Saxon Bath: The Legacy of Rome and the Saxon Rebirth

In 1984 Barry Cunliffe summarised what was known of Saxon Bath with his customary scholarship and insight.(1) However, the intervening years have brought a crop of fresh perspectives nationally and new discoveries locally. That must be my excuse for trampling the footsteps of a master. There has been a growing realisation that the Romano-British way of life did not vanish overnight. Britannia was part of the Roman Empire for 400 years, so it is scarcely surprising that elements of Roman culture were absorbed and became part of the British sense of identity. One such element was Christianity. By the time Britannia became independent in 410 Christianity had been the state religion for nearly twenty years. Evidence is mounting of its survival in the Bath region. The survival of Roman cantonal boundaries is even more significant for local history. That made Bath a frontier town. In the long run the benefits of that precarious position outweighed the dangers. In war a refuge, in peace a market, Bath throve as a border crossing. Recognition of the Avon as an early frontier alters our view of Bath's hinterland. Instead of a Roman estate cocooning the city on both sides of the Avon, which survived into Saxon times,(2) picture a town thrust out under the eyes of the enemy, with its hinterland fanning out behind it. Only in the eighth century did Bath Abbey gain land south of the Avon.

[Readers simply looking for Mount Badon was not Bath can go straight to Gildas.]

First published in Bath History vol. 7 (1998).


  1. B.Cunliffe, 'Saxon Bath', in J.Haslam ed., Anglo-Saxon Towns in Southern England (Chichester, 1984), pp.345-58.
  2. M.Aston, 'The Bath region from late prehistory to the Middle Ages', Bath History Vol.1 (1986), 73-8; A.J.Keevil, 'The Barton of Bath', Bath History Vol.6 (1996), 26-7.