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The structure and purpose of Gildas's 'De excidio Britonum'

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Gildas’s ‘De excidio Britonum’ is almost our sole source for the study of fifth- and sixth-century Britain and thus for the formative but highly obscure decades between the departure of the Roman administration and the foundation of what would come to be known as England. It has proved difficult to establish either a date of composition or a wider context for the work, for Gildas gives us few references to contemporary events, and those he does give are enigmatic. We are left with something of a conundrum; the text cannot be fully understood without a context, but the only way of establishing a context is from within the text itself. This paper will seek to demonstrate that an interdisciplinary approach to the ‘De excidio’ may reveal Gildas’s purpose in writing and help to establish a context for the work. The paper will also examine the complex literary structure of the ‘De excidio’ and the significance of Gildas’s references to heresy.

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