Leaving a major political body is nothing new for mainland Britain. In 409AD, more than 350 years after the Roman conquest of 43AD, the island slipped from the control of the Roman Empire. Much like the present Brexit, the process of this secession and its practical impacts on Britain’s population in the early years of the 5th century remain ill-defined.
As with the UK and Brussels, Britain had always been a mixed blessing for Rome. In around 415AD, St Jerome called the island “fertile in tyrants” (meaning usurpers) and late Roman writers portrayed a succession of rebellions in Britain, usually instigated by the army – many of whom would have been born in the province.
Around 407AD, the latest usurper, Constantine III, left Britain, taking the remaining elements of the army with him. The late Roman writer, Zosimus, then wrote that the pressure of Barbarian invaders obliged the British to throw off Roman rule and live “no longer subject to Roman laws but as they themselves pleased”, a phrase guaranteed to warm the heart of any Brexiteer.
This episode, around 409AD, seems to have been the end of Roman government in Britain. No “Romans” left, beyond the small number of soldiers who went to the continent to fight with Constantine III. Instead, the end of Roman Britain was, like the proposed present Brexit, a change in a relationship with a distant administration. But how did this change actually affect the people who lived in the island? And what were the consequences?