ears burned if somebody was talking about you; and the shriek of the screech owl in Rome was always considered a sound of ill omen.

Despite the complete Romanization of southern Britain it was never possible to regard the whole province as a secure Roman possession because of the constant rebellions in the north and Scotland. The province would always require a garrison of 50,000 soldiers to hold it - three legions plus auxiliaries were permanently stationed there. So skilled at warfare were the British tribes that at times 10 per cent of the empire's entire army was employed in Britain.

All British Roman towns (the major ones being Colchester, Lincoln, Gloucester, York and St Albans) were built with walls to keep out the barbarian tribes, especially in Wales. Though nominally conquered, the British continued to attack the Roman centres. This was quite unlike Gaul, where walled towns were the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, in contrast to Britain, Gaul was so completely Romanized that the old Celtic tongues died out except in Brittany, and were replaced by Latin — which accounts for the greater number of Latin words in the French vocabulary. In Britain the Celtic tongue lived on in Wales and Cornwall, and in the countryside outside the Roman towns and cities.

Despite Agricola's brilliance he never really conquered Scotland, and nor did the Roman rulers who came after him. By AD 87 Rome had conceded that Agricola's plan to hold southern Scotland up to the Tay was impracticable, so the fortress Agricola had built on that river for the Twentieth Legion was abandoned and the Roman legions pulled back to Agricola's Forth-Clyde frontier. But even that was gradually regarded as too ambitious and the slow withdrawal of the Roman legions from Scotland continued. It was the especially dangerous attack of the combined forces of the Brigantes and Picts on the Ninth Legion at York in AD 118 that decided the realistic Emperor Hadrian not only that the frontier of Roman Britain had to be placed much further south, but that it had to be of the most formidable kind. Hadrian's solution was an immense defensive wall, eight foot broad and twelve foot high, dotted at every Roman mile with a fort containing Roman soldiers: it would run through Cumbria and southern Northumberland between the Solway Firth and the Tyne.

In the following centuries three Roman emperors tramped up to Scotland to attempt to extend Roman rule further north in the troublesome province of Britain, in an attempt to bring credit to themselves and to enhance their political power. But though the emperor Antoninus Pius would build a turf and clay wall in AD 140 between Agricola's forts (the Antonine Wall), the real boundary of Roman Britain remained the extraordinary feat of engineering begun on Hadrian's orders when he visited Britain in 122.

Unlike other emperors, Hadrian was not grandiose; he thought Rome would do better by limiting her power rather than expanding it. For over thirty years the great wall he had designed was slowly built — eighty miles long, bristling with military lookout towers and, at greater intervals, large forts with their own shops, military hospitals and temples, much of which can still be walked along today. Until Christianity became compulsory in the early fourth century throughout the empire, the soldiers on the wall and in their forts at York (Eboracum), Caerleon (Isca Silurum) and Chester (Deva) had their own religion: they worshipped an eastern deity from Persia named Mithras in the bowels of the earth whose rites were secret. Hadrian also built a fort at London.

If Hadrian's Wall is the largest and most visible of the surviving symbols of the Roman occupation of Britain, the second must be the famous Roman roads. They were built 2,000 years ago to link garrison with garrison, enabling help to be brought swiftly to the legions at York, Caerleon and Chester. Watling Street ran from Dover (Dubrae) to London and then via St Albans to Wroxeter (Viroconium) on the Welsh border. Although a branch was pushed south to Caerleon just north of Newport, and another branch carried on east to Carnarvon, the principal road continued north to Chester and then crossed over to York. Ermine Street was the road stretching down the eastern side of Britain from York to Lincoln (Lindum) and then to Colchester and on to London. The Fosse Way ran from Lincoln to Exeter (or Isca Dumniorum — the Dumnia were the local Celtic tribe), crossing Watling Street on its way.

Thanks to the Romans, Britain grew rich as her citizens benefited from an economy based on bronze and gold coinage. A rubbish pit uncovered beneath the City of London's pavement suggests a wealthy and sophisticated populace who walked in elaborate sandals and enjoyed a delicately coloured pottery. Merchants now reckoned their sums on wax tablets with bone and wooden styluses, and bobbins for weaving show that Britons now rejoiced in the art of producing fine patterned linen. Britain also embarked on greater cultivation, aided by the crooked plough, and the Romans drained the marshes of East Anglia. Britain became one of the best sources of corn in the empire, with her own special warehouses in Rome. By the fourth century the emperor Julian had built warehouses in the rest of his empire to receive British wheat. British tin and iron ore, which the Iron Age Celts had done well by, became extremely profitable for the Roman Empire. In fact there is good reason to believe that the third largest imperial ironworks was in the eastern part of the Weald at Battle near Hastings. To this day the shape of its vast slagheap of iron waste from the iron industry which served the Roman fleet in Britain can be seen buried under the grass and trees which have grown over it during the past twenty centuries. A magnificently preserved Roman bath for naval officers has been discovered beside it in the grounds of the Beauport Park estate, its changing room amazingly still furnished with rare examples of 'lockers', of which only four others have survived from the old Roman Empire.

For 200 years Britain was ruled strongly from Rome. But, as the third century AD wore on, the leadership in Rome became complacent and allowed territories to slip out of their control. Local commanders of distant provinces given too much independence began to think of carving their own kingdoms out of the empire. Britain's distance from Rome made her attractive to such adventurers. Thus in 287 a Roman admiral named Carausius, who had been sent to clear Saxon pirates out of the English Channel, seized power in Britain. With the support of the Roman garrisons there he proclaimed himself emperor. Carausius had embarked on the conquest of northern Gaul when he was assassinated in 293. His murderer was his chief subordinate, Allectus. Allectus ruled Britain until 296 when he in his turn was killed by Constantius I, the warrior father of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who rushed from Rome to liberate a besieged London from Allectus and his Frankish mercenaries.

Constantius I's title was the Caesar of the West. This position had been invented as part of the Emperor Diocletian's reforms to bring stability back to the empire and so see off rebellious military leaders as well as the invading German tribes from the east. Recognizing that extensive changes were needed if the empire was to continue, Diocletian brought in a system of two emperors, the 'Augusti', and two 'Caesars', or junior emperors, who automatically became emperors on the death of the Augusti. These four rulers divided the eastern and western empires between them. Countries within the empire were now called dioceses, ruled by vicars. Britain herself became a diocese, consisting of four provinces, though it was only part of a much larger unit known as the Praetorian Prefecture of the Gauls.

Constantius after duly succeeding as Augustus marched from York to Tayside on a campaign against the Picts and Caledonians. But he died at York, and there famously his son, the half-English Constantine, was proclaimed emperor by the legions in 306. Constantine was one of the most important Roman emperors, whose espousal of Christianity in 313 changed the nature of the Roman Empire and of the European world. Constantine believed that the Christian God, who had appeared to him in a vision and told his soldiers to wear crosses on their shields, had given him victory at the famous battle of Milvian Bridge which had reunited the empire. Constantine shifted the empire's capital to the 'Christian Rome', the new city he built at Constantinople, and made Christianity the state religion, believing it would be a unifying force in the empire. The wealth the pagan temples had accumulated for centuries became the property of the Christian Church, which itself became an important pillar of the Roman Empire's organization. In addition, Constantine gave local bishops judicial powers above the local magistrate.

Though Constantine continued also to worship the sun, he had been brought up a Christian by his English mother Helena. At the beginning of the fourth century members of the small but charismatic Christian sect who had renounced earthly power and riches in favour of heavenly ones were being horribly persecuted by Diocletian, for he believed that the troubles of the empire were due to neglect of the ancient gods like Jupiter and Minerva. Britain had become a safe haven for fleeing Christians, because its ruler Constantius was married to a Christian and had some sympathy for their beliefs. Although Constantius demolished the British churches, or basilicas as they were called, he did not execute their devotees. Even so, Britain had three early Christian martyrs, St Julian, St Aaron and St Alban. Especially well known was the wealthy Romano-British youth St Alban from Verulamium in Hertfordshire, who was executed in 305 for sheltering a Christian priest and refusing to sacrifice to the ancient gods. Verulamium took the name St Albans in his honour.

By the time that Constantine was taking a personal interest in deciding doctrine there were already enough Christians in Britain to send three bishops to the Council of the Church in 314 at Arles. The Britons had their home-grown version of heresy in Pelagianism: the British thinker Pelagius had boldly disputed with the great African Church Father St Augustine of Hippo, and had insisted that the doctrine of original sin was mistaken. The Scots and Irish Churches sprang from the work of two Romano-British Christian saints: St Patrick, who famously converted Ireland to Christianity and who had created the papal see of Armagh by 450, and St Ninian, the north-countryman who began the conversion of the Caledonians and Picts in the early fifth century.

Yet, although the Romano-British Church produced some very great missionaries, Roman Christianity had shallow roots in England. Celtic deities continued to be worshipped alongside Christ. To some extent Christianity probably depended on the personal beliefs of individual lords of the great villas characteristic of Britain in the fourth century. There are surviving examples of the chi-rho Christian sign in mosaics, wall paintings and silver cutlery of such wealthy villa-owners in this period, notably in Dorset. The heathen Saxons, even now priming themselves on the other side of the North Sea to invade Britain, would succeed in almost completely erasing Christianity from England. Only in Cornwall and Wales, where pockets of Christian Romano-Celts hid themselves away from the invaders, did Christianity survive. By the seventh century, after 150 years of Saxon settlements, England herself would have to be converted anew to Christianity by Roman, Scottish and Irish missionaries.

For by the first decade of the fifth century, most of Britain's protectors against the Pictish and Saxon threat, the Roman legions, had either been withdrawn or were in the process of being withdrawn to defend Rome against the German tribes. In 402 the Visigoths under Alaric had entered Italy. Despite the structural reforms of Diocletian and Constantine the Roman Empire was no longer in command of its frontiers. It had been gravely weakened by civil war between Constantine's sons, but the chief danger facing it in the fourth century was a demographic phenomenon: the barbarian migrations or folk wanderings of the land-hungry German tribes. These aggressive military people from east of the River Danube in central Europe — the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Vandals, the Alans, the Suevi, the Alemanni — had begun putting unbearable pressure on the outer Roman territories a hundred years before. In the mid-third century they had breached the Roman Empire's frontiers of the Rhine and the Danube and had been thrown back only by Diocletian's reforms.

After 375 when they were defeated in Russia by the terrifying Huns, a savage tribe from central Asia also on the move west, the alarmed German tribes would no longer brook the imperial government's refusal to let them in. In 376 the Visigoths and Ostrogoths, who lived on the eastern side of the Danube, begged the Emperor Valens to give them sanctuary by allowing them to cross the Danube and be federated within the Roman Empire. In return for land and sanctuary against the Huns, they said they would serve in the imperial armies. Though their subsequent slaughter of Valens two years later at adrianople was a grim portent, the imperial government recognized that the pressure of the German tribes was such that it was best to have some of them on its side. Treaties were made and land was granted, some of it in north Gaul.

In 402 Rome decided to pull more soldiers out of Britain and bring them home. They were needed in Italy to defend the imperial city against the barbarian Visigoths under Alaric who were now encamped in the north of the country. If many more Roman soldiers were withdrawn the Britons would be completely at the mercy of their own enemies who were attacking with renewed vigour: the Picts from beyond the now scantily defended Wall in the north, the Scots from Hibernia, attacking Galloway, Wales and Cornwall, and the Saxons from across the North Sea, a northern branch of the German tribes putting such pressure on the Roman Empire.

Since the third century the more daring members of the population of what we now call north Germany and Denmark had been forming raiding parties to cross the North Sea and the Channel to Britain in ever larger numbers. By then the Roman army in Britain increasingly contained Gauls and Germans, Spaniards and Moors, and it seems that the little groups of Saxon ex-soldiers settling in Britain attracted by the good farmland and clement weather reported back to their relatives that here was a country ripe for the plucking.

By now Britain felt very remote from the imperial government, a remoteness which was emphasized by her being part of the Gallic Prefecture. Britain thus became a magnet for imperial pretenders, not least Magnus Maximus, one of the Emperor Theodosius' generals, who after a victory over the Picts was proclaimed emperor by his legions and successfully became ruler of the Praetorian Prefecture of Britain, Gaul and Spain until 387. Pretenders were welcomed by the vulnerable British if they seemed likely to protect them from their own barbarian enemies better than their Roman overlords.

It was under the British imperial pretender Constantine III that Britain severed her links with Rome for good. Constantine III had been elevated to the emperorship by the army in Britain on account of widespread dissatisfaction with the way the province was being treated by Rome. Since 402 Rome had not even paid the salaries of the imperial troops or civil servants remaining in Britain. But by 406, the year the barbarians crossed the Rhine, Rome had no time to think about Britain: she was concentrating on defending her homeland. As with many of her more distant provinces, the imperial government may no longer have been able to afford the wages, or perhaps the chaos arising from the war against the barbarians prevented the money being shipped to Britain. Whatever the reason, this failure greatly angered the local magnates and the wealthier classes of Britain on whose shoulders the fiscal burden now fell. Constantine III, who had invaded Gaul and Spain, was at first allowed to retain his north-western empire by the Emperor of the West, Honorius. But his yen for external conquest meant that his soldiers were not stationed in Britain to ward off the newly vigorous attacks by the Irish, Saxons and Picts. Infuriated by Constantine remaining in Spain when he was needed at home, it seems that in 409 British leaders expelled the last remnants of his purportedly imperial administration.

But the feeling was mutual. In 410 the sack of Rome by Alaric and the Goths obliged Rome for the moment at least to wash her hands of the distant province. Honorius sent a formal letter to the British cities telling them that they could no longer depend on the Romans for their defence against the Picts. Henceforth they must rely on themselves. Citizens should now carry weapons, which hitherto had been forbidden. Local British rulers sprang into existence to fill the power vacuum left by the collapse of the imperial administration.

At first this was a relief. The British magnates had loathed the regulations requiring conscription into the Roman army, brought in recently to make up for the lack of slaves as the empire ceased to expand by conquest. Conscription drew on their own source of labour and robbed their fields of men just when they were needed for the harvest. They were delighted that they no longer had to pay the heavy Roman taxes that the enormous bureaucracy of the top-heavy imperial government needed if it was to maintain itself. Contemporary historians write of how the British people threw off all Roman customs and Roman law. To begin with they were happy to rely on Saxon mercenaries for all defensive purposes where previously they had used the Roman legions. They would soon learn, as the Romans had, that it was better not to place yourself in the power of the barbarians unless you had time to train them to adopt your habits and customs.

The Roman style of life continued among quite a few of the British magnates and well-to-do townspeople for a couple of decades after the withdrawal of the legions. In 429 St Germanus, on a visit to Britain with other bishops to dispute the Pelagian controversy, encountered a wealthy society which still had all the hallmarks of Roman civilization: its members were richly dressed and highly educated and could speak Latin. St Patrick, who died in 461, came from one of these landowning families.

But, despite the British people's Roman habits, the dissolution of the empire was changing their way of life even before they were assaulted by the Anglo-Saxons, reliance upon whose arms was storing up a terrible fate for them. As the empire was replaced worldwide by individual German territories, its sophisticated global economy and long-distance trade based on a 400-year-old Roman peace slowly came to an end. By the 420s coinage was starting to die out in Britain. Within a generation in many places Roman cemeteries like the one at Poundbury in Dorset had become deserted. Roman laws requiring burial outside the town walls for health reasons were no longer obeyed because there were no longer Roman officials to enforce them. Furthermore the trade and employment in the cities that the Roman legions and civil government had brought to Britain had gone. Without large numbers of soldiers needing goods and services, towns declined. Without a central taxation system, many of the allurements of Roman civilization, like roads, baths and government, simply fell away. The famous pottery factories, which gave so much employment because the Romans used pots the way we use plastic bags, as containers and transporters for every kind of commodity, vanished — and so did the art of making glass.

Within thirty years the combined effect of the attacks by the Saxons and the decay of towns meant that the inhabitants of Britain were soon living in a far more primitive fashion than their grandparents had. But the decline of sophistication caused by the deterioration of the global economy was a fact throughout the Roman world. In Britain and other former Roman provinces trade became local and was reduced to barter. By 481 there would no longer be a Roman emperor in the west. Rome had been sacked for a second time and Rome herself would be controlled by the eastern tribe, the Ostrogoths. The Roman Empire which had ruled the whole of the Mediterranean and had ranged from Britain in the west to Romania (hence the name of that country and her Latin language) in the east had shrunk to Constantinople and some surrounding lands. On the continent in the empire's place various tribes ruled: the Ostrogoths (east Goths) in Italy, the Franks and Burgundians in north and middle Gaul, the Visigoths (west Goths) in southern Gaul and Spain, the Vandals in north Africa.

It was in about 447 that the former Roman province of Britannia, already adrift from Rome, began to experience her own concerted attack by the Teutonic tribes of the Jutes, Angles and Saxons. Although this was an era for which contemporary written sources do not exist (that is why it has been called the Dark Ages), there is evidence to suggest that the beginning of this great invasion was sparked off by an ambitious British tyrant. After the Roman fashion he imported Germanic tribesmen in the 430s to act as mercenaries against his fellow British kings and to protect his territory against the Picts, who had become increasingly troublesome ever since the legions deserted their positions along the Wall. As a reward for the Saxon mercenaries' services this British king - whom England's first historian, the great eighth-century Anglo-Saxon monk the Venerable Bede, said was called Vortigern — seems to have encouraged them to settle on land of his in Kent and near London. But a combination of rising sea levels along the north German coast, reports of the fertile lowlands and mild weather in England compared to their cold climate and the obvious inability of the Britons to defend themselves meant Vortigern and his fellow Britons got more than they bargained for. The chief deities of the Jutes, Angles and Saxons were Woden the God of War and Thor the God of Thunder — in other words, they were fierce warrior peoples for whom glory was to be won by fighting, not by building towns.

Beginning round mid-century, waves of Germanic tribesmen moved over the next fifty years to Britain in such numbers that they pushed the Romano-British out of their native lands into the west. Instead of being content with their own small kingdom, these Saxons under their dynamic leaders — whom legend names Hengist and Horsa — turned on their British host when he refused to increase their holdings and murdered him. They started seizing more areas of England for themselves, beginning with Thanet and Kent, then moving west to the Isle of Wight and east Hampshire. Coastal south-east Britain would become known as Sussex, the land of the South Saxons. By 527 a new wave of Saxons had gone east of London and called the land they settled the country of the East Saxons — Essex. Meanwhile the Angles, whose own country lay so nearly opposite across the North Sea, seized what would become known as the country of the East Angles, or East Anglia.

The British Romano-Celts took shelter in the south-west in the old territories of the Ordovices and Silures which the Angles and Saxons called Wales, meaning land of the foreigner. Some went north to the three British kingdoms established above Hadrian's Wall around 400 - Strathclyde, Gododdin and Galloway. As early as 460, after ten years of bitter fighting, the Anglo-Saxon force had slaughtered many of the Romano-British, sacked the main cities and taken over much of the south and east of the country. By 495 the first part of the English settlement was completed and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms reached as far north as York and as far west as Southampton.

History tends to be the story of the successful, but for two centuries the Anglo-Saxon conquerors were incapable of recording their actions. The fair-haired, pale-eyed Angles, Saxons and Jutes were illiterate north German tribespeople from the neck of the harsh windswept Cimbrian peninsula, the modern-day Denmark, Schleswig and Holstein. Unlike the Germanic peoples taking over the territories of the former Roman Empire in France and Italy, most of these bloodthirsty invaders of Britain had never felt its civilizing influence: though a number of Saxons from the German Bremerhaven coast were to be found in the Roman armies, more of them were pirates and enemies of the empire. These peoples' remote northerly geographical position (Jutland is on the same parallel of latitude as Aberdeen in northern Scotland) ensured that most of them had escaped contact with the Roman Empire, which had educated their fellow Teutonic tribes from further south.

Moreover, the Teutonic tribes such as the Burgundians, Visigoths, Vandals and Franks, had been deeply affected by Roman civilization when they had settled within the empire. As their power grew and that of the empire weakened, the civil administration of the Roman government on the continent tended to remain in place and was taken over wholesale by the new rulers. In Britain, on the other hand, the expulsion of the Roman government left no proper central political or economic structures for the Saxons to adopt. The wild Germanic tribes arriving in Britain were quite unaffected by the already withering Roman civilization they encountered. In addition, the transition to Anglo-Saxon rule was brutal, bloody and sudden. Most of England would be depopulated or her inhabitants slaughtered or subdued, so no classical influences modified the Anglo-Saxons' savage ways. In Britain there was no time for a considered handover. The small individual kingdoms of Saxons established their own unadulterated institutions.

We do not know how the Romano-British reacted to the German peoples setting up homes at such bewildering speed on their fertile lands in the south and east while many were even forced to live in caves in Wales or Cornwall. The few contemporary references are mainly glancing asides by foreign historians, like the sixth-century Byzantine writer Procopius. For the most part, therefore, English history of this very early period has to be deciphered from the physical evidence of settlements unearthed by archaeology and from references to ancient practices preserved in the Anglo-Saxon laws which began being written down in the seventh century. It can be augmented by hearsay and folk tales handed down over the centuries, and sought out by the Venerable Bede. It was only with the reconversion to Christianity of the Anglo-Saxons at the end of the sixth century that learning returned to England, though it had meanwhile continued in Wales and Cornwall. Anglo-Saxon monks and priests then began writing down accounts of life in their new country which would be collected in the late ninth century as their official record, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The nearest Briton we have as an eyewitness of the horrors his country endured at the hands of the pagan Anglo-Saxons is the mid-sixth-century Romano-British monk Gildas, who recounted the story in his book Of the Destruction of the British. But even he is writing a hundred years after the first Anglo-Saxon invasion.

By about 460, the deRomanization of Britain had become very noticeable to contemporaries abroad. Much of the country had been entirely taken over by the Saxon tribes, and all feared the worst for its former inhabitants. Some of the British community still considered themselves Roman enough in the late 440s to send a plea for help to the ruler of what remained of the Roman Empire, the great general Aetius, who was trying to keep Attila the Hun and his horde out of Gaul. They headed their letter to him, 'The Groans of the British'. 'The Barbarians drive us to the sea,' they wailed; 'the sea throws us back on the Barbarians: thus two modes of death await us; we are either slain or drowned.' But Aetius had too much to handle nearer home to think of B
Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
Rebecca Fraser presents a dramatic narrative which forms a refreshing introduction to the traditional history of Great Britain. It is packed with anecdotes about the men and women who created turning points in history, about scientists, explorers, soldiers, traders, writers and artists.
Main Description
This highly readable history of Britain, with all the sweep and pace of an epic, is a sparkling narrative, packed with anecdotes about the men and women -- scientists, explorers, writers and artists -- who created turning points in history.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Preface
Romanp. 1
Anglo-Saxon
Ethelbert of Kent to the Viking Invasions (597-865)p. 33
Alfred the Great to the Battle of Hastings (865-1066)p. 57
Norman and Angevin
William I (1066-1087)p. 95
William II (1087-1100)p. 108
Henry I (1100-1135)p. 114
Stephen of Blois (1135-1154)p. 120
Henry II (1154-1189)p. 125
Richard I (1189-1199)p. 146
John (1199-1216)p. 158
Plantagenet
Henry III (1216-1272)p. 169
Edward I (1272-1307)p. 176
Edward II (1307-1327)p. 185
Edward III (1327-1377)p. 189
Richard II (1377-1399)p. 201
Lancastrian and Yorkist
Henry IV (1399-1413)p. 209
Henry V (1413-1422)p. 213
Henry VI (1422-1461)p. 221
Edward IV (1461-1483)p. 230
Edward V (1483)p. 235
Richard III (1483-1485)p. 239
Tudor
Henry VII (1485-1509)p. 247
Henry VIII (1509-1547)p. 255
Edward VI (1547-1553)p. 276
Mary I (1553-1558)p. 280
Elizabeth I (1558-1603)p. 286
Stuart
James I (1603-1625)p. 313
Charles I (1625-1649)p. 327
The Commonwealth and Protectorate (1649-1660)p. 351
Charles II (1660-1685)p. 361
James II (1685-1688)p. 378
William and Mary (1689-1702)p. 385
Anne (1702-1714)p. 396
Hanoverian
George I (1714-1727)p. 411
George II (1727-1760)p. 422
George III (1760-1820)p. 449
George IV (1820-1830)p. 514
William IV (1830-1837)p. 525
Victoria (1837-1901)p. 540
Saxe-Coburg
Edward VII (1901-1910)p. 625
Windsor
George V (1910-1936)p. 639
Edward VIII (1936)p. 696
George VI (1936-1952)p. 696
Elizabeth II (1952-)p. 735
Further Readingp. 786
Genealogiesp. 789
Prime Ministersp. 798
Indexp. 801
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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