Wondrium’s New World History Series Shows England after Fall of Rome

british dark ages explored with returning professor jennifer paxton

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

More than 350 years after the Roman conquest of Britain, Rome fell and the Dark Ages began. This milestone in world history started in the late 4th century C.E. A new Wondrium course details what happened next.

Preface to the blessing for Palm Sunday. Christ is astride a donkey, and followed by a group of people with golden palm branches. Two youths at the city gate spread mantles under the donkey's feet, and above them other figures lean out from the city walls or are up a tree throwing flowers. The scene is surrounded by frame of 'Winchester' acanthus, with round bosses at each corner
Historical accounts of who the Anglo-Saxons were and their role in English history and new archaeological and DNA evidence are juxtaposed in Wondrium’s new course. Photo by Benedictional of St. Aethelwold / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

When most people think of the Middle Ages, images of Genghis Khan, the Magna Carta, and even the Renaissance come to mind. However, the Early Middle Ages—also known as the Dark Ages—began some 700 years before Khan’s birth and over 800 years before the signing of the Magna Carta. It coincided with the fall of Rome and the arrival of Anglo-Saxons in Britain, giving rise to Arthurian legend and Beowulf. This period also saw the Vikings arrival in Britain.

Wondrium’s England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest painstakingly examines life in England from the dawn of the 5th century C.E. to nearly the end of the 11th century. Content developer Matthew Laing explained the course’s relevance and appeal.

Bringing the 5th Century into the 21st Century

The history of England has been told and retold from countless perspectives over the millennia, but Laing worked with series presenter Dr. Jennifer Paxton, Director of the University Honors Program at The Catholic University of America, to revitalize this period of history. Dr. Paxton was also interviewed about the series.

“What’s really interesting is how much new archaeological and even DNA techniques are revealing about English history that are inverting long-held truths,” Laing said. “A really good example that we highlighted in this course is about who the Anglo-Saxons were and their role in English history.”

According to Laing, the historical accounts written by the Venerable Bede and monks in that time describe the arrival of Germanic migrants as a violent time. The migrants supposedly conquered England, with the Celtic British people and culture forcibly pushed aside. However, current evidence is increasingly showing that Germanic migrants were settlers and farmers who came to England, mostly invited by the Roman army or other official channels; in general, they peacefully married into the local population and created a fusion culture of the Anglo-Saxon culture.

“That’s the kind of thing which I think Jenny is really strong at, and this course really focuses on: ‘What do we actually know archaeologically versus what is the story that we’ve been traditionally told?’,” Laing said. “I think that focus on new evidence is something that’s really exciting and a different way to unlock that history.”

Forgotten Cultures of the Early Middle Ages

One of the common stereotypes of the Dark Ages is a miserable and joyless existence for 99% of the population. Although life was particularly harsh during the Middle Ages—the Early Middle Ages, in particular—England did enjoy a thriving culture at the time, which is highlighted in the series.

“I really like the focus on art and culture, because I think that’s one of the most extraordinary legacies of the Anglo-Saxons; it was a very rich culture,” Laing said. “There’s actually a great deal of beautiful Anglo-Saxon jewelry and helmets and armor, and things like that, that we can still interact with and look at today. It was kind of a golden age in some parts.”

While the history of the area is covered extensively in England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest, the surprisingly robust artistic movement attracted Laing more than any other aspect of the series.

“That’s the part that I would like to introduce people to more than anything else—that it was a rich, flourishing culture before the Normans arrived,” he said. “It wasn’t just […] people sitting and digging around in the mud. There was a lot of grandiosity to it that was kind of swept away or ignored when the Normans arrived.”

England: From the Fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily