University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History > Warfare in Transition: Late Roman Britain to Early Anglo-Saxon England

Warfare in Transition: Late Roman Britain to Early Anglo-Saxon England

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Ilya Berkovich.

The transition from post-Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England lasted over 400 years and was punctuated by many battles. Yet our knowledge of warfare in this period is scanty. Historical sources are few and contested; archaeology can tell us relatively little above the level of the individual. Current approaches are described as either ‘reductionist’ (ie, that we can say very little) or ‘positivist’ (which has led to much uncorroborated speculation).

The introduction of geographical techniques offers to breach this impasse. Topography, toponymy and fieldwalking can provide considerable insight into the possible course and sequence of battles and campaigns in the transition from Romano-British to Anglo-Saxon rule. Campaigns and battles took place in real places for real reasons: understanding the terrain as it was can contribute significantly to our understanding of warfare in the period. Extensive linear earthworks appear to have been a feature of warfare in this era, but have been largely overlooked by historians and archaeologists.

The seminar will offer some preliminary results, primarily relating to the foundation and expansion of Wessex between 500 and 658AD. Wessex appears to have been created by invasion from the Thames Valley (and specifically by breaching the line of the Chilterns), rather than from the Solent. Such findings have major implications for our understanding of the conduct of warfare, the mechanism of transition from Romano-British to Anglo-Saxon rule, and the organisation of society during the period. Further work will consider the rest of England in due course.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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