• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

How should we nowadays understand the Anglo-Saxon 'Invasions' of lowland Britain?

Extracts from this document...


How should we nowadays understand the Anglo-Saxon 'Invasions' of lowland Britain? There is considerable uncertainty about the transition from a 'Romano-British' society to a predominantly 'Anglo-Saxon' society that occurred in most of lowland Britain between the fourth and sixth centuries; indeed, since we must rely on a very few writings, supplemented by fragmentary archaeological and philological evidence, it is questionable to what extent we can hope to 'understand' the period. Nevertheless, by considering the different types of evidence in relation to each other, we can reach tentative conclusions. I do not propose to analyse in detail the precise chronology of the period: the basic outline, upon which Gildas and archaeological evidence agree, is that, after Roman and sub-Roman leaders invited mercenaries from the Continent in the fourth and fifth centuries, these mercenaries rebelled. Joined by others from the Continent, they settled across southern and eastern Britain over subsequent centuries. This expansion was not uniform: there were periods of British success (such as after Mons Badonicus) and some British kingdoms (such as Elmet) survived in lowland Britain for some time. While there is important debate about the origin of the Anglo-Saxon immigrants and the timing of their arrival, the central matters of historiographical dispute nowadays concern the scale of the Anglo-Saxon immigration and the extent to which the Britons survived the adventus Saxonum, the expression often used for the Anglo-Saxon 'invasions'. The question is whether this adventus (literally "arrival") was a full-scale 'invasion', which comprehensively demolished or displaced the Britons, or a smaller 'elite migration', which involved changes in leadership and language, but allowed considerable continuity with the sub-Roman period. The tendency has been to see these as strict alternatives, with historians like Stenton and Myres taking the former view and Arnold, Hodges and Higham adhering to the latter. However, I shall argue that the survival of many Britons and substantial Anglo-Saxon immigration are not mutually exclusive; Hamerow points at such a conclusion, without exploring it fully. ...read more.


The third reference is primarily to battles fought by Aethelfrith's war bands. Without doubt, battles did occur across Britain, with examples including Old Sarum, Beranbyrg, Biedcanford, Catraeth, Wodnesbeorh and Mons Badonicus (of which the last two were British victories). However, we may doubt the extent of their impact, since, as Gododdin and Beowulf imply, battles were generally fought between relatively small aristocratic forces. Evidence of extreme British hostility to the Anglo-Saxons (such as Gododdin) was probably written primarily for aristocratic consumption and need indicate neither that the general rural population was unduly hostile to the Anglo-Saxons nor that the mass of the British population was in some way wiped out. Since Gildas's readership would presumably have realised if he had fabricated recent events, we should accept that at least some cities were attacked and were "in ruins and unkempt";5 however, we should neither attribute the decline of the towns entirely to the Anglo-Saxons nor overstate the significance of attacks on British towns. Following the departure of the Romans, the towns declined as economic and administrative centres; this is suggested by the dark soil mentioned above. The attacks of the Anglo-Saxons were not therefore the sole cause of the decline of the towns. Moreover, in examining continuity, the emphasis should, as Finberg argues, be on the countryside, where the majority of people lived. The evidence of the towns (which, in any case, do show some signs of continued British influence) should not lead us to conclude that the British population was seriously damaged by the adventus. A possible reason why towns were sites of conflict was that they would be more likely to have defences, which might encourage British resistance; it is quite probable that the general rural population was 'conquered' without widespread violence. It has been claimed, notably by Stenton, that the almost total absence of British words from the English language and the small number of British place names indicate that the British population was totally overwhelmed. ...read more.


because there were so many people of these races.9 This would help to limit the net growth of the population of Britain, and the hint that there was overcrowding only lends weight to the argument that there was large-scale Anglo-Saxon immigration. How appropriate is the word 'invasions' when referring to the adventus Saxonum? In one sense, the term is quite apt: it suggests a large movement of people, and it seems reasonable to posit relatively large-scale immigration to Britain. The traditional historiographical interpretation viewed the destruction of the British population as the logical corollary of this immigration, but we must now question this claim, in the light of the substantial elements of continuity with the sub-Roman period that can be deduced: the destructive connotations of the word 'invasions' therefore render it inappropriate in this context. There were indeed many important changes in Britain, not least the replacement of the Brittonic language with English. However, these changes need not indicate the replacement of ethnic Britons with ethnic Saxons: in the light of the continuities that are apparent, it is preferable to see the changes as the result of acculturation for social advancement. The resultant changes were such that it was probably often hard to distinguish between Britons and Saxons. Therefore, although there were aspects of continuity, it would be a mistake to try to force the whole period into a straitjacket of continuity. The stark choice that Finberg presents with the title "Continuity or Cataclysm?" is not particularly helpful: although this was a period of transformation, with significant elements of continuity, this transformation probably did not involve widespread violence for most ordinary rural Britons, as 'cataclysm' would imply. We should therefore understand the adventus Saxonum quite simply as 'the arrival of the Saxons', and neither imbue our translation of the expression with the idea of extensive violent replacement of Britons with Saxons, as the word 'invasions' might imply, nor deny, as Higham does, that a large migration of people from the Continent to Britain occurred. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Population & Settlement section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Population & Settlement essays

  1. An Overview of Immigration to Australia

    107 391 78 269 68 580 1992-93 90 000 79 800 76 330 48 425 30 042 1993-94 76 000 76 800 69 768 42 488 46 549 1994-95 86 000 89 700 87 428 60 480 80 125 1995-96 96 000 98 000 99 139 70 469 104 137

  2. Data Interpretation (assignment 1)

    offences Offences per 1000 population Offences per 1000 England/Wales population Apr-Jun 2003 1598 13.7 11.3 Jul-Sep 2003 1716 14.7 11.0 Oct-Dec 2003 1404 12.0 10.4 Jan-Mar 2004 1506 12.9 10.3 Manual Analysis - Ipswich (Vehicle & Other Theft) The crime statistics for Vehicle and other theft in Ipswich is a

  1. Demography of England.

    The demographic reason for population growth was a fall in the death rate. The annual rate of growth (how much the population increases each year) is expected to fall from 0.3 per cent to 0.2 percent by 2021. Migration Migration is people moving form one place to another, in and out of a country for a long time.

  2. Manchild - critical review

    With chilling realism Brown documents the nightmarish lives of individuals caught in that vicious cycle. Brown's depiction of Harlem in acute crisis is relentless and at times overwhelming. People live in fear and in suspicion of one another. The white world intrudes in the form of greedy merchants, extortionist landlords, and brutal police officers.

  1. "What is the relation between the image of the 'rural' and the idea of ...

    They are on the lowest line of the middle class, enough money for food, clothes and shelter. Leonard Bast is symbolic of his class, hard working but impoverished, ever trying to enter that upper echelon, but never making it. Leonard will become a key talking point in linking the image of the rural to the idea of England.

  2. Brent Cross shall have a bigger sphere of influence than High Wycombe

    So from all of these I think that it is reliable to say that Brent Cross will have a bigger sphere of influence compared to High Wycombe's. Methodology The method I shall be using to obtain my data would be a questionnaire.

  1. Global Community and Immigration in the United States

    (Camarota - Findings) Economic - Positives and Negatives Figures indicated that immigrants both legal and illegal make up 13% of the nation's workers, the highest percentage since the 1930s. "They dominate job categories at both ends of the economic spectrum.

  2. Retail Centres Investigation

    This will be of use to me when considering explanations about the spheres of influence of the different types of shopping centres. Similarly for the secondary shopping centres, such as Whippendell Road, I will make a note of the types of shops and the number of shops in the area

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work