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Post-Roman Britain

Southern Britain's Lost Kingdoms

by Peter Kessler, 1 April 1999. Updated 24 October 2007

Part 6: Uncertain Kingdoms

There are a series of regions, or territories, in the British south-east which get the most fleeting of mentions in various sources, with tantalising glimpses given of some of the possible kingdoms which 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 battle was going, and centres of British resistance can often be deduced from the location of these battles, and from archaeological evidence.


Linnuis / Lind Colun

The colonia of Linnuis, or Lind Colun, was founded by Rome around the start of the second century.

The possible post-Roman territory of the same name was linked (by Professor Kenneth Jackson) to the Lincolnshire region, and the names are remarkably similar, given the translation from Celtic to English. Linnuis appears in Nennius' list of Arthur's Twelve Battles, making up four of them.

These battles were fought one after the other, suggesting a series of strategic fights, or a running battle along one of Linnuis' rivers (Dubglas, the modern River Trent?). The aim must have been to push back an Anglian incursion, or a large scale Saxon raid.

There were already Anglians settled in Deywr, on the other side of the Humber, although they appear to be mostly peaceful at this time.

On the other hand, the Saxons to the south were actively hostile, and the Historia Brittonum describes how, at '...Hengist's death, Octha his son went from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent'.

Hengist died in 488, during the presumed height of Arthur's reign, so in theory Octha could have been recalled from an attempt to take territory in Linnuis.

The probable Celtic name of the capital of this region is Caer Lind Colun (modern Lincoln, Roman Lindum colonia, hence Lind(um) Colun(ia)). The name Linnuis would also appear to derive from that of the regional capital.

Linnuis appears to have be taken over early by the Anglian Lindiswaras from the region of the Humber, circa 480 (perhaps as a result of territory which was ceded during the attacks postulated above?). That much is about all that is known in an area which was greatly isolated from the country by the extensive marshlands around The Wash (Metaris Aest) to the south, the vast Sherwood Forest and the marshes of the River Trent to the west, and the Humber to the north.

Nothing is known of the Anglian kingdom of Lindsey until the late eighth century, but it is possible that the Linnuis section of the Saxon Shore passed to them intact, and may have included some intermarriage between Angles and Britons.

Archaeological finds of British and Anglian pottery at the same site in a Saxon church at Barton-on-Humber supports the theory that there was no break in rule between British and Anglian governorship of Lindsey.

Newport Gate in Lincoln
The Roman Newport Gate at Linnuis, through which passes Ermine Street, is today the world's only surviving Roman arch which is still open to traffic

Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Cynwidion & Pengwern
Part 3: Gloui, Dumnonia, & Ceint
Part 4: Celemion & Colun
Part 5: Venta, Lerion, Lundein, Went
Part 6: Linnius, Rhegin, & Weith
Part 7: Lost Kings


Fighting from their capital of Noviomagus (Chichester in West Sussex), Britons on the south coast were probably the last native defenders of the Litus Saxonicum (the Saxon Shore).

They are mentioned in 491 when the leader of the South Saxons and apparently the first bretwalda, Ælle and his son Cissa, besieged the British fort of Anderita (Saxon Andredesceaster, modern Pevensey) and slaughtered the entire garrison.

This loss must have been a blow for the Britons, and it is unlikely that the kingdom long retained its independence afterwards.

Ælle was probably the leader of the Saxon forces at Mons Badonicus circa 496. To make such a large-scale attack to the west would necessitate a secure rear, and conquering Rhegin would have secured the South Saxon territory, so Rhegin cannot have been a fully independent kingdom after 491, and probably did not exist before circa 425.

If Rhegin survived afterwards as a client kingdom (and that something survived is not in doubt) then it probably enjoyed a certain level of renewed independence after circa 496.

However, it probably suffered a further blow in 501 when a newly arrived Saxon chieftain killed a Briton of very high rank at Portesmutha (British Portus Adurni, modern Portchester Castle - see 'related links' - on the northern shore of Portsmouth - although some put this in early West Saxon or Meonware territory).

Was this the last surviving remnant of Rhegin, with its sub-Roman commander losing his life in its defence?

The name Rhegin itself is purely theoretical, adapted from the local Celtic tribal name of the Regni, or Regninses.

Archaeological evidence points to this region of the south coast being a likely base for friendly mercenaries or laeti before Ælle's invasion.

Excavations at Portchester have revealed the presence of what seems to have been a sort of 'peasant militia' which was accompanied by wives and children; this ad hoc British defensive organisation may have continued far into the fifth century (B W Cunliffe in Excavations at Porchester Castle, 1975).

Portchester Castle
The Roman walls of Portchester Castle (British Caer Peris) would still have been standing when this former Saxon Shore fort was captured by a Saxon chieftain in AD 501, possibly ending the independence of the territory of Rhegin (click or tap on image to read more about this castle)


Ynys Weith

The Isle of Wight, or Inis Vectis, was either British until 530, when it was conquered by the West Saxons, or it was seized much earlier by the Meonware Jutes from Hampshire, and the date of 530 is a later invention by the West Saxons.

While it was still British, however, it may have fallen under the control of Caer Gwinntguic, probably as a sub-territory, as seems to have become accepted practise after the collapse of Roman authority. The Romano-British name of the military structure from which the island was governed is not known.

The Wihtwara Jutes extended their version of the island's name to Wihtgarabyrig (now Carisbrooke Castle).

Byzantine coins on the Isle of Wight
The Jutes of Wight and Hampshire appear to have maintained trading links with the Byzantines, as findings in both areas have attested. These Byzantine coins were part of a scattering of thirty-five found on the Isle of Wight



Text copyright © P L Kessler, from various notes and sources. An original feature for the History Files.