This is the Eighth-part of our discussion of Britain in the so-called Age of Arthur: the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”. It was the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain; it was the Age of Arthur!
But who was Arthur?
Before we answer that question, it is necessary we understand the world in which he lived.
(Read Part Seven here)
BRITAIN STANDS ALONE
The last quarter of the 5th century was a grim time for those who looked to Rome, and the model of classical civilization it represented.
In 476, Romulus Augustulus, the teenage Western Roman Emperor, was forced to abdicate his throne by Odoacer; leader of barbarian feoderati in Italy. The Western Emperor had long been a figurehead, with true power residing with the Magister Militum (“Master of Soldiers”); a position held in the 5th century largely by one Romanized-Barbarian officer after another (Flavius Aëtius being the chief exception).
Romulus had himself been placed on the throne by his father, Orestes, one of these Romanized German commanders. Odoacer killed Orestes, and seized the Emperor in Ravenna.
The boy-Emperor’s life was mercifully spared; Odoacer granted him an estate in Campania and a life-time pension. But Romulus was the last to hold the title of “Western Roman Emperor” (Belisarius, the great Byzantine commander in the next century, would be offered this diadem and title by the Ostrogoths). Odoacer went on to rule Italy thereafter as “King”; and as an autonomous vassal of the Eastern Empire.
Few in the West likely noticed, much less cared. By this time, the provinces that once comprised the western half of the Roman Empire had been for some time under the control of various “barbarian” powers. Gaul was divided between the Franks in the north, the Burgundians in the east, and the Visigoths in the south; with an ever-shrinking Roman successor state (ruled by Syagrius, a noble Romano-Gaul who still bore the title of Magister Militum per Gallias) in the north-central portion of the province; and the British territory of Armorica/Brittany. Spain was divided between this same Visigoth kingdom (centered still in Aquitaine), and the German Suevi. North Africa, once the breadbasket of the Western Empire, was now a militant and piratical Vandal kingdom; centered on the former provincial capital of Carthage.
Of the former provinces, only Britain fought on, resisting Germanic occupation.
There are cogent reasons why of all the Western Imperial provinces Britain alone maintained its independence and identity….
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