Ancient History Assignment Log (Barbarian Invasions)


A chronicle of the Europe invasions and the fall of Rome

The first series of Europe invasions begun on the 5th century when tribes of germanic origin launched invasions to the Roman Empire lands. But this attack wasn’t spontaneous but due to the pressure of the Huns that where moving from central Asia to Europe, taking the lands of the germanic tribes. Finally the Huns invaded the Roman Empire, but where defeated in the battle of Campos Catalaunicos with the aid of the Visigoths. Rome in the next years suffered the attack of many barbarian tribes, but it wasn’t prepared like in the past to resist. In the 5th century Rome was in the middle of an economic, social and political crisis. 


Chronology of the 5th century invasions

  • 401: Alaric king of the visigoths penetrates in Italy

  • 405: The Ostrogoths and other german tribes cross the Danube and the Alps heading to Italy but they where destroyed by the romans near Florence

  • 406: Menaced by the Huns, the Vandals, suaves, burgundies and Alans cross the Rhine river

  • 408: The Visigoths penetrate in Italy, where they siege the emperor in Ravenna

  • 409: Suaves, Vandals and Alans invade Spain

  • 410: The Visigoths with help of some ostrogoths sack Rome

  • 411: The Visigoths march through France

  • 412: The Visigoths Settle in southern France

  • 415: The Visigoths conquer Aquitania

  • 422: The Vandals march to southern Spain

  • 428: The Vandals march to North Africa to aid its governor

  • 431: The Vandals conquer North Africa

  • 435: The romans sign a treaty with the Vandals accepting them as federated in North Africa

  • 436: Aecio organizes the Gaul establishing the French in the north, the Alamans in the south and the Burgundies in the lands surrounding the Rhode river

  • 439: The romans leave Britain. The Vandals rebel and take Carthage

  • 451: The Huns invade Gaul but are defeated in Campos Catalaunicos

  • 452: The Huns regroup and invade Italy but the pope convinced them not to sack Rome

  • 455: The Vandals attack Sicily and other isles, and sack Rome

  • 461: The Visigoths establish their hegemony in the Gaul

  • 465: Vandal rule in the Mediterranean they attack Greece, Epirus and Ilyria

  • 471: Burgundy expansion

  • 474: The Vandals sign a peace treaty

  • 476: The germanic troops in Italy rebel and claim Odoacro as king of Italy. End of the western roman empire


The new invasions

After the invasions of the germanic peoples to the Roman Empire, a territorial fragmentation was produced, that finally ended with the consolidation of the Charlemagne empire on western Europe. But in the 9nth and 10nth century they suffered the continuous attacks of Vikings and Magyars, these where surprise attacks and the slow french armies couldn’t face the threat. The local nobles begun to mobilize local militias to face the attacks, beginning with the fragmentation of the imperial authority.

Chronology of the 9nth and 10nth century invasions

Viking attacks:

  • 793: Lindisfarne monastery destroyed

  • 800: Conquer of the Orkney and Hebrides islands

  • 810: Conquer of the Scotland coastal areas

  • 823-833: Attacks to Ireland

  • 834: Conquest of Ireland. Attacks on the Thames river and the english channel

  • 834-836: Attacks on the Rhine and Escalda rivers

  • 841: Penetration through the Seine river and destruction of Ruan

  • 842: Quentovic sacked

  • 843: Penetration through the Loire and destruction of Nantes

  • 844: Expedition to northern Spain. Failed attacks to Lisbon and Seville

  • 845: Paris burnt

  • 851: Multiple attacks to England

  • 852: The Danish Vikings expel the norwegians from Ireland

  • 853-857: The cities on the Loire shores are sacked

  • 856-857: New attacks to Paris

  • 859: The Danish settle in the Rhode river and sack Arles, Nimes and Valence

  • 866-878: Conquer of England

  • 882: Invasion and sacking of Aquitania

  • 885: Paris sieged. The siege is lifted due to the payment of tribute

  • 896: The Danish settle in the Seine river mouth

  • 911: The Danish occupation of Normandy is recognized. 


Magyar attacks:

  • 899: Expedition to Italy, the Po valley is sacked

  • 905-906: Destruction of the kingdom of Moravia

  • 906: Several attacks to Saxony

  • 907: Campaigns in Bavaria

  • 913: Invasion of Lorraine

  • 915: Bands of warriors sack Suabia, Turingia and Saxony

  • 917: Incursions to Alsace and Lorraine

  • 919: Invasion of Saxony

  • 921-924: Bands of warriors penetrate in Italy reaching the south of the peninsula

  • 926-933: The Saxony and Bavaria kings pay tribute

  • 934: Expedition to the Balkans

  • 942-947: New attacks to Italy

  • 943-950: Failed attacks to Bavaria

  • 955: Final defeat of the magyars in the Lech battle

Accounts of Hengest

There are several early sources that refer to a “Hengest”. The earliest clear source is Bede, whose Ecclesiastical History of the English People (written about 730) states that Hengest was brought to Britain by Vortigern as a mercenary, to fight the Picts.[1][2] Bede’s dating puts this at between 449 and 455, but this cannot be treated as definite. As many auxiliary garrisons near Hadrian’s wall were Frisian (Cuneus Frisiorum Vinoviensium (3rd century), Cuneus Frisiorum Vercoviciensium (early 3rd century), Cohors I Frisiavonum (Frixagorum) (3rd-4th century), Hengist has been identified as of Frisian stock [3]. However, Bede also says that Hengest was a Jute, and that the Jutes settled in Kent and the Isle of Wight; Saxons and Angles settled the south and east of England, respectively. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives a similar version, apparently using Bede as a source; this part of the Chronicle probably dates from the late ninth century.[4] The Historia Britonum (written around 830) gives a full genealogy of Hengist and identifies him as a descendent of Finn, king of the Frisians [5]. There is also a character named Hengest who appears in two Old English poems: “The Fight at Finnsburg” and Beowulf. From the two poems together, it is apparent that Hengest is a member of King Hnaef the Dane’s company, who on Hnaef’s death leads his men against King Finn of Frisia.[6]

There is also no particular reason to assume that because Hengest is part of Hnaef’s force he must be a Dane. Also among Hnaef’s followers is Sigeferth a prince of the Secgan, and Hengest comes across as an important character in his own right. He is described as an exile, and that he is a Jutish mercenary in Hnaef’s service is a very plausible hypothesis. Alan Bliss suggests he might even be seen best as an Angle. (J.R.R Tolkien, “Finn and Hengest” Ed. Alan Bliss)

The Beowulf and Finnesburg references are by no means necessarily to the same person as the mercenary described by Bede, but it has been conjectured that they are.[6] P. Hunter Blair has suggested that in Hengist we may have a history of a Danish chieftain’s progression from Denmark, to Frisia, to southern England, in about the first half of the fifth century.[6]

It has also been suggested that Hengest is a purely mythical figure, though it is clear from archaeological evidence that Germanic settlements in Kent had definitely begun by the time Hengest is supposed to have come to Britain. The distinction Bede draws betweens Jutes, Angles and Saxons is also supported by fact that artifacts from Kent are distinctively different from those found elsewhere in the country, implying a different cultural origin for Kentish settlers.[1]

Following his victories over the Picts, Hengest invited more immigrants from Germania to settle in Britannia and then rebelled against Vortigern because the Britons refused to make an agreed payment, establishing himself as king in Kent. Both Hengest and Horsa are described as being Jutes, and sons of a Jutish chief named Wihtgils.

The historical existence of Hengest and Horsa has been called into question many times, with many historians labelling these two as legendary ‘divine twins‘ or culture heroes along the order of Romulus and Remus. It is perhaps likelier that:-

  • Hengest, meaning ‘Stallion’ in Anglo-Saxon (in modern German and Dutch Hengst and in the Scandinavian languages Hingst is still the word for a stallion), was an honorific name or nickname for an officer (cf. colloquial English “stud” for a strong, virile male, originally denoting a stallion used for breeding. The German equivalent of “stud” for a human male is actually Hengst).
  • Horsa was a later accretion to the story: see Horsa.

Later accounts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Historia Britonum, Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s Historia Regum Britanniae, and Wace‘s Roman de Brut add further details from tradition and legend about Hengest’s career. The most famous of these include the tale of his beautiful daughter Rowena who seduces Vortigern. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dates his death to 488, but does not provide a cause. Geoffrey of Monmouth states Hengest was captured in battle by Eldol, Duke of Gloucester and subsequently beheaded by Eldol’s brother, Eldadus, the Bishop of Gloucester.

Hengest and Horsa And The Saxon Invasions

The rhyme helping school children recall the kings and queens of England starts with William the Conqueor. “Willy, Willy, Harry…” etc. The kings who came before 1066 are not included. People seem to like their history much neater and tidier than it actually is, and perhaps the difference between England before and after 1066 is symbolised by two books, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle for the period before 1066, and The Domesday Book for the period after. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle has different versions, written by different people in different places. Particularly in its references to the very earliest days of Saxon Britain the Chronicle is a mixture of myth and history. The Domesday Book in contrast is precise and exact. Information in column after column, page after page, lists the precise details of all land holdings in England. There was no more ambiguity, no more questions. This was Doomsday, the end, the final judgement. The Domesday Book suggests central control of a high order. But the Chronicle talks of a much more indefinable identity.

The Chronicle begins in the dark confusion that came with the withdrawl of the Romans from Britain at the end of the fourth century. Following an occupation lasting over three hundred and fifty years, the Romans’ departure left a vacuum of power. Historical sources for the chaotic time following the Romans’ departure are poor, and the first history of the period wasn’t written until three hundred years later by the historian known as the Venerable Bede. And the Chronicle did not begin its compilation until late in the ninth century. The story that follows is not the Domesday Book. There is no last word. Much is left in doubt. This is a story that hovers somewhere between the possible and the probable.

It is fairly clear that the last Roman commander was a soldier who the Welsh call Coel Hen, and he has survived in the English nursery rhyme Old King Cole. He may have founded some kind of local dynasty in the south of England. Then it seems a warlord called Vitalinus came to dominate at least part of Britain, and he was known as the “Vortigren”, which means “supreme leader”. Without Roman troops the Pictish tribes in what is now Scotland were making increasingly bold raids into the province of Britannia. To try and control these attacks, the Vortigren is supposed to have contacted Hengest, a fearsome mercenary from Friesia, an area in northern Germany. Hengest was hired, and he arrived on what was then the east Kent island of Thanet – pictured above – possibly with his brother Horsa, and a band of men. This arrival is described in one of the oldest examples of English literature, Beowulf


Then came three keels driven into exile from

Germany. In them were the brothers Horsa

and Hengest… Vortigren welcomed them,

and handed over to them the island that in

their language is called Thanet, in British



Hengest was successful in his battles with the Picts, and he has left his legacy in the name of the city of Dumfries, which means “the fort of the Friesian”. At this point his job was done, but instead of returning to Friesia, Hengest started bringing in uninvited “reinforcements” who could not be paid. The lack of payment led to rebellion. In an attempt to control the situation Hengest was invited to attend a conference with three hundred members of the British council. Hengest and a group of his men came to the conference with weapons hidden in their clothing, and proceeded to kill all of the elders, except for the Vortigren, whose power was broken. From his headquarters on Thanet Hengest quickly moved to subdue Kent. Two battles in 455 and 456 defeated the British in Kent, but at the cost of Horsa’s death in the first battle. Hengest and his son Aesc were then left as leaders of the Fresians, with Aesc succeeding as leader in 488. Aesc was then king of Kent, according to the Chronicle, for twenty four years. By the end of the fifth century Kent, the first of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms was firmly established. Old names used in the area changed to Germanic names: Ruoihm became Thanet; Cantii, became Kent, Ripuarium became Richborough, and Dubris became Dover. Celtic speech was swamped by Germanic dialect.

Pevensey Castle

Meanwhile a different group of invaders, the Saxons, led by Aelle landed at Selsey Bill and set about conquering Sussex. In 491 Aelle’s men stormed the British fortress at Pevensey Castle and massacred all the people sheltering inside. Then in 495 Cerdic and his son Cynric landed at Southampton Water and launched an invasion of Hampshire and Wiltshire, an area that became Wessex, kingdom of the West Saxons. This in outline is the story that the Chronicle tells. No mention is made of the East Angles, East Saxons, Middle Saxons, Middle Angles or Mercians. No reference is made to the mysterious delay in advance between 500 and 545, which may have been the time of the last great British resistence. King Arthur ledgends may be linked to this period. This is the nature of the history of this time, imprecise, uncertain, peopled with semi mythic figures, whose general fascination has survived into the present day. In its way these history stories are as important as the incredibly impressive columns of facts and figures that came in with the Domesday Book. And those facts and figures are misleading in themselves. History did not suddenly become clear with the reign of William the Conqueror. Following 1086, the year of the Domesday Book’s preparation, history remained a battle of stories, with propaganda passing for history much of the time. Most of what I read at school about Richard the Second, to take just one example, turned out to be propaganda put about by Henry the Fourth who deposed him. With increased abilities in record keeping came increased possibilities for propaganda. In a way the things that clarify the story bring doubt to it again. Perhaps this shows that there is no actual Domesday Book which will end all doubt. History keeps going, and we should not neglect a great part of English history just becuase it seems unclear. History did not start with William the Conqueror, or with Hengest and Horsa. In history there are no real beginnings and no real doomsdays

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2 Responses to “Ancient History Assignment Log (Barbarian Invasions)”

  1. adamhendry Says:

    Tony, don’t forget to include your own words and summaries and scaffolds etc. Look forward to your progress report and Thurs/Friday


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