This is the first part in a multi-part examination 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 Age of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”. Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic expansion and conquest for nearly two centuries. The heroes of this struggle, and the “barbarian” warlords who opposed them, are the subject of this discussion.
If he indeed existed, and it is the opinion of this author that he did, Arthur was a warlord who successfully led the British resistance to the Saxon threat, in the late 5th century, and into the early 6th century. Using historical analysis of the disparate chronicles, poems, legends, archeological evidence, and applying deductive logic backed by a lifetime of military study and practice we will develop a working theory of who Arthur was and the events of his life.
This was in the sunset of Roman culture in Britain; itself once the jewel in the crown of the Roman Empire. Arthur was the champion who kept the flame of civilization alive as the rest of Western Europe sunk into the Dark Ages.
But before we can discuss Arthur, it is important to understand the world in which he lived.
THE END OF ROMAN RULE IN BRITAIN
In the first two decades of the 5th century, Roman Britain (Britannia) was gradually abandoned by the Roman Empire. While some among the Romans and the Britons may have considered the island to be a part of the Empire until the Germanic generalissimo Odoacer forced the last Western Emperor, Romulus, to abdicate in 476; for all practical purposes Roman Britannia became an independent Romano-British state after 410 A.D.
Britain was prosperous, mostly Christian, and outside of the tribal hill country a thoroughly Romanized province. The Celtic inhabitants of the cities and towns spoke Latin as a first language. Throughout the province they were governed by elected magistrates; drawn (as elsewhere in the Roman world) from the aristocratic curiales class. In the southern part of the island, the countryside was dotted with prosperous villas, inhabited by this same Romano-British aristocracy and their retainers. Britannia contributed financially to the Empire as a whole; it was not a drain upon its resources, except in one respect: the military.
British Canterbury (Durovernum Cantiacorum) in the Roman Era
The Late Roman Empire experienced drastic military manpower shortage; due to a variety of causes. Trained troops capable of relocation to trouble spots (as opposed to the numerous garrison troops of the frontier fortresses) were relatively few and worn down by a very high (to use a modern term) “mission tempo”.
In the first decade of the 5th century, the mobile forces stationed in Britain would be needed elsewhere, to save the “motherland” province of the Empire, Italy, from foreign invasion.
CRISES IN THE WESTERN EMPIRE
The Western Roman Empire found itself caught in a death-spiral of cause-and-effect that began in 401 AD, and would continue for the next 75 years; slowly strangling the life out of the Western Empire.
This destructive loop of events began with the Visigoths under their leader, Alaric invading Italy for the first time in 401. Indirectly, one could trace this even further back to the victory of the Goths over the Romans at Adrianople; which victory had guaranteed a large, independent, and potentially threatening Gothic force in the Balkans for a generation.
The Visigoths rampaged through the Balkans periodically in decades after Adrianople; plaguing the Eastern Roman government. Accommodation with the Visigoths was reached in 397, whereby they were settled in Illyria, and their new leader, Alaric….