Part 5: Uncertain Kingdoms
There are a series of regions, or territories, in the British south-east that get
the most fleeting of mentions in various sources, with tantalising glimpses given of some
of the possible kingdoms that existed there in the short gap between post-Roman
administration and Anglo-Saxon domination.
Brief mentions in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles give a vague picture of how
the war was going, and centres of British resistance can often be deduced from the
location of these battles, and from archaeological evidence.
Centred on Caer Gwinntguic (Roman Venta Belgarum in the
tribal lands of the
modern Winchester in Hampshire), a pocket of British resistance fought a
hard war against the
here, aided by and perhaps politically linked to Caer Celemion. Both held out,
semi-isolated in an increasingly Saxon-dominated landscape, forcing West
Saxon advances to head for the north and west. Their eastern border would
have been largely protected by the huge swathe of forest that reached into
That Winchester had some sort of paramilitary
administrative status at this period is also suggested by the presence of
some unusual burials in the Lankhills cemetery, which shows funerary
practices with a military context and accompanying equipment which was
standard late-Roman army issue.
At Winchester itself, the main south gate of the
Roman city, pointing towards the West Saxons, was so effectively blocked in
two stages during the fifth and sixth centuries by walling and a ditch dug
across the road, that all traffic from the south was forced to use the minor
Kingsgate further to the east. To emphasise the degree of change forced on
the city by this, even after it was conquered the main extramural suburb
developed outwards from Kingsgate rather than the original south gate.
Before it was put out of use in this drastic
way the south gate road would have been the direct route between Caer
Gwinntguic and the late Roman fortress at Clausentum (modern Bitterne) nine
miles away near the mouth of the Itchen, close to the Solent. It seems as if
there came a moment in time when the rulers of Caer Gwinntguic and
Clausentum were on opposite sides of an unrecorded conflict.
Not far to the west of Winchester, there are
strong suggestions that Ambrosius Aurelianus possessed "the stronghold of
Ambrosius" remembered in modern Amesbury (Saxon Ambresbyrig, north of
Salisbury and west of Andover). This could have formed the easternmost part of Ambrosius'
Gloucester power base near Caer Celemion's western border.
The sub-Roman ruler in Caer Gwinntguic in the 440s may have been
Elafius, but the names of no
other leaders were recorded. It seems likely that the region fell to the
West Saxons in 552, when they conquered Searoburh (Old Sarum), taking the
whole of Wiltshire in the process. Winchester was a major centre of West
Saxon authority from the moment it was taken, a usage which could have begun
in late Roman times as part of the administrative structure of the Saxon Shore.