After the Romans abandoned Britain, telling them to “look to their own defenses”, they scrambled to do just that, because they were immediately invaded by the Picts from the north.
King Vortigern sent out a cry for help to the Saxon kings of northern Germany and they came sure enough, only they didn’t leave again, which was not at all what Vortigern had had in mind.
The Britons, descendants of the Celts with a smattering of Roman blood thrown in, were divided into many small kingdoms and dukedoms which squabbled among themselves as well. This is the time period from which the rumors of a great High King named Arthur appear.
For awhile the Britons did hold off the Saxons, but eventually the Britons were pushed to the far western edge of Britain, into Wales. The Saxons and Angles and Jutes from the north of Europe established their own kingdoms.
Here is a map of Anglo Saxon Kingdoms in the year 700AD. The borders of these kingdoms changed rapidly as the kings fought one another, the Picts and the Welsh, and struggled to keep the Viking invaders at bay.
You can color one of your own. Print out this basic map of the Medieval British Isles. Label King Offa’s Dike on the border between North Wales and Mercia. The dike was built to defend against the fierce Welsh who had not forgotten, even after hundreds of years, that the land to the west had been theirs once.
- Read some tales of King Arthur. There’s no shortage of them, but the classic is the version by Howard Pyle.
- The Tale of Beowulf was written by an Anglo-Saxon Bard. Some great simplified children’s versions exist, give one a try.
- This period of history in Europe is known as the Dark Ages, partly because we don’t know much about them, since few written records have been found, and partly because after the fall of Rome, Europe descended into chaos, which took nearly a thousand years to recover from.
- Anglo-Saxon kings (and the post-Roman Celtic kings) were elected. It was not a hereditary position. English common law, and therefore American law descend to us from this time when individual rights were respected, kings were constrained by law, and property and life were sacred. The Roman Celts and Anglo-Saxons based their ideas of law on the Old Testament.
- Britain was Christian at this time. They would lose their religion with the Saxon invasions, but be reconverted centuries later.
- This map activity is from Unit 2-5 of the Layers of Learning Homeschool Curriculum. Try it out.