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The Saxon Invasion of Britain

 

 

Traditionally, the first Germanic military force arrived in Britain in around 440 CE to serve as mercenary troops at the invitation of the British sub-Roman government. Glidas records that Celtic leader Vortigern wished to use them against the Picts.

 

When the government failed in their agreement to supply them, thesetroops revolted. This revolt touched a significant part of the country. Then, the first settlers invited their relatives from overseas to join them. At the beginning of the sixth century, the Germanic peoples rapid spread through the country was checked for a time by the British, but by the mid sixth century they started to expand again. By the time of Augustine's arrival, they controlled much of the lowlands and were expanding to the north and west.

 

The Celtic peoples used the name "Saxon" generically to describe all of the Germanic people with whom they came into conflict. While this likely indicates a heavy proportion of Saxons in the early raids and settlement, many other tribes were involved. Significantly, Britain came to be called England after the Angles rather than the Saxons.

 

Gildas writng in 540 CE described the breakdown of order after the withdrawal of Roman forces. Scots and Picts on the former frontier raided in Britain and the people were unable to control them. An appeal for aid was sent to Aetius in Gaul, but the Romans were too busy with troubles of their own and were unable to help.

 

The British leader Vortigern whom Gildas called a "proud tyrant", arranged for a Saxon warband under Hengest and Horsa to settle in the country as federates for protection against the Scots and Picts.

 

Nennius writing in 800 CE implies that the government officials who hired the Saxons not only feared the Scots and Picts, but also the Romans in Gaul and Ambrosius in Britain. If Vortigern, the proud tyrant, was a leader of the Pelagian party in Britain, that fear would be understandable.

 

When hard times came and the government was not able to meet its obligations to the Saxons, they revolted and ravaged the countryside. Under the leadership of Ambrosius Aurelianus, the British eventually fought back and reached a stalemate after a battle at Mons Badonicus which resulted in a generation of peace.

 

Ambrosius' likely power base was Wiltshire where the place-name Amesbury suggests "stronghold of Ambrosius". At the time Gildas was writing in the 540s, he felt that this peace was threatened. The capture of Old Sarum by Wessex in 552 may have ended Gildas' period of peace.

 

Continental evidence suggests a reverse migration of Germanic people out of Britain during this time. Also notably, there is no activity in Kent from 473 until 565 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

 

Gildas made no mention of the British hero Arthur. Since his battles are reputed to have taken place during this time, Gildas should not have ignored him if he had been as famous as indicated by Nennius and later Gregory of Monmouth.

 

The legends of Arthur appear to have developed out of late Welsh legends that suggest a British commander called Artorius won some repute against the Saxons

 

 

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