"Robin Fleming uses evidence from archaeology to reassess the transition from the Roman to early medieval period in England. Critiquing previous approaches that have relied too heavily on written texts of later date, Fleming places emphasis instead on the changes in material conditions that impacted on the lives of ordinary people. This is an original and refreshing approach that has not previously been attempted on this scale. The Material Fall of Roman Britain, 300-525 CE is an extremely important and well-written book, and one that deserves a very broad readership."—Martin Millett, University of CambridgeAlthough lowland Britain in 300 CE had been as Roman as any province in the empire, in the generations on either side of 400, urban life, the money economy, and the functioning state collapsed. Many of the most quotidian and fundamental elements of Roman-style material culture ceased to be manufactured. Skills related to iron and copper smelting, wooden board and plank making, stone quarrying, commercial butchery, horticulture, and tanning largely disappeared, as did the knowledge standing behind the production of wheel-thrown, kiln-fired pottery and building in stone. No other period in Britain's prehistory or history witnessed the loss of so many classes of once-common skills and objects. While the reasons for this breakdown remain unclear, it is indisputable the collapse was foundational in the making of a new world we characterize as early medieval.
The standard explanation for the emergence of the new-style material culture found in lowland Britain by the last quarter of the fifth century is that foreign objects were brought in by "Anglo-Saxon" settlers. Marshalling a wealth of archaeological evidence, Robin Fleming argues instead that not only Continental immigrants, but also the people whose ancestors had long lived in Britain built this new material world together from the ashes of the old, forging an identity that their descendants would eventually come to think of as English. As with most identities, she cautions, this was one rooted in neither birth nor blood, but historically constructed, and advanced and maintained over the generations by the shared material culture and practices that developed during and after Rome's withdrawal from Britain.
Robin Fleming is Professor of History at Boston College, a Fellow of the London Society of Antiquaries, and the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant. She is author of Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise of the Middle Ages, 400-1070, among other works.