Saturday, June 20, 2009

Savage 1988: 9. A barbarian antiquity

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Only a fortnight left now, before the reunion. Thank you to Richard Savage and Crickley Hill Trust for the permission to reproduce the abstracts from Richard's 1988 booklet.

"9 A Barbarian Antiquity

The Roman period, c. AD50 - 400

For 12 km the Roman Road from Cirencester to the Severn Crossing at Gloucester - the Ermin Way - heads straight for Crickley Hill. Only 4 km short of the hill it turns aside to Birdlip. The fact is hard to interpret but suggests that Crickley played some part, however briefly, in the Roman perception of the region. On present evidence the hill had been unoccupied for at least four centuries, but its wall was still standing, and it would have offered an easy reference point to surveyors who may, in any case, have been rationalising the line of an existing native trackway.

Crickley Hill does not seem to have been inhabited during the Roman period, though there was a small villa a kilometre to the north, at Dryhill, whose farming must have included it. Neither now nor at any time was the interior of the hillfort ploughed. Its use must have been confined to rough grazing. But its landscape was well occupied from Dryhill to Birdlip, where the main road from Cirencester to Gloucester crossed the scarp edge, and stray finds of Roman material on the hill confirm that it was visited from time to time.

The post-Roman village circa AD 420 to 500.

Soon after AD 400, with the withdrawal of Roman administration from Britain, its social and economic order began a slow decline into turbulence. The last permanent settlement on Crickley Hill was occupied at some time during the next century. It was a village in two parts. To the east, sheltering immediately behind the south end of the old Iron Age wall and built partly on the rubble of its collapse, huddled a group of small sub-rectangular houses each about 4 m long, with central hearths, built probably of turf and thatched with barley straw. A narrow entrance to it was partially cleared through the Iron Age stonework and protected with a wooden gateway. To the west, in a palisaded enclosure on the level shelf above the tip of the promontory, stood larger buildings 7 m by 8 m, kept much cleaner, with a granary. The finds suggest that the two groups of buildings are contemporary. It is likely enough that the western buildings housed the leaders - local chieftains - and the eastern the led. Both parts of the village were burnt, rebuilt, though not on the same plans, and finally burnt again.

Stratified among the eastern group of buildings was a military belt buckle, of a type made about the first decade of the fifth century AD but still in use two or three generations later.

[Photo: the military belt-buckle of the early fifth century AD from the post-Roman village. Length 65 mm]

We do not know why Crickley Hill and many other hill-forts were reoccupied in the fifth century AD because we have little certain knowledge of the period as a whole. We cannot suppose that administrative collapse could take place in a sophisticated industrial economy without causing fundamental changes in production and distribution and the power structure. These will have been complex and the results often localised. But the evidence does not suggest that the last villagers on Crickley Hill were a huddle of refugees cornered in a desperate resistance. They seem to have been an orderly, socially stratified group taking any moderate precautions, and successfully adapting themselves to the new lifestyle of the fifth century. They are abrupt end is more likely to be the result of internal discord among Britons than the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon conquerors at the end of the sixth century.

[Illustration: post-Roman village: Chieftain's house and granary in the western part. C. Clark]"

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