The collapse of Britain, or at least London and other urban centers, is a matter of much discussion for the moment. So while discussions of the Roman Era territory are not usually thought of as topical (relating to present), it is now or never.
One popular view of the collapse of Roman Britain is that a small elite group of Germanic tribesman came over from what is now Denmark, and took over the very top portion of society, but left the lower levels of society alone. Modern collapse scenarios often introduce the notion of mass hordes streaming out of the collapsed areas, overwhelming the fair benighted people of the hinterland. The survival retreat concept is based around getting to your stronghold and battening the hatches before the hordes arrive. I have commented/complained about this scenario some time ago.
I suspect that this image of mass exodus comes from a combination of the very publicized accounts of refugees in World War 2, and the barbaric invasions of Rome (and others) in earlier times.
It turns out that, at least as far as the Roman Britain, the survivalist scenerio is actually closer to what happened than some historians views. But there are some nuances that should be looked at.
Since the modern disaster refugees have not come wielding swords and weapons, I thought a focus on the time period when the horde did come, would be relevant to todays scenarios.
Cross border raiding is a time honored tradition. It is a close cousin to smuggling. Sneaking across a lightly defended border, grabbing some stuff, and running home is a fairly effective strategy to avoiding the consequences of your actions. Because of the steep tax regimes of many countries today, it has lost its popularity because of the extraordinary profits to be made by smuggling.
But the raids that Roman Britain experience, and latter the rest of the Western Roman empire experienced were an order of magnitude greater. How did they get started?
Usually, it was because someone invited them in.
Studies of peaceful immigrants have shown that it is very rare for large groups of people to immigrate to a new area without them knowing some people in their new location.
The seafaring people of the Frisian Islands (the Frisii ) had been around a long time. They were familiar with the area that encircled the North Sea and had the boats to get around.
But somewhere around 499 A.D., Hengist and Horsa, two German tribesman from Jutland (an area of Denmark) came to England, and brought with them a bunch of soldiers. Why did the come? Because they were invited.
Vortigern was a local British leader and he was having troubles with the Picts and Scotti (Irish sea raiders – much like the later Vikings – who eventually settled and gave name to Scotland) up north. He brought in Hengist and Horsa as hire mercenaries.
The reason he brought in hired mercenaries, is because while the Roman British still had money, once the Romans had pulled out their legions and left their civilians to their own devices, they were not particularly good fighters (King Arthur excepted of course).
Matthias Schulz, Spiegel, 16 June 2011 (Ht: MR).
The [British] were no match for these roughnecks. The Romans had taught them how to play the lyre and drink copious amounts of wine, but the populace in the regions controlled by the Pax Romana was barred from carrying weapons. As a result, the local peoples, no longer accustomed to the sword, lost one battle after the next and were forced to the edges of the island.
The newcomers quickly became aware of the ripe pickings to be had. Lumped together under the names of Angles and Saxons (the two largest groups: a.k.a. Anglo-Saxons), more soon made the crossing.
Angles, Saxons and Jutes left their mound dwellings and broad bean fields in the wetlands of northern Europe in droves.
Entire family clans set out to sea, usually in the spring and summer when the water was calm. Their ships were bulging with household goods, cows and horses. According to an old chronicle, the land of the Angles was soon "abandoned."
They came in much larger numbers than had been previously supposed. An estimate of 200,000 total is guessed at. But while there may have been 1 million Britons, there numbers began to dwindle as they were pushed further and further in retreat.
Many fell into captivity. According to Härke, the captured Britons lived a miserable existence as "servants and maids" in the villages of the Anglo-Saxons.
There were two types of grave in the cemeteries of the time: those containing swords and other weapons, and those with none. The local inhabitants, deprived of their rights, were apparently buried in the latter type of grave.
The London geneticist Mark Thomas is convinced that the conquerors from the continent maintained "social structures similar to apartheid," a view supported by the laws of King Ine of Wessex (around 695). They specify six social levels for the Britons, five of which refer to slaves.
As a result of the brutal subjugation, the reproduction rate of the losing Britons was apparently curbed, while the winners had many children. The consequences are still evident today in the British gene pool. "People from rural England are more closely related to the northern Germans than to their countrymen from Wales or Scotland," Härke explains.
According to Härke, every other man on the island carries the "Friesian gene."
For a map illustrating this distribution:
This same pattern was repeated in a spectacular fashion on the continent of Europe with the Romans. The primary difference was that there was still a Roman army there, and Huns to encouraging (through fear) the Germans to start their movement further into Roman territory.
Similarly, although the historical record is murky, the Galatians we discussed earlier made their way into Asia Minor (Turkey) by way of invasion.
The reason why a migratory group (including non-combatant women and children) is more dangerous than a raiding group, is that none of the “warriors” are being left behind to defend the home territory. Nobody is being left behind to farm fields. It is an “all-in” approach. And normal people (which by definition make up the bulk of the migratory group) don’t go all-in to places they know nothing about, and nobody helping them when they get there.
So if you are sitting in some post apocalyptic hinterland, and have a city of a million people nearby, you are likely to in this Mad Max scenario to be seeing some sizeable raiding parties. But the most likely way you are going to see all one-million of them showing up – is to invite some of them in first.