Robin Fleming

Hardback. 457p, maps (Penguin History of Britain, Allen Lane 2010)

This excellent history, accessible but highly engaging and full of fresh perspectives, takes quite a different approach to many general works on early medieval Britain. Although arranged chronologically it largely eschews a political narrative of kings and dynasties, battles and Bretwaldas, to focus on the material evidence, and the gradual changes which shaped the lives of Britain's early medieval inhabitants. Using excavation reports, osteoarchaeology and detailed analysis of finds, Fleming builds up a narrative of cultural change and adaptation, of the desertion and reappearance of towns, of changes in farming practices and settlement patterns and layout and of changes in burial practices. She focuses on questions of social status and stratification, of identity and belief, and of trade and surpluses, leading to a substantially different picture of Britain to its many predecessors. Migration, and particularly migration backed by violence, for example plays less of a part in Fleming's account of sub-Roman England, and the church and Christianisation are discussed more for the effect that they had on the ordinary people of Britain and the material record than in terms of high ecclesiastical politics and disputes about Easter. It is, however, worth pointing out that, governed by the available archaeological evidence, much of the book's focus is on England, and to a lesser extent Wales, with Picts and Scots receiving less attention. 

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