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The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650 (Phoenix Press) Paperback – December 31, 2001

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Product Details

  • Series: Phoenix Press
  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; Pbk. ed edition (December 31, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842124773
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842124772
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,018,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

John Morris was the first professional historian to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the scattered evidence concerning the infant years of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, their influence on each other and their relationship with Europe. The Age of Arthur is now the classic account of the British Isles from the fourth to the seventh centuries. Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at University College, London, the late Dr John Morris founded the journal Past and Present in 1952 and was its first editor. He initiated a major new edition of the Doomsday Book and, with A.H.M. Jones, the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. His last book, Londinium: London in the Roman Empire, was published in 1982.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By JR Pinto on April 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
John Morris's The Age of Arthur is an excellent reference guide for anyone interested in the historical Arthur, or the Dark Ages in general. It's as old as I am and I found it in a used book shop. At more than six-hundred pages, it is incredibly detailed and a bit hard to read cover-to-cover, but you can get the gist of it with some judicious skipping.
Some historians may have trouble with the conclusions that Morris draws. He relies heavily on folklore as his source. His thinking is, if there's smoke there's fire - if all these chroniclers write about a King Arthur who lived during the time of their fathers, then there's probably some truth to it.
As far as I can tell, the majority of historians (including Simon Schama) believe that there was a warlord named Arthur - he was the last Brit to fight off the Saxon hoards. The details of his life and the character of the man are unknowable. Morris would agree with that - he doesn't give us details of Arthur's life. There are snippets provided from historical writings - some of which portray Arthur as a tyrant. There is a Vortigern in this book, but no Merlin. Who knows how true Morris's assertions are, but in all fairness, like Herodotus, he does provide his source materials so you can make up your own mind.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Caleb Hanson on April 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
The subtitle is a much better indicator of this book than is the title: it is a history of the British Isles, including Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and also Brittany, during this period (more like 400-700, actually) in the context of contemporary continental history and the history of religion, particularly the rise of monasticism; it is not especially about King Arthur. (I got the book many years ago and have tried several times to read it for the history of Arthur himself, unsuccessfully. I went back to it now after my recent studies of continental Late Antiquity/Dark Ages, and got a lot more out of it.)

On the other hand, the title proper does give warning of the book's main weakness: Morris approaches the period with some very old-fashioned ideas. He takes for granted the existance of a real historical King Arthur, for instance, despite a lack of much to actually say about him. When he covers Germanic peoples settling in Roman territory in Gaul, his language is all conquest and occupation, not hospitalitas and Roman policy. He is very happy to be cozily English.

And when Morris tries to propose a new, revisionist interpretation, he does it in some of the oddest places: Geoffrey of Monmouth was just kidding! His history of King Arthur was a parody, a joke that got out of hand, never meant to be taken seriously! The legend of Arthur that grew up from reading Geoffrey was, according to Morris, like treating "1066 and All That" as a straight textbook. (I'd be more willing to entertain this analogy if he took the trouble to get Sellar's and Yeatman's names right--he calls them Selman and Yeats.)

The material on Ireland and the North was new to me, readable and interesting; the back matter is full of useful-looking documentation and lists of sources. Sadly, I just don't know how far I can trust it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By SH on May 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
The style of writing is odd. Sentences are terse and paragraphs do not flow, particularly the clarity of pronoun references. It attempts to be chronological but moves up in time and then returns. I find myself armed with my Kindle researching names to see if there is accord on persons and dates. He assumes the reader understands the fall of the Roman empire. What is fascinating are the portraits of the transition between empire into dissolution and fiefdoms. Bringing the militaristic Germanic tribes to 'save' the native 'Britains' and then letting the 'immigrants' stay and prosper was fascinating. The letter from Rome telling them there was no money for military support was a pivotal point in world history. The book is full of choice details I have marked for further research. There is even a reference to climate change during this time period, a topic about which I found a Harvard paper written in 2012. Perhaps Morris who appears to be reviled in some circles will be revisited with more research. I bought this book new when it was first published and am rereading it because there may be parallels to today's world.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jack D White Jr on December 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
I, for one, am happy to see this work back in print. As others have noted, Morris weaves a grand tapestry from a few threads; but what a tapestry! He guesses, he extrapolates, he leaps, over evidentiary chasms at which more cautious historians blanche, to conclusions. Bully for him. Read it together with more cautious historians such as Salway and Wachter, and have fun.
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