Post-Roman Britain

Post-Roman Britain Life and Legend

The post-Roman period in Britain straddles the period of the departure of Roman authority and the rise Anglo-Saxon power. Until the 1960s, most historians and archaeologists ignored this period because they could find so very little evidence for it. On the other hand, the public imagination, writers, poets, and painters were enamored by it because in these centuries was found the Dark Age origins of the myth of King Arthur. Most visions of Arthur saw him as a high medieval knight in full armor. The popular tales of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot were the result of later French and other foreign influences beginning in the high Middle Ages.

Origins of a Myth

The later King Arthur legend is not our concern here. Sufficient circumstantial evidence exists supporting the idea that the Arthurian myth, consisting of a powerful and victorious war leader, began much earlier, in the post-Roman period, when political and economic anarchy descended on the Romanized population of Britain. We cannot know the details of the strife that occurred, but much can be surmised.

The real Arthur, if such an archetypal war leader existed, would have been nothing like the mythical one. Historians have agonized for generations over the question of Arthur’s existence, and the mystery is unlikely to be solved. Only an array of contemporary historians giving eyewitness accounts of Arthur’s deeds would verify his existence to our now skeptical minds, yet we have not found one reliable contemporary source, let alone an array.

On this site, I will write about real life in post-Roman Britain. Some historical sources are helpful, but the information comes primarily from scientific investigations, ranging from archaeology and climatology to geological and population genetic studies.