Scotland: Neolithic – Bronze Age (4000-751BC)

Bronze Age Tools

Bronze Age Tools

The farmers of the early Neolithic age have left little or no evidence of their life.  It appears they lived in small houses, built upon a stone base, with a roof made from timbers and thatch.  Evidence of grinding stones, proves that cereals were cultivated and ground for flour.

Evidence exists of domesticated animals; sheep, cattle and goats, in the form of bones.  Farmers are known to have hunted for wild food, such as deer or fish.  Farming tools used, more than likely consisted of spades and hoes, and possibly a basic plough.

Hand tools such as axes and hammers would have been constructed from wood, flint and stone.  Flint would have been easier to work than stone, producing a razor sharp edge.  On the flip side, stone axes and hammers, would have lasted much longer.  There are suggestions that some axes show no sign of use, and begs the question, whether it had a symbolic use.  Pottery of this period has all the indications of a community.  Clay pots had practical uses, but were heavy to use.

Traces of burials and ceremonial structures have been discovered in Long Barrows.  Excavated tombs contain many bones which have been cleaned.

Across the world, bodies of the dead are often exposed for defleshing before burial takes place.  Some evidence found, suggest this form of burial took place in Scotland.

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Battle of Mons Graupius

Roman Navy at war

Roman Naval Ships

The Romans landed in Britain in 43AD, and conquered this land, defeating the uprising led by Boudicca.  Britain was now under Roman rule.  Scotland’s inhabitants new they be at risk, from Roman forces, but had no intention of bowing down to the will of Rome.

In the year 79AD, a Roman fleet surveyed Scotland’s coastline, looking for weak points.  By 83AD, Roman forces had conquered parts of southern Scotland.  Scotland’s Caledonian forces faced an imminent invasion.  The Caledonian went on the attack against Roman forts and legions.  One surprise night attack by the Caledonian’s against the Roman’s nearly wiped out the 9th legion, but was saved by Agricola’s cavalry.

In the summer of 84AD, Agricola advanced into Caledonian territory in the north-east, hoping to force a battle.

Battle of Mons Graupius

Battle of Mons Graupius

“The Battle of Mons Graupius.”

Everything depended on this encounter.  Some 30,000 Caledonian’s faced a Roman army half its size, and they had the advantage of holding higher ground, it looked a foregone conclusion, it should have been a victory to the Caledonian’s.  What the Caledonian’s lacked was organisation and military tactics, as used by the Roman’s.

The Romans were tightly disciplined and relied on a short stabbing sword for combat.  Their front line was made up of Germanic auxiliary troops from Holland and Belgium, with the Roman legionaries following up at the rear.  At one point the Caledonians, using their greater numbers, outflanked the Romans only to meet hidden Roman cavalry suddenly closing on them.

Any hopes of a Caledonian victory soon vanished.  In a merciless bloodbath 10,000 were slaughtered.  Many fought valiantly to the end, others fled into the surrounding woods and hills, burning their houses in fear of Roman reprisals.

The following day… an awful silence reigned; the hills were deserted, houses smoking in the distance…

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Roman Britain

Roman Britain Baths

Although it had long been known to the Mediterranean peoples as a source of tin, Britain did not enter the Roman world until Julius Caesar’s arrival in 55 BC, a sort of afterthought to his conquest of Gaul. Caesar’s contact, however, was temporary; for permanent occupation had to wait until Rome had solved more pressing problems at home.

Emperor Claudius I invaded Britain in force in AD 43, but nearly two decades passed before the Romans had captured Anglesey, headquarters of the feared Druids, and put down the revolt of Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. The Roman governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola won the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 84),  in Scotland, but the northern tribes proved hard to subdue. In 123, Hadrian’s Wall, stretching 117 km (73 mi) from Solway Firth to the Tyne River, became the northern frontier.

Britain was a military outpost, taking a tenth of the Roman army to hold it. Several towns attained a degree of Roman urban civilization, boasting baths and amphitheaters, as well as people who spoke Latin and wore togas. Numerous villas and vast estates worked by slaves and featuring sumptuous noble dwellings were also established. Beyond these, the countryside remained Celtic.

Britain in the 3rd and 4th centuries felt the decline of the Roman Empire. An official known as the count of the Saxon Shore oversaw defenses against raids by Saxons and others along the North Sea coast. Would-be emperors stripped Britain of its occupying forces, moving the legions elsewhere to serve their own political ambitions. In 410 Rome abandoned Britain. After nearly four centuries of occupation, it left little that was permanent: a superb network of roads, the best Britain would have for some 1400 years; the sites of a number of towns: London, York, and others bearing names that end in the suffix -cester; and Christianity.

The Anglo-Saxons, who occupied the country after the Romans left, ignored the towns, chased Christianity into Wales, and gave their own names, such as Watling Street, to the Roman roads.

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Anglo-Saxon Gods

thor-of-thunder

Thor of Thunder

The Anglo-Saxons worshipped many Gods, and their religion was closely related to that of the Old Norse beliefs and the Vikings.

Woden: God of Wisdom

Thor: God of Thunder

Tiw: God of War

Frig: Goddess of Fertility

From whom names of the day were so derived:  Wednesday – Thursday – Tuesday – Friday

The Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity by the Celtic Church, which survived in Wales, Cornwall and Ireland, influenced the north of England from an early base on Lindisfarne island.

In addition the Roman Catholic Church gained a foothold in the south, when St.Augustine a Benedictine monk was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to conduct a mission to Aethelbert, King of Kent, the great grandson of Hengest.  Augustine landed at Thanet in 597.  Aethelbert had married a Christian princess; Bertha, daughter of the Frankisk King: Charibert, who encouraged his conversion.  On the 2nd June 597, Aethelbert was baptized, and there after a new faith spread rapidly among the Anglo-Saxons.  Augustine was later to become the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the 630’s Birinus converted the Kingdom of Wessex under Cynegils, who was baptised with King Oswald of Bernicia as his godfather, leading Birinus to be known as the “Apostle to the West Saxons” he later became the first Bishop of Dorchester.

England: Anglo-Saxon Times

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Fragmentary knowledge of England in the 5th and 6th centuries comes from the British writer Gildas (6th century), the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In the absence of Roman administrators, British warlords, nominally Christian, ruled small, unstable kingdoms and continued some Roman traditions of governance. In the mid-5th century, they revived the Roman policy of hiring Germanic mercenaries to help defend them against warlike peoples of the north (Picts and Scots). The Saxon mercenaries revolted against their British chiefs and began the process of invasion and settlement that destroyed the native ruling class and established Germanic kingdoms throughout the island by the 7th century. Later legends about a hero named Arthur were placed in this period of violence. The invaders were variously Angles, Saxons, Frisians, Jutes, and Franks in origin, but were similar in culture and eventually identified themselves indifferently as Angles or Saxons. Any man of noble birth and success in war could organize an army of warriors loyal to him personally and attempt to conquer and establish a kingdom. By the 7th century the Germanic kingdoms included Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Wessex, Sussex, and Kent. They were turbulent states, but all Anglo-Saxon societies were characterized by strong kinship groups, feuds, customary law, and a system of money compensations (wergeld) for death, personal injury, and theft. They practiced their traditional polytheistic religions, lacked written language, and depended on mixed economies of agriculture, hunting, and animal husbandry.

The dominant themes of the next two centuries were the success of Christianity and the political unification of England. Christianity came from two directions, Rome and Ireland. In 596 Pope Gregory I sent a group of missionaries under a monk named Augustine to Kent, where King Ethelbert had married Bertha (d. 612?), a Christian Frankish princess. Soon after, Ethelbert was baptized, Augustine became the first archbishop of Canterbury, and the southern kingdoms became Christian. In Northumbria the Christianity from Rome met Celtic Christianity, which had been brought from Ireland to Scotland by St. Columba and then to Northumbria by St. Aidan (d. 651), who founded the monastery of Lindisfarne in 635. Although not heretical, the Celtic church differed from Rome in the way the monks tonsured their heads, in its reckoning of the date of Easter, and, most important, in its organization, which reflected the clans of Ireland rather than the highly centralized Roman Empire. At the Synod of Whitby in 664, Northumbria’s King Oswy (c. 612- 71) chose to go with Rome, giving England a common religion and a vivid example of unification. Theodore of Tarsus (602-90), who became arch-bishop of Canterbury in 668, created dioceses and gave the English church its basic structure.

The meeting in Northumbria of Celtic and Mediterranean scholarship produced a flowering of letters unequaled in western Europe. The Venerable Bede, a Northumbrian monk, was the outstanding European scholar of his age. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People made popular the use of BC and AD to date historical events. It also treated England as a unit, even while it was still divided among several kingdoms. Charlemagne chose Alcuin of York, another Northumbrian, to head his palace school.

The Germanic kingdoms tended to coalesce by means of warfare. As early as the time of Ethelbert of Kent, one king could be recognized as Bretwalda, or ruler of Britain. Generally speaking, the title fell in the 7th century to the kings of Northumbria, in the 8th to those of Mercia, and finally, in the 9th, to Egbert of Wessex, who in 825 defeated the Mercians at Ellendun. In the next century his family came to rule all England.

Egbert’s grandson, Alfred, became king of Wessex in one of England’s darkest hours. The Danes, part of the Viking forces that had begun to raid the English coasts in the late 8th century, had given up their primary goal of plunder and were now set on conquering England. Wessex and Alfred were all that stood in their way. Alfred at first had to buy a respite, but after his victory at Edington in 878 he forced the Danish king Guthrum (fl. 865-90) to accept baptism and a division of England into two parts, Wessex and what historians later called the Danelaw (Essex, East Anglia, and Northumbria). By creating an English navy, by reorganizing the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, or militia, allowing his warriors to alternate between farming and fighting, and by building strategic forts, Alfred captured London and began to roll back the Danish tide.

Alfred also gave his attention to good government, issuing a set of dooms, or laws, and to scholarship, which had declined in the years since Bede and Alcuin. He promoted, and assisted in, the translation of Latin works into Old English and encouraged the compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. For his many accomplishments, Alfred was called The Great, the only English king so acclaimed. The conquest of the Danelaw was completed by Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, and by his grandson Athelstan, who won a great victory at Brunanburh in 937. Most of the remainder of the century was peaceful. In this atmosphere, St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury from 960 to 988, was able to restore the English church to health and prosperity.

The conquest of the Danelaw meant the creation of a unified government for all England and the evolution of the territorial state, which was replacing the kinship structure of earlier times. The king ruled with the assistance of the witenagemot, a council of wise men, which participated in the issuing of dooms and oversaw the selection of kings. About 40 shires (counties) were created out of former kingdoms or from significant military or administrative units. Each had a shiremoot, or court, consisting of all free males and meeting twice a year, at first presided over by a royal official called an alderman (later an earl) and then by a shire reeve, or sheriff. Smaller administrative, tax, and military units, called hundreds, had courts roughly parallel to the older folk moots, which met every four weeks, handling most of the ordinary judicial business. England had the most advanced government in western Europe, especially at the local level and in the office of sheriff, the key link between the king and local administration. After 991 this government proved capable of collecting the Danegeld, a tax on land, initially used as tribute to the Danes but later as an ordinary source of royal revenue. No other country in western Europe had the ability to assess and collect such a tax.

A new round of Danish invasions came in the reign of Ethelred II (the Redeless), often called The Unready, but better understood as being “without counsel,” or unwise. The Danegeld was his idea, as was the attempt to kill all the Danes from previous invasions, who were by this time becoming assimilated. In 1014 he was driven from the throne by King Sweyn I of Denmark, only to return a few months later when Sweyn died. When Ethelred died in 1016, Sweyn’s son Canute II won out over Edmund II, called Ironside, the son of Ethelred. Under Canute, England was part of an empire that also included Denmark and Norway. Following the short and unpopular reigns of Canute’s sons, Harold I Harefoot and Hardecanute, Edward the Confessor, another son of Ethelred, was recalled from Normandy, where he had lived in exile. Edward’s reign is noted for its dominance by the powerful earls of Wessex-Godwin (990?-1053) and then his son Harold (subsequently Harold II) and for the first influx of Norman-French influence. Edward was most interested in the building of Westminster Abbey, which was completed just in time for his burialin January 1066.

Edward’s death without an heir left the succession in doubt. The witenagemot chose Harold, earl of Wessex, although his only claim to the throne was his availability. Other aspirants were King Harold III (the Hard Ruler) of Norway and Duke William of Normandy. Harold II defeated the former at Stamford Bridge on Sept. 25, 1066, but lost to William at Hastings on Octo ber 14. William, who had more right to the throne than Harold, was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day.

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Anglo-Saxon: England’s Invasion

anglo-saxons

The Anglo-Saxon tribes began their invasion of Britain, as Roman legions departed for Rome.  According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, they set foot on British soil in 449.

Saxon mercenaries led by Hengest and Horsa, sons of Whitgils landed in Kent at the invitation of the Celtic King; Vortigern.  He who was fighting a losing battle against the Picts of Scotland, called upon mercenaries for assistance.  They fought well, and victory was theirs against the Picts.

With victory theirs, the Saxon mercenaries sacked their employer Vortigern, and began taking land from the celts in south-eastern areas.  Hengest went forth and established himself in Kent.

These Saxon tribes originated from across European states: Saxons from Germany, Angles from Schleswig-Holstein, Jutes and Frisians from Jutland, Denmark.  According to the Beowulf poem, the Jutes could have been the Geats of Sweden.

The British found a strong leader, as the legendary King Arthur stepped forward, in their time of struggle against these Saxons.  King Arthur commanded a well armed cavalry unit, and went on to achieve victory at Mount Badon.

With the death of Arthur, Celtic resistance against these Saxon invaders soon collapsed.

Some Celts were assimulated into Anglo-Saxon society, whilst others were driven to the outer fringes of Britain, Wales, Cumbria and the Cornish peninsula.

Wales, derives its name from the Anglo-Saxons word Wealas, which means foreigner.

Cornwall, derives its name from the words, Kernow and Waelas.

Cumbria derives its name fron the Celtic word, Cymru which means comrades.

Whilst conquered territory became known as Angleland.

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Anglo-Saxon King: Egbert

NPG D23567; Egbert, King of the West Saxons, First Monarch of all England by George Vertue

With the Roman departure early in the fifth century, Britain came under attack from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes of Northern Germany.

Over the next 200 years or more, these invaders pushed the native Britons from their lands.

These invaders split the country into seven independent warring kingdoms.  Out of which emerged Egbert to become King of Wessex from 802-839 and first King of Britain in 829 as he defeated the Mercians in 825 as other’s like Northumbria submitted to him.

*        Egbert made a play for the Kingdom of Wessex, but failed and was forced into exile in France.

*        In 825, at the “Battle of Ellandune” victory was achieved over Beornwulf, King of Mercia at Wroughton in Wiltshire.  Following this victory, Egbert of Wessex took over Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Essex.

*        Egbert married Redburga and had two children; Aethelwulf his successor and Edith.  His daughter was a leper, and his gift to her, was the foundation of Polesworth Abbey.

*        In 829, Egbert had taken over the Kingdom of Mercia, marking an end to Mercian supremacy.

*        In 830 Mercia and Northumbria threw out Wessex leadership. Egbert gave south-western lands of Wessex to his son; Aethelwulf.

*        In 836 the Vikings arrived and Egbert’s forces met at the “Battle of Carhampton” but was forced to withdraw in the face of defeat.

*        In 838 the Vikings became a serious issue when Cornish Dumnonians and the Northmen joined forces.  Egbert became victor at the “Battle of Hingston Down.”

*        In 839 King Egbert of Wessex died and was buried in the Old Minster at Winchester.

There were two sides to Egbert:  On one hand he was a committed Christian who cared for his daughter, bestowing many gifts upon the church.  On the other side, we have the brutal warrior, who murdered his nephews, in case they should attempt to usurp him of his crown.

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