End-of-days rhetoric has dominated the nation’s talks on the recent lifting of sanctions on movement of Romanians and Bulgarians across the EU. Tabloids and their online counterparts, in the run up to New Year’s Day when the controls were lifted, preyed upon the nation’s fears of Britain being overrun by Eastern Europeans grasping hungrily for a way of life we Britons are ‘owed’ by merit of being born into this country.
Once Judgement Day arrived and went without any tsunami-like waves of migrants smashing into British border control, the MailOnline still sought to keep the fear factor high. Hyperbole, the strongest addition to the scaremonger’s bow, would continue to rear its ugly head even after this had all proved to be part of the media’s wild goose chase.
The Mail Online: Guilty of scaremongering…
The British cleric Gildas (died c. 570 AD) commanded similar levels of hysteria; in reporting the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons to Britain in c.449 AD and the dissolution of the Roman authority, Gildas used apocalyptic narrative to explain how the absence of godliness and arrival of a pagan peoples were displacing the known way of life. As a monastic figure, his intention was primarily to document the dissipation of the Church against a heathen influx, but the lessons to be learned from his fearmongering should still speak to the modern reader.
The statue of Gildas in France.
For one, Gildas knew that his fire and brimstone approach would garner a reaction. Even to this day, Anglo-Saxon historians argue whether Gildas’s de Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (“On The Ruin and Conquest of Britain) should carry any weight as a historical source because of how violently polemical it is (his Anglo-Saxons were called the “germ of iniquity and root of contention”). By that measure, anyone seeking to use The Sun as a balanced perspective on this latest influx of migrations should be careful. Aggression and posturing, you see, is still a tool deployed liberally. Even if Gildas wasn’t one of the only contemporaneous sources on the adventus Saxonum, he would still be talked about for the outraged fury that seethes within his invective.
Secondly, whilst Gildas’s de Excidio was written in Latin and therefore only available to the clerical and learned stratum to which he was writing, his use of rhetoric plays up to the idea of ‘us versus them’, a feature prevalent amongst contemporary media. Centuries before the concept of a nation was born in Albion, Gildas’s terminology smoulders with a proto-nationalism that refuses to see any benefit that an unfamiliar “gentes” (people) has brought to his land.
“… the arrival of the Angles and the Saxons was a piecemeal affair, with Germanic elites stepping into leadership roles that had remained unfilled since the departure of the Romans.”
Then there’s the actual outcome of Gildas’s adventus Saxonum. Gildas speaks of the remnants of his land and people, the remaining Romano-British, who either fell at the swords of the Saxons or were captured “to be their slaves forever.” Gildas posits the concept of displacement, almost an entire people driven from England or culled in a terrible genocide. Archaeological and ethnological evidence refutes this, pointing to the likelihood of a displacement of culture, as opposed to a race. The British’s early concepts of Christianity, their tentative culture based on centuries of Celtic cultivation became woven into the histories of Wales, Ireland, the kingdoms of Cornwall and Brittany. Archaeology would indicate that the arrival of the Angles and the Saxons was a piecemeal affair, with Germanic elites stepping into leadership roles that had remained unfilled since the departure of the Romans.
It would be a stretch and a piece of historical engineering to match middle-England’s response to Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants to Gildas’s reaction to the hordes of Germanic barbarians, but there is something of note here. Prideful British, so relentlessly desperate to hold onto their culture and their known way of life, shouldn’t, as Gildas did, fear the replacement of race or their identity. It would be more pertinent to spot the dangerous sowers of fear that are so unwittingly like the deliberately vague and inaccurate British cleric.