Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

Caesar's two raids in 55 B.C. and 54 B.C. left no permanent results, the conquest was soon completed
when the Romans came in earnest in A.D. 43.

The extent to which the Romans during the three and a half centuries of their rule in Britain civilized its
inhabitants is a matter of doubtful inference. The remains of Roman roads, Roman walls, and Roman

villas still bear witness to their material activity; and an occupation of the land by Roman troops and

Roman officials, spread over three hundred and fifty years, must have impressed upon the upper classes

of the Britons at least some acquaintance with the language, religion, administration, and social and

economic arrangements of the conquerors. But, on the whole, the evidence points rather to military

occupation than to colonization; and the Roman province resembled more nearly a German than a British

colony of to-day. Rome had then no surplus population with which to fill new territory; the only

emigrants were the soldiers, the officials, and a few traders or prospectors; and of these most were

partially Romanized provincials from other parts of the empire, for a Roman soldier of the third century

A.D. was not generally a Roman or even an Italian. The imperial government, moreover, considered the

interests of Britain not in themselves but only as subordinate to the empire, which any sort of distinctive

national organization would have threatened. This distinguishes Roman rule in Britain from British rule

in India; and if the army in Britain gradually grew more British, it was due to the weakness and not to the

policy of the imperial government. There was no attempt to form a British constitution, or weld British

tribes into a nation; for Rome brought to birth no daughter states, lest she should dismember her

all-embracing unity. So the nascent nations warred within and rent her; and when, enfeebled and

distracted by the struggle, she relaxed her hold on Britain, she left it more cultivated, perhaps, but more

enervated and hardly stronger or more united than before.

Hardier peoples were already hovering over the prey. The Romans had themselves established a "count
of the Saxon shore" to defend the eastern coasts of Britain against the pirates of the German Ocean; and

it was not long after its revolt from Rome in 410, that the Angles and Saxons and Jutes discovered a

chance to meddle in Britain, torn as it was by domestic anarchy, and threatened with inroads by the Picts

and Scots in the north. Neither this temptation nor the alleged invitation from the British chief Vortigern

to come over and help, supplied the original impulse which drove the Angles and Saxons across the sea.

Whatever its origin - whether pressure from other tribes behind, internal dissensions, or the economic

necessities of a population growing too fast for the produce of primitive farming - the restlessness was

general; but while the Goths and the Franks poured south over the Roman frontiers on land, the Angles

and Saxons obeyed a prophetic call to the sea and the setting sun.

This migration by sea is a strange phenomenon. That nations should wander by land was no new thing;
but how in those days whole tribes transported themselves, their wives and their chattels, from the

mouths of the Elbe and the Weser to those of the Thames and the Humber, we are at a loss to understand.

Yet come they did, and the name of the Angles at least, which clung to the land they reached, was blotted

out from the home they left. It is clear that they came in detachments, as their descendants went,

centuries later, to a land still further west; and the process was spread over a hundred years or more.

They conquered Britain blindly and piecemeal; and the traditional three years which are said to have

elapsed between the occupation of Sheppey and the landing in Kent prove not that the puny arm of the

intervening sea deterred those who had crossed the ocean, but that Sheppey was as much as these petrels

of the storm could manage. The failure to dislodge them, and the absence of centralized government and

national consciousness among the Britons encouraged further invaders; and Kent, east of the Medway,

and the Isle of Wight may have been the next morsels they swallowed. These early comers were Jutes,

but their easy success led to imitation by their more numerous southern neighbours, the Angles and

 

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