Paperback    22 pages (A5) and Maps

by David Hancocks

Monmouth in the Dark Ages

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This booklet explores the Early Medieval Period between AD 410 and 1068 in the region of old Erchyng (South Herefordshire) and Gwent (Monmouthshire).

There is very little information to show us how people lived during this long historical period, however, local archaeology and research into ancient records go some way to lifting the veil on this fascinating era.


Sample Chapter

Monmouth in the Dark AgesArchaeology in the Monmouth area has, as yet, uncovered very little evidence of Dark Age (Early Medieval Period) settlement. However, there is ample documentary evidence for occupation of the district between the post Roman era and the coming of the Normans. Although the Romans officially ended their occupation of Britannia in AD 410, the western part of Britain reverted to tribal rule and kingships probably after the Roman usurper, Magnus Maximus denuded the country of it's legions when he seized control of western Europe in Ad 382. After this date, Monmouth was subject to the sub-kings of Ercyng and Gwent, who were themselves subject to an over-king of the whole of the old Silurian territory. In turn, the see of Llandaff grew from these roots- marking the birth of modern Wales. Each of the old Roman towns would have had an overseer, answerable directly to his king, and undoubtedly living as a Romanised governor. Caerwent (the fort of Gwent), the Roman civilian capital, had a council chamber, temple and basilica and is well worth a visit to see it's layout and it's stone walls. No doubt, it was a significant tribal capital long after Roman times. There were few Roman-date villas west of the Wye, the two nearest to Monmouth being across the river at Hadnock (overlooked by the Little Doward Celtic hill-fort), and Huntsham, opposite Whitchurch. No doubt, the fertile field systems of the Roman period were maintained by the Celtic inhabitants on both sides of the Wye, and with ample grazing for their animals.

During the Roman occupation of Britannia young men were encouraged to join the Roman army, but only to serve well away from their home territory. The Twentieth Legion followed by the Second Augustan Legion were both stationed in or near Monmouth (Roman Blestium) and over the next 300 years many youths from the district of Monmouth would have been seconded to units in other parts of the empire. After 25 years service they would automatically become Roman citizens, speaking the Roman language fluently. Many of them would have returned home and laid the foundations for a Romanised way of life building up Monmouth into a civilised centre. Civilians were not allowed to carry weapons, just as today. Roman justice was uncompromising.


The various Germanic tribes who were settled in the east of Britannia as mercenaries after 410 soon liked what they saw, and began to move westwards. Recent archaeology in the town has uncovered just 2 shards of late Saxon pottery which shows that Monmouth remained largely Celtic Welsh throughout the Dark Ages. Excavation at 22-24 Monnow Street has also shown up the only known dark Age construction- a pre-Norman gateway or fortification. Monmouth Archaeological Society (Down The Dig, Monmouth- An Adventure in Archaeology; Stephen Clarke 2008) has many references to excavation within the town and surrounding areas showing that the district only became quite wealthy after 1066 with the arrival of the Normans.

In the Anglo- Saxon Chronicle the expression 'Britons' was used up to the battle of Crayford in 456, but in 465 the battle of Ebbsfleet was fought against the 'Welsh'. Welsh (from Wealas) is a Germanic description for 'the strangers or the others' and was used by the Angles and Saxons thereafter.


Christianity had become the religion of the empire under Constantine the Great early in the 4th century, however it is doubtful if the Celtic peoples of Western Europe had entirely given up the old gods and rituals. During the Age of the Saints, in 5th and 6th century Britannia, Celtic Christianity took a firm hold and llans, or cemeteries, were consecrated by the early bishops. Many of these llans still exist today and contain Norman churches which have evolved into extant parish churches. As the population of Britain was only about four million after the Roman period, it is probable that the Romanised rural estates that had flourished under Roman domination, and with links to the tribal leaders and kings, had been committed to installing a priest with his cemetery for the purpose of Christian burials. Every llan has a nearby holy spring, the names of a few surviving today.