What Made the Anglo-Saxons Capable of Conquering the Britons?

Nov 2008
1,376
England
Perhaps we should turn to the Bede, because the main story we learnt was his interpretation of Gildas (gravely mistaken on chronology) coupled with info from his Kentish contacts.
Well, Bede was especially interested in Kentish affairs, particularly because that Anglo-Saxon kingdom was the first to convert to Christianity. His two foremost informants on Kent were Abbot Albinus and Nothelm, a priest. Bede, a very learned man, had access to an impressive library at the two sister monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, and he also consulted the papal archives in Rome. Bede` depth of knowledge and intellect should not be underestimated. Indeed, it would not be hyperbolic to describe him as a polymath.
 
Mar 2015
1,427
Yorkshire
Frankly I don't think that it is important whether the Hengist and Horsa story is true or not. The Key thing for me is that the Jutish presence in East Kent appears to be very early and predates the Revolt of the "Saxon" mercenaries.

As far as I am aware the Jutish Kings of Kent, are the only ones who lay claim to be the original migrants. At the risk of boring you with another C-E piece, I thought this was very illuminating:

Hengist kent.jpg

So I was a bit surprised at Aelfwine's view expressed earlier that the Jutes were settled into a Kent devastated by Saxon raids and in which the main towns of Canterbury and Rochester etc had ceased to function. My idea is they were employed at an early stage by a British warlord (maybe Vortigern? if he existed ) to protect this vital coastline. Devastation of the area is then caused by their Revolt which they probably initiated.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
Frankly I don't think that it is important whether the Hengist and Horsa story is true or not. The Key thing for me is that the Jutish presence in East Kent appears to be very early and predates the Revolt of the "Saxon" mercenaries.
"Future excavation elsewhere mayshow that civilian occupation in the 4th century was the norm, and explain the Germanic-style equipment (possibly evidence for laeti). "

Council for British Archaeology Reports, The Saxon Shore.

I haven't read all of this as I was interested in the Gallic Saxon Shore. There 3 waves of germanic settlement pre dated merovingian hegemony. Interestingly, the merovingians also claimed hegemony over east kent.

The 3 phases were germanic mercenaries employed by the roman authorities to man the saxon shore followed by germanic laeti settled next to the limes. Eventually they were overrun as roman authority collapsed and immigration was unchecked. This has led to speculation that the Pas de Calais area and east Kent may have, at one time, been a single kingdom which the merovingian franks eventually overran. Full pdf of all the reports is downloadable from the above link.
 
Jan 2014
2,546
Westmorland
Peter - I know you possess the book on Wales and the Britons. If you read pages 213 to 216, Charles Edwards spends considerable time discussing Lapidge's work.
As the Irish Church is a scion of the British one, C-E concludes that Gildas received an episcopal education.
This is a great post, but I'm not sure I agree with your conclusion on TCE's arguments. This is the summary at the bottom of page 215:-

The probable conclusion is that there was some form of Roman administration surviving in Britain approximately about 500, as it survived in Frankish Gaul even in the sixth, but that the education which sustained it was also put to good use by the Church, both in Britain itself and in the Irish mission field.

The conclusion I draw from this is that whilst TCE dosn't go quite a far as Lapidge, he believes that the Church was able to benefit from the survival of an educated class who, back in the day, would have been the bureaucrats of the Roman administration. Not unlike some of our independent schools who, even in the 1970s, were still offering an education which had been largely designed to turn out administrators for the colonial civil service, notwithstanding that we didn't have one any more.

For me, one of the big points of interest in al of this is that if we didn't have Gildas, anyone who attempted to argue that an educated, Latinate class still existed in Britain in 500 would be laughed out of the room.

as you know I am a rusticus.
No, you aren't. You are a heavyweight contributor to these debates and undoubtedly a scholar in the truest sense of the word, whether or not you have a formal university affiliation.

As far this discussion is concerned we can all agree that Gildas was extremely proficient in his writings and commanded the highest quality Latin.
Absolutely agreed
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
The conclusion I draw from this is that whilst TCE dosn't go quite a far as Lapidge, he believes that the Church was able to benefit from the survival of an educated class who, back in the day, would have been the bureaucrats of the Roman administration.
What period do you have in mind? Many parts of late roman Britain, in the 4th century, were still pagan (roman). Christianity wasn't that uniformly worshipped that it could be used as the basis for administration. Christians held some administrative posts, but it's not until the very end of the 4th that Christianity becomes the sole religion. By that time roman adminstration was breaking down and, according to Hennig, although Christianity flourished in the first decades of the 5th century, it did so in an impoverished society. We don't know that there was a functioning roman administration thoughout Britain and what there was, was most likely fragmented and regionalised. We don't know where Gildas was from and we don't don't know where he learned his latin. British clerics may have learned in Gaul.
 
Jan 2014
2,546
Westmorland
What period do you have in mind?
The period in which Gildas was brought up. His dates are a matter of dispute, but if we are right to go with Dumville and put De Excidio in about 540, we can tentatively assume that Gildas received his education in the early part of the sixth century.

Christianity wasn't that uniformly worshipped that it could be used as the basis for administration.
I'm not suggesting it was. Charles-Edwards' argument is that what remained of the fourth-century Roman educational system which churned out lawyers and bureaucrats for the imperial administration was essentially dragooned into the service of the post-Roman Christian church. Lapidge's point is that Gildas' Latin and the structuring of his arguments suggests that this system was still available to people in Britain.

We don't know that there was a functioning roman administration thoughout Britain
Again, I'm not suggesting otherwise. All I'm suggesting is that the educational system that had been used to train up the people who had worked in the administration when there was such a system was still apparently in existence at the turn of the sixth century.

We don't know where Gildas was from and we don't don't know where he learned his latin. British clerics may have learned in Gaul.
They might have done, but they might not have done. We know that Gildas was from Britain. We know he was writing for his fellow Britons. This suggests that there was an audience in Britain who could understand De Excidio at a deep level. They can't all have been taught 'proper' Latin in Gaul. We also know from Gildas' whinge about the five kings that one of them, Maglocunus, had been taught by the finest master who, I think, is stated or implied to have operated in Britain. We know from Gildas' extended whinge about the clergy that there was a functioning ecclesiastical hierarchy in place, which would have required administration.
 
Nov 2008
1,376
England
The 3 phases were germanic mercenaries employed by the roman authorities to man the saxon shore followed by germanic laeti settled next to the limes.
This is a possibility of the situation in the late fourth century. It does, however, prompt the question where were these Germanic auxiliaries or federates from? They almost certainly would not have been Saxons garrisoning the Saxon Shore fortifications.
 
Mar 2015
1,427
Yorkshire
if I might add to Peter's submission - Charles-Edwards agrees with Lapidge's contention that private education in classical Roman Education was available in Britain in the early 500s (and 600s in Gaul). He also agrees that Maglocunus was taught by "the finest master in Britain".

However, in addition to the private tutor (very limited in number) there is instruction from the "Foster Father" of the British Church according to Charles -Edwards. I suppose its not inconceivable that Gildas received his education from a private tutor and then joined the Church as Patrick did.

Such ecclesiastical worthies as Jerome, Augustine and Ambrose condemned the use of the rhetoric and study of the Classical texts "rhetoric implied the sin of vainglory and Ciceronian eloquence is unworthy of the simple truth of faith". Shunning the highest skills of the rhetor and the utilitarian nature of the Latin instruction in the Church on the Continent tended to lower the quality of the Latin used in these ecclesiastical circles compared to Britain and Ireland .

The insular British Church adapted the advantage of the rhetoric to its own purposes. Thus Virgil was studied in the same way as a Latin pupil of Imperial Rome but whereas the Roman pupil would then proceed to uses the classical writers especially Cicero in developing his rhetorical style, the British Church substituted a study of the Old and New Testament, placing greater weight on any argument involving the latter.

Gildas (and Columbanus) show no evidence that they have read any classical text but that of Virgil and then only to a modest degree. Thus Charles-Edwards concludes that it is more likely that Gildas learnt his Latin from a tutor of the church rather than a private one.

I think this piece from "Early Christian Ireland" by Charles-Edwards sums it up quite well:

‎gildas columbanus.jpg
 
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Jan 2014
2,546
Westmorland
However, in addition to the private tutor (very limited in number) there is instruction from the "Foster Father" of the British Church according to Charles -Edwards. I suppose its not inconceivable that Gildas received his education from a private tutor and then joined the Church as Patrick did.
As TCE points out, Gildas is careful to draw a distinction between Maglocunus' education from his British master and Maglocunus' time as a monk. Patrick also tells us that his father and grandfather held secular and ecclesiastical offices. The close relationship (often familial) between secular and spiritual power is a constant in our early medieval sources, both English and British. Interestingly, in the context of the disconnect between what Gildas' text tells us was going on and what narratives drawn from the archaeology tell us what was going on, both Gildas and Patrick talk about money in terms which do not suggest they are speaking figuratively. Patrick (probably active mid fifth-century) peppers his Confessio with rebuttals of the claims that he has essentially been involved in bungs with Irish lords and also talks about selling his birthright to fund his missions. Gildas (active in the mid sixth) complains about the clergy's stinginess in giving monetary alms and the misery they feel if they lose even a small value coin. He also hints at a culture of buying ecclesiastical offices. The increasing impression one gets from these texts is that some of our narratives may have overstated the case for a complete collapse of the economy. In this context, James Gerrard's recent radical rethinking of archaeological narratives (The Ruin of Roman Britain: An Archaeological Perspective) deserves a hearing (once you have ploughed through Wales and the Britons!).
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,219
The period in which Gildas was brought up.

Charles-Edwards' argument is that what remained of the fourth-century Roman educational system which churned out lawyers and bureaucrats for the imperial administration was essentially dragooned into the service of the post-Roman Christian church.

All I'm suggesting is that the educational system that had been used to train up the people who had worked in the administration when there was such a system was still apparently in existence at the turn of the sixth century.

Thanks. Gildas writes nostalgically about the knowledge which once was, within living memory, "the unexpected recovery of the same, remained in the minds of those who were eyewitnesses of the wonderful events of both, and in regard thereof, kings, public magistrates, and private persons, with priests and clergymen, did all and every one of them live orderly according to their several vocations." He states that the cities are desolate so it would be good to know how and where this all went on, but in some parts, 'orderly and according to their several vocations' is a clear indication that in some parts, it did.