How life changed for Britannia after Rome

Roman Forces Leave Britain

The collapse of Roman Britain in 409 A.D. marked a turning point in British history. By the beginning of the fifth century, it appears that Roman life had ended. Towns had disappeared, not to return for several centuries. Coinage for daily transactions was abandoned, and clothing, diets, and architecture were altered beyond recognition.

Gildas, a British historian of the sixth century, viewed the demise of Roman Britain as swift, dramatic, and apocalyptic. He relates how the Britons beseeched the Roman commander in Gaul for assistance. 

After the barbarians crossed the Rhine in the winter of 406–407, Roman military units in Britain rebelled and made one of their generals, Constantine, the new emperor.

Around the year 409, Emperor Constantine III of the Roman Empire ordered the vast majority of his army to withdraw from Britain. The Roman army never returned to Britain in force, and the few forces left behind were powerless when barbarians attacked Roman Britain. This Constantine, known as Constantine III, was the founder of what is now known as modern-day France.

With a remarkable sense of timing, the barbarians began their assault just as the Roman army departed. Some of those who invaded in the first half of the fifth century had a long history of raiding this part of the Roman Empire, so it’s probable that someone alerted them to the fact that no one was watching it anymore.

These included the Scots of Ireland and the Picts of Scotland, who often crossed into Roman territory. However, in the first part of the 5th century, some tribes that did not have a long history of conquering Britain began to do so: the Angles and Saxons of northern Germany, and the Jutes from southern Denmark.

The native Celtic people of Britain fought against the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the same way they had fought against the Romans, and with about the same amount of success.

It is possible, but not certain, that a British war leader named Arthur fought against the Anglo-Saxon migration and won a notable military victory against the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Mt. Badon around 500 A.D., but this was not enough to stop the flow of Anglo-Saxons into Roman Britain.

Irish tribes, particularly the Irish Scotti, took advantage of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain and began to settle along the west coast of the country. They made a number of small kingdoms, but the kingdom of Dál Riata was the most important one.

The Collapse of the Economic System of Roman Britain

By roughly the year 450, this economic structure had entirely collapsed. For instance, the British resorted to small-scale, regional pottery production. For instance, the British resorted to small-scale, regional pottery production. The use of coins as a form of currency was discontinued.

The towns and public buildings had been abandoned, and they no longer served their original purposes. Squatters often live in strange places, like the bottom of bathtubs, which indicates that no one is filling the tubs anymore.

In most Roman cities in Britain, including the provincial capital of London, the forum (administrative center) was abandoned by the third century. By the fourth century, some forums, such as the one at Silchester, had been changed to help small businesses.

As was the situation across the western empire, the supply of bronze coins to Britain diminished after 395 and halted entirely after 402. It is debatable how long the coinage was in circulation, but the fact that no attempt was made to make local coins to replace the Roman supply shows there was minimal demand.

Early in the fifth century, major pottery enterprises in the Nene Valley (Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire) ceased production. Metal, wood, and leather drinking cups swiftly supplanted ceramic vessels.

Despite the political turmoil depicted by the literary sources, it is certain that some Roman Britons were prosperous in the fourth century. All of Britain’s most beautiful mansions and mosaics of people were made during this later time.

According to the pagan author Zosimus, barbarian invasions forced the British to abandon Roman control and live freely, no longer subject to Roman law. 409 AD is widely considered the end of Roman sovereignty in Britain.

 

Angleland and Language

Among these repercussions was a name change. Britannia, the Roman name for Britain, has become obsolete, and a new name has been established. “Angleland,” the region where the Angles resided, is now known as England.

The people who lived in France still spoke Latin, but they also spoke a Romance language that was not spoken in the British Isles.

In the western part of the Roman Empire, Old English was not spoken in the same way as it is today. Instead, the language of the conquerors, which was Germanic, became the mainstream vernacular. In regions that the Romans never conquered, such as Scotland and Ireland, Celtic languages were spoken.

 

The Decline of Christianity in Anglesey

But probably the most striking split with the Roman past in Anglo-Saxon England had to do with religion and the fate of Christianity. On the rest of the European continent, non-Christian conquerors adopted the religion of the Roman people they ruled over, while barbarians became Christians.

The native population of Anglo-Saxon England appears to have abandoned Christianity and chosen either their own paganism or that of their rulers.

Only along the Celtic borders, in Ireland and Scotland, did Christianity survive. By the beginning of the sixth century, there was no evidence that Christians were active in Anglo-Saxon England.

During this time, the decline of Christianity in this part of the old Roman Empire made it impossible to read or write. However, Christianity did not completely disappear from Anglo-Saxon England.

It was eventually reintroduced, and the fact that missionaries were required to do so is a strong indication that it had been extinct in Anglo-Saxon regions.

In 597, Pope Gregory the Great dispatched missionaries from the European continent to England. Augustine of Canterbury led the missionary effort in Anglo-Saxon England. The missionary was able to achieve some success in his efforts to convert Ethelbert, the king of Kent.

In general, the missionaries encountered little opposition to their efforts, but the Angles frequently reverted to their pagan beliefs.

At the first hint of trouble, like severe weather or a military setback, they frequently concluded that their conversion to Christianity was to blame and reverted to their prior religious beliefs.

 

1130 depiction of Saxons, Jutes, and Angles crossing the sea to Britain
1130 depiction of Saxons, Jutes, and Angles crossing the sea to Britain

The Resurgence of England in the 7th Century

The introduction of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England in the seventh century entailed more than just a religious transformation. It set in motion a series of events that acted as a catalyst for subsequent significant transformations.

One positive development for historians was the restoration of literacy. Missionaries brought reading and writing to the Anglo-Saxons, which substantially expanded our understanding of Anglo-Saxon history. There is evidence of extensive residence and commercial activity associated with urban settings in these Anglo-Saxon towns and cities.

The resumption of the minting of coins in Anglo-Saxon England in the late seventh century was an indication that Anglo-Saxon England was once again experiencing a monetized economy as opposed to a strictly barter economy.

 

HISTORY

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Documentary

 

HISTORY

Book Recommendations

The Material Fall of Roman Britain, 300-525 Ce
The Material Fall of Roman Britain, 300-525 Ce
The Long War for Britannia 367-664: Arthur and the History of Post-Roman Britain
The Long War for Britannia 367-664: Arthur and the History of Post-Roman Britain by Edwin Pace
An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC - Ad 409
An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC - Ad 409
The Roman Conquest of Britannia: The History and Legacy of Roman Britain from Julius Caesar to Hadrian
The Roman Conquest of Britannia The History and Legacy of Roman Britain from Julius Caesar to Hadrian by Charles River
Roman Britain A New History 55 BC-AD 450 by Patricia Southern
Roman Britain A New History 55 BC-AD 450 by Patricia Southern

Sources

  • The Great Courses. (2017, December). What Happened to Britain After the Romans Left? Wondrium Daily. https://www.wondriumdaily.com/britain-after-the-romans-left/#:~:text=Town%20life%2C%20too%2C%20dwindled%20fairly,remained%20within%20any%20Roman%20town.

  • https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10092/10046/LydiaMearnsHist480Submission2014.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Accessed 11 Jan. 2023.
  • HistoryExtraAdmin. (2021, May 5). The fall of Roman Britain: how life changed for Britons after the empire. Historyextra.com; HistoryExtra. https://www.historyextra.com/period/roman/fall-roman-britain-empire-what-happened-why/

  • Tgec17, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • History Time. (2021). After Rome – The War For Britain // History Documentary [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXBgNNtEJ6M‌

 

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