This is the second-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.
VORTIGERN’S STRUGGLE FOR POWER
From 429 to the 440s, nothing for certain is known about the events in Britain. It is tempting to say that Vortigern maintained a troubled hold on power, while concentrating his attention on settling the Votadini in north Wales as a buffer against the Irish/Scotti (see Part One); and further facilitated the foundation of his own kingdom in the west, Powys. We know that during this period, Viroconium (Wroxeter), the tribal captial of Vortigern’s own Cornovii, was the fourth largest city in Britain. During this period it
enjoyed something revival; with new build projects launched and older buildings restored. It was also refortified at this time. All of this is consistent with the possibility that Vortigern used Viroconium as his principal stronghold.
But raids by the Picts and the Scotti continued unabated. In the440s the British (likely the anti-Vortigern faction) sent a letter to Flavius Aetius, the Roman Magister Militum (“Master of Soldiers”) in Gaul and Stilicho’s successor as the most powerful man in the Western Roman Empire. Aetius was campaigning to restore some measure of Roman authority in Gaul throughout this decade. At least some Britons, it would appear, longed for the security the Empire once represented.
The letter, called “Groans of the Britons”, told of their plight; beset by “barbarians” and begging for Roman help:
To Agitius (Aetius), thrice consul… the barbarians drive us to the sea, the sea drives us to the barbarians, between these two means of death we are either killed or drowned.
This letter is often said to have been sent in response to the Saxon Terror; but the dates don’t match-up….
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