Warlords

 Alexander Rumble looks at a book on military leaders in early Britain

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Author: Stuart Laycock
Publisher: History Press
Price (RRP): £18.99

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Warlords: the Struggle for Power in Post-Roman Britain focuses on a selection of military leaders in fifth to seventh- century Britain whose exploits are referred to by late classical or early medieval writers. They include familiar figures such as Vortigern, Hengest, Arthur, Cerdic and Penda but also the less well-known Gerontius and Riothamus, British generals who fought in Europe in support of late Roman emperors.

The campaigns within Britain are represented as a continuum of inter-tribal hostilities between native socio-political units that survived both Roman occupation and Anglo-Saxon settlement. In stressing the apparent persistence of British territories and genes, the book elaborates recent theories of the Anglo-Saxon invasion as a takeover by a warrior elite. The meagre details of battle names and dates culled from the few surviving written sources are contextualised by illustrations of archaeological finds. Extracts from the sixth-century British cleric Gildas are fleshed out by photos of re-enactors dressed in replica costumes.

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Alexander Rumble is reader in palaeography at Manchester University