The Dark Ages and the Anglo-Saxon centuries (AD410 - AD1066)

While research at Roman sites tends to concentrate on the three-and-a-bit centuries of the Roman occupation, the end of the Roman period is no less interesting.

It is often assumed that when Roman rule ended in AD410, the Roman soldiers ‘went home’, but for most of the men stationed at Epiacum, this was their home! Although no more pay packets would arrive from the Empire, it is presumed that many people continued to live locally, perhaps making use of the old Roman buildings within and around the fort for a few generations. The remnants of the army, groups of men well trained and equipped with weapons and based within the old forts, formed the basis for local ‘war bands’ as political turmoil followed the decline of Roman society. This period is what is often referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’, although elsewhere in Northumbria it became a golden age of learning and discovery. Excavations at Birdoswald fort on Hadrian’s Wall have uncovered evidence of a great timber hall within the fort, possibly the headquarters of a local Dark Age war lord. Similar structures may exist at other forts, including Epiacum, but as they were built in timber no sign of them survives above ground.

At Epiacum, we currently have no information about what happened during the Anglo-Saxon centuries, between the end of Roman rule in the early fifth century and the arrival of the Normans after 1066. There may be evidence beneath the turf, but is unlikely to be found without careful excavation. Evidence for activity in the wider Alston Moor landscape is equally elusive, though the original church at Kirkhaugh (not the current church which is much later) may well have been pre-Norman in date. The ancient stone cross in the churchyard is not accurately dated, but may have tenth-century origins.

Many individuals and organisations are involved with the management of Epiacum. We would particularly like to thank the following: Heritage Lottery Fund, North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, Historic England, and Natural England

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All Comments (2)

  • I take it you know about being the latest Last Kingdom book, it will result in at one new set of visitors when we cycle the Tyne Valley

  • Yes it’s quite exciting. Bring the book as it really adds depth to this amazing site. You will be able to conjure up images of what it was like then. Please let us know when you are coming.