Arthur’s Britain – Recent Research

Chris Flynn

Several years on from researching Dark Age Britain to write ‘The Bear the Dragon and the Wolf’ the
latest research poses serious questions for any author tackling the history rather than the myth of King
Arthur.


The sparse documentation available portrays a land in turmoil after Rome withdrew its military forces in
410AD. Thereafter we are informed that incoming waves of Saxon, Angle, Frisian and Jutish warriors
engaged in a prolonged conflict with the Romano-British, now sadly reduced in the wake of departing
Roman forces.


Hengist and his brother Hrosa (oft written as Horsa) were invited to act as mercenaries to assist the
Romano-British against Pictish incursions from the north and Scotti (the name at the time for the Irish)
from the west. Seeing the possibilities, from their initial base on Thanet, the intended mercenaries took
the opportunity available to them to expand their lands into what became their first territory on the
mainland, Ceint.


Thereafter, across a period lasting some sixty years or so, the texts report an ongoing struggle,
culminating in the siege of Badon.


The Dark Ages are not so dark now in light of far more extensive archaeological evidence of the era,
supported by satellite mapping of settlements. Interpretations of this addition to our understanding of the
period, poses questions of the ancient texts available to us. Rather than conflict, much of the new
evidence suggests a more peaceful picture. Evidence of trade goods, inter-action between Romano-British
and Sais communities confound the portrayal of major battles and warfare.


The question for any author then becomes how are these two views of the same period to be reconciled?
As with any portrayal of relationships between antagonistic human cultures there is always the tendency
to group the protagonists and antagonists into binary stereotyped opposites. This seems to be far from the
case in Dark Age Britain. The Romano-British were hardly united, divided by those who wished to

maintain and extend Roman governance and those who wished to restore the tribal affinities of the pre-
Roman period. Three different interpretations of the new Christian religion added to the mistrust between

the factions. Here was no united Romano-British culture. Similarly, there were many new settlers among
the newcomers who had no wish to be warriors. Securing land to practice agriculture to support one’s
family and community meant that becoming ‘foederati’ offered a more enticing position. In return for a
plot of land, new settlers offered to contribute to the area’s defences if called upon as part of the deal.
Thus, the incoming settlers, driven from their own lands by Hunnic expansions from the east to the west,
had more than one option in their attempts to deal with their forced emigration.
A failure to discover major battle sites has reinforced a more up-dated portrayal of the era as one of
predominant peace. But this refutes the texts and indeed, the oral traditions passed down across the
generations of the period. Over the centuries geography has shown the erosion of the eastern part of the
mainland. Many coastal areas, once solid terra firma, are now beneath the sea; eroding possible battle
sites. Major battles were interspersed with raids and sorties, numbering fewer warriors than the large
conflicts. Attempts by Hengist and his sons, Ebissa and Octha were co-ordinated over quite long periods
of time. In fiction these provide the focus for the author’s attention, but over a period of sixty years there
might well only have been three major attempts to expand beyond Ceint, or to exert pressure to negotiate
for added lands from the fractious divided Romano-British.

In conclusion, it is possible to reconcile the history of the texts, with the new research. The portrayal of a
patchwork domain where settlers and their Romano-British neighbours maintained peaceful relations is
countered by sporadic military campaigns by those who desired a more aggressive approach to seizing
more land. Both strategies are perfectly plausible in an era of extreme instability, and a more likely
explanation than an oversimplified war v peace generalisation.