Tag Archives: Romano-British

All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Four

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.


Warning! Warning!

I want to look at who the enemies of these western Britons might have been, but first a very important point from Barbara Yorke I kept in mind:

“The existence of these numerous small provinces suggests that southern and eastern Britain may have have lost any political cohesion in the fifth and sixth centuries and fragmented into many small autonomous units, though late Roman administrative organization of the countryside may have helped dictate their boundaries.” (Yorke, ‘Kings & Kingdom’s of Early Anglo-Saxon England’, 1990, p13)

I also kept in mind, whether you agree with him or not, Stuart Laycock’s theories that there could be old British tribal scores to settle and animosity after the Romans left. Their ‘tribal’ identity (for want of better name) would mean more to them than ‘British-ness’. If using Germanic mercenaries or Anglo-Britons (and their culture) to forward their cause (and their territory) would help, then I’m sure they’d use them. (The ‘Anglo-Saxon’ settlement/culture does seem to match what are thought to be the boundaries of the eastern Britannian provinces of Maxima Caesariensis and Flavia Caesariensis). This use of them, of course, may have backfired on the Brits as they found themselves becoming second class citizens if they kept their cultural identity. This is not to exclude sheer invasion and expulsion in some areas.

A rough placing of the 'Anglo-Saxon' regions


(At the time thought to be roughly that of the British civitates of the Antrebates and the eastern Antrebatic half of the Belgae)

We should explore if every ‘Saxon’ or ‘Angle’ (remembering that these could be Anglo-British/Saxo-British ethnically mixed – clarifying my position after comments below) in the ‘east’ was the enemy. Let’s start with the infamous ‘West Saxons’. The words “can” and “worms” come to mind here. (I’ll use these later terms, such as ‘West Saxon’ and ‘East Angles‘, merely for convenience. The kingdoms didn’t exist, as far as we know, and I believe they would be made up of smaller groups of *-ingas or *-ge and the like rather than kingdoms at this point in time. We should also keep in mind that all these southern ‘Saxon’ areas have much smaller cemeteries compared with the ‘Anglian’ regions, which is what has led some to think these areas were indeed élite take-overs). The ‘West Saxons’; Cerdic and Cynric (two very British names) are said to ‘arrive’ in the area in 495 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ASC).  With regards to this date I would like to quote the following:

“David Dumville’s detailed study of the regnal dates given in the Chronicle and in the closely related West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List reached the conclusion that the fifth—and sixth century dates were extremely unreliable and had been artificially extended to make it appear that the kingdom was founded at an earlier date than was actually the case. His calculation on the basis of the reign-lengths given in the Genealogical Regnal List was that Cerdic’s reign was originally seen as beginning in 538, with the arrival of Cerdic and Cynric in 532.” (Yorke, 1990, p131)

However, regardless of who was ‘expanding’ in this region, some peoples of ‘Saxon’ culture were there prior to Badon. As many argue, Cerdic and Cynric may not have ‘arrived’ from anywhere but have been either Britons or Saxo-Britons of the area. (Besides their possible British names, Wessex does claim later men with the other British names. There are also mixed cremation/inhumation as well as inhumation cemeteries here which, according to Ken Dark, could point to mixed British/’Saxon’ sites). However, whichever of the dates for their arrival is correct, and whichever date for Badon is correct, could have a bearing on whether they were personally involved at the Battle of Badon and what would happen afterwards.

There are two arguments as to where the ‘West Saxons’ (as the Geuissae) originate from: the western Thames Valley, and southern Hampshire. Some think the Geuissae or Gewissae could themselves have been a Saxonized British group or even Jutish. These may have been confused or merged with the group around Dorchester-on-Thames. To quote Keith Matthews’ (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) article, ‘What’s in a name? Britons, Angles, ethnicity and material culture from the fourth to seventh centuries’ (Heroic Age, Issue 4, 2001)

“The exception is the upper Thames valley, where there are large numbers of villas and small towns but an early group of German material culture remains. What makes this group stand out is the early date of the material culture and its homogeneity: this group appears to have few contacts with the local Romano-British population, unlike the thousands of Germans whose material culture sits alongside that of indigenous groups elsewhere in the Late Roman diocese. The upper Thames Valley group has long been identified as in some way anomalous (e.g. Leeds: 53), as the invasion/settlement hypotheses are clearly inadequate to explain so massive a penetration so deep into central Britain at this date. Furthermore, it is not identifiable as the core of a later Anglo-Saxon kingdom, despite valiant attempts to link it with Wessex (e.g. Stenton: 26). Here is perhaps the best evidence for the Germanic mercenaries mentioned by Gildas (Higham 1994: 104).”

Whoever they were, or whatever they were called, they could indeed have posed a threat. (However, we should keep in mind that by the late 5th century they may have married locally). It could depend on where Britannia Prima’s border lay and which side of it the Dorchester-on-Thames group where on. It’s very difficult to know if this ‘border’ was an east-west division of the Atrebates, Belgae and Regni civitates, or if it cut through them. If it originally did, we also don’t know what would have happened after the empire ‘fell’ and if a border would be ‘redrawn’ or how much they had fragmented into smaller polities. Since it looks as if many ‘Saxon’ take-overs used these civitas boundaries, it’s worth keeping them in mind. I’d also like to quote another passage from Yorke:

“A further problem with the Chronicle’s account of the origins of Wessex is that it seems to locate the origins of the kingdom in southern Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, though unfortunately not all the place-names it cites can be identified. Bede, on the basis of information supplied to him by Bishop Daniel, indicates that southern Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were independent provinces which did not become part of Wessex until after their conquest by King Cædwalla in 686–8. A number of sources, including Bede and placename evidence, affirm that the people of southern Hampshire and the Isle of Wight were classed as Jutes and not as Saxons.  It seems impossible to place the origins of the kingdom of Wessex in these Jutish provinces.” (Yorke, 1990, p131)

So wherever the ‘West Saxons’ were coming from it may not have been from the south. Let’s say the Dorchester-on-Thames group were on the east side of the border, in what was the old Roman province of Maxima Caesariensis, and weren’t on the Brits side, and Ælle (or whomever) managed to recruit both them and ‘West Saxons’. If Badon was in the south and they were the enemy then they are most likely to get the brunt of the aftermath of a victory … if they didn’t run east and south for protection. (Higham’s theory not withstanding). If Badon was in, say, the Lincolnshire proposed site (by Thomas Green), they could either have had nothing to do with a battle in that part of the country or they were involved with one of the subsequent (or previous) battles to Badon that Gildas mentions in their own region.

What isn’t obvious, and I’ll explore it more below, is who were those ‘Anglo-Saxons’ before the Mercians north of Oxford: those of the south Midlands. They were the ones bordering on what Christopher Gidlow thinks to be the real power base of the Britons: the Cornovii and the Dobunni. (But who Higham thinks were vassals of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’!) If the Britons did win back some of these Midland territories also, the ‘Germanic’ inhabitants don’t seem to have gone anywhere. If Dumville’s 538 dating is right, however, this date could have been the start (or false start) of the push back by the ‘Anglo-Saxons’, in the south at least, although it could have been even much later elsewhere. It may not even have been a ‘push back’ at all but the first push by them if they didn’t become a force to be reckoned with until 532 or after.

If it was around these dates that the Gewissae start to appear, then it may not have been very long after Gildas had completed his polemic before he could say, “I told you so!” This region would be relatively close to Gildas, if he wrote where most think he did in the Durotriges tribal region (roughly western Somerset and Dorset), giving him a very good reason to be nervous. (Always keep in mind that any push or expansion is most likely nothing to do with an ethnic group fighting another ethnic group, but merely the leaders of a group proving what great a leader they are by either raiding, taking a territory or making other territories tributary either through conquest or fear.)

Wherever Badon was, this lot seem to have stopped expanding too, so something may have halted their ambitions and with this possibly being relatively close to Gildas he should have been aware of anything going on here. It could be these peoples that made him worried, but it’s more likely to be those even closer: the ‘Jutes’ of Hampshire (see next blog). If the map above is remotely close to the politcal situation, there was a British divide between Gildas (if he was in the southwest) and them. Of course, as I put forward above, these ‘Saxons’ could even have given allegiance to the Brits and not been a threat at all … at this time. Although it should be noted that Gildas never mentions such alliances.


(At the time thought to be roughly that of the British civitates of the Dobunni and southern Cornovii)

But who were those further west, but north of the ‘West Saxons’? I found it very difficult to find anyone writing about those who made up the settlers of what is now the southwest and west Midlands of England at this time. The archæological evidence shows they were there, bordering on (or even within) the civitates of the Dobunni and possibly Cornovii. They may not have been Middle or West Saxons at all, but, what I will call, ‘West Angles’. If they were ‘West Saxons’ they certainly weren’t to become Wessex but the Hwicce and part of Mercia. (I realise it’s a lot more complicated than that and I apologise for the over-simplification.) To quote, ‘Research issues in the Post-Roman to Conquest period in Warwickshire’ by Sally Crawford with regards to Warwickshire, for example …

“The social organisation of the earlier Anglo-Saxon period is also one which would bear further research. The cemetery evidence supports the idea that there was a significant ethnic division within the county, with two separate groups based around the upper and lower Avon, which is echoed in the later documentary sources as a division between the tribes of the Hwicce and the Mercians (Hooke, 1996:100). “

Apparently Warwickshire does not fair well in its Early Medieval archæology so it’s almost impossible to judge the power or status of those “Saxons’ or ‘Angles’ there and their relationship with the Britons. However, the mixed nature of the cemeteries might show a mixed ethnic group. I found a little more information from John Morris (The Age of Arthur), although I don’t know how accurate or up-to-date it is.  His information shouldn’t always be trusted:

“But the south western borderlands of the corner of Cornovii have plain evidence; four large mixed cemeteries guarded the main crossing of the Avon on their side of the river, near Coventry and at Warwick, Stratford and Bidford. Their burials began very early in the sixth century and the main ornament derived from the Middle Angles. Further south a larger number of smaller burial grounds circle the territory of Cirencester and Gloucester on the north, the west, and the south, approximately on the borders of the Roman Dobunni. The earliest of them, Fairford, maybe as early as the Avon site cemeteries, but the ornament of most seem somewhat later, and was drawn from the Abingdon English; it passed onto Bidford, the nearest of the Avon garrisons, but only a little of it reached further north, though the Cotswolds sites about Cirencester took little or nothing of the Anglian ornament of Avon. Cornovian territory admitted brides and peddlars within its borders, but Cirencester allowed no traffic in the opposite direction.” (p.284)

I’m not exactly sure what he means by “Cornovian territory admitted brides and peddlars within its borders …” or where that information comes from!?

There isn’t universal agreement of which pre-‘Saxon’ eastern British tribal regions bordered here: some say the Corieltavi could have stretched that far south, others the Catuvellauni. It could be both, of course. Perhaps the Dobunni stretched further north than we think, although, I believe, coin distribution places them were the later Hwicce would be. But someone bordered with the Dobunni and Cornovii and it’s these eastern borders where the cemeteries of ‘Anglo-Saxons’ are found (cremations in the north and mixed and inhumations further south). Some could even have been within their territories. If these ‘Saxons’ were at Badon, or were involved in the struggle against the British of the west at the time, it’s hard to discern what happened to them in the aftermath or during this ‘peace’. Of course, if the Dobunni and Cornovii (or whatever they were called by this time) did ‘defeat’ them, and ‘threw them out’, would the archæology show this? If either of these British civitates were as powerful as Gidlow thinks, (and not as weak as Higham thinks!), then perhaps the ‘Saxons’ may have not tried to expand any further west or south because they were too scared of the consequences.

As Stuart Laycock puts forward (and others I believe) in his book ‘Britannia – The Failed State’ (2009), these ‘Anglo-Saxon’ groups may have been placed there by rival British civitates in the first place. Whether these too would have revolted at some stage or stayed on the Brits side we will never know, but it might explain Gildas telling us the revolt went from sea to sea. Meaning, there were revolts in their regions, rather than those of Kent marauding from the FRETVM GALLICVM (English Channel) to the Severn Sea (Bristol Channel). (However, always keep in mind the E. A. Thompson believes the revolts Gildas is talking about took place in the north (which is the region Gildas is discussing) and went from the North Sea to the Irish Sea). Those upper and lower Avon groups could reflect two sides of the divide, although the Avon appears to run through the centre of the Dobunni region. We must considered the distinct possibility that some of them, at least, weren’t the enemy.

In the next blog I’ll look at the ‘Jutes’ of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and the ‘South Saxons’.

Thanks for readin and I look forward to any comments,



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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Three

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.


What exactly was going on in those supposed British enclaves in the east … if that’s what they were? Were they also at peace? How would the ‘Saxons’ react in those areas that surround these enclaves after a defeat or defeats? It may depend on the treaty agreed. But what would stop them later on, after 20 years or so? These enclaves either had some serious military power or some kind of ‘friendship’ with the ‘Saxons’ There are theories that the Britons did indeed take back ‘Saxon’ territory.  John Morris puts it forward but so does Professor Howard Wiseman (who may be a physicist but his Early Medieval studies have been quoted by Snyder, Higham and Halsall).

For Howard it may be to do with the later ‘Saxon’ expansion and victories at Bedcanford (identified as Bedford) and other sites in 571, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ACS). These are generally thought to have been British enclaves taken by a newly formed West Saxons kingdom. However, this theory puts forward that after Badon (or even before) the British regained territory and this territory went beyond Bedford. Howard has given me permission to use two maps he created.


Britain c. 530AD


Britain c. 530AD (Based on map by Howard Wiseman)

(Maps used with kind permission of Professor Howard Wiseman.The page containing it can be found at )

Howard explains MAP ONE thusly (with reference numbers removed):

“[...] this map descends into speculation in showing precise political boundaries in Britain at the time of Gildas. However, in many of these I have been guided by the work of the respected archaeologist and historian Ken Dark. I have also been guided by the distribution of archaeological sites [...] The names given to the Brittonic states are those of the corresponding Roman civitates when these are attested by post-Roman inscription, or by Gildas. When Roman names are not so attested, a Brittonic name is used. Some of these (Reged, Gwent, Glevissig) are well-attested in the early Middle Ages, while others (Calchvynydd, Barroc, Ebrauc) are only attested in later documents [...]”

On MAP TWO (with reference numbers removed):

“The above map was scanned from the 2000 book by Dark, which shows 5th and 6th century Germanic cemeteries in Britain. Of these I have erased those cemeteries which came into use only in the later 6th century, according to the maps of Morris. Then I have added Roman towns, villas, and forts for which there is archaeological or literary material indicating probable occupation after 490. The data for these sites are taken from the detailed descriptions in the 1998 book by Snyder, occasionally supplemented by Dark. An example of such archaeological evidence is the presence of coins of Emperor Anastasius (491-518), or datable Mediterranean pottery. An example of reliable literary evidence for occupation is that for Luguvalium (Carlisle), which still had a functioning Roman aqueduct and fountain in the late 7th century. These Germanic and Brittonic sites thus should give a picture of Gildas’ partitioned Britain (c. 530). As the map shows, Brittonic and Germanic sites do fall into reasonably distinct zones. There are a handful of small Germanic cemeteries in what I have judged to be Brittonic zones, and one Roman town, Lincoln (Lindum colonia), with evidence for continued occupation in what appears to be an Anglian zone.”

To read more, visit his web page, linked above. The one thing to note about these maps is, unlike Morris and Dark, they don’t take into account the gaps in settlements and cemeteries, so may give a false picture of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ rule or the true spread of their cultures. But, as Howard says in a personal correspondence, “I was aiming for the smoothest boundaries that would leave (more or less) all the Germanic evidence on one side and all the Romano-British evidence on the other”. They also don’t show areas that wouldn’t be up for settlement by either side, such as dense forrest, heath land or heavy clay areas. Possibly even areas that wouldn’t be settled on because of some superstition or another.  (I’ll deal with this later).  Another thing to note is where Howard has ‘Hill Forts Common‘ he means hillforts occupied at this time and not all Iron Age hillforts pe se. Most hillforts in what is now the borderlands (the Marches) of England and Wales were re-occupied in the Late  4th to Early 5th centuries, but it’s hard to find evidence for this occupation going beyond this.

Back to these late 6th century battles. Howard, quoting from the ASC, says:

“ASC for 571 (perhaps invented later to justify West Saxon territorial claims) Cuthwulf fought with the Britons at Bedcanford (Bedford), and took four towns, Lenbury, Aylesbury, Benson and Ensham. And this same year he died.” – (Howard’s brackets, not mine).

We know where Bedford (Biedcanforda) is … or we assume we know. Lenbury (Liggeanburh) is thought to be Limbury in the suburbs of Luton, although there is a Lenborough southwest of Bedford and northwest of Aylesbury. Aylesbury (Æglesburh) is southwest of Bedford (I used to work there). Benson (Bensingtun) is actually called Bensington and is just south of Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and Ensham (Egonesham) is generally thought to be Eynsham, just northwest of Oxford. The first question is, if Cuthwulf, who supposedly led these battles, was West Saxon, what was he doing starting his battles in the east and moving west? The answer could be the ASC got the order wrong and Bedford was the last battle. However, it could be that he was from the east and pushed west, taking over West Saxon territory. We’ll never know, but it does make sense of the progression.

So, as opposed to a British enclave based on the Chilterns (later to become Saxon Cilternsætna) and one in the Bedford area, they postulate a ‘bulge’ or ‘corridor’ that was either never under ‘Saxon’ occupation in the first place or was was won back and extended from the Thames Valley, up the Chiltern Hills to and beyond Bedford before or after Badon. This would, of course, cut off some main lines of communication, including part of Watling Street, Icknield Way, the Fosse Way and some river basins from the ‘enemy’. This ‘bulge’ would almost reach St. Albans. Actually, these maps encompass St. Albans, which can’t be right if the shrines referred to (or one of them) was there … and one would think St. Albans’ shrine was. Once again I’m indebted to Howard for pointing me to the following …

“It has been commonly stated that Gildas here, when he talks of martyrs and the unhappy partition, implies that Verulamium and Carleon held shrines which were deprived to the Britons because of English occupation. A more careful reading of this passage shows that he implies no such thing. When he says “I refer to St Alban …, Aaron and Julius … and the others …”, he is clearly referring to martyrs (the history of which he was discussing before being briefly side-tracked into the state of Britain at his time). If he had been referring to their “graves or places where they suffered”, he would have said “I refer to Verulamium …, Carleon, … and other places”. Thus the passage simply implies that there was a partition with the English, and that they evidently held large parts of the country, but it contains no specific geographical information on which parts.”


Howard added: “Regarding Verulamium and St Albans shrine, I haven’t had any luck convincing Chris Gidlow of this [...]”

Could they be right? The archæology (as far as I’m aware) doesn’t show ‘Saxon’ occupation (or culture) to the west of St Albans. If anyone has information to the contrary I’d be very interested to hear about it.

A look at the OS map of Roman Britain shows there are two Roman roads going east/west they could have pushed back on after Badon, if they did: that which goes from Bath (or Cirencester) via Silchester to London and the other northerly route that goes from Cirencester via Bicester to St. Albans. (Another goes north-south from Bicester via Dorchester-on-Thames to Silchester). Between these east/west routes lies the Thames Valley and the Chiltern Hills including the ancient trackway of the Icknield Way.

To have taken the region around Bedford as well may have meant heading north on the Bicester-Towcester road. This push could have joined isolated British enclaves. It makes absolute sense that the Britons would capitalize on a victory if they could, but I’m just not knowledgeable enough to comment on the details and the archæology that Morris, Dark or Howard put forward as possible evidence. It does make sense to these later battles defeating the Britons and the taking of the Chilterns, which was obviously in British hands, where no enclaves but a whole British swathe of territory. But, it also make equal sense that they were enclaves that the ‘Saxons’ strangled. If they were never ‘Saxon’ at this point then it puts a different complexion on the whole debate with the Britons always having the upper hand, as argued by Dark.

Another Theory

However, I will give another possible theory of the fight back that could explain this ‘corridor’ and the ‘peace’. Once Ambrosius started the resistance, a British rebellion began to happen, just like those in the Middle East at the moment. Anti ‘Anglo-Saxon’ (politcal, religious and cultural elements) could have been inspired to break out from their enclaves, or even within ‘Saxon’ regions. This could have happened in regions we’re not even aware of. If Ambrosius could have achieved some sought of unity, or, at the least, coordination, then these, along with pushes from the west and north, would have stretched and shaken the enemies.

Pushes from the west wouldn’t, of course, have been on a ‘front’ but through lines of communication: roads, tracks, river basins. This may not have pushed all elements ‘back’ but turned them into isolated enclaves whilst rejoining British (cultural) areas, making it harder for the enemy to created confederacies and limiting their travel. This, in turn, may have created refuges heading east. The Britons could also have placed their own rulers over some of the enemy territory taken, which may add to the idea of an extended peace. So the politcal map may not have looked like Howard’s above, but like the one on below. I’ve kept St Albans and London as an enclave but, as discussed above, it may not have been:


Britain Post Badon (Mak) - Based on map by Howard Williams

This is just a very rough guess. There may have been more British enclaves in the east and southeast.  (In fact, Professor Ken Dark gives even more British areas than I do in the Midlands, based on the amount of inhumation and mixed inhumation/cremation areas: that’s the squares and star symbols). I’ve added known woodland (although there may have been more) in green and marsh/fen land in blue. I also overlaid a map of the clay soil areas of Britain (not shown here) and, with heavy clays in the Midlands, you could see why there may not have been much settlement there by either side. (Source: )

I’d like to do a lengthy quote from the paper, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval (Rural) by Keith Wade ( ). Date unknown.

“The large apparently unpopulated areas [of the east], especially in west Essex and Hertfordshire, have traditionally been explained as forest, but this may be too simplistic. There is an ongoing debate on the extent of post Roman woodland regeneration, but environmental evidence suggests that, at least in some areas, there was no large-scale woodland regeneration. The ongoing ‘extent of woodland’ debate is linked to the ‘surviving Romano-British population’ debate. The lack of Early Anglo-Saxon sites in west Essex, the Hunts part of Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire, has been explained as indicating a surviving Romano-British political entity with a small (initially) Germanic settlement ‘living in controlled circumstances on “Roman” settlements’ (Drury and Rodwell 1980), with surviving Romano-British populations that are invisible archaeologically. Others have explained the gaps as more to do with the difficulties of finding Early Anglo-Saxon sites [...] [Williams’] conclusions, however, were still that ‘there are signs that some land also went out of cultivation even on the lighter soils’ and ‘there was clearly a considerable contraction of land under cultivation in the post Roman period, with woodland growing up over abandoned farmland on the interfluve soils’ but that even ‘on the interfluves’ there is ‘some evidence of Saxon occupation, although whether such settlements were involved in the arable exploitation of these difficult soils is perhaps more doubtful’ (Williamson 1986, 127).”

I’d love to hear from anyone knowledgeable on the interpretation of both this evidence and the archæology for all these areas.  

(Since writing this I have read more on the work of Chris Wickham, Guy Halsall, Ken Dark and re-read Francis Pryor, I realise even more the complexity and varying interpretations of the data. However, what is clear, is how politically fragmented and lacking in elites most of the east appears and how even ‘Anglo-Saxon’ sites, such as Mucking in Essex, are being reassessed).

I’m also not sure if this ‘bulge’ theory would harmonise with what Gildas tell us. One would also have to wonder what would convince the Cornovii (or Dobunni) to attack beyond their borders … if they did. The answer might be simpler for the Dobunni as they may have been trying to take some of their lost land back. The Cornovii, however may have wanted revenge for attacks on Chester and Bassa (if these Arthurian battles are, indeed, where some think them to be and if they ever happened). More land would also be a good reason. I think that these reasons would be above an altruistic one of ‘saving Britannia’, although saving themselves and their portion of their province might have had something to do with it. (Interestingly, Dark wonders if these two civitates are ones that were under Roman type administration rather than monarchy at this time).

There would bound to be different factions wanting different things, including some who might think, “The ‘Saxons’ are their problem. Let them sought it out!” Those ‘Saxon’ regions in the Midlands that found themselves isolated  (in this hypothesis) may have swapped sides to survive. (Plenty of evidence of that in history). The Britons could have shown, through their power and their action and, maybe, even through bluff by announcing how united they were though they may not have been in reality, that they were a force to be reckoned with.

None of this takes into account Nick Higham’s theory that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were the ones who had the upper hand after Badon and his assessment that this battle happened (and Gildas wrote) much earlier.

(See comments below)


We also have no idea what sea power either side(s) had. If the Brits could, somehow, have taken control of at least some stretches of the southern and eastern coast, they may have been able to disrupt not only supplies, but immigration and export, for a while at least. There’s probably not such a strong argument for this, but it’s worth considering.

In the next blog we’ll look at just who the ‘enemies’ might have been, starting with the ‘West Saxons’/’Geuissae’ and the ‘West Angles’.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,



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A Brief History Of Wroxeter Romano-British City


Postcard mock-up showing CGI and photo composite of the basilica at Wroxeter


(Whilst my blogs are mostly about Later Roman and Post Roman Britain, I thought it was also worth taking a look at the the earlier history of this amazing city.  The images you’ll see here were created by a company I was co-director of called Pastscapes. The modelling work was done by my friend and colleague, Peter Hurst. Texturing, lighting and Photoshop work was done by yours truly).

Wroxeter (Viriconium Cornoviorum) near Shrewsbury in the English county of Shropshire, over 200 acres in size and with 2 miles of ‘walls’, was one of the largest Roman-Briton cities in its time with a population of about 5,000. It even outlived the Roman occupation by 200 years before finally being  abandoned with the arrival in the region of the Angles. The arrival of the Romans in this part of Britain happened in 47 AD – 4 years after they landed in Britannia – when they attacked the hill fort of the Wrekin Hill. The Cornovii tribe of the region – whose territory covered what is now Shropshire, Cheshire, part of Staffordshire, part of Herefordshire, (possibly part of Merseyside), Wrexham, Flintshire and part of Powys – suddenly had new masters. In 58 AD the XIVth. Legion built a garrison fort by the River Severn (Sabrina/Hafren) where Wroxeter now stands.

After leaving for Armenia they were replaced by the famous XXth. Legion in 66 AD who spent the next 24 years here and it’s during this period that some of the Cornovii began to settle next to their Roman masters. This, in time, became a vicus: a settlement near a fort that supplied a number of services to it, such as shops, taverns and various forms of ‘entertainments’; savoury and otherwise!

The people of this settlement probably weren’t too happy when the legion was sent north to Chester (Deva) in 90 AD, abandoning the garrison and demolishing the fortress in the process. Although the legionnaires at this time weren’t allowed to marry the locals they probably made a lot of female ‘friends’. Some of the locals had obviously grown to like this new Roman, imperial way of living as they moved into the now abandoned fort and, with Roman guidance and plans, began to make it into the city we know of today, giving it the name of Viriconium Cornoviorum.

Viriconium may have had Roman overlords but it was essentially ‘British’. It became one of the many civitates; independent administrative centres, governed by the Britons themselves but under the supervision of a Roman provincial administration based in Londinium (London). It became, in effect, the capitol of the Cornovii region. It’s hard to tell whether or not the vast majority of the Cornovii were ‘happy’ with the Roman presence or not. It does remain somewhat of an enigma to archaeologists who still can’t quite understand how a successful Romanised city could exist in, what appears to be, an un-Romanised countryside: the only one of its kind in England. There are varying theories to explain this but none have yet come to the fore. The Cornovii’s feeling towards the imperialists probably were something like most conquered peoples: some liked it, some hated it and those in the lower strata of society didn’t care either way as they’d just swapped one set of masters for another.

The fact remains, however, that Viriconium was doing well even if the rest of its people weren’t behind it. The rest of the population were still living the same way they had probably been doing for a thousand years. Still in roundhouses and still living with their own customs and ways and still speaking their own language. It may have been these very traditions that attracted some of the populous to the city. The Iron Age traditions were all very well for the elite parts of society but there was no chance of furtherment in your life. From what can be gleaned about this society, if you were born into the lower classes, you stayed in the lower classes! The Romans had many faults but at least you were allowed, and encourage, to better yourself. Even slaves could end up in high government positions.

Latin was certainly encourage by the Romans and would have been the only written language as there was no written form of Brittonic at this time. The upper echelons probably learnt Latin because they needed to, but the rest may not have bothered or only learnt enough to get by. Some of the elite would have moved into the city to live in the large courtyarded city houses but others may have stayed where they were. Either way, it is these men who would have made up the native provincial council. The function of the council varied from province to province and there’s no specific information on how they functioned in Britain. It’s thought that they would have had to: raise money, promote annual games and festivals in connection with the Imperial Cult and settle tribal disputes … amongst other duties. (These native cities were even allowed to use British as well as Roman law). These were powerful people who not only had to govern a tribe now under the yoke of the Roman Empire but who were also expected to use their own money to help pay for new public buildings. In the case of the public baths, this must have been a considerable amount, but, as you’ll read below, they may have had some help.

Viriconium had, what is now called, Watling Street running through its ‘heart’: a Roman road that stretched from Londinium (London) through Viriconium, before turning south back down to Caerleon. A road that the modern A5 follows for much of its length to Shrewsbury. Other roads ran north to Deva (Chester) and on to Holyhead on Anglesey (Ynys Môn) on the Irish Sea. This would have meant a great deal of ‘traffic’ passing through the city, both civil and military. It was also the ‘artery’ for the imperial postage system: the cursus publicus.

Major towns and cities would have held the mansiones: staging post inns with stables and resting rooms for the riders of the system. Viriconium’s mansio was situated to the south east of the city. Roman roads could ‘grow’ in height over their history. This is because they would be simply added to. Some roads have ended up 2 meters above their original height, which has meant dwellings beside them having to give up their lower rooms and add another story to the building in order to access it!

A CGI reconstruction of Wroxeter's basilica, c. 130AD

We may have the Emperor Hadrian to thank for help in the building of Wroxeter’s (and other city’s) public baths. There were few public baths around in Britain in the first century AD, but a big building program in the mid second century. Could it just be a coincidence that Hadrian cancelled billions of sesterces owed to the treasury by impoverished municipalities and the baths sprang up after that? Or that a plaque dedicated to Hadrian was erected over the entrance to Wroxeter’s forum? We’ll never know. Whatever the reason, the 30 year gap since the beginning and halting of the construction of the baths was restarted in 150 AD. The forum and bath’s basilica, however, had been completed in 130 AD. The forum was not only a marketplace but a  home to the forum basilica: the seat of power for the tribal council. The bath’s basilica, on the other hand, was a cathedral-sized exercise and socializing hall. Its size shows the important of socializing in Roman society and it is estimated that over 1000 people could have passed through per day.  It was open to rich and poor alike and would have not only been filled with sweating men, woman and children, but with vendors selling their wares including Roman hamburgers!

Cutaway of how the baths at Wroxeter might have looked

The baths weren’t the only addition to Wroxeter at this time as the city boundary was extended and new defenses built. It’s unsure as to why this was done as there’s no indication of a threat at this time. Most of the Empire’s problems were happening much further north. It could be that this was merely done as a show of the city’s wealth or status. The defenses were not of the usual Roman stone wall construction, but more like the Iron Age hill fort ramparts with a ditch and palisaded gravel and turf ‘wall’. We don’t know if the Roman army supplied legionnaires or auxiliaries to guard the gates of the defenses or whether it just had ‘civil’ guards of some kind. The local populous weren’t allowed to be armed so it was either the former or an un-armed latter. This was a prosperous city that may have benefited  from its dealings with the Rome. It was a city living the Roman ideal but with a local flavour.  Its territorial size, fertile agricultural land, mines and salt deposits may have made it the perfect supplier for the large Roman legions based at Deva and elsewhere in its territory.

The bath's palaestra and frigidarium. The outside plunge pool only lasted about a hundred years.

Wroxeter’s important dates go something like this (with a little homour thrown in) …

c. 122 AD The Emperor Hadrian visits Britain and might have come to Wroxeter. Well, it was the most westerly city of their empire and the wine wasn’t bad either!

c.130 AD The forum is dedicated to Hadrian and a large plaque is placed above the entrance to tell us so. The city walls are extended and Viriconium is now the fourth largest city in Roman Britain.

c. 150 AD The work on the massive bath complex shown in our images is restarted after a 30 year hiatus. When completed it is able to take 1000 customers a day – rich and poor, men and woman… although most of the wealthy had their own private baths.  The baths would be open during daylight hours and the complex included the basilica (for exercising), shops, a bar and public toilets. The complex had all the ‘mod cons’ of the day, including double glazed windows!

c. 170 AD The forum is destroyed by a fire – and there was no insurance cover!

c. 306 AD The  baths are refurbished after a long period of neglect. Must have been charging too high an entrance fee!

c. 378 AD The baths are refurbished again adding more buildings. – under new management? It’s this layout that can be seen at the ruins today. (The Romans and many Britons are now Christians).

c. 400 AD Baths mustn’t have been doing well again as the main bath block becomes disused. Maybe the populous were too worried about what was happening to the Empire to bathe!

c. 410 AD As the Romans depart, leaving Britannia to fend for itself, Wroxeter takes on its own administration. In fact, nothing much changes at Viriconium, except maybe for a drop in taxes and not so much Latin being heard around town.

c. 476 AD Cunorix, an Irishman, who may have been a military commander – Philips & Keatman call him a Welsh king – is buried in the town ramparts. Hopefully he was dead at the time.

c. 527 AD The baths and the basilica are partly demolished and changed into a new marketplace, replacing the baths as the centre of trade. Obviously Roman health and cleanliness were out!

c. 542 AD The town centre is redeveloped and a large wooden building replaces the basilica – and that is large! Some believe this may have been for the local warlord, but it’s more likely that the warlords went back to the safety of the hill forts and left Viriconium to the bishop.

547 AD The bubonic plague reaches the area, killing the king of Gwynedd (pronounced something like “Gwinneth”), Maelgwyn (pronounced something like “Malegooun”).

c. 642 AD Now the Anglo-Saxons are in control of most of what is today England, part of the British kingdom of Powys is merged with the Angle kingdom of Mercia and, for the price of peace, the bishop of Viriconium is told to pack his bags and leave what’s left of the city, which now dwindles away to become the village of Wroxeter. In the same year the kings of Gwynedd (Britons) and Mercia (Angles) – that’s Cadwallon and Penda – bash the hell out of King Oswald (Angles) of Northumbria at nearby Oswestry (my home town). Now the Britons, who have been pushed west or just given in to the Anglo-Saxons, are known as “Welsh” and live in “Wales” – both words merely deriving from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘foreigners’ or ‘slave‘- which is why the Welsh prefers to by known as Cymru (pronounced “Cummry”), which means “land of friends or comrades“.

(The above dates are from English Heritage’s Wroxeter brochure)

Source: ‘Wroxeter: Life & Death of a Roman City‘ –  Roger White & Philip Barker


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The Berth – Iron Age and Romano-British ‘Hillfort’ Virtual Tour

The Berth Hillfort Recdonstruction

The virtual tour of this enigmatic ‘hillfort’ in North Shropshire, England that you’re about to experience was created almost seven years ago when I was co-director of a company called Pastscapes. Whilst the tour was never completed it still gives an insight into this amazing ancient monument that was only one mile from my previous home near Baschurch.

It was developed using an immersive tour software called Tourweaver – normally used by real estate agents – and includes both photographs of the area as well as CGI composite reconstruction, created using Cinema 4D and Photoshop.

The Berth has been said to be the burial place of King Arthur by Philips and Keatman in their book King Arthur – The True Story, but, as yet, there’s no solid evidence that it was ever occupied beyond the 4th century. A planned dig by English Heritage should answer that one.

To take the tour click HERE, and follow the instruction.  It takes a little while to load and you will need an up to date Java plugin.  Some links – for example those that say ‘ENLARGE’ – will not work as they are referencing an old site that no longer exists.



CREDITS: Modelling: Peter Hurst; Texturing, Lighting, Compositing, Tour Creation: Mak Wilson


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The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia

I will be posting a blog soon entitled ‘The Fifth Romano-British Province of Valentia‘. This will be covering the various theories as to where this province was in the Roman diocese of Britannia, but especially covering one that hasn’t been properly considered.



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