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Subject:

Re: AD 410 website

From:

Mike Weatherley <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 31 Oct 2009 17:21:34 -0000

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text/plain

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Hello David,
I take it you're still at Durham (which may be significant, as we'll see later).
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "PETTS D.A." <[log in to unmask]>
>Errr....Mike. If you look at the website, its pretty clear that Neil is only involved
>in organising one aspect of the programme (the communication and co-ordination 
>with the associated excavations). It's also pretty clear from the membership of the
>organising committee that it represents scholars from all sides of the argument.

I know, that's why I mentioned Ken Dark & James Gerrard in my previous message,
in the hope that they weren't simply being included as 'token' Romanists. And I did
mention that I know Stuart Laycock, too, didn't I (whose position on the date, reason
and completeness of the end of Roman Britain and its replacement by Anglo-Saxon
England is not that far different from his friend Faulkner's (see his book 'Brtannia: the
failed state'). After all, when Francis Pryor interviewed Heinrich Harke in Britain AD
on the subject of the migration period (on which he is a respected authority) he laughed-
off Harke's patient explanation that a folk-movement was still the best way to explain 
the archaeological evidence of 5th/6th c. Britain. We wouldn't want a repeat of such a
scenario, would we (which an Anglo-Saxonist friend of mine complains amounted to a
"token inclusion of the opposition to the 'continuity' position, only, in the style of one of 
Stalin's notorious 'show-trials'") for the forthcoming '410'... (Good, just making sure :o) 

>(the conference is also being supported by those hotbeds of anti-Roman
>sentiment the Association for Roman Archaeology, and the Roman Society!)
>[disclosure; I'm on the archaeology committee of the Roman Society]

Well you may laugh, but I've seriously come to doubt the position of the Association 
for Roman Archaeology (of which, I'm also a member btw) on this question. To wit,
the article by our director, Bryn Walters, on 'Roman villas in Britain' in issue 230 of
Current Archaeology (of which, one Neil Faulkner just happens to be the features
editor - hmmm). Anyhoo, one would expect the ARA to be interested in the 
possibility of continuation of Romanitas into the 5th c. wouldn't one. And one such 
piece of archaeological evidence might be the Villa-baptistery of Bradford-on-Avon
(a finding which I know is dear to your own heart, David :o) And the excavator,
Mark Corney, was clear in his dating of the construction of the baptistery to the 5th c.
(with continuation of use until the eventual collapse of the roof - 6th c.?). From:
'The Roman Villa at Bradford-on-Avon', 2003, p.16: "Further careful excavation
defined a circular kerb of stone blocks 5m in diameter, set within the walls of the
Roman room. Collapsed wall plaster from the room abutted the outer face of the
kerb stones, but did not extend inside the circular structure. The stratigraphic
relationship of the circular feature to the Roman house strongly suggests a *post
Roman* date, but at a time when the Roman building was still standing and roofed.
This is most likely to be within the 5th or even the 6th c." And on p.17: "The most
likely interpretation is that of a Christian Baptistery. *In form, the structure is close
to other examples of 5th c. date known in France and Italy*."

In other words, this is good evidence for the continuation of not just the habitation
of a villa in 5th/6th c. Western Britain, but the continuation of cultural contact
with Romanised Gaul & Italy, such that architectural styles of baptistery in use
by Romanised people there are being imported to Britain in the 5th c. And indeed,
the importance of the 5th/6th c. dating was repeated in an article in the ARA's own
magazine, a few years back. But when we read Bryn Walters' article in Current
Archaeology, there is none of the wonder of the excavator or ARA article repeated
here. Instead, Bryn says: "Here, the excavator, Mark Corney, found what appears
to be a *late Roman* baptismal area constructed in the central aula of the main 
house of the villa." Which is not what the excavator said, now is it.

Now, 'late Roman' implies 4th c. not 5th c. and is certainly not 'post Roman' in date.
Which implies an unwillingness by the author to accept that Britons were still in any
way Romanised in the 5th/6th c. So there we are. An interest in Roman Britain
(traditionally assumed only to be 1st-4th c.) is still no guarantee that anyone will
accept legitimate evidence for a survival of Romanitas into the 5th c. Unfortunately.
But as I say, that article was published in Current Archaeology, not the bulletin of
the ARA, so of course, Bryn had no editorial control over what appeared, and
perhaps the article suffered during proof-reading :o)

>I think your characterisation of the debate is also very over simplistic. It's not simply
>a case of being 'pro-' or 'anti-' Roman or 'pro-' or 'anti-' 'Anglo-Saxon'. 

Quite. But then, as you can see, above, I was never claiming it to be so simple.
Even Romanists can fail (or appear so to do) to appreciate genuine archaeological
evidence of Romanitas in Britain post '410'. What I did describe, however, is the
more general political position to which the British archaeological establishment
has drifted (over the course of the last 30-40 years) in which such a lack of
sympathy towards any evidence of Romanitas (or unwillingness to accept it) can
flourish, and in which the undoubted *eventual* demise of 'Roman Britain' can
no longer be accepted as being the result of, say, Anglo-Saxon conquest. But
instead (according to continuity theory) the present day British people must be
assumed to be ethnically derived entirely from the population extant at the end
of the last Ice-Age. Which, you'll note everybody, is hardly any different from
the position espoused by Nick Griffin on last week's Question Time. And it
actually took Bonnie Grier (a black American, who I think works for the BM)
to explain to him that the Roman Empire was, in fact, a multicultural society.
 
>If anything, I would say that the current state of play in academia and commercial 
>archaeology appears to emphasise continuity of Romanitas and downplay the 
>impact and extent of Anglo-Saxon migrations. 

Disagree with you on the first part, but agree with you on the second. If the current
state of play in archaeology appeared to emphasise 'continuity of Romanitas' then
it would be reflecting the archaeological evidence more than it does, and I (for one)
would be happy to say that there would be nothing for me to complain about here
on Britarch :o) On the second part, of course, you are correct; which is also part
of the same problem that I'm trying to address. As above, the last 30-40 years have
seen a political drift in archaeology away from seeing Anglo-Saxon migrations as
being in any way a *cause* for the eventual ending of Romanised culture in modern
England - which then, of course, virtually *demands* a conclusion that Romanitas
had already *ended* in Britain c. 410, doesn't it. You see the problem: If modern
scholars actually deny any complicity of Anglo-Saxon immigration/conquest in the 
destruction of Romano-British society, then of course they have to explain-away
any evidence for Romanitas at the earliest possible juncture; ie 410. To allow the
opposite case: that, 'hey, man, what d'ya know, those British dudes were still
actin' like Romans into the 6th c. ya know', would mean that the date '410' for the
ending of Roman Britain cannot be right. And as we've already demonstrated,
indeed it wasn't right; and as such, the '410 celebrations' are all a lot of hot air
about nothing. (At least, they *will* be, if the date 410 is take seriously at all.)

>As someone who has been working on this period for 15 years, I certainly don't 
>recognise your allegation that " The evidence ... has been (one suspects) systematically
>ignored & explained-away by many in a post 70s British archaeological establishment 
>which seems ever more to lean away from Roman Britain and towards Anglo-Saxon 
>England," If anything, I'd say it's the other way round! 

Well perhaps you could explain one thing to me (among hundreds): Why is it that in 
the mid 70s, Stephen Johnson can still write the seminal description of the defences
built by Roman Britons (and Gallo Romans, on the opposite side of the Channel)
against chronic Anglo-Saxon piracy (which would eventually evolve into conquest)
in his book: 'The Roman Forts of the Saxon Shore'. However, fast-forward to 2002,
and Andrew Pearson (in what is virtually an updating of the earlier work) cannot even
bring himself to use the 'S'-word in the title, calling his book: 'The Roman Shore Forts'.
He is indeed subsequently interviewed by Francis Pryor at Burgh Castle, where they
both attempt to explain-away the construction of these dozens of enormous defensive
structures (both here and on the coast of Gaul) taking over a century to construct in
all and being garrisoned by certainly 10,000+ troops in total (involving infanty, cavalry
and the presumed residue of the British Fleet) as being - well, they weren't sure what,
exactly. Neither of them could put a coherent argument as to any alternative reason
for their construction. The one thing they veered away from, though, was the conclusion
that they had anything to do with defending against Saxon piracy or conquest. But
then, the entire documentary was a hymn to a fictional world of the past in which
nobody new ever arrives in Britain and in which wars never happen. And in which
Anglo-Saxon England evolves out of the heartfelt desire by the native Britonic speaking
Romanised Celts to divest themselves so entirely of their British speech - and adopt
a Germanic tongue - that barely a trace of it remains in modern English save for just
three obscure words, one of which - Brock - survives as the nickname for the Badger.
Granted, that may be my favourite animal, but I still don't thank the incoming Anglo-
Saxons for robbing modern England almost entirely of the language spoken here in, 
well, 410 is a signifficant date (or is it :o). Interestingly, as Prof. Coates points out, the 
areas of Britain (Cumbria, Wales & Cornwall) in which Britonic-successor languages
survived just happen to coincide geographically with the areas not conquered in the
historical sources during the early Saxon period. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence, 
which the continuity tendency could easily explain (away :o)

But David, with your known interest in Romano-British Christianity, remembering
your book: 'Christianity in Roman Britain', 2003 (there you go - a bit of free publicity
for you; no extra charge) you'll be aware also of the post-Roman church of St. Bride
in Fleet Street, London? Ironically, it was only excavated due to bomb-damage
after the Blitz (1952). The apse was claimed to be an addition to the Anglo-Saxon
nave, but there is no surviving link between the two elements; the apse's foundations
were considerably broader and deeper (6ft) than those of the other walls assigned to
the first church. Moreover, the footing courses of the apse were set in white mortar,
which is uncharacteristic of late Saxon work. Finally, the plan of the apse - four
cants externally and a semi-circle internally - is without analogue in Saxo-Norman
England. The constructional details are closer paralleled in late Roman work, while
the plan is characteristically Byzantine. Numerous examples of externally canted apses
of this stubby type are scattered across late antique Gaul & Italy, *dating from the
mid 5th c. onwards*. The St. Bride's apse is most readily interpreted as the sole
remaining portion of a post-Roman cemetery basilica.

Now, just as with the above example of the Bradford-on-Avon villa baptistery,
here we have a church built in Roman masonry and to a Byzantine design whose
construction can only date from c. 450 *onwards*. And as we know that the
Jutes of Kent were still pagans for another 150 years (until Augustine arrived)
this church can *only* have been built by Romanised Britons at 450 or some time
thereafter. Which also just happens neatly to corroborate the entry in the Anglo-Saxon
Chronicles, for the year 456/7, which state that: "Here, (the Jutes) Hengist & Aesc
fought against the Britons in the place which is called Crayford, and there killed
4,000 men; and the Britons then abandoned the land of Kent and in great terror
fled to the stronghold of London."

So there we are. Not only do we have archaeological proof of continued Romano-
British occupation of London in the 450s, but we can now confirm the veracity of
the earliest entries in the ASC, which describe such a continued British presence
at London *and*, presumably, the associated claim that Britons & Jutes were at 
war over Kent during the course of three battles (Aylesford 455, Crayford 457 &
Ebbsfleet 465). But I'm sure somebody in the British archaeological establishment
can expalin these two independent lines of evidence away... After all, we have
been told that Britons gave up the Romanised life in 410, and that Anglo-Saxons
have nothing to do with forcing those Britons out of their towns, haven't we. :o)
And again, if anybody in the wider British archaeological establishment were
at all interested in the actual truth about the evidence for how Romanised (and 
indeed, Christianised) 5th c. Britons really were, then I suspect that Warwick 
Rodwell's article would have been more widely quoted in other people's work, 
rather than me having to dig it out of obscurity from a piece published in 1993 
about an excavation that took place before either of us was born...
 
>Certainly looking at the list of conference contributors (of which I am one, I would 
>say that Neil is the only person who takes a hard-line 'anti-Roman' stance; 

Phew. Well maybe there's some hope, after all, then.

>I don't think its unfair to suggest that the majority are in what might be termed the
>'continuity' camp (though this covers a wide-range of varying opinions).

Ah, but it depends which *kind* of continuity you're referring to; see above. There's 
the 'continuity' argument of Francis Pryor et al who think we're mostly the ethnic 
residue from the last Ice-Age, and that no Anglo-Saxons or Vikings ever came here.
Then, there's a form of continuity (which I believe you're alluding to here) where
Romanitas in Britain can be seen to have survived the 5th and into the 6th c. I hope
you're both referring to the latter and that you're then also correct in your assessment 
of your fellow conference contributors.

>There is certainly no 'premise' either pro or anti to the conference; 

:o) You can say that despite the choice of logo for the website...

>...its simply entitled 'Debating the End', which seems about as even handed as one 
>can get! 

Not really, though. That's still presuming there to have been an 'end'. You 
know what they say about those old codgers who survived WWI (and who
we are currently wearing poppies for - you have got yours on, I hope, btw :o)
'Old soldiers never die, they only fade-away.' And I think that's a pretty good 
description of what happened to Roman Britain. I certainly haven't seen anyone
provide me with a written source for the logo: 'Romans go home'.

>There is notably not a single 'Anglo-Saxon' scholar on the line up..

Good. Because were that the case, I would have to turn up with my sword and...
But remembering what I said above about the ARA, the least of my worries, it
seems, are Anglo-Saxons. As the saying goes: 'With friends like the ARA, who
needs enemies?'

>I'd also emphasise that the wider debate (and the archaeology) is far more subtle
>than you are suggesting. For example, whilst Pryor's book seems to follow Richard
>Reece and Barry Cunliffe in seeing the Roman occupation as an 'interlude', he also
>takes a pretty heavy anti-migrationist stance.

Which is precisely the problem, as I said above. Once you are locked into the
supposed 'continuity' of population/language/culture etc argument, then the only
way to explain the change from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England is to claim
that Britons voluntarily 'Anglicised' to a man. And that Roman Britain consequently
ended at the earliest possible date (and most jump onto the '410' bandwagon). Once
you start to convince yourself (and eveybody else, as Pryor tried to do) that either 
one of those assumptions is correct, then you necessarily have to accept the other 
one, too. It becomes a 'self-fulfilling prophecy' or circular argument.

>Equally, the author of " Rome, Britain and the Anglo-Saxons" one of the key books 
>in the 'continuity' canon (alongside Ken Dark's 'Civitas to Kingdom') is Nick Higham,
>a professor of Anglo-Saxon history- surely someone who is also 'pro-Anglo-Saxon'!

Yes, but again, you have to be clear which *kind* of continuity you are talking about.
I think you're confusing the two, here. Ken Dark's 'continuity', is that of the continuity
of Romanitas within the British population, which is the same position as me (because
of the evidence I've cited above). Nick Higham's 'continuity' is quite a different animal, 
and nearer to Francis Pryor's. He refuses to accept a large Anglo-Saxon folk-
movement (or at least, the traditionally hostile one, described in the written histories).
For him, all the forts on Hadrian's Wall were stuffed full of Anglo-Saxon 'mercenaries'
in the 5th c. (which I'm still waiting to see any evidence for, btw) in order to explain
(away) any presence of *ethnic* Anglo-Saxons in Britain as being entirely benign and
invited. For him there can be no resistance leader like 'Arthur', as such a Briton could
have had no raison d'etre (that is, to defend against an Anglo-Saxon conquest).

>One can also see the increased use of the term 'Late Antiquity' in referring to 5th 
>century Britain (for example in Simon Esmonde-Clearey's paper in " Britons and 
>Romans: advancing an archaeological agenda" or the volume edited by Rob Collins
>and James Gerrard) (all three of whom are on the organising committee of AD410 
>events) as reflecting a move away from traditional narratives for this period/

Yes, James Gerrard is another one who I have a lot of time for. Interestingly, he
gave me a copy of  'Debating Late Antiquity in Britain AD 300-700' at a seminar
on the Dark Ages ('Ken Dark' Ages, as I like to call them :o) in Taunton in 2005.
(BAR British Series 365, 2004, for anyone interested in a good read). There was
a nice, typically measured and scholarly foreword by Prof. Philip Rahtz, followed
by an initial paper by the editor (Gerrard). And then we get 'The case for the Dark
Ages', by one Neil Faulkner, which seemed to be more a vitriolic personal attack
against Ken Dark & Anthea Harris (who also spoke at that seminar, and who I
also met) than it was an article about archaeology. He describes the LAP (Late 
Antiquity Paradigm) as being: "theoretically weak, methodologically suspect and 
inadequately supported by either archaeological or historical evidence; so much so,
in fact, that I suspect it of being an idealogically driven interpretation whose well-
springs lie far outside Early Dark Age studies."

Hmmm. Well we shan't mention that Faulkner's rather singular interpretation of
Roman culture has earnt him the description of being a 'neo-Marxist who fails to 
understand economic theory', then, shall we. But then, that comes from the readers'
letters page of the magazine Current Archaeology, which Faulkner used to edit
(and of which he still edits the features, only). 

>Even if one looks at the sites/excavations linked to the event (for which Neil is 
>responsible for co-ordinating) the presence of Binchester, Vindolanda and St 
>Albans, all sites with significant levels of attested Roman 'continuity' hardly suggest
>that he is promoting an anti-Roman agenda. 

Erm, excuse me, David, but I thought you just acknowledged, above, that a certain
person takes a: 'hard-line anti-Roman stance'. At least, I thought that's what you said.
Leastwise, Faulkner is well known for his book on the 'decline' & fall of Roman
Britain (which paraphrases the title used by Gibbon - who so failed to understand the
importance of Christianity in holding the late Roman Empire together that he actually 
claimed that it was Christianity which destroyed it). Anyway, Faulker did his best
to rubbish the Roman survival at St. Albans, but I'll still go with Sheppard Frere's
dating of the aisled building in insula XXVII to 450-70 AD, and the later water-pipe
within that building. 

>Neil has strong views about the archaeology of this period, some of which I disagree 
>with and some of which I agree with, however, there is no suggestion that this is 
>influencing the organisation of the AD410 events as you suggest.

I think that the 'suggestion' is (as I said before) in the choice of logo.

>Finally, the choice of date, AD410, yes, I agree with Mike that there are reasons to
>distrust this date, however, like it or not, it has become the generally accepted date 
>for the end of Roman Britain, and as such it does not seem particularly inappropriate 
>date to choose to debate and explore exactly these kind of issues.

But why has '410' *become* the generally accepted date, David, if not for the
fact that decades of scholars have ignored the evidence above (and that posted
previously) in order to follow a particularly anti-Roman stance and to pretend to
the rest of the British people (whose heritage they are messing with) not only
that they know what they're talking about but that butter wouldn't melt in their
mouths when describing the change Roman Britain > Anglo-Saxon England?

>David, PS: I agree that the logo is a little naff though- though surely being deliberately
>provocative is all part of the fun!

Well, as I say again: The logo is not only factually in error (unless anyone out there
can provide the rest of us with convincing evidence that 5th c. Britons felt like that
about Roman culture) but it is both rather childish as a slogan and is a clear attempt
(by somebody) to pre-empt the conclusions of the BM debate, if not, to render
the entire debate irrelevant from the start. Of course, nobody can get away with that
now, can they; not after I've blown the lid on the entire premise, at least.

Cheers,
Mike

P.S. Of course, it's not too late to scrap that appalling logo (which is little less
objectionable that the ridiculous one for the 2012 Olympics). I mention that just
in case anyone was having second-thoughts... :o)

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