Britons (The Peoples of Europe) Hardcover – 21 Apr 2003
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"This lucid text cuts a logical swathe through the minefield of current debates, and provides an overview that will be welcomed by scholars and non-specialists alike. Anyone seeking an authoritative and eminently readable account of the early Britons should start with this book. I enjoyed it. Others will too." Lloyd Laing, University of Nottingham
"This book is about a fascinating, crucial and formative period of British History. There are plenty of controversial theories about the so-called 'Dark Ages', and yet Snyder offers a manageable overview that explores not only the latest scholarly works but also popular flights of fancy. This is a really well written book which is interesting, questioning, accessible and often amusing" Abbey's Advocate Newsletter
"Prof Snyder questions the view of historians from Bede onwards that the British were overwhelmed by massive Germanic immigration and a series of bloody wars. He says many historians are now subscribing to the theory that a small number of warrior elites imposed their culture on the Britons in what is now England. The Welsh, however, refused for centuries to accept new trends from continental Europe, even defying the Pope with their own calendar." Rhodri Clark, Western Mail (Cardiff)
This book provides a fascinating and unique history of the Britons from the late Iron Age to the late Middle Ages. It draws on both archaeological and written evidence to trace the development of the distinct culture of the Britons that survived nearly four centuries of Roman rule and has been revived and celebrated by generations ever since. The book: describes the life and culture of the Britons before, during and after Roman rule covers the revival of Iron Age practices within a Christian context, typified by the work of Saint Patrick examines the figures of King Arthur and Merlin and the evolution of a powerful national mythology proposes a new theory on the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain and the establishment of separate Brittonic kingdoms gives an account of the Viking and Norman invasions and their effect on the Britons reveals the origins of The Brittonic language and its segmentation into Breton, Cornish and WelshThe book also discusses the revivals of interest in British culture and myth over the centuries, from Renaissance antiquarians to modern day Druids.See all Product description
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Snyder asks how did a sense of Britishness emerge during ancient times? Was it an identity imposed on the people by their conquerors, the Romans, or did it emerge independently? This is a difficult question to answer, as the only evidence is the stereotypical and unreliable works of Roman writing and some fragmentary archaeology.
One thing that seems certain is that a 'British' identity did emerge during the Dark Ages, when the Britons came face to face with a new enemy, the Anglo-Saxons. As the Saxons cut a swathe through Britain, they also divided the Britons permanently, leaving behind their modern descendants - the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons. Each of these peoples is analysed in this book, and there is even some space dedicated to that little known outpost of the Britons, Galicia in Spain, as well as the last British territories in Northern Britain such as Gododdin, Strathclyde and Cumbria.
Snyder manages to cover a lot of ground in this book, from the legends of King Arthur, to St.Patrick and the Celtic Church, from the Druids to Owain Glyndwr. The book is divided into four sections -
1. Romans and Britons - Iron Age Britons and the Roman conquest.
2. The Brittonic Age - the Britons & Saxons, and the emergence of the British Church.
3. A People Divided - An Overview of the Bretons, Welsh, Cornish and Northern Britons.
4. Conquest, Survival, and Revival - The Norman invasions, Language and literature, and Modern nationalism and devolution.
This short overview doesn't really capture all that the book covers, as there several chapters within these sections, covering such topics as the Pelagian heresy in Section 2, or the Mabinogion in Section 4. Everything from religion to town life, to mythology and literature is covered within.
In terms of writing book does a strange balancing act. On the one hand Snyder hopes this will act as introduction to the Britons, but on the other it appears to be rather academic, with the writing quirkly switching from rather formal to a slightly chatty style, such as the references to Monty Python in some sections, with some tedious analysis of British Christianity's ecumenical debates in others. Overall, if you can stomach some of the drier parts of this book you will find it a treasure trove of information, filled with genealogical trees, charts, tables and some minimal photographs and maps (in black and white).
I might not agree with Snyder's arguements on every point, such as his sections on Late Roman Britain and the birth of the Brittonic age, as well as his closing statements, but nonetheless I can't think of a better book on the subject of the Ancient and Medieval Britons. Well worth getting!