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Author: John Morris


There has been renewed interest in history. Television has jumped on the bandwagon. Our ancestry seems once more in vogue with films such as King Arthur, Troy and Alexander bringing the past to people,s attention.

One time that has always fascinated people is that of Arthur, the Dark Ages. Many books have been written trying to justify Arthur's existence, find the historical realities of the man and trace his story. This in itself seems an odd thing to do, as whoever Arthur was, he represents about 0.001% of the interest and activity of this period.

John Morris' book The Age of Arthur, fills in the other 99.999% of what we know of the period and is a must for those who have an interest in the realities of the early Dark Age.

The 'Age of Arthur' is a popular phrase used to cover the post-Roman period of Britain between the leaving of the legions and the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon settlers.

The book has very little to say about Arthur and is not aimed at those who wish to research this character; there are many good books on that subject, this however is a book of a very different nature. The late John Morris was Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at University College London, founder and editor of the journal Past and Present, and published many books on the period as well as a major new edition of the Domesday Book.

This book like his others, is a scholarly work, with nearly 700 pages of fine print aimed at the more academic reader. This is not meant to be the starting point of your journey into reading history, nor is it aimed at the popular market. That is not to say that it aims to be elitist or confined to dusty halls of learning, but it takes a dedicated reader to get the most out of it.

Starting with the condition of Britain in 350 A.D. and ending in 650 A.D., it sets the scene of the crumbling and ever more isolated furthermost part of the Roman Empire.

As resources are stripped to defend the heartland of empire, opportunists in the form of Anglo-Saxons, Picts and Scots begin to nibble away at the British shoreline.

With the fall of the Western Empire, the flood gates open and the bulk of the book examines the period when the land was contested between the surviving Romano-British, the germanic Anglo-Saxons, and the Picts and Scots from the outer reaches of the Isles. Where Arthur is mentioned it is as an idea of leadership rather than as an historical figure and he is set alongside such contemporaries as Vortigen and Cunedda, Hengist and Coel, all brought to life and shown to be much more prominent than Arthur could ever have been.

Morris goes out of his way to examine the sources for the period in detail. Gildas, Bede and Nennius, the three chief writers of the period, and their works, are examined at length. Language, particularly names, are given due respect. The structure of these names is often very revealing about the heritage of a place or person.

Although the period of this book is a very troubled time and the conflicts and power mongering are well covered, equal reverence is given to the social and religious activity of the time. The structure of society is examined, both the native Romano-British life and the growth of English society to become the dominant culture with its laws, agriculture, traditions and past-times. The spread of Christianity at this time is a major factor in the birth of this new hybrid nation. As the British succumbed very much to Anglo-Saxon life, similarly the Anglo-Saxons succumbed to British religion, giving up Paganism for a more unified belief system.

There is no area left untouched in this work, and if you only read one book on the post-Roman period, then this is it. It is a period that has been long misinterpreted, mainly due to books and films inventing their own historically inaccurate portrayal of the times, but this work will set the record straight. It will shed all the light you need on the birth of the English nation and the murky depths that were Dark Age Britain.