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The History of Invasions on the British Isles

Britain is an island and this fact is more important than any other in understanding its history. The British Isles were the object of different foreign invasions for many times. The conquerors always had to have a dialogue with the conquered, producing sooner or later a mixed society with elements from both.

            The island enters written history for the first time in a passage which records the visit to the Cornish peninsula of a Greek sea captain about 320 BC. The natives lived in wooden huts, storing their grain in underground silos and drinking a brew made from corn and honey.

            We can’t but mention 4 main invasions on the British Isles. The first one took place in 400 BC when Celts armed with iron weapons conquered Kent and much of Southern England. They spread north and imposed their language on the natives. Celts were ancient people who lived in Central and Western Europe and moved to the British Isles during the Iron Age. They were of striking appearance, tall with fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair. Their everyday dress consisted of a tunic over which they wore a cloak fastened by a brooch. They loved brilliant colours and gold jewellery. They were people with powerful traditions handed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. Their language had two forms: Gaelic, spoken in Ireland and Scotland and Brythonic, spoken in England and Wales. Nowadays only 3 of all the Celtic languages have survived: Welsh, which is the official language of Wales; Irish Gaelic, it’s the first official language of the Republic of Ireland and Scots Gaelic which is still spoken in the hills and islands of the West of Scotland but which has no official status.

            Traces of the Celtic culture can be mainly found in Lowland Britain. Originally this part had more favourable conditions for human settlements. Its greatest memorial is Stonehenge. It is very impressive with its huge stone circle and central platform the ruins of which people see today.

            Stonehenge is the best known and probably the most remarkable of prehistoric remains in the UK. It has stood on Salisbury Plain for about 4.000 years. There have been many different theories about its original use but no one is certain why it was built.

            One theory is that it was a place from where stars and planets could be observed. It was discovered the positions of some of the stones related to the movements of the sun and moon, so that the stones could be used as a calendar to predict such things as eclipses.

            At one time people thought that Stonehenge was a Druid temple. Because Stonehenge had existed 1.000 years before the arrival of the Druids, this theory has been rejected.

            Alongside the theories of the scholars are local legends. Stonehenge was built by the devil in a single night. He flew backwards and forwards between Ireland and Salisbury Plain, carrying the stones one by one and setting them in place. He wanted to convince people in his power. But a friar was hiding in ditch nearby. He surprised the  devil who threw a stone which hit the friar on the heel. The stone which the devil threw, known as the ‘heel stone’ can be still seen by the side of the road.

            However, geologists have shown that the stones came from Wales and north Wiltshire, not Ireland.

            Also Celtic mythology is a remarkable cultural heritage. One of the brightest myths is the legend story about Balor and Lugh.

 

The Roman Invasion.

 

In the middle of the first century BC Julius Caesar landed the British Isles. On the 26th of August, 55 BC some 10.000 men and 500 cavalry landed somewhere between Dover and Deal. The highly efficient Roman army had little difficulty in routing the local Celtic chieftains. Caesar carefully noted the way they fought and determined to return the following year. On the 6th of July 54 BC an ever larger army landed in the same area.

            Roman soldiers looked very differently from the Celts they defeated. They wore metal helmets and plate armour and carried shields of wood and leather with a sword. Their life was one of discipline and drills twice a day.

            The Roman legions occupied England and Wales. They preferred to settle down in England as it was more suitable for human settlements compared with mountainous Wales and wild and warlike Scotland. Their invasion was not peaceful. Queen Boadicca headed a revolt against the Romans and destroyed 3 towns, including Londinium and took poison when finally defeated by the Romans. The Romans tried to defend themselves against the Celtic tribes by building forts such as Caerleon, Chester and York and a great defensive wall across the north of England which was constructed by the order of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian’s Wall is probably the most spectacular memorial to the Roman Empire in England. Much of it still exists today and its smaller sites - turrets, mile castles, signal towers and stretches of wall are worth a visit. The wild landscape still evokes the spirit of the past.

            Roman civilisation brought straight paved roads to England which led to garrison towns from London.

            Very few195.161.152.3 Romans settled down in Britain but the native language absorbed many Latin words. Many of the towns that the Romans built still have in their names the Latin word “castra”, meaning a camp or a fortified town: Lancaster, Chester, and Leicester.

            The Romans introduced a lot of elements of their civilisation: they built villas adorned with frescoes, mosaics which were warmed by central heating; they constructed granaries with the ingenious system of ventilation and famous baths with underfloor heating system.

            Roman urban life was the only they recognised, something totally alien to the Celts and also towns were an essential element of the pattern of government which they introduced. Some of them resembled to the elegance of Rome.

            In 367 the wild Celts of the North, the Picts and Scots overran the Wall, Saxon pirates landed in the East. They were called “barbarians” by the civilized unwarlike Britons of the Roman England. At the beginning of the 5th century the Romans were forced to withdraw from England. Many of the Romanized Britons went west into Wales and Cornwall.

 

The Anglo-Saxon Invasion.

 

            The beginning of the Anglo-Saxon invasion was in the 5th century BC when the Teutonic tribes started enslaving England. Their names were the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. At that time Celtic countries were a centre of light, especially Ireland where its monks and saints, when not fighting, were involved in treasuring the knowledge of Latin literature and lovingly illuminating the manuscripts of the Gospel. The Angles and the Saxons advanced from east to west along the Roman roads, slaughtering and enslaving the Britons, sacking and burning Roman towns and villas. They destroyed almost every trace of the civilization of the Romans and established their kingdoms.

By the middle of the 7th century all England was converted to Christianity and it was Arthur, the half legendary King who was the British champion of Christianity against the heathen barbaric English.

            One of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms was Northumbria, when king Edwin advanced the frontier to the north and built his stronghold of Edinburgh. It was in this kingdom that English art and letters flowered for the first time: sculptured crosses were created and the Latin History of Bede was written in English.

 

           

The Viking Invasion.

 

            The Vikings terrified the Anglo-Saxons as much as they themselves had terrified the Britons centuries before. They were people from Scandinavia whose life was working the land and fishing and who went on to attack and later settle in Britain. Each year bands of Vikings put out to sea , seeking out richer lands, bringing home gold, silver and jewels. Their leaders, kings or “jarls” began to divide and in the main it was Norwegians who settled in Scotland while in England it was the Danes. At first they put in puppet Anglo-Saxon kings but gradually they began to replace them with kings of their own.

            We can’t but mention the name of the Anglo-Saxon king who made the Danes retire the line of Watling Street and to leave the previously occupied lands, who rebuilt churches, brought over foreign scholars, founded schools for the sons of his nobleman. King Alfred the Great came to the throne in 871. During his reign which lasted almost 30 years the advance of the Vikings was halted and the foundations of the Kingdom of England were laid. Alfred the Great inherited the traditions of Anglo-Saxon Christian civilization, studied the laws made by the great Anglo-Saxon kings and then issued his own. He realized that the Anglo-Saxons must develop sea power so he ordered the construction of warships and secured his position.

 

The Norman Invasion.

 

Englandwas submitted to a Danish King Conute in 1016 and became a part of the Great Danish Empire which included Denmark and Norway. After the Danish invasion King Edward I (the Confessor) was restored to the throne. Previously he was brought up to Normandy during the years of Danish rule and came to England with Norman friends and clergy.

Monkish in his ideas, his main interest was the church and it was he who founded the Westminster Abbey. During his reign there was a certain opposition to the Norman rule and Edward’s brother-in-law named Harold, the Earl of Wessex, became the leader of anti - Norman party. So Harold II was the last Anglo – Saxon king before the Norman Conquest of England and it was he who headed the battle of Hastings in 1066, which decided the history of England and marked the beginning of the Norman invasion.

            14th October 1066 is the most celebrated date in English history. On that day the crucial engagement between the English army under King Harold and the invading troops of William, Duke of Normandy took place. In preparation for the great confrontation two Norman castles were put up on English soil – at Pevensey and at Hastings.

            William’s well – trained army met the defending English forces. The battle ended with Harold’s death from an arrow in the eye and the English were routed. William the Conqueror founded battle Abbey to atone for the terrible slaughter of this hand - to hand combat and the high altar stood on the very spot where Harold fell mortally wounded. A memorial stone marks the place today.

            The English lost the battle because England was united only in name and there was no immediate resistance. Had it been a united country the battle of Hastings would not have decided its history. In just one day the invasion of England had succeeded but the crown was secured, fulfilling the promise made to William by King Edward the Confessor some 15 years earlier. The Normans imposed unity and linked it permanently with the culture of Southern Europe.