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The First Kingdom: Britain in the age of Arthur

by Max Adams

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A very readable but detailed introduction to the end of Roman rule of Britannia in the fourth century and what might have happened thereafter before the Anglo-Saxons came to dominate the majority of England in the seventh century. Adams brings together recent research and archaeological evidence to create a collage presenting possibilities of the process by which England moved from Roman villas to Anglo-Saxon settlements (there is not really much about Scotland and Wales).
Although I have read some books about this period in Britain’s history in the past, this book was excellent at trying to synthesise recent research, providing the author’s educated assessment of likely events where necessary, with suitable caveats for the reader to understand the judgements being made.
Although the subtitle of the book refers to the age of Arthur, the author does not spend much time considering whether Arthur might have been an historical figure, or just legendary, as there is very little contemporary written evidence to substantiate the name of a particular individual. Indeed the author spends some time explaining how, because of the non-existence or loss of written records, we have little evidence of the names of many individuals from this period, and interestingly there is one kingdom, Rheged, where we are not sure of its exact location, other than it is west of the kingdom of Northumbria.
Adams also provides plenty of fascinating detail and explanation, for example, I had not appreciated that kings moved around their kingdoms as the right to a share of an area’s surplus output needed to be consumed locally, if a monetary economy didn’t really exist after the withdrawal of Roman rule from Britain in about 410 BCE. I didn’t find that these minor digressions interrupted the overall narrative flow.
For those unfamiliar with British geography, which is complicated by currently small towns and villages being significant sites in this time period, there are some useful maps, although they don’t detail all of the locations discussed.
An excellent overview of the period provided that you have some familiarity with the subject or patience to identify places, otherwise you may become lost amongst the many names and locations used to build up Adams’ convincing collage of England’s development over the centuries discussed. ( )
  CarltonC | Jun 1, 2021 |
Focuses on the two centuries after the end of the Western Roman Empire around 400AD. Explores the archeological, geographical and limited textual evidence for continuity and change in this period, and the emergence of new forms of political and social organisation in the post-Roman era. ( )
  fastred | May 31, 2021 |
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