Britannia: Departure of the Legions (407-10)

Roman Britain
Figure 1.--'The Britons Deploring the Departure of the Last Roman Legion' was painted by Edward Henry Corbould Corbould. He was known for his water-colours. He was known for subjects illustrating notable literary scenes (primarily from Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare), history, and daily life. His career was strongly assocuated with the royal family.

Rome for many years maintained a very substantial military presence on Britain to control the restive Celtic tribes and to try to defeat the Caledoni in the extreme north. At the time of the Boudiccan Rebellion , there were four standing legions in Britain (61). But even after the Celtic tribes were pacified there was a major presenece. Rome throughout the second century maintained three legions on Britain. This was necessary because of the constant threat from northern tribes which gradually united as the Pictts and the Irish to the west. Archaeological evidence from the late-4th century show signs of decay. This was not just observable in Britain, but other parts of the Empire as well. Urbanization had ceased to expand and had become observably less intense. There are several indicators. Pottery shards are found in declining numbers. Rome began withdrawing its Legions from Britain at the end of the 4th century. Coins become less common and very rare (after 402). Constantine III was declared Emperor by his troops (407). He crossed the Channel with the most of the remaining units of the British garrison in an attempt to usurp the crown (407). This was effectively the end of Roman Britain. The Romans who remained in Britain had to organiz local defences against first the Pictts and eventually the Anglo-Saxon invaders without the well trined and drilled Legions. The Emperor Honorius in response to pleas from the Romans in Britain informed them thst that the cities of Britain would have to look after their own defences (410). The Romanized Britains attemptd to organize an east coast defences. The Count of the Saxon Shore spearheaded the effort. A fleet had been organized to control the Channel and the North Sea, but resources were insufficent.

Roman Military Presence

Rome for many years maintained a very substantial military presence on Britain to control the restive Celtic tribes and to try to defeat the Caledoni in the extreme north. At the time of the Boudiccan Rebellion , there were four standing legions in Britain (61). But even after the Celtic tribes were pacified there was a major presenece. Rome throughout the second century maintained three legions on Britain. This was a major commitment for a relatively small part of the Empire. This was necessary because of the constant threat from northern tribes which gradually united as the Pictts and the Irish to the west. There would be three major offensives to conquer the northern tribes, before and after the constructio of Hadrian's Wall.

Saxon Shore Fort System (c270s)

Saxons and other Germanic Tribes gradually pressured the Werstetn defenses of the Empire. The best known pressure was along the Rhine which after the disaster in the Tutenbourg Forest (9 AD) became the eastern border of the Empire, craeting a culture border in Europe that survoided into the modern age. Roman authorities also construcyed a maritime dense kincluding naval shops and coastal forts. Roman authorities began building defenive instalations called the Saxon Shore Fort system (about 270). The dating of the fort systemis, however, subject to considerable uncertainty. It was a chain of coastal forts built on both sides of the English Channel. It included forts along the southern and eastern cost of Britain. Roman Diplomatic Service] Carausius, commander of the Roman British fleet, who attempted to rule Britain as emperor (287). He was murdered by Allectus, a fellow rebel (293). Sucessive emperors made a major effort to hold the outlying province of Britain. The Count of the Saxon Shore spearheaded the effort. A fleet had been organized to control the Channel and the North Sea, but resources were insufficent for the task.

Barbarian Pressure: V÷lkerwanderung (360s)

The Franks (a fusion of western Germanic tribes) were the first Germanic people to enter the Empire in numbers and became aligned with Rome (3rd century). Since that time they had been entering Roman lands gradually and peacefully. Rome came under increasing pressure from barbatian invaders (360s). The Picts Picts and Scots attack along Hadrian's Wall. The Emperor sents reinforcements to Britain and the attacks are successfully repelled. The Franks and Saxons pressure Legionaires along the Rhine. The Emperor begins to withdraw forces from Britain to strengthen defense in more important locations, especilly Gaul (388). This continues over an extended period as Germanic tribes poued over the Rhine. It was upon the Western Empire that the barbarian onslaught principally fell. They were at first the Germanuc tribes. The first group to cross the Rhine in numbers were the Goths. There were two tribes, the Visigoths (western Goths) and Ostrogoths (eastern Goths). Like the other Germanic tribes, they were being driven west by the Huns, the barbarous hosemen emerging from the Steppe. The Goths at first came seeking protection. This began with the Tervingi (a Gothic people of the Danubian plains) who fled west into Roman territory after a bloody clash with the Huns (376). As their numbers grew and they were poorly treated by the Romans, they turned their swords on the Romans. This began in Marcianopolis (a foirtified city in Thrace) w=here the escort to Fritigern (the Tervingi leader) was killed while meeting with Lupicinus, a military comanbder serving the Emperor Valens. The Tervingi rebelled beginninging the Goyhic Wars and the crushing defeat of a large Roman arrmy at Adrionople (378). The Visigoths (a fusion of the Tervingi and other Gothic groups) under Alaric attacked the empire. He laid seige to Rome and finally sacked it (410), dieing soon after. The new king of Ataulphus son of the Wolf, took the Visigoths into southern Gaul and northern Spain, establishing a new kingdom in Iberia. The Ostrogoths, led by Theodoric the Great, cme next, settling in Italy. In a vain effort to protect Italy, the last Legions were recalled fom Britain (407), leaving Gaul and the north open to attack. The Franks, Burgundians, Lombards, Allemanni, and Vandals poured into the Empire. The Franks with a long presence in the north were as the power of Rome declined, were accepted as rulers by the Roman-Gaulish population, primarily because they offered protection from the less-civilized Germanic tribes and more than any the dreaded Huns (5th century). Fighing off the Allemanni, Burgundians and Visigoths, the Frankland or the Frankish kingdom became the nucleus of the modern France and Germany. They drove the Visigoths beyond the Pyranees. The Burgundians also settled in Gaul, what is now norerthern France between the Loire and the Sa˘ne. The Vandals like the Visigoths also settled in Spain, southern Spain or Andalusia (Vandalusia). The Visigoths wold eventually doive the Vandals to North asfria from where they would again threaten Rome once again. The Lombards, or Longbeards, settled northern Italy, north south Italy bears their name. Behind the Germanic tribes came the Huns led by Attila, a threat not only to Rome, but to the Germanic tribes as well.

Decline of Roman Britain

The strength and vitality of Roman civilization declined throughout the Empire (4th century). This development is observeavle in Britain as well. Archaeological evidence from the late-4th century show signs of decay. This was not just observable in Britain, but other parts of the Empire as well. Urbanization had ceased to expand and had become observably less intense. There are several indicators. Pottery shards are found in declining numbers. Rome began withdrawing its Legions from Britain at the end of the 4th century. Coins become less common and very rare (after 402).

Constantine III

Constantine III was declared Emperor by his troops (407). He crossed the Channel with the most of the remaining units of the British garrison in an attempt to usurp the crown (407). This was effectively the end of Roman Britain. The last Legonnaires depart Britain (409-10). He was eventually recognised as a joint emperor.

Honorious (384-423)

Flavius Honorius was born in what was becoming the Eastern Empire (384). He ws the younger son of the emperor Theodosius I (379-95) and Aelia Flavia Flaccilla. Theodosius named him as a youth the ' Most Noble Child' (nobilissimus puer). Theodosius died (395). Honorius and his older brother Arcadius jointly succeeded to the throne. Honorius at the time was only 9 years old. Arcadius ruled the East and Honorius the West. Historians commonly marke this a the rea; beginning of the de facto division of the Empire. Arcadius while older was also still a boy. Both boys were controlled by powerful advisers. The power behind Hoimorious' boyhood throne was was the Vandal general Stilicho. Honorious married both his daughters, Maria (c398) and Thermantia (408). The Visigoths invaded Italy (402). Honorius with the Imperial court fled from Milan to the largely inaccessible and heavily defended city of Ravenna. From this point on, subsequent emperors rarely reside for any length of time any where but Ravenna for any period. Palace intrigues were now a major part of the history bof the Empire in its death drows. Stilicho was assassinated (408). Honorius was left to deal with the Huns and the Visigoths (Alaric) on his own. He indecisively vascilated from one ad adviser to another, torn between resistance and conciliation. Finally Alaric sacked Rome (410). Emperor Honorius in response to pleas from the Romans in Britain informed them that that the cities of Britain would have to look after their own defences (410). He really had no choice, the Empire was in flames, beset by barbarian invaders and with TRome itself sacked. The Emperor had no choice, but to tell the people of Britain that the Empire ended its connection and they would themselves have to take responsibility for their own defeses. The Medieval era in Brutain can be said to have begun with the recall of the Roman Legions.

Romanized Britons

The Romans who remained in Britain had to organize local defences against first the Pictts and eventually the Anglo-Saxon invaders without the well trined and drilled Legions. The Emperor made no effort to establish a political system to replace Imperial rule. The lowlands and cities seem to have attmpted to organize a post-Roman state or council. There was a rapid cultural decline. Literacy gradually disappeared. Within half a century, Britain was essentially illiterate. The historical record thus ends. This did not begin to change until Augustine of Canterbury on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons arrivdes in Britain (597). The remaining Romans wihout the Imperial system were divided politically. Almost immediately a vriety of warr lords appeared. They included former Lgionireds, mercenaries, nobles, officials and farmers declared themselves 'kings'. In reality they were chieftans or warlords. They began fighting among themselves for territory and to establish their authority. There was no single, recognized authority. This infighting left Britain open to foreign invasion. Some historind speculaste that two factions emerged: a pro-Roman faction and an independence faction. The only leader at this time known by name to hidtory is Vortigern. The rapid loss of literacy means that this period in Britih history and the subsequent two centuries is largely a blank. Vortigern may have held the title of 'High King', meaning that the other kings (more accurately chiefs) respected him, but did not defer their authority to him. The Britoins at the time, without the Legions were expossed to raids from the Picts in the north and Scotti (Scots) from Ireland. Denied help from the Empire, Vortigern began hiring mercinarie ftom the Germanic tribes, the pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes. Eventually the hired mercenaries decided to settle in Britain.

Invaders

Britannia like the rest of the Roman Empire was assaulted by Barians. They mpt only daced a westrn invasion, but invaders from all difrections. The primary invaders were from the wesy, German trives. In this case the Anglo-Saxons from the sea. There were however other invaders, most Celtic people uncivilized by the Romans. The Scotts came from the noth and the Irish from the west. Also from the north came the Picts a diverse group of tribes with somde Celtic influence.

The North

And with the withdrawl of the legions, the Picts in the notyheast and the Scotts in northwest intensifed their raids south, crossing Hadrian's Wall which had blocked their advance from the Forth to the Clyde. They now raoded south with with impunity. This led to the High King Vortigern hiring Saxon mercinaries.

The East (The Anglo-Saxon Coast)

The Anglo-Saxons (Saxons, Angles, and Jutes) began large scale invasions of Britain (449). Angles and Saxons learming of the rich lands in now unguarded Btitannia left their homes on the Weser and the Elbe, sailed across the sea. These were an iilitetrate, pagan people hostile to the Romnan Empire. Informed of the rich land in Britain, Saxon raiders began to come in large numbers, turning into a mix between a migratioin and invasion. Many members of the Christian aristocracy fled in terror to , seeking refuge in Brittany and Galicia, regions still held by the Empire. Some may have settled in Ireland, by this time increasingly Chritianized. These were the very people who could have organized a defense to the Anglo-Saxon incursions. As a result, the situation for Christian Romanized Britons became increasibgly difficult. And Britain became increasingly illiterate. British historians commonly refer to it as the Dark Ages. The Anglo-Saxons established themselves in eastern England, declaring new kingdoms (5th century). They began to enter the Midlands (mid-6th century). And reached south-west and the north (7th century). Only the unconquered parts of southern Britain (principally Wales) retained a kind of degraded Romano-British culture, including Christianity.

The West (The Irish Sea)


Sources

Roman Diplmatic Service. Notitia Dignitatum.






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Created: 12:40 AM 6/24/2007
Last updated: 7:52 PM 4/2/2014