My thesis considers social and political change in the modern English county of Cumbria in the post-Roman period. In particular, I focus on the ‘lost centuries’ between Constantine III and Bede. During this period, Cumbria went from being an integrated part of the Roman Empire to an independent British polity and thence to being a part of an Anglicised Northumbria.
I argue that traditional models of violent or sudden change do not adequately explain the evidence for this region and that it is processes of slow evolution which characterised the development of new socio-political structures. The archaeological evidence from well-known sites such as Birdoswald and newer sites such as Maryport lends support to the argument that there was significant continuity of distinctly Roman institutions and outlooks in both the secular and religious spheres which in turn led to a period of growth and dominance for the successor polities of the old frontier. In time (although by no means immediately), these institutions slowly faded and fractured to become the squabbling statelets hinted at in the earliest documentary sources – the annals and panegyric poetry of Canu Taleisin and Canu Aneirin. By the close of the period, those small British polities had been absorbed into the hegemony of the newly Christianised Northumbria.
The evidence for my chosen period is, I have to concede, often sparse and nearly always open to a multiplicity of interpretations. The evidence can also be infuriating – reading the hagiographies of early saints frequently requires the patience of one. My thesis makes no grand claims to present a definitive narrative history but aims instead to reconsider and synthesise the documentary, archaeological and toponymic evidence to present an alternative model for understanding change in the development of just one small part of Britain.