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Gildas, The Ruin of Britain &c. (1899).  Preface to the online edition.

The patristic period in Britain ends with the collapse of Roman power, at the end of the 4th century AD.  The circumstances under which this occurred are difficult to make out, and what followed is likewise obscure to us.  The sub-Romano-Britons fought against the invaders whom the legions had kept in check, at first with little success, then with greater force leading to the victory at Mount Badon, some time in the late 5th century.  A generation of peace followed; the barbarian attacks resumed, and the British defence crumbled.  The Britons were expelled into the west, there to become the early Welsh or Cornish, and the invaders created the primitive kingdoms of early Anglo-Saxon England in their place.

One of the casualties of the onset of the Dark Ages was the loss of literacy, and so little of the literature of the time has been preserved for us.  In the chances of the years, the tract or sermon of the monk Gildas, "On the Ruin of Britain", has survived, together with fragments of his letters and a penitential and lorica which may owe something to him.  While Gildas is a medieval figure, rather than a patristic writer, his inclusion in this collection may be justified for the light he throws on the end of the patristic period in Britain.

The first part of his tract outlines recent history, before lambasting the five weak and morally corrupt leaders upon whom the Britons had to depend, and who had so signally failed to carry out their duty to anyone but themselves.  While it was never his purpose to write a history, the destruction of almost all other evidence has left his work of considerable historical importance, albeit his failure to be clear is frustrating.  No doubt his audience knew in great detail the events now mysterious to us; and like the defeated everywhere, did not desire to reminded in detail of the things they strove to forget.

The translations given here are from the Hugh Williams translation of 1899.  This is in two weighty volumes, with massive annotation, all interesting but much of very doubtful relevance.  Most of the notes have been omitted.  In addition I have omitted the medieval Lives of Gildas, as mainly hagiography and of no relevance to this collection.  I understand that a further volume entirely composed of notes exists, but this I have not seen.  A large chunk of notes deals with the type of biblical text used by Gildas; the Vulgate, when he quoted at length, but reverting to the Old Latin when he quoted snippets from memory.  Interesting as these are, again they have been omitted.  The Latin text of Mommsen has been excluded also.


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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2003.  All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
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