Thursday, February 7, 2013

Roman Occupation of Britain, Part II

Jim Morrison on the Roman Occupation of Britain:
This is the end, beautiful friend, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end, of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end

Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain
Ride the King's highway, baby
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The west is the best
This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free, but you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies, the end of nights we tried to die
This is the end


Just kidding, he wrote it about his girlfriend. But the lyrics fit, no?

For 200 years Britain was ruled firmly from Rome. As the 3rd century progressed, leadership in Rome became complacent and allowed territories to slip out of their control. Local commanders of distant provinces were given too much independence and began to think of carving their own kingdoms out of the Empire.

Roman Reform
Emperor Diocletian created reforms to help bring stability back. Two emperors, 'Augusti,' and two junior emperors, 'Caesars,' were created to divide the eastern and western empires between them so they could keep a closer eye on them. Countries within the empire were called dioceses. Britain was a diocese, though it was part of a larger unit known as the Praetorian Prefecture of the Gauls.



Roman Decline
During the first half of the fifth century, most of Britain's protectors against the impending Pictish and Saxon threat had either been withdrawn or were in the process of being withdrawn to defend Rome against Germanic tribes. The Empire was not in control of its frontiers. It was weakened by the civil war between Constantine's sons, but the chief danger was the barbarian migrations of the German tribes. In 402 Rome decided to pull more soldiers out of Britain as they were needed in Italy to defend the city against the Visigoths.

Britain began to scramble. Pretenders were welcomed by the vulnerable British if they seemed likely to protect them from their own barbarian enemies. It was under the British imperial pretender Constantine III that Britain severed her links with Rome for good. In 410 the sack of Rome by the Goths made Rome wash her hands of the province.  

A letter was sent to the British cities telling them that they could no longer depend on the Romans for their defense and needed to  now rely on themselves. Citizens were now allowed to carry weapons and did not have to pay heavy Roman taxes. Local British rulers sprang into existence to fill the power void left by the collapse of the imperial administration.



Life Without Rome
You can take the Rome out of Britain, but you can't take the Roman out of the British? Pretty much.  The Roman style of life continued for a few decades after the withdrawal of the legions. Members of society still dressed fancy, remained educated and spoke Latin. 

However, its global economy, long-distance trade and coinage was disappearing. Roman laws died. Towns declined. Pottery factories, which created so much employment, vanished. The inhabitants of Britain were soon living in a far more primitive fashion than their grandparents had.

Rome was gone from Britain for good. The era of the Dark Ages began (a period where there were no contemporary written sources). During this period, the Jutes, Angles and Saxons were taking over. Their chief deities were Woden the God of War and Thor the God of Thunder. In other words, they were fierce warrior peoples for whom glory was to be won by fighting, not by building towns. The transition to Angle/Saxon rule was brutal, bloody and sudden.

Angle/Saxon Takeover
By the late sixth century, Saxon kingdoms were permanently established throughout most of England. Some of the British community still considered themselves Roman enough in the late 440's to send a plea for help to the ruler of what remained of the Roman Empire. Titled, 'The Groans of the Britons,' it contained cries of 'the barbarians drive us to the sea,' 'the sea throws us back on the barbarians: thus two modes of death await us; we are either slain or drowned.'  

Priests, women and children were murdered. So many were killed that there were not enough people left to bury them. Families were driven out of their homes. Some buried their silver underneath their cellars, thinking that one day when the invaders had been expelled they would be able to come back for it. Some of that silver may now be seen in the British Museum, having been found centuries later.

In the first years of the Saxon invasion the old population of England was nearly destroyed. A legendary King Arthur is said to have held the Saxons off for thirty years. Legend has it that King Arthur is not dead, but sleeping in a cave in Wales and will one day awaken to help Britain in her darkest hour.



Religion
Britain had become a safe haven for fleeing Christians during Diocletian's time, when he blamed the troubles of the empire were from neglect of the ancient gods like Jupiter and Minerva. Celtic deities continued to be worshipped alongside Christ because of this haven in Britain.

Emperor Constantine, after believing that God gave him victory at the battle of Milvian Bridge, which reunited the empire, shifted the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey). He made Christianity the state religion, believing it could be a unifying force in the empire.

After the expulsion of many Roman-Briton Christians by the Anglo-Saxons, those who remained kept to themselves and refused to have anything to do with converting their neighbors. It wasn't until Pope Gregory the Great saw two Angle children that his interests in converting England started. Saying the children looked like angels, not angles, he dispatched a mission to convert the King of Kent to Christianity. Thus began the reconversion of England to Christianity and the country's return to a higher form of civilization. 

Fun Fact:

  • Britannia, the name of the Roman province, disappeared and was replaced by England, as in Angle-land.

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