Ah, the Dark Ages. That period in British history after the Romans went away where everything just stopped, or seemingly so.
It didn’t of course. The record petered out. The accepted wisdom is that because people built in wood, drank from horn and worked in leather our archaeological tools to discover their civilisation become useless.
Yes and no — and it’s a complex subjective pool of evidence before us. Jewellery such as the Sutton Hoo treasure signify sophistication and a high order of civilisation. And yet time after time what must have been substantial and beautiful buildings of the Roman period, those farmhouses to palaces that are dubbed “villas”, are found trashed or left to decay. So often beautiful mosaic floors are ruined, torn apart for a kiln or hearth, presumably done at a time the building still had a roof on it.
And for a generation or two after the Roman armies went home there must have been Romanised locals born into a Latin speaking, literate, letter writing class who seemed to have seen no value in trying to nurture their heritage. Neither did they seek to defend it.
So civilisation, whatever that may mean, is not a steady upward curve. This period — if there had been statisticians to measure — would have seen increases in lawlessness, falling life expectancy, falling literacy and numeracy, greater propensity for hunger, sickness, low intensity local warring.
And here we are in 2017. The question to ask ourselves is this: Have our Romans already departed?