Post Roman Period
Life After Rome and The Earliest English
Perhaps no other period of British history is so debated. Roman Britain came to an abrupt end rather than just fading away. With the withdrawal of the army came the collapse of the cash economy. Jutes, Angles, and Saxons migrated from the Continent, Scotti raided from Ireland and Picts attacked from the north.
York would dominate the territory of the Brigantes, with Roman towns such as Catterick and old forts like Malton further down the scale. There had always been fewer villas than in the south, and most farms would have been typical curvilinear hut groups. But pollen analysis suggests this was a time of agricultural discontinuity. Itís possible to imagine a sub-Roman defensive system, based on re-occupied defensive sites, including perhaps our former watchtowers, especially at Filey. This certainly seems to be the picture as far north as the Wall. Unlike in the South, there are no hill forts to re-occupy, and the forts of the old Dux Britanniarum seem to take their place.
Anglo-Saxons could be found on the Yorkshire Wolds down towards Hull, and perhaps as pagan enclaves outside York, in Catterick, and around the river Tees. Catterick with its 6th century sunken-featured buildings may be the Catraeth of the late 6th century heroic poem Y Gododdin. But the British political unit based on York would dominate the area. Anglo-Saxons could have been used as part of a greater defensive scheme.
High status goods such as imported pottery and glass are limited to York, suggesting centralised power rather than a system of sub-kings or warring rulers. It is hard to imagine the exact model of kingship adopted by the British. Was the king in York descended from a native noble family, a Roman official or rich landowner?
The fortress would be occupied, and sherds of Biv and Bii amphora have been identified. Triangular bone combs were used alongside sub-Roman pottery. The old Roman roads would run to the re-fortified military sites to the north, all the way to the Wall. The authority in York may even have held sway over the Carvetii to the west, later Rheged, including Carlisle.
The ruling elite at least would be Christian, and Bede certainly believed that 7th century Elmet contained many Christian sites. British Christian cemeteries may pre-date the well-known Anglo-Saxon monasteries of Jarrow and Monkwearmouth. Paganism may have been limited to Anglo-Saxons.
Old objects and jewellery may have been reused, repaired, treasured. But this was a society that had the vitality to export its culture, religious belief, and perhaps ideas of kingship, to its northern neighbours. It shared its culture with other British areas elsewhere in the country. The warriors may have heard tales of the Praesidiensis from their grandfathers. But the time of Constantine the Great would now be told as stories rather than remembered history.
Such an heroic period is beguiling and evocative, and too often the gaps in history are filled by the imagination. The kingdom of York does not seem as rich as south-west Britain, or blessed with regular long distance trading contacts. Agriculture is not as stable, and the enemy is a close and a direct threat. Itís easy to perceive York as a military kingdom on the edge, dependant on close allies for survival.
What We can offer
Comitatus tries to bring this heroic world to life based on fact rather than fiction, educating as well as entertaining. This period sees the rise of the thirteen kingdoms of the north, and a reversion to the heroic culture which some like to call the 'Arthurian Age'. The Romano-British kingdoms warred with themselves, and against the Angles of Bernica and Deira.
Celtic Christianity competed with Germanic paganism, whilst a literate society turned into an oral one, with deeds recorded by the bards. In or around 580AD the army of York was destroyed in battle by the Bernicians, and King Aelle of Deira was able to occupy the city as his capital. The kingdom of Elmet, covering most of Yorkshire, finally fell to the Angles around 617AD.
The rise of Bernicia and Deira as a single powerful Saxon kingdom is termed the Golden Age of Northumbria. It includes the formation of the Christian kingdom, and the age of Aidan, Cuthbert, Bede and Alcuin. At this time the Northumbrian kingdom achieved primacy over the other British kingdoms, and great examples of art were produced.
When we portray this world of warlords, the events could not be more different from those of Late Roman Britain. We demonstrate the skills and crafts of the time, such as hunting, textiles, bone and antler work, all based on primary evidence.
We look at Anglo Saxon burial practice and the artefacts they leave to describe the clothes our ancestors wore, what they believed and even how they behaved. We try and illuminate these so-called ďDark AgesĒ.