Tuesday 26 May 2009

AD410 and all that...

Next year is the 1600th anniversary of the end of Roman political control of Britain- conventionally described as occurring in AD410. There are going to be a series of events organised next year to commemorate (or even celebrate?) this fact.

Whether one feels the Romans were a 'good thing' or not, this was an important turning point in British, and particularly English, history. Excitingly, the end of Roman Britain and the rise of the early medieval successor states is one of those issues which still stimulates much debate and argument amongst archaeologists and historians. Did the end of Roman rule lead to a rapid collapse of 'Romanised' society in Britain, or was there the continuation of a culturally Late Antique lifestyle? Did the Roman departure trigger a catastrophic cultural collapse or was Roman Britain already in a state of decline throughout the 4th century AD. Did the incoming Anglo-Saxons arrive in large numbers as part of a mass migration or was the Germanisation of post-Roman society effected by a small Anglo-Saxon elite?

Binchester has much to contribute to this debate, as the site did not go out of use in the early 5th century. There is clear stratigraphic evidence for continued occupation, at least in the area of the commandant's house, well into the 5th century. This activity is sealed by at least two late 5th or early 6th century Anglo-Saxon burials. It is clear from other archaeological evidence from the site, that there was further Anglo-Saxon activity in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, and we know from later historical sources that Binchester was an estate centre owned by the Community of St Cuthbert in the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman period.

One of the key questions we want to answer in our new campaigns of excavations is whether the sub-Roman occupation was limited to the commandant's house or if it extended accross much of the fort's interior. An answer to this question may allow us to better understand the nature and function of the afterlife of the fort; was it a tiny enclave of localised activity or did it continue to function as an important power centre?

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