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Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon helmet (500s-600s AD, now in the British Museum)

Like the people King Arthur was fighting: Sutton Hoo invaders’ helmet (500s-600s AD, now in the British Museum)

The end of Roman Britain

When Constantine III revolted in England in 406 AD and took all its Roman troops with him to France, that was really the end of Roman control in Britain.

Who was Constantine III?
The Roman army
All our Roman Empire articles

A letter asking for help?

The British seem to have written to the Romans asking them to come help out in the 420s. They got back only a letter advising them to stop paying taxes and use the money to organize some soldiers, because now they were on their own.

Strangers invade Britain

As other people realized that there were no more Roman troops in Britain, they began to invade. The the Danes, the Angles, and the Saxons (both the latter from Germany) invaded regularly at this time.

Who were the Danes?
Where were the invaders from?

National Geographic about Arthur

Who was King Arthur?

There is a story, which you have probably heard, that at this time there arose in England a famous king, King Arthur, who had a famous magician helper named Merlin, and whose Knights of the Round Table fought off the invaders, and kept England civilized and unified. Nobody knows whether Arthur really existed. But it does seem likely that the people of England organized an army to keep the invaders out.

Was Arthur’s castle at Tintagel?

Archaeological excavations at Tintagel, where the stories say Arthur’s castle was, show that there were big buildings there right after the fall of Rome. So maybe that is where they organized their army. The people who lived there were still trading with Europe. They still got some things, like expensive medicines, from as far away as India even.

The Dark Age castle at Tintagel

Britain falls to the invaders

However, as the Arthur stories say, the effort failed. By the 600s, the Angles and the Saxons had taken over England. The name England means the land of the Angles, and English is the language that the Angles spoke. The Angles and Saxons did at least manage to fight off the Danes for the most part.

But international trade continued

a wide red and gold bracelet

A bracelet found in the burial at Sutton Hoo (now in the British Museum)

These new kings ruled England from the 600s AD until the Norman Conquest in 1066. But even through all these invasions, some international traders made it through. And it’s not always super valuable jewels and things. The Sutton Hoo ship burial about 600 AD included some bitumen, a kind of asphalt used for waterproofing, that came all the way from Syria.

Learn by doing: act out some More Arthur stories
Norman Conquest
Medieval Europe

Bibliography and further reading about Arthur’s Britain:

Norman Conquest
More about the Middle Ages home