The Fall of Roman Britain and the myth of the Anglo-Saxon Conquest


I’ve been thinking recently about post-Roman Britain and the accepted version of how the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, led by warrior leaders, displaced the native British and created the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that came to make modern England.

I think that there is a real problem with this narrative, and that problem is really rooted in the decline in urbanism and end of a money-based economy in the decades after the year 400.

One of the problems is a shortage of contemporary written sources. Most of the written sources come from the 6th century and later, such as Gildas’ De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain), a text that is not a history but is more of a polemic against the British rulers and clergy of his own age.

What we do know about the beginning of the 5th century is that Britain effectively ceased to be a part of the Western Empire of Honorius and gradually separated into distinct “kingdoms”. The timeline for this begins at the start of the century when Stilicho, the Magister Militum of the West, appears to have withdrawn troops from Britain to support his campaigns against Alaric.

Within a few years, Roman forces that remained in Britain revolted and raised a number of pretenders to the purple. The last of these was Flavius Claudius Constantinus, who, in 407 declared himself to be Western Emperor and is known in British history as Constantine III.

It is widely assumed that he took the bulk of the Roman forces remaining in Britain across the Channel and his generals fought a number of engagements in Gaul and along the Rhine against both barbarian opponents and Stilicho’s Roman forces.

His armies continued to campaign in Gaul, Hispania and in Italy, with Constantine setting up a capital at Arles. Eventually he was recognised as co-emperor by Honorius in 409 and neither he nor his army ever returned to Britain. He was finally defeated by the future emperor Constantius III in 411 and beheaded.

Britain was therefore left denuded of front-line troops (comitatenses), although it seems possible that various units of limitanei (border guard units) and Germanic foederati remained in the provinces. Certainly there seems to have been forces available to repel barbarian incursions around 408-9.

One of the main arguments in favour of a break with Rome is the end of a monetary economy in the first two decades of the 5th century. However, this may be misleading. The empire was never a fully-monetarised economy and coinage was mainly used to pay the troops, although coins were in circulation to some extent.

Therefore, it seems to me that once there were no regular comitatenses-type troops to pay, the need for coinage declined. Border militias and foederati could have been supported by land grants and by payment in kind, rather than with cash.

In this period, it also seems that the local Romano-British magnates expelled the imperial administrators. It is possible that these administrators were most closely identified with tax collection and with the military administration. With no troops to pay, it is entirely possible that the local landowners saw no need for any tax collectors. In the Dominate period, tax collection was mainly for the purpose of paying for the armies.

Of course, the administration may also have seemed like a needless or corrupt luxury and one that served no real purpose in Britain once the military was reduced to a shadow of what it had been previously.

We also see a decline in urbanism in this period and, in the traditional narratives, this has been used as a way of showing the decline of Roman life in the face of barbarian invasion and conquest. However, there is another possible explanation. Britain was a society where the local Roman “aristocracy” was based around a sophisticated villa society. Villas were not just country houses, they were powerful economic hubs, the centres of networks of agricultural and manufacturing activities.

Towns, on the other hand, were not really essential to the economy and, in the Dominate, were part of the imperial structure and administration. One needs to remember that even at the peak of the Roman empire, probably no more than 20% of the population lived in urban centres, a figure that may have been as low as 10% in the West.

In Britain we see a change of use of many urban public buildings in the 5th century, a decline in urban populations and rise in a localised economy, with new unofficial populated centres developing near to villas and at important centres of local manufacture rather than in the older public towns. This may reflect a change towards internal trade rather than international, as well as population shifts away from declining towns.

We also see some urban centres becoming used for small-scale manufacturing and agriculture, before gradually being abandoned.

Therefore, a decline in urbanism may represent a changed emphasis inside British life rather than a decline brought on by external pressures. It would certainly seem that many urban centres were abandoned before there was any significant influx of Germanic peoples across the North Sea.

However, we do see a genuine decline in the traditional fabric of Roman life as the 5th century progresses, including a decline in the villa system. What are we seeing here?

It seems to me that we see a number of factors at play.

Firstly, we do see a change in the structure of society and a gradual fragmentation, with local magnates becoming powerful leaders in their own right, possibly as “protectors” of the peasantry, with their own militias acting as a defence against other magnates’ territorial ambitions and as a means of extending their own area of control.

Secondly, although there was still a sense of the people of Britain somehow still being “Roman”, there was also a gradual change in how people saw themselves. Throughout the 5th century old, pre-Roman sites seem to have been re-populated, hill-forts dating back to the Iron Age become centres of local power and we see Irish and Germanic people begin to arrive in Britain.

Now, we need to look at these Germanic arrivals. The striking thing about this is that in the early period we do not see, from archaeology, a militarised Germanic society with much in the way of high status sites, as one might expect from the standard narrative of conquest by war leaders and their warrior elites.

What we do see is a lot of small settlements and subsistence farming. This suggests to me that the traditional narrative is flawed. If there is an absence of archaeological evidence which shows the presence of high status communities in the 5th and early 6th centuries, i.e. sites that might indicate the presence of “warrior” elites, that suggests to me that there might have been an absence of warrior elites in that period too. It is not until the later 6th and 7th centuries that high status elites emerge in the burgeoning “English” areas of Britain

My assessment here is that the commonly accepted narrative of warbands Angles, Saxons and Jutes arriving under elite leaders, bent on conquest, is wrong and that these elites only emerged from agrarian settlements once immigration had established itself. Furthermore, I would suggest that the actual identities of the “Angles, Saxons and Jutes” are a process of deliberate creation by newly emergent elites during the 7th century, and that these ethnic identities were manufactured in along with the claimed ancestries that the various new Anglo-Saxon elites constructed to claim traditional rights of leadership.

There is a lot more evidence for post-Roman British elite centres in the 6th century, in the western part of the country than “English” ones and it seems possible that the emergent “English” elites were consciously influenced by these post-Roman British elites, together with continental ones like the Franks, when developing their own ruling elite families.

There is also a point to consider about the Christianisation of the new English elites. It may well be that they adopted Christianity, not from faith, but because it validated their rule in line with what was happening elsewhere in post-Roman Western Europe. In other words, to be a king in the late-7th and 8th centuries, one had to be a Christian.

However, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

To address the question of why these Germanic peoples made the journey across the North Sea and Channel, we need to look at conditions elsewhere.

5th and 6th century western Europe was a region of massive cultural and political change. There were large-scale movements of peoples and the replacement of Roman provinces with Romano-Germanic successor kingdoms, a process that would continue into the 7th century. In addition there was regular warfare, both between different Roman factions and also between Romans and barbarians.

It is entirely possible that people from the northern fringes of Gaul, Germania and what is now Denmark were actually fleeing from the upheavals, uncertainty and warfare and were not conquerors. Their reasons for coming to Britain were more akin to those of modern economic migrants and refugees rather than anything else.

There would already have been trade connections and other contacts across the sea, as well as numbers of Germanic-speaking people in Britain, serving as Roman auxiliary troops and foederati. It is possible that other groups were encouraged to move to Britain by local magnates to replace the military forces withdrawn at the beginning of the 5th century. The legend of Vortigern and Hengist and Horsa may well be an echo of such practices.

So, to summarise;

Specifically in the case of southern and eastern post-Roman Britain, we should consider factors such as a collapse of central authority in the early part of the 5th century, the lack of any kind of military capability that could limit immigration, the fragmentation of the provinces following the decline of centres of power and the subsequent reversion to a subsistence level of culture.

The traditional model blames these things on incoming barbarian warrior bands, but the abandonment of urban centres, the end of organised large-scale manufacturing and agriculture and the cessation of a money economy predates any such putative invasion.

The triggers for the collapse of Roman Britain were the withdrawal of the military and the expulsion of Roman administrators during the time of Constantine III and his abortive attempt at gaining the western imperium.

We should remember that the model of urbanism in Late Roman Europe, especially in the West, was a changed thing from the urban culture of the earlier Principate. The independence of cities, with local senatorial elites declined and cities became administrative and military centres for the more pervasive Dominate administration, with the old senatorial elites retiring to their country estates.

As Roman central authority declined, cities and public towns became much more associated with the maintenance and support of luxury villa complexes, rather than being population and administrative centres in their own right. In many towns, public spaces declined, to be replaced with urban farms, markets and manufactories of various kinds.

As the villa system collapsed, the public towns themselves served little or no purpose.

At the same time the public centres changed their roles, other settlements, towns and villages sprang up in various places, but without the formal public spaces, temples, basilicas, forums etc of the public towns.

These relatively egalitarian new establishments seem to have developed to act as a focus for local trade and manufacture, rather than as any kind of centre of government.

As the role of old urban centres of the Roman provinces declined, people slowly abandoned them.


43 thoughts on “The Fall of Roman Britain and the myth of the Anglo-Saxon Conquest

  1. Brilliant, I have been thinking along similar lines for quite a while – following writers such as Nick Higham et al in Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, Francis Pryor (Britain A.D.) and Michael Jones (The End of Roman Britain). I am currently writing a (fictional) history of Carausius, but may follow this with a novel from the 6th century, based on some of these ideas. If interested, contact my by email ( or on Facebook.

  2. The Dna doesn’t support an Anglo-Saxon invasion! I even have my doubts about the English language, burgh is a word that appears to be “Celtic” in origin not Teutonic .

    • Well, there isn’t a gene for “invader” so it isn’t appropriate to cite DNA evidence for an invasion or for an absence of invasion. What is interesting is that the recent DNA mapping of the UK showed up that around 20-30% of the DNA of modern British people living it what were traditionally seen as areas of AS settlement is Germanic in origin. That suggests that the Germanic incomers did not wipe out or ethnically cleanse the local populations but mixed in with them. Similarly, in areas where the Danes settled, we see about 10-11% of Danish origin genes. Again, a sign of mixing, not replacement. The real problem for the invasion model is that it is implausible.

      The points that really stick out for me are how the DNA survey illuminates a few things that have long been massive points of argument. Firstly, and this is something that interests me hugely, the evidence demonstrates that the Romano-British inhabitants of what came to be England were not wiped out or ethnically-cleansed by the incoming Germanic speakers we call the Anglo-Saxons. It shows that what happened was a mixing of populations and the absorption of the incomers into existing populations. It also demonstrates that the culture of the incomers, together with their language became dominant, with the Romano-British in those areas where Germanic settlement was strongest adapting their language, dress and other things. This suggests to me several things; that the incomers effected a larger element of societal change than just elite transfer, that after the end of Roman rule, the locals may well have improvised a new way of living that they wore lightly and which never became ingrained and which they gave up when something more robust came along and also that what emerged from the 5th and 6th centuries was basically a synthetic new culture, which eventually became English. This is far from the traditional narrative of the emergence of an “Anglo-Saxon” English race, so beloved of 19th century English historians.

      Secondly, it is also interesting that there seems to be a problem with the traditional narrative of a “Celtic” people on the fringes of the new English world. This again doesn’t really surprise me. The idea of a “Celtic nation” is very much an invention of the late 18th and 19th centuries. There is undoubtedly a linguistic and cultural Celtic identity, it would be nonsensical to deny this, but the evidence suggests that Celtic language, technology and artefacts arrived here via diffusion rather than in waves of migration and ethnic replacement. This is something I have long considered to be the most likely explanation anyway.

      The third thing that really struck me was the close similarity between the southern population of Scotland and northern English. Surely this reflects the spread of the Northumbrian kingdom, itself a merger of the earlier Bernicia and Deira? Bernicia itself is interesting because the name is Cymric not Germanic, although the kingdom was a Saxon one (which covered the modern North-east of England and South-eastern Scotland). Again, I expect that we are seeing a mixed Romano-British and Germanic population in this region.

      Anyway, I find this all fascinating, because it shows how national mythologies arise from origins which are far more complex than the narratives that they spawn and which often bear little resemblance to any objective reality.

      Finally, it is interesting that we see little evidence for the Normans in the genetic survey. I suspect that this is because the survey was aimed at mapping the general population, rather than the aristocracy. The actual number of Normans who settled in England, Ireland and Scotland was tiny, it was a real example of elite transfer and I would say that this is the reason why we see little DNA overlap with the general population of Normandy.

      • Study of the ancestry of the “Normans” who migrated to England indicates that many were of British descent, so one wouldn’t expect their DNA to leave a distinct imprint.

      • Can you cite a source for this? Because the Normans, certainly the elites, were descended from Scandinavians. There may well have been Bretons who arrived with the Normans, there were definitely Breton troops in William’s army. The Bretons were, of course, related to the Romano-British, indeed there was settlement in what is now Brittany from southwestern Britain in the 5th century.

      • Brittany was founded in 383. The 11th Angevins had a hostile memory of their homeland in western Armorica being taken over and their ancestor, a soldier in Gratian’s army, being expelled (with the rest of Gratian’s garrisons there) by Conan Meriadoc on Magnus Maximus’s orders. It’s always interesting to see the view from the opposing side.

      • I don’t think that we can necessarily say that “Brittany” was founded in 383. It is clearly the case that British emigrants began to settle in the Armorican peninsula in the latter part of the 4th century, but the evidence is not that good, dating mainly from the 11th or 12th centuries. The legend of Conan Meriadoc is pretty much on a par with that of King Arthur in terms of credibility. Clearly, these legends represent some kind of echo of actual events but I think that it is better to exercise caution. The Dream of Macsen Wledig is hardly authoritative.

      • In regard to the DNA, it also has to be understood that southeastern Britain and North central Europe had been linked genetically for thousands of years. So even a lot of the so-called German DNA could have been British for a very long time before even the Roman conquest. They have even found a few R-U106/German types among the very first R-P312 types in early Bronze Age Britain. So they have probably always been there.

      • Huh Stan? U106 in bronze age Britain??? I know there were autosomally British U106 from the Roman era “gladiators” but I have never heard of any prior.

        As for the “Norman English” they included Bretons, other French and Belgians as well as the mixed people of Normandy (which wasn’t completely settled by Scandinavians). William’s followers were diverse. The later immigrants under the Plantagenets from Anjou were even more diverse. There was plenty of other immigration like Huguenots or the Dutch to East Anglia.

        I tend to believe Celtic waves arrived in a few batches like from the Marne region and later Belgae and the culture spread from them and that most bore similar Y DNA to what was already in place in Britain except possibly some Belgae.

    • Say “eight days” in German or Danish.
      Next say it in French.
      Hmm, both miss the target.

      Now try it in Breton. Nearly a bulls-eye.

      Don’t believe everything you read in the OED. Oxford is a well-known centre of Anglo-Saxonism. 🙂

  3. Scandinavians, yes, but not in large numbers even in Normandy. Concentrations occur in Rouen and at the northern tip of the Cotentin peninsula, areas that correspond with the addition of Norse words to the local French dialects. But most of Normandy’s population are and were of Gallic descent.

    Rouen and the Normandy ports also have concentrations of Bretons. In late 1090 Breton merchants in Rouen were strong enough to expel Duke Robert Curthose.

    William the Conqueror had several Breton female ancestors (his mother Herleva’s ethnicity is unknown) and his male line’s Y DNA is currently being analysed at two separate laboratories. I’m told it looks like being R1b from western Norway. Perhaps surprisingly (or not, if one reflects on Viking history), that opens the possibility it might be British “Celtic” R1b-L21!

    Among the leaders of William’s expedition to England, the Beaumonts were from Meulan in the Ile de France, Alan Rufus and his brother Brian were Bretons and William’s half-brothers Robert and Odo were sons of Herluin de Conteville.

    Herluin was named after a Count of Ponthieu, Herlewin son of Haelchod. These are not Norse names but look British to me; these counts are known to have promoted Breton monasteries. Consistent with this, Magnus Maximus landed his main army from Britain at St Valery in 383, and the Somme and Normandy have locations with names such as Villers-Bretonneux, Bretigny, Breteuil and those of British saints in profusion. Conteville itself was the site of a shrine to St Samson of Dol. Robert and Odo witnessed a charter of Duke Regent Eudon of Brittany (Alan’s father) circa 1050 and maintained close interests in Breton affairs. Allegedly they also had a sister with the distinctively Breton name Muriel.

    Secondary figures such as Scolland, Abbot of St Augustine’s, seem to have been Breton; his immediate family had unusual names like Acaris all of which recur in the entourage of Alan’s heirs.

      • It takes more time to mention everybody. Yes, the Flemish (broadly defined) were a large contingent in the eastern wing (vanguard) of William’s army at Hastings.

        In “Flanders”, I include Boulogne and Ponthieu (though the Counts of Ponthieu seem to have been of British not Flemish descent).

        I think many of the Flemish left, due to factors such as Eustace of Boulogne’s misbehaviour and good prospects arising back home. In any case, they don’t seem to have been among the reinforcements William hired from France and Brittany in 1085.

        So the Flemish proportion was diluted.

        Queen Matilda of course of great importance: the Bretons would agree with this, as it was she who recommended that Alan Rufus be given Earl Edwin’s lands in North Yorkshire.

      • Oh, and Alan was best buddies with Queen Matilda’s daughter Princess Matilda and her husband Walter d’Aincourt who came from the Vexin to England during Edward the Confessor’s reign to receive a plot of land in Derby.

  4. This is indeed fascinating stuff about the Normans. Just a minority of Norse descent from a warrior elite /band??

    Have you read Guy Halsalls “World of Arthur”. Not really about King Arthur, but a new take on the 400-600 era. Not in love with the Anglo Saxon invasion. Germanic culture adopted by British as Roman culture diminished.

    Legions left with Magnus Maximus and his attempt for Emperor. Never returned only Germanic foederati left to defend “villa zone” . Hence early so called Anglo Saxon tribes in Upper Thames, hardly east coast.

  5. Another name for Brittany in Welsh is Llydaw. One story is that this word refers to the Bretons preserving their language by cutting out the tongues of the native women. This tale isn’t given much credence, but it does suggest that the Welsh regretted that women had caused Celtic language to be lost in much of Britain.

    Ancient DNA samples in one study of female post-Roman graves in Wales and Cambridgeshire show similar ratios in both of about 2/3 British and 1/3 Germanic. The wealthy women were Britons, the poorest servants were Germanic, the intermediate class (as it were) were mixed.

    This is consistent with intermarriage of course, but it shows that the Saxons weren’t taking over power, they were filling menial positions, which may have included nursemaid for the children.

    Language is not transmitted primarily from father to child, but from the mother. Among the wealthy, the mother’s role is to produce offspring but the servants raise the children.

    Thus we can picture a nationwide scenario in which the Britons won the war, if there was a war, but lost the peace, not to powerful Saxon leaders but to subtly more powerful Saxon maids.

    Those remoter regions that either couldn’t afford Saxon maids, or were too far for them to travel, or that realised in time what was happening, preserved Cornish, Welsh, Cumbrian etc, but for the rest of the country it was too late: children were being taught not about mythical Celtic heroes but about Danes, Goths and Beowulf, in the Saxon language.

    • Now that’s a conspiracy theory. That might be possible in Wessex maybe where the early rulers had Celtic names and their German origin story is suspect but it’s clear there is a large replacement of Brython Y DNA with more German associated ones in England

      • Conspiracy? No, just the gradual adoption of language strongly influenced by the women with whom a child spends most of his/her early years.

        Wessex, yes, because being in the southwest it was important in the minds of Welsh, Cornish and Bretons.

        On another tangent, early Mercian rulers such as Penda not only had close connections with people of Wales, Cumbria and neighbouring Brythonic peoples, those links continued into the 11th century, when the Welsh and Mercians combined against the Bretons and Normans in the 1069 Battle of Stafford.

        In Northumbria, the last native dynasty, that of Gospatric, was of Cumbrian descent, as his name indicates.

        So what am I saying? It’s that “Celt vs Anglo-Saxon” is, for most of Britain’s history, a false dichotomy.

  6. The earliest law code in Anglo-Saxon England is that of Aethelberht of Kent, who reigned a decade either side of AD 600. Its content bears a close resemblance in detail to the Excerpta de Libris Romanorum et Francorum, an early law code from Brittany. The Romans in the title refers to the Romanised Britons in Gaul, so the Franks are their neighbours.

    So we’re probably looking at the adoption by Aethelberht of Romano-British law as it stood on the Continent. A relationship therefore of deep respect, admiration and emulation.

    • Yes, I think that there were close links between Saxon Kent and Merovingian Francia. Archaeological evidence appears to show two-way trade across the Channel. The Saxon Kingdom in Kent seems to have been the oldest of the Germanic kingdoms in Britain and it is unlikely that given the proximity of Kent to the European mainland that there was no cultural influence. Indeed, Æthelberht had a Frankish wife, Bertha, who was a Christian and it was in Kent that the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity began.

  7. The Dream of Macsen Wledig is not among my sources. If we set aside Conan Meriadoc as legendary as Merovech of the Franks, it remains that the historical Magnus Maximus settled troops he brought from Britain in several locations along the south shore of the Channel. That Magnus’s settlement of soldiers in western peninsular Armorica was part of the foundation story of the Counts of Anjou, who resented it, is telling: why would _they_ make that up?

    • Why would the Counts of Anjou make up such a story? Potentially for any number of reasons. The County of Anjou didn’t come into existence until about halfway through the 9th century when Robert the Strong was granted the title of Count of Anjou. His family was, incidentally from what is today Belgium, not from Armorica. There is around half a century between the rule of Magnus Maximus as Western Emperor and the creation of the County of Anjou. In that time, Roman rule was replaced by that of the Western Franks. It was not uncommon for various families to claim all manner of imaginary pasts.

      What is the source for your claims here?

      • Robert the Strong’s ancestors were from Worms, a formerly Celtic-speaking town that was conquered by the Romans. If we assume that the Capets are his descendants in male line, then his DNA would indeed be of the “Germanic” branch of R1b.

        However, when speaking of the Counts of Anjou I mean the patriline of Fulk the Red, who were claimed to be refugees from 4th century western peninsular Armorica (what we now call Lower Brittany).

        There are three sources for the origins of Fulk’s family. One is the Liber Compositione Castro Ambaziae written in 1147, which traces the foundation of Anjou to a consequence of Magnus Maximus’s actions. See page 34 of “Later Arthurian Literature” by Mildred Leake Day for a brief summary.

        According to the Greta Consulum Andegavorum, written by a monk also in the 1140s, Fulk the Red was descended from Ingelger who was born in Rennes.

        An earlier document, a collection of genealogies of the Counts of Anjou and their rivals in neighbouring duchies and counties, was written in the mid-1000s. It was donated to the Vatican by a Swedish princess living in Italy.

        The point isn’t whether the claims in these documents are true, but what the 11th and 12th century Counts of Anjou believed.

        The Angevins didn’t claim descent from the Britons of Arthurian legends, but from their embittered enemies, the soldiers whom the Britons expelled when they first invaded northwest Gaul.

        These soldiers supposedly settled a little further east, in Rennes, which, note well, continued to speak Gallo, essentially the same language as would be spoken in 11th century Anjou.

        Ingelger allegedly left Rennes due to committing a felony.

        If the Angevins wanted to aggrandise their ancestors, they did an atrocious job of it.

  8. I believe Justinian’s Plague of 550CE may have had a major impact on English life. The villas were abandoned around this time, and Anglos became entrenched. I believe the plague may have disproportionately affected Christians due to their funeral practices, and that this is why so little Roman DNA made it into the English genome. The pagans burned their dead and did not huddle in churches.

    I am also among those who believe the German presence in Briton began around 290, when they were used to garrison the Saxon Shore, most likely during the Carausius rebellion. Hengest and Horsa would then be just mythical characters like Romulus and Remus associated with the establishment of the German garrisons. In this interpretation, Vortigen would be Carausius, the only person in early English history able to claim a grand title.

    Why did English sweep the island? Because most trade routes after 500 looked east, not south. English became the language of trade.

    • Although Justinian’s Plague (as well as other, earlier outbreaks of plague) undoubtedly affected Britain, I think it highly unlikely that it brought about the end of Villa Society, because it rather seems from archaeological evidence that it had pretty much ended well over a century or more before 550 CE. I am not sure what you mean by “Roman DNA” either. There isn’t a gene for Romanitas. Neither am I sure that funerary practices were responsible for spread of plague and the end of Roman lifestyles in 5th and 6th century Britain. It is far more likely that Romano-British areas suffered from the plague more because of trading links with Gaul and beyond.

      The question of funerary practices is interesting though, because far too many people assume that populations can easily be classified by their burial methods. Although this is possible, up to a point, it tells us nothing about the assumed ethnicity of the deceased.

      Finally, I would question whether the “English swept the island” at all. I’d suggest that the reality is a lot more nuanced and that much of the apparent “extinction” of the Romano-British population is actually more to do with shifts in cultural norms and choices of ethnic identification than actual conquest.

      • S21 may have been in Britain before the Roman period. It travelled alongside “Celtic” DNA on the Continent. We need more samples of ancient DNA from Britain to be sure.

        Nowadays “Germanic” DNA is almost as common in Wales as in East Anglia. “Celtic” DNA is almost as common in East Anglia as in Wales: it’s the majority (over 60%) in both areas.

        As for “Vortigern”, the word “Tigern” (oddly translated as “tyrannus” in Latin texts) or “Tihern” depending on the dialect, is the title of a local government post in early medieval Brittany. An important post much-attested by legal documents from the mid-800s was “Machtiern” (Mach-Tigern) which had financial as well as administrative duties.

  9. There is a question as to whether Dorset was ever ‘conquered’ at all but rather incorporated into Wessex by treaty. Dorset had a sort of ‘Maginot Line’ of defenses which the West Saxons outflanked by moving westwards through Somerset, setting up Taunton as a garrison town.

    • There are remains of dykes and earthworks along the eastern border of Dorset, aren’t there? I’m not sure that there is a great deal of evidence of what actually happened when the Saxons began to expand westwards though. but it is clear that Dorset ended up as part of Wessex. I am always cautious about drawing modern parallels with the shadowy events of the early mediaeval period, though.

    • As far as I am aware, the Sutton Hoo ship-burial has been dated to the early 7th century, and the cemeteries there are later 6th and early 7th century. This doesn’t conflict with what I have written. I did say “If there is an absence of archaeological evidence which shows the presence of high status communities in the 5th and early 6th centuries, i.e. sites that might indicate the presence of “warrior” elites, that suggests to me that there might have been an absence of warrior elites in that period too. It is not until the later 6th and 7th centuries that high status elites emerge in the burgeoning “English” areas of Britain”

      • Well, this burial appears to reflect an unforgotten warrior-ethos which clearly goes back hundreds of years. Are you subscribing to a “Dark Age” myth that assumes these “barbarian” tribes (that produced “Beowulf”!) were incapable of organising a military invasion?

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