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The decay of the province of Britain through the fourth and fifth centuries has left almost no traces in written records. The somewhat fanciful description of Gildas, who lived in Britain, and wrote about A. D. 550, and a few scattered references in continental chronicles, are the nearest we have to contemporary history.
the province After this, Britain is left deprived of all her soldiery and armed bands, of her cruel governors, and of the flower of her youth, who went with Maximus, but never again returned; and utterly ignorant as she was of the art of war, she groaned in amazement for many years under the cruelty of two foreign nations — the Scots from the northwest, and the Picts from the north.
The Britons, rendered desperate by the assaults of the Scots and Picts, their hostilities and dreadful oppressions, send ambassadors to Rome with letters, entreating in piteous terms the assistance of an armed band to protect them, and offering loyal and ready submission to the authority of Rome, if they only would expel their invading foes. A legion is immediately sent, forgetting their past rebellion, and provided sufficiently with arms. When they had crossed over the sea and landed, they came at once to close conflict with their cruel enemies, and slew great numbers of them. All of them were driven beyond the 33borders, and the humiliated natives rescued from the bloody slavery which awaited them. . . .
No sooner were they gone, than the Picts and Scots, like worms which in the heat of midday come forth from their holes, hastily land again from their canoes, in which they had been carried beyond the Cichican valley, differing one from another in manners, but inspired with the same avidity for blood. . . .
Britainsä Again, therefore, the wretched remnant, sending to Ætius, a powerful Roman citizen, address him as follows: ăTo Ætius, now consul for the third time: the groans of the Britons.ä And again a little further, thus: ăThe barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea throws us back on the barbarians; thus two modes of death await us; we are either slain or drowned.ä The Romans, however, could not assist them, and in the meantime the discomfited people, wandering in the woods, bgan to feel the effects of a severe famine, which compelled many of them without delay to yield themselves up to their cruel persectuors to obtain assistance; others of them, however, lying hid in mountains, caves, and woods, continually sallied out from thence to renew the war. . . .
So that all the columns were leveled with the ground by the frequent strokes of the battering-ram, all the husbandmen routed, together with their bishops, priests, and people, whilst the sword gleamed, and the flames crackled around them on every side. Lamentable to behold, in the midst of the streets lay the tops of lofty towers tumbled to the ground, stones of high walls, holy altars, remains of human bodies. . . .
1 From Gildas, De Excidio Britanniae,, Sects. 14-24, in Six Old English Chronicles, pp. 305-311; trans. by J. A. Giles.