Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Transitional Anglo Saxon Period

This is to give a bit of background about the Anglo Saxon period that I am studying as the cultural basis for the Kent Coat and undergarment that I am attempting to make.

From the fourth to sixth Century AD England and Europe were in a state of flux or transition. The Roman Empire was collapsing and this had a huge effect on the movement of people and through this movement the movement of crafts and knowledge (Taylor, T. 2006:143).

In Briton the Roman army was pulling out of Briton as Rome tried to consolidate its own forces on the Continent. This left a power vacuum and the need to provide for the many people who had been employed under Roman rule but were not necessarily being pulled back to the Continent because they were native Briton's (Campbell, J. 1991:20).

The exact sequence of events is very confused. Gildas is the only example of extant writing from the period but he was writing based on hearsay from the Continent and not from actual experience in Briton. His writing certainly confuses events and when they happen, as can be seen by his comments about the Roman's being pulled back to Britain to fight Boadicea, an event that was known to happen around AD 60-61 not in the 500's as Gildas seems to believe (Gildas 2(16)).

Bede gives a much more precise account of what was happening in Briton during the transitional phase. His account explains that as soon as the Roman army started to withdraw from Briton the Picts and the Scotts began to harry the native Britons from the North. This lead to a call to Rome to come back and help the Britons (Bede 1990:60). However although Bede gives a lot of dates these do not necessarily correspond to the archaeological evidence suggesting that Bede is not always accurate particularly about events happening the 5th and 6th centuries (Campbell, J. 1991:34).

According to Gildas (2(6)) the Romans did send a legion back to Briton to help out but as soon as the Roman legion left the country again experienced difficulties and was again under attack. This resulted in another appeal to Rome which went unanswered. By this stage the Roman Empire was in dire straights of its own. The Roman Empire was split between two main capitals Rome and Constantinople. Constantinople was in the middle of a plague and both cities as well as other surrounding cities were falling into disrepair (Bede 1990:62). As a result no help was forthcoming for the Britons.

It is likely that the sort of problems that Briton was experiencing were not just from invasions from the Picts and Scotts. As Rome pulled out of Briton the people that were leaving were the leaders and decision makers. This was leaving a power vacuum in Britain with native Briton soldiers being left behind with no way of being paid and no direction about how to protect important cities and trade routes within Briton itself. This lead to a break down in communication and in movement within Briton (Campbell 1991:20)

According to Bede the result of this unrest meant that a group of Germanic tribes, were invited over to Briton by a King called Vortigen to help defend the Britons (Bede 199162). Exactly who Vortigen was is unknown and archaeological evidence suggests that the gradual influx of Angles, Saxon's and Jutes plus many other Germanic tribes probably occurred over a considerable period of time and under a number of different agreements probably made by a variety of different authorities (Campbell 1991:34).

The Archaeological evidence does back up some of Bede's story and certainly shows an influx of distinct Germanic groups (Campbell 1991:30). Bede claims that the Saxon's arrived in the East, South and West, Angles in Mercia and Northumberland and Jutes in Kent and on the Isle of Wight. (Bede 1990:63) While there are distinct groups in those three area's it is probable that there were more than three different groups from three Germanic tribes that immigrated over an extended period of time. (Campbell 1991:30).

Bede claims that the Angles and Saxons, once they had entered Briton, helped keep the Northern Barbarians in check for a short period of time and were paid for this service. However eventually the payment that they were offered was not enough and they rebelled and asked for more (Bede 1990:63). This unrest resulted in the Anglo Saxons more or less becoming dominant and integrating with the Britons over a number of decades.

Kent shows a very different style of migration to the other area's in Briton at the time (Campbell 1991:44) There are a large number of high status graves in Kent compared to other parts of Briton.
There appears to have been very strong links between the Merovingians, a Frankish group and the people of Kent. This culminated in the marriage of Berta or Bertha the daughter of King Charibert of the Franks and his wife Ingoberg (Cawley, C. 2001:CLOTAIRE I 511-561, CHARIBERT 561-567, GONTRAN 561-592).

This has resulted in the a series of graves in Kent that is unmatched elsewhere in Britain. These graves are heavily influenced by Frankish and Jutish fashions and there seems to been a level of high quality goods that were actually being produced in Kent rather than imported from Germanic craftsmen (Campbell 1992: 44).

The invasion, migration period of the Anglo Saxon's and Jutes seems to have taken a number of decades. During this time there are graves that show a mix of both Roman styles in clothing and personal items. For example at Wasperton in Warwickshire there is a transition grave site that revealed individuals wearing Roman footwear but having Anglo Saxon personal items from around the middle of the 5th century (Taylor, T. 2006: 143).

It is this period that I am looking at for the clothing that I am working on for the Hordewearde. I am specifically looking at the clothing worn in the area of Kent from relatively high status graves.

The above overview of the cultural changes that were taking part during the period that I am working with is very limited. It does not cover any of the religious influences that contributed to many of the changes at the time. This includes the original Roman introduction of Christianity which then seems to have been almost totally superseded by the pagan beliefs of the Angles, Saxon's and Jutes when they originally started to migrate to Briton. When Berta arrived in Kent she bought back the Christian religion in Kent so Kent seems to have been Christian for a lot longer than other parts of Briton. (Campbell 1992:22). For more information see the books and links below.

This information is solely to give a very rough overview of some of the many and conflicting cultural changes that influenced fashion in Kent between the middle of the 5th and 6th Centuries. 

  1. Campbell, J (Ed) (Campell, J.) 1991. The Lost Centuries: 400-600. Penguin Books
  2. Cawley, C. 2011. FRANKS, merovingian kings. http://fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/MEROVINGIANS.htm (accessed 26/10/2011)
  3. Taylor T. (ed) 2006. What Happened When. The Time Team, Random House Australia, Milsons Pt NSW. Channel 4 Books.
  4. Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Translation Stanley, P.L and Rev Latham, R. E. 1990. Bede (c. 673- 735).
  5. On The Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae) by Gildas Translation by J.A. Giles. (1848) The Works of Gildas surnamed "Sapiens", or The Wise. Gildas was contemporary to (c. 494 or 516 – c. 570)

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