Monday, September 18, 2006

Views of the 5th century

There seem to be two camps in understanding the 5th century in Britain. I'm thinking here about novels I read, and the way writers (and readers) seem to interpret the era.

Camp 1
Britain as a whole was groaning under the weight of Roman occupation; it was a bit like Colonial America really. The brave Celts fought against their oppressors for over 300 years, and as a whole the island was happy to wave the Romans off come 410 AD.

Camp 2
Some Britons were happy to count themselves as Romans. Under the Celts or the Romans, there would have still been a peasant underclass who spent their time working on the land and leading cr*p lives. There were Germanics in the Roman Army, posted in Britain. Who, or what, the heck was a Roman by this point anyway?


Guess which camp I'm in ...

13 Comments:

At 6:36 pm BST, Blogger Stephen said...

I think that we always end up interpreting the past in terms of the present. The Roman Empire was at its greatest and best when the Victorians were busy building an Empire of their own, bringing roads and forts to places that had never realised how much they needed them.

During the Cold War the Roman Army was portrayed as a civilising influence, bringing peace through security, while maintaining, if not democracy, democratic values.

Now Empires are out of favour, so the Romans are evil overlords, oppressing the "Celts" and everybody else.

Historical fiction can reflect these changing interpretations more rapidly (and more thoroughly) than academic historians.

Me, I'm of the camp that thinks that for much of the population it made no real difference who was in charge.

 
At 8:08 pm BST, Blogger Sarah Cuthbertson said...

You're in Camp 2, Alex, is my guess! So am I. That makes 3 so far. Anyone for Camp 1....?

 
At 8:15 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

Stephen - Yes, that's a broadbrush of what's happened to the Romans in the recent past, though Romans are gaining a bit on popularity (re: Gladiator and HBO's Rome) so perhaps that's reflecting an upsurge in 'Empires' of one sort or another? Oh dear.

'New master, same sh*t' is generally a Camp 2 view. Welcome to the gang ;-) However, people living short, brutal lives do not make a novel ... Examples of that can certainly be included though, but it'd be a short novel if it just told that sort of story. So Camp 2 does have to take a pragmatic view of writing a story about this era and perhaps pose subtle ideas rather than going for the simple 'Romans Bad - Celts Good'

Yes Sarah, I knew you'd be with me ;-)

 
At 10:38 pm BST, Blogger wil said...

My great-great-...-grandfather fought against the Evil Empire back in 390 and was there playing a patriotic Briton tune on his pipes as the last Roman legion left Britain forever...and the land was free, free at last. ;-)

 
At 12:46 am BST, Blogger Susan Higginbotham said...

Camp 2 makes more sense to me, though it's not "my" time period so I haven't given it much thought up until now.

Looks like Camp 1 has more fashion sense, though.

 
At 1:30 am BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

I try to write interesting novels in the Camp 2 view, but more about the Roman and Celtic 'upper classes', those that were actually involved in shaping history. I have the whole shenagian, Celts who fight the Roman emperors, Celts who work together with them because it's the way to a better future though they mustn't like it, Celts that become more Roman than the Romans. And I have all sorts of Romans from the 'we're the best civilisation in the world and those Celts should be glad they have us' to those who question the right of the Romans to conquer every country in sight. Makes for complex plots and casts of thousands, lol.

 
At 7:31 am BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

Wil - arrrragh ;-) I forgot to say that somewhere around these camps there is a Naughty Step ...

Susan - Camp 1 has more Fashion sense. LOL, very good :-)

Gabriele - Complex plots. Yes indeed. I sometimes have to sit on some of my ideas because they get too complicated and trying to get in all the variations wouldn't make for a good novel. So many stories to tell. That's why I like this era.

 
At 9:40 am BST, Blogger Diane said...

Didn't Keira look stunning in that outfit? Did they really wear stuff like that?

I've never studied the Romans or that period of British history, but I'd probably be in the same camp too. Actually, I'm more of an opressed, diseased Tudor.

Or a pirate ...

 
At 12:38 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

No, they didn't wear gaffer tape over their nipples back then ... I think.
You are welcome to your Tudor diseases, btw :-)

Oh-arh me hearties (since it's speak like a Pirate Day)

 
At 1:01 pm BST, Blogger Carla said...

Camp 2 would seem more plausible because it allows for variation, as Gabriele sets out. I doubt that all the 'Celts' or all the 'Romans' or whatever all thought the same then, any more than now. Whatever happened to the camp that reckoned Rome brought Civilisation to the savage ancient Britons and was therefore a Good Thing? Has that disappeared completley now?

 
At 1:22 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

I believe/hope they're on a different Naughty Step to Wil ;-)

 
At 4:47 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

More fashion sense? Both Keira and that outfit are butt ugly, imho; and she's way too thin to draw a bow or wield a sword - there's no space for the necessary muscles between skin and bone.

 
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