By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
After Rome left Britain, the nation saw tumultuous times. More than a half dozen Anglo-Saxon kingdoms sprang up all over Britain to fill the power vacuum left by the Romans. Royal graves from the era have just been discovered.
Dozens of 5th- to 7th-century royal British graves—as many as 65, according to LiveScience—have been discovered across the west of England and Wales. This period in history began shortly after the fall of the Roman empire caused the Romano-British structure to collapse. It marked the start of the Middle Ages and is a little-understood period of history that included King Arthur and the rise of petty Anglo-Saxon kingdoms meant to fill the power gap left by Rome’s fall.
In her video series England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest, Dr. Jennifer Paxton, Clinical Associate Professor of History at The Catholic University of America, explains where these kingdoms came from.
My Kingdom for a Regional Identity
What did Britain look like after the fall of Rome?
“Through migration and intermixture, a fusion of Germanic and British cultures—the Anglo-Saxons—were coming into being,” Dr. Paxton said. “And as assimilation and change continues, you start to see a new political and social order being established, and the emergence of a new Anglo-Saxon elite.”
Although most of the migrations were peaceful, there were some conflicts over scarce territory and resources. Unfortunately, these have come to dominate the public discourse of the time. According to Dr. Paxton, within the atmosphere of the conflicts that did occur, “leading families, local potentates, and regional identities” began to emerge.
“By the end of the 6th century, the power vacuum left by the decline of Rome had been filled by a swathe of Anglo-Saxon petty kingdoms, which were jostling for status and power in this new, transformed map of Britain,” she said.
Never Go against the Family
According to Dr. Paxton, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms sprang up as powerful families extended their hegemony over larger territories.
“In some cases, they built their lordship from scratch; in other cases, they took over a pre-existing Romano-British territory,” she said. “Gradually, through a combination of hard work and ‘persuasion,’ these units became larger and larger, until a series of kingdoms had arisen that we can plot onto an admittedly still chaotic and fragmentary map.”
Dr. Paxton said that these families increased their power and status through a combination of dumb luck, economic prowess, and the assertion of power through violence. Certain families scrounged up enough to pass down to the next generation, and prominent families that intermarried multiplied their wealth and power.
“Part of how they did this was through the the ability to dominate others and extract the fruits of their labor,” Dr. Paxton said. “These families ultimately became so successful that they were able to project their power not just at the local level but at the regional level as well, and that’s how we came to the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon royal dynasties.”
England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest is now available to stream on Wondrium.