Archeology and History not always good befellows

For centuries the records of history that we had taught us that the Angles and Saxons (along with the Jutes but nobody talks about them) Germanic tribes landed on what was then Brittania hired as mercenary help against the Picts of Scotland for the Romano British.  The British made a fatal error however, fighting a war with enemy surrogates lead to the Saxons and Angles to decide that Roman Britain was a pretty nice place. 

So they started a wholesale slaughter which only one murky name stopped briefly the onslaught but by 600 AD saw the “British” pushed back to Wales and Cornwall and northern England.  While the Angles and Saxons repopulated the island’s rich farm lands creating (eventually) England.

At least that is the story told by early sources such as The Roman British Gildas and the Saxon monk Bede.  It is also recounted in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

So now you have the history.

Archeology has cast doubt on the genocide, it in fact shows little of warfare in the late Romano British villiages and towns.  It shows a gradual decompostion rather than whole sale slaughter being the biggest culprit.  Archeologists have also turned to DNA evidence to back this up but in effect saying that the Romano British, as they did when Claudius Caeser arrived slowly adapted to the ways of a much smaller “invasion force”.

In one book I have read they went so far as to argue that in reality the Celtic English just took on the civilization of the Germans.  Yet you definately have some apocalyptic writing by Gildas which states quite clearly that things were not good, and that there is a war going on between these two cultures.  And the Celtic Romans were losing badly.

Gildas’ intro to the Saxons in Chapter Twenty-Three of the Ruin of Britain is pretty clear on what happened:

Then all the councillors, together with that proud tyrant Gurthrigern [Vortigern], the British king, were so blinded, that, as a protection to their country, they sealed its doom by inviting in among them (like wolves into the sheep-fold), the fierce and impious Saxons, a race hateful both to God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nations. Nothing was ever so pernicious to our country, nothing was ever so unlucky. What palpable darkness must have enveloped their minds–darkness desperate and cruel!

Not exactly a peaceful opinion one would say.  Some have accused Gildas writing in the 6th century, who was the source to some extent for Bede writing in the 9th century, of biblical writing.  His epistle is definately stealing a page or two out of Jeremiah. 

Some, therefore, of the miserable remnant, being taken in the mountains, were murdered in great numbers; others, constrained by famine, came and yielded themselves to be slaves for ever to their foes, running the risk of being instantly slain, which truly was the greatest favour that could be offered them: some others passed beyond the seas with loud lamentations instead of the voice of exhortation. “Thou hast given us as sheep to be slaughtered, and among the Gentiles hast thou dispersed us.”

So the idea of a destruction of Israel, in this Christian Britain was definately in Gildas mind.  Yet he goes on to give a tantizing glimpse of the Arthurian figure, defending the Roman British.  It is interesting as I read this I could see glimpses of the Captain Moroni type, or even Mormon, bravely defending a people no longer worth defending:

But in the meanwhile, an opportunity happening, when these most cruel robbers were returned home, the poor remnants of our nation (to whom flocked from divers places round about our miserable countrymen as fast as bees to their hives, for fear of an ensuing storm), being strengthened by God, calling upon him with all their hearts, as the poet says,–

“With their unnumbered vows they burden heaven,”that they might not be brought to utter destruction, took arms under the conduct of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, who of all the Roman nation was then alone in the confusion of this troubled period by chance left alive. His parents, who for their merit were adorned with the purple, had been slain in these same broils, and now his progeny in these our days, although shamefully degenerated from the worthiness of their ancestors, provoke to battle their cruel conquerors, and by the goodness of our Lord obtain the victory.

Chapter 25 opens with this line which is the last victory gained, a peace forced on the Saxons by the Celts:

After this, sometimes our countrymen, sometimes the enemy, won the field, to the end that our Lord might in this land try after his accustomed manner these his Israelites, whether they loved him or not, until the year of the siege of Mount Badon, when took place also the last almost, though not the least slaughter of our cruel foes, which was (as I am sure) forty-four years and one month after the landing of the Saxons, and also the time of my own nativity. And yet neither to this day are the cities of our country inhabited as before, but being forsaken and overthrown, still lie desolate; our foreign wars having ceased, but our civil troubles still remaining.

This is the only near eyewitness, most of his life would have been wrapped around these events, his narrative goes against the Archeologists, describing a very specific beginning of the Wars the destruction of cities and towns, yet success achieved for a time in a big victory. 

Most of Gildas epistle is really about getting the Celtic Romans to go back to worshipping the Christian God with all their hearts.  His letter, a prophetic warning, is not about how to live better lives.  It is a simple condemnation of the weakness of the current leadership and a fear of the end coming. 

So how does one come to grips with these contradictions?

With such a paucity of source material, with most of the writers found, like Bede, writing quite a bit later it is hard to know whether Gildas is exaggerating or not.  It is a most curious conundrum.

As a Mormon I find it even more interesting when measuring it against the ideas of the end of the Nephites.  One that may not have come completely in a huge military battle after military battle but rather by being basically culturally swamped as the Lamanites gain greater hold on the land.  Forcing the remnant into a corner and a final battle maybe slightly amended from the Mormon/Moroni version.

Certainly that is where Gildas and the Archeology are headed.


2 Responses to Archeology and History not always good befellows

  1. kenjebz says:

    I always admire deep thinking people. Your thoughts are always deep, or maybe the right word is scholarly. Just like John Fowles in ABEV, its great to know people like you, and who will actually spend time to write a comment in our humble site. Thank you sir jon!

  2. Dr. B. says:

    I added your blog to my site aggregator. Could you please help to attract new users to the Mormon Blogosphere aggregator?

    Copy and paste the following code into your HTML/JavaScript widget, then take out the # signs:


    Dr. B.

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