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74 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A minimalist view of the Dark Ages
Other writers have wished to remove King Arthur from history, but in doing so they always try to retain the traditional picture of post-Roman Britain from which he emerges, and for which Leslie Alcock’s Arthur’s Britain represented a kind of late summary. They want to keep Arthurian Britain with its complete and sudden collapse of romanitas, hordes of lusty...
Published on 21 Nov. 2005 by 3Lllama

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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A different twist on English history
After the Romans left Britain, the lights went out until Alfred burnt the cakes. A parody of the popular view of British history post 410AD, but perhaps not too exaggerated. Francis Pryor sets out an alternative picture, in detail and backed up with evidence. The lights didn't go out. Most people carried on doing what they always had. There wasn't a huge Saxon...
Published on 6 Jan. 2005 by D. Harris


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74 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A minimalist view of the Dark Ages, 21 Nov. 2005
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This review is from: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (Paperback)
Other writers have wished to remove King Arthur from history, but in doing so they always try to retain the traditional picture of post-Roman Britain from which he emerges, and for which Leslie Alcock’s Arthur’s Britain represented a kind of late summary. They want to keep Arthurian Britain with its complete and sudden collapse of romanitas, hordes of lusty Saxons raging from sea to sea and loss of contact with the continent, but find the king himself something of a romantic embarrassment (anyone for Hamlet without the prince?). The resulting inconsistencies and double standards have been well described by Christopher Gidlow in The Reign of Arthur. By contrast, Francis Pryor shows that he is quite willing to dispense with the idea of an historical Arthur for the simple reason that he doesn’t think that Britain was ever really Arthurian.
In the Pryor version of things, post-roman civitas polities evolve into British and Saxon kingdoms and there is no more migration than usual, while the Saxonisation of eastern Britain is explained by cultural influence rather than wholesale immigration. In doing so, he takes a position even more extreme than that of Saxon expert NJ Higham, who explained this change as the influence of a small Saxon warrior elite that rapidly seized power in lowland Britain.
So how well does he prove his case? In archaeological terms, pretty well. Pryor has been excavating around Peterborough for more than thirty years, and if there was any evidence for mass immigration from across the North Sea, it would certainly show up here, in fertile farmland easily reached by Saxon keels rowing up the brackish river Nene. In fact, as he shows, there are none of the sudden changes in building and farming that would be expected, only the partial switch from grain production to stock raising predictable from the loss of Roman era long-range trade. On the way, he comprehensively demolishes the idea that the “Saxon shore” forts were actually built to keep out raiders, showing that they are much more consistent with use as secure supply ports for the Roman army (though he doesn’t mention their obvious usefulness in the event of a rebellion).
The traditional objection to this more mundane view of the Dark Ages is that since English contains very few Celtic words, there must have been wholesale population replacement. Although I knew that Hungarian was a Finnish-related language adopted by a Germanic people, I always found this objection persuasive. The change for me came when I moved to a triple language border in Europe and began to raise children bilingually. By talking to other people in the same position it quickly became clear that people just do not learn languages “mixed-up”. Bilingual children do make mistakes but they’re very quick to correct themselves, and find switching from one language to another as easy and natural as putting on a posh accent to answer the telephone. All that’s needed for complete replacement is several generations in which one language confers a higher attainable status than another and is therefore more worth retaining. That’s why the main threat to Europe’s minority languages is not any risk of merging with other languages but rather the risk of being wiped out completely by their low percieved status.
So with that objection out of the way I was ready to read this book without thinking “Ah yes, but what about language” all the time. This is a more impassioned book than Pryor's Britain BC or Seahenge, and he doesn't justify or reference his claims as systematically as he did in those books, but this also makes it a more exciting read.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A different twist on English history, 6 Jan. 2005
By 
D. Harris (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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After the Romans left Britain, the lights went out until Alfred burnt the cakes. A parody of the popular view of British history post 410AD, but perhaps not too exaggerated. Francis Pryor sets out an alternative picture, in detail and backed up with evidence. The lights didn't go out. Most people carried on doing what they always had. There wasn't a huge Saxon invasion. Things changed slowly. This is a compelling story, well told - and he doesn't ignore the fact that it is controversial or brush aside the evidence against it. So, well worth a read.

There are problems with this book - they were shared by the TV series on which it is based. These are big questions, and the book isn't (could not be) long enough to go into the detail one really wants. For example, I think that much more needs to be said about language: we (the English) speak a basically Germanic language, not one derived from Celtic/ Latin. That takes a lot of getting round and the book says very little about it. (The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language argues though that there was at least a substantial body of English speakers in "England" even before the Roman conquest - which is a shocking idea, to put it mildly). And personally, I didn't see the need to bring King Arthur into it. But still well worth buying and reading.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some unfortunate lapses into political correctness, 21 Sept. 2004
By A Customer
The ideas concerning the continuity of settlement and culture from the prehistory through the Roman to the post Roman period are well argued. Many interesting points are raised such as about the level of literacy in Dark Age England based on the stone inscriptions preserved in the SW and Wales. However the last section which argues that the Anglo-Saxon invasion was invented by Bede is most unconvincing. While we may accept the "invasion" was limited to a relatively small number of individuals probably over a long period. To claim it is pure invention by a biased monk can hardly be supported by the evidence. Bede like most of us was influenced by his own society and beliefs, but that does not mean we can dismiss everything he says as a fiction. The claim that "Saxon shore" forts are just some kind of gloried trading warehouses rather than defensive military installations is ludicrous, as is the assertion that the native British suddenly decided for some reason (unexplained) to abandon their Celtic language and learn English. The Old English language may well contain some Celtic influences (that would be hardly surprising) but few would deny that it is primarily shaped by Germanic influences. True the possession of a "Saxon" style artefact does not mean the owner was a Saxon. However, entire populations do not suddenly abandon their former language and learn a new one unless something pretty drastic forces them to. At the very least this would imply some kind of political take over by a ruling Saxon elite. It may not be politically correct to accept that sometimes immigration can lead to the replacement of a native culture by a new one. But this does not justify trying to deny past events simply because they are politically inconvenient or uncomfortable in the light of present issues. Our ideas about the past can and should be continually reassessed, but only in the light of cold hard evidence not political bias. This kind of propaganda disguised as history would seem to be at least as bad as poor Bede's much maligned efforts.
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read but an unconvincing argument, 24 Sept. 2004
By 
Gregory Spawton (Bournemouth, England) - See all my reviews
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You've probably seen Francis Pryor on the telly; he is a regular contributor to Time Team and has fronted two series for Channel 4.This book is the tie-in to the second.
Pryor is an engaging and authoritative commentator, both on screen and in print, and this book is a very good read. Pryor is firmly in the camp of the ancient Britons and in Britain AD he argues against the migration theory of the origins of England. He puts forward some interesting arguments based on recent research, but I have to say that Pryor's pudding has far too many eggs for my liking.
Explaining cultural changes by way of migration theory has long been out of fashion in the archaeological world (remember the Beaker folk; whatever happened to them?) But in Britain AD, Pryor takes a revisionist step too far by effectively erasing the early English from history. Pryor uses inverted commas whenever he mentions the Anglo-Saxons (sorry, 'Anglo-Saxons') to ensure that the reader is left in no doubt of their mythological origins. Even King Alfred gets reduced to the legendary status of Arthur, even though he is a known historical figure.
Pryor's belief is that no more more than a tiny trickle of continental immigrants came to Britain in the Dark Ages and that the English are simply the indigenous population with a new language and new clothes.
The number of Anglo-Saxon immigrants is arguable and there is little doubt that much of the population of early England would have had British roots. But Pryor's theory that such huge changes to society were simply due to the adoption of continental fashions or influences strikes me as highly improbable.
The English language is Pryor's main hurdle and proves to be insurmountable. Only 20 or so words from the Celtic language were recruited into English. The contrast between the failure of the Celtic language in lowland Britain and the continuation and eventual triumph of English after the Norman Conquest (where it is known that there were just a few thousand immigrants who replaced the ruling classes) is striking.
My one other criticism of Britain AD is that I wish Arthur hadn't crept in quite so much. The use of Arthur's name in the sub-title will presumably increase sales but the Arthurian themes seem a bit of an add-on.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doubts over the Historic Roots of the English Language?, 19 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (Paperback)
Doubts over the Roots of the English Language

The traditional conception of the origins of the English language is well known. Its roots were transplanted into British soil after the end of the Roman occupation by the Germanic invaders in the 5th and 6th centuries. The Roman armies (and all their soldiers!) supposedly left at the beginning of the 5th century and the military vacuum was supposedly filled by these "Anglo-Saxon" invaders.They then proceeded to conquer the land and within two centuries the Old English speech community had become dominant. Prior to this, the peoples of the British Isles were all supposedly Brythonic speech communities who had become romanised and had embraced, partly at least, Latin. The roots of the English language supposedly arrived later.

Some researchers in the relevant areas are now questioning this 'established' conception. For example, Francis Pryor in his text 'Britain AD' and Stephen Oppenheimer in his 'The Origins of the British : A Genetic Detective Story'. Moreover, ancient historiographical sources - such as Caesar's 'Gallic Wars' - also appear to point us in a different direction in regard to the roots and origins of the English language.

The languages and dialects spoken by all the different peoples and tribes of pre-Roman Britain cannot be known for definite, beyond 'all reasonable doubt' so to speak. It remains an area of open research and academic debate. It is so remote historically and there is so little historiographical and archaeological evidence regarding the specific character of the languages spoken, that this invariably invites scepticism and even speculation.

Pryor, for example, in regard to the 5th and 6th centuries, stresses the continuity in tradition over the centuries and I think he is correct when he asserts that there was not a "mass" Germanic invasion in these centuries of hundreds of thousands of "Anglo-Saxons". However, how do we account for the cultural discontinuities (within the historic continuity) in these centuries? Or do we actually need to account for them in terms of conquest? Are we looking at cultural changes as a result of mass invasions or military-cultural conquest by a Germanic warrior elite? Or could we be actually looking at a re-birth, a sort of post-Roman cultural 'Renaissance' where the cultural elements were already present throughout the Roman period? For example, in language, in actual place names in landscape, in the names of people, etc : do we actually know what local people called the areas where they lived? i.e. what words they actually used in everyday sppech? Do we actually know the names which they used to address each other? Only the aristocratic elite took on Romanic culture and this was also the tendency amongst town dwellers. Most people in Roman Britain actually lived on the land and must have continued with established pre-Roman traditions. Oppenheimer raises a very interesting question : why are there so few Brythonic loan words in English? If Britain had been exclusively an assortment of enduring Brythonic speech communities in pre-Roman and Roman Britain, why did so few of their words become integrated into English after the "Anglo-Saxon" conquest? Moreover, why are there significant genetic differences (genetic markers) between the populations of south-eastern Britain and the rest of the island?

The idea of a mass invasion of hundreds of thousands of marauding Angles and Saxons, etc, in the 5th and 6th centuries sounds as implausible as such an invasion by the Romans before or the Normans after them. A military conquest of the south-eastern part of the country over many decades seems less implausible. By a Germanic miltary warrior elite which was a Western Germanic speech community. This new ruling elite then contributed to alterations in cultural changes in the course of these and subsequent centuries. Including alterations in the language. We have historical models for such a type of conquest prior to and subsequent to the post-Roman Germanic incursions and conquests in the form of the Roman and Norman conquests.

The Roman and Norman conquests did not involve many thousands of people from the continent "swamping" the indigenous culture. Cultural changes arose out of the historic-structural alterations stemming from these conquests. The Romans conquered with their legions and imposed these changes and the Normans conquered with how many? 10,000 which includes their retinues, etc. In a way, American culture has "conquered" Britain but by means of economic and political power and through the mass media but there has not been a mass migration of Americans into the country.

In other words, for these changes to have taken place in these centuries, new cultural elements could have been introduced into the post-Roman culture and become organically integrated into it. However, such post-Roman Germanic introductions could merely have re-invigorated Germanic or Brythono-Germanic elements already present throughout the Roman period inherited from the late Iron Age. These exogenous introductions then brought to life (acted as a sort of 'cultural spark') a 'Neo-Germanic Renaissance'? No mass migration is necessarily implied. And, actually, neither is an invasion from continental Europe of a Germanic military overlordship. Even before centralised Roman rule ended, these Germanic elements could already have been present in the form of Germanic legionaries, auxillaries, mercenaries, etc, and their families, etc. The Romans hired foreign mercenaries to defend the boundaries of their empire. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the inheritors of post-Roman Britain were already living and established as communities in sufficient numbers within the province of Britannia.

Hence, Germanic military "incursions" could have been "endogenous" and not the commonly and traditionally held "exogenous" incursions and conquest. This is not to discount the possibility that these endogenous communities also had exogenous contacts. The cultural changes which took place throughout the post-Roman centuries could have been, in all essentials, endogenous i.e. alterations arising organically but with some exogenous influences. With the movement of peoples around and through the Roman empire in its final centuries, this cannot be discounted.

But I think we have to consider the changes taking place in the post-Roman period in Britain as not "dark" at all but possibly as an organic evolution (with possible exogenous influences) of the conditions which existed when centralised rule from Rome ended.

The question of linguistic changes could be considered within such an evolving context. It seems to be a 'bolted development' for a whole people to be articulating a new language (Old English) - from a 'dead start' so to speak - in such a short space of historical time. With no adopted loan words from the previously and supposedly dominant Romanised Brythonic speech communities. This, however, could be taken as an argument for the 'genocide' and 'ethnic cleansing' of the Romano-Brythonics by the Germanics. All of them "pushed to the west" into Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria, etc. Is it possible for the indigenous languages of established speech communities to be obliterated in this way and replaced by the language of the conquerors without leaving hardly any traces in terms of loan words, etc?

Some researchers are now suggesting that conversing pre-Roman Britain was not simply of the Brythonic sub-branch of the Indo-European Language tree. It may well be that parts of the south and east of England actually spoke a language from the Germanic branch actually before the Roman or later Germanic invasions. And Oppenheimer is even suggesting that English originates from linguistic roots which are not West Germanic but of a totally different sub-branch of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European tree. That it even possibly has roots in and evolved from a sub-branch which was a hybrid of the Germanic and the Brythonic This implies that at the time of the Roman occupation, the British tribes were divided into Brythonic and Non-Brythonic speech communities, the latter already, at least if not fully, being a Germanic or Brythono-Germanic speech community in the eastern and southern tribes of the land. The northern and western tribes tending to be exclusively Brythonic in speech.

These differences are accredited to the invasions of the Belgic (Belgae) tribes about 400 years before the Roman conquest. Some sources - including Caesar in the 'Gallic Wars' - seem to suggest that their language was of the Germanic branch and not the Brythonic. Oppenheimer's work in genetics tends to support this historiographical suggestion. This would tend to suggest that the English language has deeper roots, indeed pre-Roman, and that the exit of Rome combined with the Germanic conquest merely served to give re-birth in new form and sustenance to the earlier 'Belgic' Germanic form or Belgic 'Brythono-Germanic' form. Perhaps the conception that all of Britain was 'Brythonic' in speech needs to be re-evaluated. We are so absolutely conditioned into the traditional conception that the English language starts with the 5th century. We need to consider, perhaps, the possibility that the Britons in the south-east were already speaking a Germanic or even 'Brythono-Germanic' language at the time of the invasion of the Roman legions and even three centuries before it. And that this linguistic heritage carried through and beyond the Roman occupation so that the cultural cauldron within which English finds its point of orignation is a combination (a synthesis) of this Belgic Germanic (or Belgic Brythono-Germanic) legacy and the language of the Western Germanic cousins coming to the south and east of the land in the 5th and 6th centuries.

Has the degree of disruption (discontinuity) of the post-Roman period been overrated or even "de-romanticised" into an enduring so-called "Dark Age"? Perhaps the conception of a pre-Roman (and therefore Roman) 'Belgic Germanic' or 'Belgic Brythono-Germanic' speech community in the tribes of the south and east may carry legitimacy. There is lots of food for thought and research here, both archeaological and historiographical. Is the post-Roman "lights out and into a dark age catastrophe" conception possibly a cherished romance or a 'fin de l'epoque' fantasy of the classicists or a 'commencement de l'epoch' fantasy of the Anglo-Saxonist philologists?
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Britain that never was, 10 Jan. 2012
By 
Patrick Neylan "Patrick Neylan" (Orpington, Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (Paperback)
So, here's the skinny: the Anglo-Saxon invasions never happened. There are a few written sources but none are reliable, while the archaeological record (which is objective and plentiful) is so lacking in evidence of migration from the continent that it can almost be taken as proof that there was no invasion of Britain in the 5th-6th centuries.

But this is history, and any history you read is coloured by whoever wrote it, and so Pryor's offering definitely isn't the whole story. Still, he's a proper archaeologist and his arguments are rooted in the archaeological facts (which also explains why this book is more academic in tone than some readers expected). In debunking the idea of a Dark Age invasion, he is hardly a maverick: historians have been downgrading it for some time. The 19th Century idea of a mass replacement of the Celtic population went out of fashion decades ago, but till now few people have gone so far as to say that nobody at all crossed the North Sea from Germany.

Pryor claims exactly that, but he also takes the story right back to the Iron Age, examining how archaeology reveals that the British Isles before the Romans arrived were very different to what is popularly believed. He also stresses that Roman Britain was prosperous almost to the end, and that the Romans didn't leave; the British threw them out, after which things improved instead of descending into anarchy.

Even if this surprises some lay readers, it is close to the modern consensus among scholars. Pryor points out that the presence of continental-style pottery is no proof of an invasion, any more than the presence of German goods in Britain today is evidence that Hitler won the war.

Establishing these facts is good, but it leaves one question unanswered: why did the bulk of the British population adopt a Germanic language - as alien to them as Greek would have been - in the space of a couple of generations if there were no immigrants at all? Pryor lacks the courage to tackle this one. He might have debunked some old theories, but his theory isn't the whole truth either.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but deeply flawed, 15 Jun. 2009
By 
James Leader (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (Paperback)
Francis Pryor writes well, and this book is certainly good read. However, it should be treated as such, and not as a serious contribution to the study of "Dark Age" Britain. Pryor makes no bones of the fact that this is not his period; this would not be a problem in itself, but the approach that he brings to the topic certainly is.

Pryor's hypothesis is that there were essentially no Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain. Rather, he would argue, the indigenous population of what is now England simply decided to copy the people of the continent. This theory might(just about) work if it is confined to Pryor's own discipline of archaeology - his premise is that an anglo-saxon style broach could not only have been worn by an Anglo-Saxon. However, he wilfully ignores any evidence that goes against him, and crucially he totally ingores the evidence of language. It is one thing to imagine the Romano-British people of South East England adopting Anglo-Saxon clothes; it is quite another to think that they could have abandoned their own language entirely (bringing only a miniscule number of loanwords into Old English) and simultaneously changed the majority of their placenames, in favour of a foreign tongue.

Pryor makes it a point of principle to reject almost all contemporary written sources for the period (it has been remarked elsewhere that the fact that he does so because those sources have their own political purpose is highly ironic). It is absolutely right to treat those materials with an eye to the context in which they were written, but Pryor throws the baby out with the bathwater. He also totally ignores some important early sources (in particular, all continental sources and Y Gododdin spring to mind).

In support of different parts of his argument, Pryor is magnificently inconsistent. Consider, for example, (a) "Viewed from the perspective of prehistory, the very idea of a 'migration period' is absurd: why would people suddenly decide to move around in this perculiar and hyperactive fashion"; (b)"Maybe it is because we have tended to look at permanent structures...that archaeologists...have generally underestimated the extent to which the population of Britain and Western Europe moved around. We know that pottery and coins move... but we do not then go on to say that people themselves must have moved too" (page 213).

In his conclusion, Pryor writes that the idea of the Anglo-Saxon invasions "patronises the indigenous people, because it assumes that the post-Roman inhabitants of Britain would not have been capable of 'inventing' England themselves." This statement exemplifies the peculiar academic bias which he brings to his consideration of the subject. It is probably true that the Romano-British could not have invented "England", which is an Anglo-Saxon country. What they would have invented would have been Britain.

I could go on quite a bit longer, but writing this review has helped me come to terms with some of the irritation that reading the book has caused in me. Do by all means buy and read it, but please don't take it seriously.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable and informative, 19 Jan. 2010
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This review is from: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (Paperback)
Dr Pryor has an engaging and conversational writing style explaining his well researched ideas with clarity. He presents a convincing evidence based argument that the dark ages have been misnamed.

Dr Pryor describes and contrasts the differences between the ways in which archaeologists and historians explore and report history. As an archaeologist, Dr Pryor looks at and assesses the known archaeological evidence for the period described by historians as the Dark Ages. His conclusions, explained in clear, well structured, arguments present a picture of Dark Age Britain different from that of the traditional historians. He shows how archaeological evidence appears to demonstrate continuity of land occupation rather than upheaval, chaos and migration. He further argues that cultural change can be and was driven by the dissemination of new ideas rather than through invasion and ejection of the native population. His arguments are as compelling as they are challenging
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40 of 50 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A biased academic as usual., 2 Jan. 2006
An interesting book, but Francis Pryor appears as a very 'subjective' opinionist regarding a difficult section of Britain's history. His continual use of the word absurd to describe the Anglo-Saxon 'folk' movements was highly irritating.
Mr Pryor's argument is built on the foundation that as there were no large scale movements of people into Britain in the Bronze & Roman age there couldn't possibly be for the Anglo-Saxon period. I found this extremely poor logic.His comments that people don't just up and move in large numbers were extremely amusing. Perhaps he might like to explain the almost total flight/expulsion of up to 20 million Germans from Prussia during WWII? There is no discussion of archaeolgy proving that vast tracts of land in Northern Germany and Denmark were depopulated during the 5th & 6th century (where did they go?). No mention that early English records refer to Wealas for the wergild. If we were all still Romano-British why make the distinction and why would Romano-British supposedly elites just up and change completely to the Anglo-Saxon language, clothing, customs? Mr Pryor appears highly hypocritical as he accuses past scholars of bias and then tris to build weak arguments. Like many academics he is capable of only one extreme point of view and picks elements of research he feels supports it. The truth regarding this period is that both academic sides are probably right and the truth lies somewhere in the middle i.e there was a strong migration into the South-Eastern counties and on a much lesser scale in the north. Gradual expansion was likely on a much lesser scale with counties in the west possibly completely British and adopting A-S language and customs. Not dissimilar to the Roman period but with larger numbers of migrants in the early stages. Also it would be a different scenario in every area with some peoples happy assimilating, some left alone and some fleeing/moving. It is a shame there are so few experts in this field who are prepared to be objective and look at all sides of the argument.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rambling, ill-informed, and one-eyed., 16 Oct. 2012
By 
H. M. Wiseman (Brisbane, Queensland Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (Paperback)
[I wrote this review for journal The Heroic Age in 2007. Bracketed numbers refer to pages in the book.] This book was a great disappointment. Pryor is a part-time archaeologist who has a bee in his bonnet about the way archaeology has, in the past, played second fiddle to the study of written sources for post-Roman Britain. In the two centuries after the end of Roman rule in 410 the written record in Britain almost dries up, so archaeology is of course immensely valuable. This was the time that an historical Arthur may have lived, and the time during which the Anglo-Saxons came to dominate most of England, hence Pryor's title.

Drawing on his experience of archaeological studies of prehistoric cultural change, Pryor advocates applying the same methodology to this period. That is, he ignores the written records and tries to reconstruct post-Roman history from the archaeological record alone. The results are ludicrous. Based largely on evidence for continuity in farm use, Pryor concludes that there was never an Anglo-Saxon invasion of (or even peaceful migration to) Britain. He explains the change, from a literate, Christian, Brittonic- and Latin-speaking society with coinage, masonry, and manufactured goods, to an illiterate, pagan, Old-English speaking society with none of these, as a deliberate cultural choice. He says in all seriousness that the people in eastern Britain changed "for their own reasons, which we must allow them to have ... presumably they admired the way things were done across the North Sea" (214).

Pryor says that he has "chosen to set the literary accounts aside ... to redress a historical imbalance" (215). One would think from this that Pryor has read the literary accounts before setting them aside, but this is evidently not the case. First, he seems to think that Gildas' On the Ruin of Britain (ca. 540) is the only contemporary source to mention fighting against Saxon invaders of Britain. Thus he tries to discredit Gildas, but fails miserably. Just to take one example of many, Pryor says that Gildas "greatly exaggerated the severity of Anglo-Saxon piracy" (143) when in fact Gildas never mentions Saxon pirates or sea-raiders at all. It is also apparent that Pryor has not read Bede, despite referring to him several times. For example, Pryor assumes that the British clergy who met St. Augustine in 603 were from the south-east, when obviously they were from the west because Augustine travelled to the Severn to meet them (174).

The other contemporary sources for Saxon invaders in Britain, which Pryor completely ignores, are continental: the Gallic chronicles and the Life of St. Germanus. But this ignorance pales in comparison to Pryor's disregard for a huge body of Roman history when he states that "the very idea of a 'Migration Period' is absurd. Why should people suddenly decide to move around in this peculiar and hyperactive fashion?" (176). It seems Pryor cannot believe that riches, power, and a better climate were incentives enough for Germanic armies and their hangers-on to invade the Roman Empire. Presumably he believes that all over the Empire citizens suddenly decided they liked "the way things were done" on the other side of the Rhine or Danube, became Germans, and started pillaging their own cities (while never moving home of course). Laughably, he asks "why should the social disruption brought about by the end of the Western Roman Empire cause people to wander aimlessly about?" (148), when it was the invasions (which were far from aimless) that were the immediate cause of the end of the Empire.

Returning to Britain, Pryor contrasts his views with the long-discredited idea that the Anglo-Saxon invaders drove out all the Britons from eastern Britain, or swamped them by their numbers. It is now generally thought that the Anglo-Saxon invaders numbered in the tens of thousands at most, and formed a military elite. In this scenario, it is not surprising that farms continued to be used as before. It can even be imagined that some of the cultural change in post-Roman Britain was a reversion to pre-Roman practices, as Pryor argues. Most of the peasants would have stayed put, and indeed would have chosen (over the course of some generations) to identify themselves as Anglo-Saxons in order to improve their social prospects. But even in this scenario, they changed because there was an Anglo-Saxon invasion. Pryor in fact shoots himself in the foot by explaining the spread of Anglo-Saxon culture in Britain by analogy with the spread of the Spanish language and religion in Peru, where the native population always far outnumbered the Spanish. But to imply that the process whereby the conquistadors destroyed the Inca Empire and massacred tens of thousands of its citizens is a model for "acculturation" (240) is simply insulting.

Britain AD is published with a "Post-Script" including an interview with the author. In it, he is asked how he starts to writes a book. He replies: "With an outline which I agree [sic.] with my agent and publisher at great length; I then abandon it when I start to write." Unfortunately Britain AD reads exactly as if had been written in this way. It comes across as a collection of arguments the author wants to get off his chest, interspersed with anecdotes about the profession of archaeology and rural life in the Fens. The material in each chapter flows to some extent, but does not seem to be focussed on anything in particular. For example, the chapter "Arthurian Britain" begins with a discussion of Roman towns in general, concentrates for some time on Wroxeter, then moves to towns in the Anglo-Saxon east, to Christianity and continental trade there, to continental trade in the south-west and finally, to inscribed stones and the Age of Saints. Let me finish, however, on a positive note by saying that it is plentifully illustrated with colour plates, and the maps and diagrams are first-rate.
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Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons
Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons by Francis Pryor (Paperback - 5 Sept. 2005)
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