Stuart Laycock: Britannia -
The Failed State: Tribal Conflicts and the End of Roman
Britain, The History Press Ltd (2008).
The end of Roman rule in the Western empire was not a nice time to be a citizen of that empire. The economy was collapsing in an alarming rate, trade ground to a halt and many lost their source of income. If that was not enough, the climate was changing, forcing farmers to give up marginal fields and pushing the sea inland, forcing the coastal dwellers to flee inland. Wars seemed to be closer than ever, the once-strong Roman military now seemed ever more powerless against barbarian raiders, who were probing inland ever daringly. Or, as a 6th-c. Briton put it: "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." And added to that, the few Roman generals seemed to be less concerned with these raiders than with their private attempt for the throne - each supported by such numbers of those same barbarians that the common man was left in doubt by the wayside, oblivious as to whether the passing army that had just flattened his crops belonged to an invading force or to his own failing military.
this scenario, it can only be seen as logical that one
after another, local governments reached the conclusion
that they had to start looking after themselves. The
civitates or provincial districts of
author takes us on a journey that has us visit every step
of this development, but in order to understand all the
detail behind this process, he takes the reader back to
Britannia before the Romans. Because here is where the
beginnings lie, the seeds that only grown into sturdy
trees after having lain dormant in the soil during the
400-dd years of Roman occupation. Before the Romans came,
there were tribes in the
even during that conquest the Britons showed their teeth,
the Iceni uprising under the now famous queen Boudicca
coming close to driving the Romans from the island a
third time who knows how history would have
changed if they had succeeded? But they failed, and
Or was it?
the author takes us onto a new path, a narrow path that
meanders adventurously through the thicket of a forest
which at first seemed so very well-known, but which
suddenly seems very alien. What if the British tribes did
not change into peaceful Roman citizens, Romanised or not?
What if they, instead, passed on the tradition of
animosity towards their former enemies, now neighbouring
Roman civitates, from father to son? Here the Bosnian
scenario comes into full play: old grudges, harboured for
generations, suddenly bursting into life again whenever
the joke of Roman power seems that bit lighter. Some
raids may have followed, although the evidence is hard to
interpret. At the end of the Roman empirein
Personally I may occasionally have lost my way among these dark trees, but its worth the reader tracing their own path through this forest, to finally arrive again on a sun-warmed glade. The transition from Roman civitas to post-Roman kingdom, once hidden in a grey mist, now seems so much more clear. Germanic federates, not arriving by the boatloads on the shores, but invited by warring proto-kingdoms, had a much easier task that way, instead of having to fight their way inland at every step. It is not surprising, according to this theory, to find that the geographical border of the emerging Anglo-Saxon kingdoms shared much with both the pre-Roman tribal borders as well as the civitates in-between the two. A form of continuity may well have been the case.
This book is a great read. The reader is challenged with an avalanche of facts spanning the three periods of British history before Medieval times (Celtic, Roman and Anglo-Saxon), and may be forced to re-read a lot of books as a result of this one!
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