|Search for keyword|
Books on this subject
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum:
The History of the Primitive Church of England.
Book One, Chapter Twelve
Translated by Rev. William Hurst, 1814.
The Romans, being solicited to succour the Britons against the invasions of the Picts and Scots, return and build a wall across the island; but this being demolished, the Britons are reduced to greater distress than before.
From this period, Britain, being deprived, by the indiscretion and tyranny of the Roman Governors, of all her warlike stores, and of the flower of her army, (all her active youth having been led away into foreign countries, and never returning home,) was exposed to the ravages of her enemies on every side. Being totally unacquainted with the art of war, she groaned and languished, for many years, under the oppression of two very barbarous foreign nations, the Scots from the West, and the Picts from the North.
We call these foreign nations, not for their dwelling out of the island of Britain, but because they were remote from that part of it, which was possessed by the Britons; two friths of the sea, one on the East, and the other on the West, which run far, and extend themselves very widely into the land, forming certain natural boundaries between them, though they do not entirely separate them. The eastern creek has the city of Guidin, situated on a small isle in the middle of it; and the western, the city of Alcuith [Dumbarton], which in their language signifies the rock Cluith, for it is near the river of that name, situated to the North of it.
On account of the frequent irruptions of these nations, the Britons, sending ambassadors to Rome with suppliant letters, prayed for succours, and promised perpetual subjection to the Romans, on condition that they would rescue them from the impending danger, by compelling these enemies to withdraw from their confines. An armed legion was immediately sent to them, which, arriving in the island, and engaging with the Picts and Scots, made a great slaughter of their troops, and drove the rest out of the territories of their allies. They then advised the Britons to build a wall across the whole island, from sea to sea, of a sufficient strength effectually to prevent their enemies from making such inroads on them, or oppressing them for the future, now that they were happily delivered from their tyranny. The legion, having so successfully performed this service, returned home to Rome in great triumph.
But the Britons, having no artificer capable of conducting such a work, instead of building a wall of stone, as they had been directed by the Romans, raised a useless one of earth. They extended it many miles in length, between the two friths or creeks, of which we have just made mention; so that they might protect their country from the invasions of their enemies, by a rampart and trench, on that side where the natural fence of the sea was wanting. Some vestiges of this work, viz. of a wide and deep trench, are to bee seem there to this day. It begins at the distance of almost two miles from the monastery Æburcurnig [Abercorn], to the West, in a place which is called by the Picts, Peanhuael, and by the English, Penuelt [Kinneil]; and, running eastward, end by the city of Alcuith.
Now their former enemies, observing, that the Roman army had abandoned the island, immediately equipped a fleet, and, sailing over, rushed in upon them; and bearing down all before them, as if they were mowing ripe corn, cut down and trampled on every thing that came in their way. Upon this, ambassadors are again sent to Rome with a commission, to entreat the Romans in a most impressive manner not to permit their unfortunate country to be entirely destroyed; nor that the name of a Roman province, so long renowned amongst them, should be brought into contempt, by the unjust oppression of foreign nations. A legion is again sent over to their aid, which, falling suddenly on their enemies in autumn, killed a great number of them, and forced the rest to fly to their ships, and make the best of their way home, empty handed; whereas before, they used every year to carry away great plunder, without any opposition. The Romans told the Britons, that they could not any more undertake such troublesome expeditions for their defense, but advised them rather to take up arms themselves, and study and apply themselves to the art of war: since their enemies could not be superior to them on any other account, then that they suffered themselves to be enervated by idleness. Moreover, as they judged it would be of advantage to these allies, whom they were now constrained to abandon, they erected a strong wall, on a right line, between the towns which had been built on the frontiers as a defense against their enemies, in the same place where Severus had formerly drawn a trench and rampart from sea to sea; which famous wall is to be seen at this day. This they raised, (the Britons also labouring at the work,) partly at the expense of private persons, and partly at the public expense. It was twelve feet high, being eight feet wide, and extended in a straight line from East to West, as plainly appears to any one who inspects it.
Which being finished, they gave this dispirited people proper instruction in the art of war, and models by which they might furnish themselves with suitable armor. Besides, they built several castles, at a convenient distance from each other, on the southern coast of the sea, where their fleet was usually stationed, as that was the side on which there was the greatest danger of invasion to be apprehended. After which, they took leave of their allies, intending to return to them no more.
As soon as they were gone, the Picts and Scots, having intelligence that they had declared they would not succour the Britons again, recommenced hostilities, and being animated with greater confidence of success than they had ever been before, invaded and took possession of all the northern and farthest parts of the island, as far as the wall. On this occasion, the Britons stationed a body of men on the fortifications ; by they, stupefied at the appearance of danger, lost all their courage, and, being thus disheartened, were unable to defend themselves, But their enemies on the other side ceased not to ply them with hooked weapons, by which the cowardly defendants were dragged down to the ground and killed.
In short, leaving the wall and their cities, they were put to flight and scattered in all directions. The enemy pursues, the slaughter increase, which is more dreadful that all the former; for the wretched native are torn to pieces by their enemies, as lambs are by wolves. Thus being expelled from their habitations and possessions, they only escaped the imminent danger of perishing, by being famished, by robbing and plundering one another; adding to their calamities, occasioned by foreigners, their domestic broils, till the whole country was left destitute of every kind of food, except that procured by hunting wild beasts.