Updated February 21: I have decided to rewrite this post and make it a bit more knowledgeable and scholarly. The previous version contained many errors of tone as well as fact and overall vision. During the Dark Ages and prior to the Roman Conquest, England was in a state of continual chaos. There were all sorts of tribes all over Britain. There were Kings all over the lang. If we pretend that New York is a part of Britain, there would be a King of Manhattan, a King of Brooklyn, a King of the Bronx, a King of Long Island, etc. Also, there might be an “overking” of all of New York City. And within the King of Manhattan’s realm, there might be subkings, like the King of Greenwich Village, the King of the Upper East Side, etc. It is not correct to say that these tribes were in a continual state of warfare. In truth, they often made temporary alliances. So the Kings of Bronx and Brooklyn would get together to fight the King of Long Island. These Kings mostly just wanted “tribute.” They didn’t want slaves. They lorded over the peasantry. The peasants had crops and animals, and the Kings would collect taxes from the peasants. You did get a modicum of protection from other invading Kings by paying taxes to the King of your region. The various tribes were scattered all over England and engaged in regular tribal warfare from their “hillforts.” Before the Roman Conquest, the Britons, or “Brythons”, were speaking “Britonic” or Brythonic. This is a form of Celtic known as P-Celtic. It was probably many different languages and not just one. The only surviving forms of P-Celtic are Welsh and Breton, and all of the others have gone extinct. Sadly, very little remains of the dead Brythonic languages that were spoken all over Britain before the year 600. They had some sort of runic writing, painted their faces blue and worshiped trees and built Stonehenge, but beyond that, we know little. No one really knows what Stonehenge is all about – it’s a gigantic mystery. Some of the runes seem to be poorly translated and we can’t make out much of what they were trying to say. The wars were over tribute and slavery. Basically, you were either master or slave, like in S & M. Tribes would attack each other with the sole purpose of conquering the others so the others would be forced to “pay tribute” to your tribe. None of this endless warfare accomplished much in the way of civilizing activity. With the coming of Rome, this chaos finally stopped. The Roman Army was so impressive it was like fighting the aliens. Most of the Britons just gave up and quit fighting. The Romans pretty much showed up, said, “Here we are, we’re the Romans, we have civilization and all this cool stuff, and we want to take over.” The Britons pretty much said, “Help yourself.” There was some opposition, but not much, and most of it was from the Britons in Scotland and Wales. The Romans also used bribes and various other non-violent methods of conquest. As in Palestine and elsewhere in the Empire, the Romans mostly just wanted taxes and in some cases slaves. First and foremost, they wanted to avoid local rebellions. At one point during Roman rule, a British tribe called the Briganti under the warrior queen Boudicca attacked the Romans ferociously. This was not the first time the Romans had dealt with this tribe (Did we get the word “brigands” from them?) and the Romans massacred the Brigands, killing 40,000 people, men, women and children. It wasn’t genocide by any means, as there were many Brigands left alive, but it was more to teach them a lesson. To describe Roman rule of Britain as genocidal is completely mistaken. The Romans, while imperialists, also brought high civilization like flush toilets, roads, cities, advanced weaponry, the works. The advantages of Roman Civilization for primitive and barbaric British tribes were considerable. After Rome fell, Britain fell apart. Churchill said the Roman plumbing system, collapsed in 400, was not equaled again by the British until the late 1800’s. That’s pretty impressive. There is much misunderstanding about the walls the Romans built in Scotland and Wales. The truth is that the Romans couldn’t really conquer either Wales or Scotland, so they blew both places off. Romans were smart, and they knew how to cut their losses. If you couldn’t defeat someone quickly, you shined them on and forgot about them. But the Welsh and Scottish Britons would not stop attacking the Romans, even though the Romans were not even occupying their lands. After the Romans left, a post-Roman, “pseudo-Roman” King named Offa built a huge earthen wall 25 feet high called Offa’s Dyke that went all across Wales. This little-known structure is actually longer than Hadrian’s Wall. Same thing up in Scotland with Hadrian’s Wall. The Romans wanted nothing to do with the Scots, but the Scots kept charging south to attack the Romans. The Romans finally built a big wall and said you guys stay over there now. It’s important to note that the Romans also had little interest in Wales or Scotland. These areas are mountainous and were not conducive to growing cash crops like wheat. The Romans were mostly interested in flat areas where crops could be grown. Roman imperialism was definitely exploitative. The Romans principally got metals, lead and tin, out of England. Those mines were built with slave labor. Those slaves were generally Englishmen. The life of a Roman slave, as with a Greek slave, was not so bad, as slave life goes. It was surely better than the life of a slave in the Arab World, the Americas, or Africa. In Ancient Greece, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between a “slave” and a “free man.” This was before unions and collective bargaining, so both worked really hard all day under less than optimal conditions. But at the end of the day, at least the slave got to go home to a nice room in his master’s house and a good square meal. God knows where the free man slept, maybe under a tree. The Romans were quite civilized, and they had smelting metals and mining down. They used these metals primarily for making cool weaponry with which to kick ass on most of Europe. Rome’s weaponry and army was what Rome was all about. Take away that pillar, and the whole thing falls down. English slaves were often taken to the mainland and were highly valued there. For one thing, once on the mainland, an English slave was seriously lost. He didn’t know where the heck he was at, and no way was he going to try to make it back to England. So English slaves on the mainland seldom ran away. The Roman period was the longest period of stability that Britain had ever known. No sooner had Rome fallen and the Romans left then the British went back to their endless wars. Since these wars were fought with primitive weaponry, no one was able to get the upper hand and conquer most of the country, necessary for nation-building. It is important to unite lands under a flag with unity and dedication to a common goal. Otherwise you just have the human equivalent of three dozen monkeys running about around every bend in the road. It’s impossible to make an economy, get an army together, or get much done as a civilization. So much for radical decentralization. It wasn’t until the Normans conquered Britain in 1066 that the British finally stopped their incessant tribal wars. There were surely wars under the Normans, but it was a far cry from the neverending chaos of the Dark Ages. At this time, the Normans were able at least to engage in enough nation-building to create a semblance of a state. And weaponry was advanced enough to solidify that rule and to get the British to stop fighting amongst themselves and unite to defend the Isle against the invaders instead. Churchill once said that the history of Britain for the first 1000 years (1-1000) was one of continuous invasion. In the second 1000 years, Britain was not successfully invaded a single time. That’s what nation-building, modern weapons and a Navy will get you, a good night’s sleep for once.
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