Post-Roman Britain


The England of King Arthur and Britain’s Own Culture

Roman Britain was an area under the rule of the Roman Empire that was unlike the rest of the Western half. The British Isles were not conquered until later and they were not under the influence of the Roman Empire for very long, as opposed to the rest of mainland Europe that would be subject to Roman rule for quite some time. Because Roman influence did not last long in Britain, the culture of the Romans did not have the same staying power that it did in the other lands it conquered. Anglo-Saxon tribes would have a much more significant impact on the cultural development in Britain than the Romans did. Evidence of this is English as a Germanic language as opposed to French, Portuguese, Spanish, or Italian that speak the Romance languages derived from Roman Latin.

There was a void created when the Roman army drew back across the English Channel and into mainland Europe, and this vacuum allowed for the influence of other groups, specifically the Jutes of Denmark and Germanic groups the Saxons and the Angles. Early influence of these three groups was largely raids in the early 600s. These raids led to settlements in Britain, and by the beginning of the 5th century the Germanic tribes had taken control of current-day south east England, though their control did not extend outside of what is presently England. British resistance, the remaining Romans and the indigenous Britons, failed. One of the British generals who was able to secure a victory against the Germanic barbarians around 500 AD at the Battle of Mons Badonicus, Mount Badon, is said by future generations to have been the great legend King Arthur, if he ever existed.

Almost all remnants of Roman England were lost during the 5th and 6th centuries, where Anglo-Saxon society flourished. The British economy under British rule diminished, and the economy before the Roman conquest took place. The barter system replaced monetary values, as the Roman style of money was no longer accepted. Roman culture disappeared as the towns and villas established by the Roman army and people were abandoned and disappeared. This was also the first time the use of the word “England” came into use (derived from the land of the Angles). The Germanic language became the spoken vernacular in England as Romance languages disappeared with the Romans. Perhaps the most important aspect of Roman culture that disappeared was the monotheistic religion Christianity. The Anglo-Saxon paganism replaced Christianity, and it was rarely found outside of the Celts that practiced it on the outskirts and outside of England itself.

Missionaries came back to England after the 6th century to convert the Anglo-Saxon pagans to Christianity. A monk named Augustine was one of these missionaries sent to England, sent by Pope Gregory the Great himself, though he did not experience a great amount of success. Because Celts continued practicing religion, Irish missionaries also began spending time in England. It wasn’t until the mid 660s that the kings of the Germanic tribes began to accept Christianity formally and it was practiced by their subjects. The conversion to Christianity produced great results, as the literacy among the subjects greatly increased and lands soon began to urbanize. The use of monetary assets also returned along with literacy and Christianity, though because Roman Britain had been phased out, the culture that returned was something unique.