Cover image for An age of tyrants : Britain and the Britons, A.D. 400-600
An age of tyrants : Britain and the Britons, A.D. 400-600
Snyder, Christopher A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
University Park : Pennsylvania State University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xix, 403 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm

Format :


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Material Type
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DA140 .S72 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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An Age of Tyrants explores an obscure period in the history of the British Isles often referred to as Sub-Roman Britain. Such a label implies that social and cultural decline followed the end of Roman imperial control. But Christopher Snyder shows that Britain developed unique social, political, and religious institutions during this time.

Snyder's innovative approach involves analysis of both the written and archaeological record. Looking at contemporary writers such as Patrick and Gildas, he shows how the cultural and political landscape was changing during this period. By the waning years of the Roman Empire, Britain was earning a special reputation as a "province fertile with tyrants." These tyrants dominate the historical accounts of the fifth and sixth centuries and tell us much about the transition from magisterial to monarchical power in Britain.

Combining this with what we know from archaeology, Snyder reveals a society that was a hybrid of indigenous (Celtic), Mediterranean (Roman), and Christian elements that preceded the coming of the Anglo-Saxons. An appendix explores how Arthur and Merlin fit into this picture. Snyder's other important findings include:

- The military arrangements of the Britons owed much to both Roman and Celtic inspiration.

- The spread of Christianity (and especially monasticism) after 400 was swift and unhindered by paganism.

- The economy of Britain was not completely coinless and, indeed, was seemingly vigorous with the revival of trade with Gaul and the Mediterranean.

- The growing cultural antagonism between the Britons and the Saxons would have far-reaching consequences.

Author Notes

Christopher A. Snyder is on the faculty of History and Politics at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. He is the author of Sub-Roman Britain (A.D. 400-600): A Gazetteer of Sites (1996).

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Snyder combines material from a wide variety of written sources with the findings of archaeology to offer a revision of what was once conventional wisdom--that the Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain in 410 and that the move signaled the end of the province's intellectual, political, and economic ties with the more advanced culture of the Continent. If scholars no longer attribute such epic importance to the events of 410, a marshaling of the evidence in favor of continuity and for sustained post-Roman or sub-Roman urban life, economic vitality, and vibrant if insular Christianity is welcome. Although Snyder may not be as bold a revisionist as he claims, his argument that British life--centering on the emergence of local rulers in the 5th and 6th centuries, his "tyrants"--should be seen as a proactive response to Roman withdrawal rather than just a leftover of a higher culture is an arresting way of presenting the case. His reading of saints' lives, imperial chronicles, and "dark age" narratives is woven against archaeological work on towns, rural sites, forts and hill forts, and early Christian sites (buildings and cemeteries). A strong and clear statement of one side of a complicated and intriguing historical argument. General readers; upper-division undergraduates and above. J. T. Rosenthal; SUNY at Stony Brook

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. xiii
Part I The Twilight of Roman Britain
1 Roman Britain in the Fourth Centuryp. 3
2 Independent Britain, A.D. 406-10p. 17
Part II Sub-Roman Britain: The Written Record
3 Introduction to the Written Sourcesp. 29
4 Britanniap. 50
5 Patriap. 58
6 Britannip. 66
7 Civesp. 73
8 Regesp. 81
9 Tyrannip. 90
10 Miscellaneous Termsp. 109
Part III Sub-Roman Britain: The Archaeological Record
11 Introduction to the Archaeological Evidencep. 131
12 Significant Sitesp. 137
13 Continuity and Changep. 217
Part IV Synthesis: Toward a Picture of Britain in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries
14 The Britonsp. 225
Conclusionp. 251
Appendix A Arthur and Merlinp. 253
Appendix B Chronology of Eventsp. 257
List of Abbreviationsp. 261
Notesp. 263
Bibliographyp. 353
Indexp. 389