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This page last modified May 31, 2004

Roman-Era and Sub-Roman Wales

Table of Contents


This is a collection of resources and questions on Roman-era Wales (and Britain in general), and the couple of centuries after the end of Roman rule, for which extrapolation forward from Roman-era data is probably more reliable than extrapolating backward form later medieval information. Expect a lot of variations on the theme of "you've picked a very hard period to research -- expect to do a lot of extrapolation".

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4th Century

Question: I have been looking in earnest for some information on 4th Century Wales and have come up with little or nothing out of it. Is there anyone that knows of a good reliable source I could get my hands on or look up on the web? Anything would be of help.

Answer: For that early a period, you're going to have to accept that there may simply not be much direct information available for your desired focus, and that you may have to do a fair amount of extrapolation in order to fill out the concrete details of a persona or kit.

For the 4th century, you're more likely to find useful information by looking for the heading "Roman Britain" rather than looking specifically for Welsh material. While there is a certain amount of information available on culture and artifacts in the region that became Wales in this period, the relative unity of culture throughout most of Britain at that time means that you can do a great deal of extrapolation from better-documented sites and material in other areas of Britain. Even in sources focussing specifically on Wales (as a geographic region) you may find that the terms "Wales" and "Welsh" aren't applied this early -- the linguistic and cultural distinctions between that region and the rest of Britain hadn't developed enough yet at that period to make such a distinction useful.

See the bibliography below for general resources.

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5th Century

Question: My persona is one from the 5th Century, which is proving to be a dificult task to take on as far as info on garb and etc goes. Help!

Answer: Depending on what you want to do with your persona, the 5th century can be a very difficult era to research. What you'll find is that most of your information on material culture (clothing, food, etc.) is going to involve a fair amount of extrapolation and guesswork from other cultures and other eras. It's a great opportunity to immerse yourself in detailed archaeological reports on late Roman and post-Roman sites, but the picture of life you'll get will be very fragmentary.

For general historical background, you'll want to focus on works specifically on post-Roman and early medieval Wales, because works generally on the British Isles tend to assume that Wales disappears off the face of the earth as soon as the Anglo-Saxons show up. Some relevant books may include Wendy Davies's Wales in the Early Middle Ages, Christopher Snyder's Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons AD 400-600, as well as general histories of Wales.

There are some older books that focus on Roman-era Wales (e.g., R.E.M. Wheeler's Prehistoric & Roman Wales published 1925) that might be useful from the early end, but they're also likely to be badly outdated in scholarship. There are also a good number of special-topic publications on sub-Roman Britain (although not necessarily Wales specifically), such as -- just for example -- External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman and Post-Roman Britain (ed. by K.R. Dark, Boydell Press, 1996).

There has been a fair amount of archaeological work done on Roman-era Wales, some of which also covers the post-Roman era -- looking through journals like Archaeologia Cambrensis, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, etc. can turn up useful stuff.

If you're interested in 5th century naming practices, my article "The First Thousand Years of British Names", available at Arval's Medieval Names Archive, should have some very useful material. (5th century Welsh names are very different in "look-and-feel" from medieval-era Welsh names, and even more so from modern Welsh names.)

Not a lot of extremely practical information, I'm afraid, but anyone doing a "dark ages" Welsh persona is going to have to digest the snippets and synthesize his own extrapolation, since it's impossible to provide definitive answers. (Or rather, there are a lot of clearly-identifiable wrong answers, but not a lot of certainty on the "right" answers.)

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6th Century

Question: If anyone can recommend a good source for information on early-period (6th century) Welsh culture, I would be extremely grateful. I've been unable to find many sources for garb research for that culture & time period, and have found none with illustrations of garb specific to that region.

Answer: Sixth century Wales is an extremely hard time and place to research for an SCA persona -- the historians have a hard enough time scraping together enough information to determine which of the later-recorded kings of that period were real people and which ones were entirely fictitious. A good, single-source introduction to the general history and culture of 5-11th c. Wales is Wales in the Early Middle Ages by Wendy Davies (Leicester University Press).

There is no direct evidence on Welsh clothing of this period -- no archaeological finds, no pictorial evidence, not even any solidly contemporary descriptions. The best that can be managed is to take the clothing of Roman Britain as a starting point, the very little evidence on Welsh clothing from the early end of the high medieval period, the developments of sub-Roman styles in France and similar places as a possible parallel, and the clothing of Anglo Saxon English as a probable influence ... and then give it your best reasonable guess. But it isn't a process that's going to work well if you're looking for a single source to tell you "this is the Truth, this is exactly how to do it".

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Here is, as Nennius said, "a heap of all I found" -- that is, a fairly raw dump of my own bibliography on Roman Britain and particularly Roman Wales. I've sorted things out by general topic and type of book, but haven't really commented on them. Some of these may be easy to find, others may be fairly difficult, and there may be excellent books that I haven't included here. This is simply a listing of what I, personally, own (or in the case of journal articles, have photocopies of). I put this list together about three years ago, so it doesn't necessarily reflect my current information.

General History (and Archaeology)

More Specific or Focussed Works

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