Monday, August 16, 2010

The Saxon Non-Invasion – More Evidence

I’ve been blogging about the evidence against a Saxon invasion of Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries. I’ve mentioned that the type of vessels the Germanic peoples had during that time period were not likely to be able to carry over troops in the scale an invasion would require, and that the forts along the “Saxon Shore” – the southeastern coast of England – were more likely supply or trade depots than provision for defense.

There’s other evidence I’ve unearthed as well.

First, there’s the myth that when the Romans pulled out, everything fell to pieces. The population dropped. Farmers abandoned their lands and it went back to forest.

Well, Michael Jones in The End of Roman Britain notes that Britain did not turn into a wasteland. In fact, it supported a healthy population of 4 million or more. He also points out that, rather than returning to forest, the era shows evidence of more forest being cleared.

Jones’s assertion is supported by the pollen studies described in Episode 2 of the BBC TV series, Britain AD, hosted by Francis Pryor. You can view this episode on U-Tube.
It makes fascinating watching because it piles up the evidence against a large-scale invasion. Pryor’s book Britain AD, which I’ve quoted in this post and elsewhere in my blogs is an expansion of the ideas in the TV series.

Anyway, pollen studies are based on the premise that the pollen of plants growing in an area get deposited into the soil, where it remains for thousands of years. By taking a soil core, you can see what was growing in the area during a particular period of time. Core samples taken all over Britain show that the land did not revert to forest, as has been traditionally suggested. Instead, the same land continued to be farmed. There were no vast wildernesses.

Second, when there is an invasion, you expect archaeological evidence in the form of towns and villages destroyed, buildings burned, and religious shrines (especially) sacked and destroyed. With a few exceptions, there is almost no evidence of this throughout Britain for that time period. Instead there appears to be a period of building and expansion (this is the period in which Wroxeter grew from a small fort to a major center) throughout the land.

Francis Pryor, in his book Britain AD lists dig after archaeological dig in which continuity, not destruction, is evident, and in which “Celtic” and “Saxon” families appear to live side by side. He states, “Whenever archaeologists have taken a close look at the development of a particular piece of British landscape, it is difficult to find evidence for the scale of discontinuity one would expect had there been a mass migration from the Continent.” (Britain AD, p. 15)

Third, there is the issue of DNA testing. The BBC show provides some interesting evidence that might support an invasion. A researcher testing the males on the eastern side of the UK, found a preponderance of genes that are supposed to link to Anglo-Saxon traits. The problem is another team of DNA experts at the same university found totally conflicting results.

Today historians and archaelogists are split between two camps. Traditionalists still maintain that the theory of a large-scale Anglo-Saxon invasion explains the changes in culture and language which Britian experienced. But at least half the historians and archaelogists working at the coal face of research today maintain that these changes can easily be explained by forces and processes that don’t require an invasion.

And if there was no invasion, then there was no need for an Arthur to save Britain. Or was there?


  1. That all depends on what Arthur was saving Britain FROM. Perhaps wide-spread crime became rampant because of the lack of Pax Romani, (and the 40 years of darkness cause by the volcanic dust spewed out by Krakatoa, see Secrets of the Dead) so a new court rose. Perhaps that crime spree became associated with Saxons, fairly or otherwise. Oh, so many interesting speculations! :)

  2. Good thoughts. Actually I was planning on blogging on this another time...

  3. But if you think that people sailed those daft little coracles from Ireland across to Scotland, then why not Saxons across the North Sea in bigger boats in the summer when all is calm? They've probably been coming in waves since the land bridge existed between England and the Continent. Unnamed, not of any particular tribe, but families maybe driven off their own lands by people pushing in from the east. Over the years, a goodly number, but not an armed invasion force.

  4. I think, based on the archaelogical evidence I've been reading about, that's a more likely scenario. Pryor, especially, talks about digs in which Anglo-Saxon style houses exist right next to Celtic or Romano-Britain style homesteads. I find it fascinating that England, at that time period, had such a wide variety of architectural styles.

    There's another possibility, as well. If Britain was such a hub of trade at that time, who with? Considering the wide provenance of grave goods, as well as stuff that just happens to be found in garbage heaps and in the ruins of homes, Britain was trading with everyone. A lot of trade could have been with the various nations of Northern Europe, i.e, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, etc. Trade brings more than goods. It also brings new ideas and styles. Maybe this stuff just became "fashionable", the way Western things are right now in China. (My students during the 2.5 years I taught in China told me that anything -- from t-shirts to handbags to notebooks -- with English writing on it was in style.)

  5. In a hotch-potch way - silk reached England, but I don't imagine one man brought it all the way from India or China. Trader to trader to trader on the long journey until it reached England. English hunting dogs were sought after, of all things! Tin, perhaps, and jet, maybe exchanged for Baltic amber in some northern European port...conjures up lovely ideas, doesn't it?