Historian Rory Stewart explores the impact of Rome's occupation and tells the story of how the powerful new Kingdom of Northumbria was born in Britain's lost Middleland.
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This is the Solway Firth.
To the north Scotland, to the south, England.
It feels like one of the clearest, most natural frontiers on Earth.
But in fact, it's not.
Borders are fluid, they're always twisting and shifting.
In these two films, I'm going to look at this familiar border
with new eyes.
I'll be asking why the arbitrary line first drawn by the Romans
still cuts Northern Britain in two,
creating two nations, where there might have been three.
And I'll be exploring the forgotten land that lies beneath that
border, stamped out by centuries of English and Scottish Nationalism.
I've walked across frontiers from Iran to Indonesia.
I've worked on some of the most contested
borders in the world, in Iraq, the Balkans, and Afghanistan.
I'm fascinated by how borders are created
and by what they do to people.
Now, I've come home to explore one of the most violent borders
in history, here in the middle of Britain.
On the eve of a Scottish referendum,
it's time to look at this border and find out how it made us who we are.
We've become very used to the border that divides England and Scotland.
But there's another land buried beneath this border,
neither England nor Scotland, but what I call the Middleland.
Stretching from the Humber in the south to the
Firth of Forth in the north.
It's an area of natural geographic unity.
The unique climate and landscape of the Pennines and the Lake District
blends seamlessly into the Scottish Cheviots and the Pentland Hills.
I'm a Scot, but I now live in Cumbria,
35 miles south of the boundary between England and Scotland
where I'm the Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Border.
We're continuing a very, very long tradition here,
back over five generations.
I am surrounded by a Middleland culture.
Many congratulations, Rogan.
Customs and traditions that can be found nowhere else in Britain.
The upland sheep farming life here is identical
on both sides of the border.
I've walked 1,000 miles through these hills and I'm struck
by how distinctive this Middleland landscape is, different from both
the plains of Southern England and the wilderness of Highland Scotland.
The distinctive landscape has produced a unique history
and culture, which still lives on in people like Cumbrian sheep
farmer Willy Tyson.
Yan, tan, tethera, methera, pip, azer, sezar,
aker, dick, yanadick, tanadick, metetheradik,
bumfit, yanabum... We were going too fast.
What language were you speaking, Willy?
Yan Tan Tethera is a Cumbrian version of...
in a dialect of counting sheep.
Yan, tan, tethera, methera, pimp, or pip some people say 'pip'.
Sethera, lethera, hovera, dovera. Dick, is ten.
Then it's yanadick, one and ten, tanadick, thetheradick,
metheradick, bumfit is 15.
Yana bumfit, same again, one
and 15, tanabumfit, tetherabumfit, metherabumfit, gigget is 20.
And once you get to 20, then technology takes over
and you take a stone out of one pocket and put it in the other.
Traces of this ancient Celtic language can still be found
right across the Middleland.
Counting sheep is traditionally a way of going to sleep.
-Oh, I sleep well.
The modern border between England
and Scotland cuts straight through the historic Middleland.
I see this border as a pernicious scar,
first inflicted by the Romans 2,000 years ago.
The building of Hadrian's Wall was the single most important
moment in our history.
Britain is an island whose natural boundaries are the sea.
Suddenly the Romans divided us between a South
and what they called the Barbarian North.
They invented the idea of England and Scotland.
Some academics will disagree with me,
but I believe the story of the division of Britain is
a story with the forgotten Middleland at its heart.
To really understand the story of the Middleland,
and how the border shaped our island, we have to go back
over 2,000 years to a time before the Romans invaded Britain.
Then, this land was scattered with Iron Age tribes whose
identity was shaped by the ground on which they grazed their animals.
Down there in the Eden valley, there's 28 inches of rain a year.
The soil is rich and deep, you can feed a cow off a single acre.
Up here, where I'm standing, the soil is bare and rocky,
water-logged. Reeds grow here.
You could barely feed a cow off ten acres.
Different landscapes, different eco-systems, different tribes.
It reminds me of Afghanistan where I walked in 2002.
Afghanistan is a modern country,
but like Iron Age Britain,
it has no strong central government binding people together.
Almost every village I visited was unique in language,
custom and culture.
So it was in the Middleland when the Romans invaded Britain in 43AD
and tried to impose their values on a fragmented, tribal people.
Here at Butser, on the South Downs, archaeologists have
reconstructed an Iron Age settlement of the pre-Roman period.
Archaeologist Miles Russell, explained to me
what Britain at this time would have looked like.
So, before the Romans arrived,
do you think there would have been a clear dramatic difference
between what we now call Scotland and what we now call England?
No. There's no real diff...
You'd see a difference in material culture, but it's a very
gradual process from highland Scotland to lowland England, because
we're dealing with little patchwork communities here and there.
Boundaries are very much a modern concept, the idea of fixed,
impenetrable borders between one civilisation and another.
Societies then, they're probably living on local resources,
so rivers, hills, things like this are forming
the difference between one farming group and another.
But those boundaries are relatively fluid,
they're changing pretty much all the time.
So if you were a Roman turning up
and seeing this culture coming into a house like this for the first
time, what would be your prejudice as a Roman about a place like this?
I think a Roman coming in here would see this as being
deeply primitive, because they're used to lights,
stone, they're used to painted walls and
nice solid floors and they would see the mud floors, the thatched
roofs, the daubed walls and really the tribal nature of society
itself as being very backwards, very primitive, very barbaric.
So from their point of view, to some extent,
-they're bringing civilisation.
-From the Roman perspective, yes,
they would see that they are bringing civilisation to the savage.
The Romans had met an utterly alien society.
They wanted to control it, tax it, make it more like Rome.
This meant dividing tribes into administrative zones,
with stark lines on a map.
This is a map which is drawn up slightly eccentrically
on the basis of the findings of the Roman geographer Ptolemy.
What you can see is that the Romans, having invaded Britain,
face a bewildering network of relationships and tribes.
And they're trying to pin them down on a map
and draw the boundaries between them.
The native peoples of Britain thought about themselves
in a quite different way, almost magically.
The Lugi, for example, seems to mean the Raven people.
The Carvetti, near my cottage in Cumbria, means the deer people.
These seem to be almost animal,
totem names, names like those of the native peoples of North America.
In the years that followed the Roman invasion, many of the tribal
chiefs of Southern Britain seemed to embrace Roman civilisation.
From Libya to London, Rome reproduced itself.
The identical columns, temples, courtyards,
bathhouses, all of it part of a vast global economy
controlled by the central, Roman state.
At Bath, the Romans created aqueducts to channel water
from hot springs, installed underfloor heating
and used lead to line spectacular bathing pools.
Imagine what it must have been like for a Briton to encounter Rome for
the first time, when they'd never seen writing, or a stone building
or a city, when they'd never had the luxury of a hot bath like this.
There was resistance,
most famously led by the warrior queen, Boudicca...
..but the Roman historian Tacitus describes how many
people in the South were keen to imitate Roman culture.
HE READS IN LATIN
And so the Britons were drawn
into tempting vices, porticoes, baths, sumptuous entertainments.
In their innocence, they called it civilisation,
but in fact it was the chains of their slavery.
Rome was the largest empire the western world had ever seen.
By the time they invaded Britain, they had been
expanding for 400 years, and they had no intention of stopping.
The Romans saw Britain as a single island,
whose natural boundaries were the sea, and they wanted it all.
On the south coast, where tribes were largely
centralised in hill forts, the Roman conquest had been relatively easy.
But in the rugged hills of the Middleland,
tribes in isolated homesteads operated in a very alien landscape.
The Romans pushed north through the Middleland to the
point where the lowlands meet the Highlands.
Here, they built a string of forts on the Gask Ridge.
They saw it only as a temporary stop,
but it was here that Rome discovered its limits.
Some say the problem was simply lack of troops.
But I think the problem was culture and geography.
This is the Sma' Glen.
It's the very northern edge of the empire.
Here, Rome ground to a halt. And you can see why.
This is the place of the guerrilla tactics of the highlanders,
a place where you go into a hidden valley
and every ridge line is a potential ambush.
A place where you might be able to win every battle,
but you can never win the war.
And where, in the end, Rome controlled little more than
a few metres around the edge of their camp.
The Romans spent decades fighting on this frontier,
but they failed to turn the Highlanders into Roman citizens.
I believe that our own experience in Afghanistan can help us
understand the challenge of trying to control an alien culture.
Major Martin Hedley was based at a forward operating
base at Musa Qala in Helmand in 2009.
It was on a rocky outcrop looking over
sort of the valley bottom, quite a spectacular panorama.
You could see the day-to-day life of the entire
population down below you.
If you were to ask a young soldier what would have been their
sense of the civilian settlement from the walls of the fort?
They would see a culture that was at least 100 or 150 years,
sort of, I hesitate to say the word backwards,
but less developed than what they'd come from. In our case, mostly
young men from the various cities around the UK, from Manchester,
Newcastle, London and Birmingham
and so they were very different worlds.
It was at times quite a lonely existence.
And to turn it around,
if you were an Afghan farmer looking up at the fort, what do you think
they would have felt about these people sitting on top of the hill?
I mean, they'd have seen one of the best-equipped
armed forces in the world.
Weapons at every corner, antennas everywhere, helicopters
dropping off re-supplies, be it ammunition, water.
They'd see a lot of coming and going and then quite often, first
they would know that something was happening on the other side of the
valley would be...
We would be firing in support of troops on the ground.
In spite of their immense resources,
NATO failed to win a decisive victory in Afghanistan.
So too, Rome was unable to subjugate a fluid tribal society.
After the loss of blood and treasure,
failure must have seemed inconceivable.
But ultimately, the Emperor Hadrian withdrew his troops.
It's incredibly difficult for an empire to
admit that there are things that it cannot do.
That it's failed.
And yet the Emperor Hadrian had the confidence to publicly
acknowledge that Rome had limits, that there were places it was
never going to be able to control.
Here at Bridgeness on the Firth of Forth,
30 miles south of the Gask Ridge, a Roman monument was found.
This replica shows Rome's attitude towards the native tribes
whom it was trying, and failing, to conquer.
This shows a Roman cavalry man riding down naked, headless
barbarians or Britons.
I visited the Bridgeness Miners Welfare Club
across the road to find out whether this history of resistance
to the Romans contributes to a modern sense of national identity.
-Push it! Push it!
-Oh! Oh! Yes!
Look at that!
Do you think, I mean,
in that stone, the way that the Romans made themselves look in
that stone, so you've got the Roman cavalry man on the thing and then
he's made everyone else look like a bunch of naked heathens underneath.
That was what they were trying to convey, anybody that wasn't Roman
or part of the Roman Empire were some way inferior, basic savages.
Presumably, it's actually a bit of propaganda. They probably weren't
like that, the Romans are just trying to make it look like that.
Yeah, absolutely. I don't suppose they were totally barbarous,
but the Romans didn't want to convey that impression at all
and they were here to civilise us, yeah, yeah.
-I'm not sure if they succeeded.
And do you think that still, today, it gives people in Scotland
a sense of pride that Rome was not able to conquer Scotland?
It was great that Scotland was the point where the Romans
got no further.
I kind of feel, yeah, we held them back, you know, they didn't get
past us. As it says in the song, we sent them homeward to think again.
So there is a wee bit of that kind of feeling, you know.
In my heart I'm a nationalist, yes.
Is your nationalism related to your interest in history?
Partially, partially, yeah.
I don't think you can be a Scottish nationalist without having a little
bit in your soul that links you to the land
and where you come from. Yeah.
Having withdrawn from the Highlands,
the Emperor Hadrian now made a decision that would have
devastating consequences for the people of the Middleland.
The Emperor Hadrian chose to draw a completely arbitrary straight line
connecting the short points between the Tyne
and the Solway, from Newcastle to Carlisle.
It's estimated that Hadrian's Wall took 10,000 soldiers
five years to build, and stood roughly five-metres tall.
It followed an existing military supply road.
It made practical sense to the Romans, but it tore straight
through ancient tribal territories, cutting the Middleland in two.
This was the blunt, straight edge of Empire.
It reminds me of the way in which British
and French diplomats carved up Arab peoples after World War I.
Arbitrary borders drawn with a ruler dividing tribes.
It created a century of conflict and political turbulence.
In the same way, the line drawn by Hadrian transformed Britain.
From that moment onwards, if you were on this side of the wall,
you were Rome and part of a civilisation stretching back
over two and a half million square miles.
One millimetre over on the other side of the wall
and suddenly you are a barbarian.
Hadrian's Wall was part of a chain of fortifications constructed around
the Empire running through Germany, North Africa and the Middle East.
In 2009, I visited a Roman frontier fort at Azraq, in Jordan.
There, a border made some geographic sense.
Beyond its walls were thousands of miles of desert.
But there was no such geographic logic to this wall.
They had created the strangest frontier in the Roman Empire.
And by doing so, they had invented on the other side,
a rogue state, and a permanent threat.
The Romans now faced a guerrilla war to the north, and disaffected
tribes in the Middleland who they treated with contempt.
The Roman soldiers referred to the local population as Brittunculi.
It's a very dismissive term. It means nasty little Brits.
And we know this because of hand-written Roman military
documents which have been dug out of the soil.
Other artefacts dug up here at Vindolanda Fort
bear witness to the lifestyle imported from Rome.
Luxuries that would have astounded local Britons in their earth houses.
It's a bit like bringing your family silver to a forward operating
base in Afghanistan.
I saw the same surreal gap between cultures in Iraq, when I served
as a deputy-governor following the Allied invasion in 2003.
The US forces created a little bubble of America in the desert,
sealing themselves off from the local people.
One base I visited felt almost like an American shopping mall.
There was even a fake Bedouin tent for souvenir photos.
Our insulated lives prevented us completely from understanding
the local culture on the other side of the compound walls.
The Romans depicted the local Britons on their sculpture
as naked, hairy savages, primitive and expendable.
Recent excavations suggest that Rome began clearing large areas around
the eastern section of the wall, forcing families to become refugees.
In modern language, it was almost ethnic cleansing.
Archaeologist Andrew Birley has pieced together how
it may have happened.
What the Romans are very good at is just picking
up people and completely relocating them somewhere completely
alien from where they've grown-up and where they're connected to.
So people are moved out of the
immediate vicinity of Hadrian's Wall.
What would have happened if you'd said no? I'm going to stay.
-I'm not going to move.
-You've got two potential scenarios.
You've got a scenario where they come in with a sword,
and say get out.
And the other scenario is they pick people up and say,
I'm sorry, we need that landscape, we need the land,
we're not going to compensate you, as such, but you can if you wish,
relocate to somewhere completely different within the Roman Empire.
What happens if I say no, I want to stay here?
Then you are forcibly removed.
We've got evidence of people being killed
and pushed into the fort ditches.
We've also got evidence of a local man who's been killed,
his head's been mounted on a spike on the ramparts,
sending out a very vivid message, look, behave yourselves.
This is what happens to people who don't fully listen to Roman
rule and don't participate.
Golf, india, kilo, confirm routing as far
as Barden Mill, Hadrian's Wall, not above altitude 2,000 feet.
Archaeologist David Wooliscroft showed me how the
semi-depopulated Middleland served the needs of the Roman military.
What can we see from the sky that shows the extent of this
Roman militarised zone?
There's the big garrison, Fort Birdoswald, all along
the line and stretched out between those in smaller numbers,
every third of a mile is a watchtower,
every mile is one of these little fortlets.
The cleared landscape enabled the Roman garrisons to
communicate with speed and efficiency.
We found that every single mile castle
and turret can directly see a fort.
So, David, is there any way of giving a sense today of what
Roman signalling might have been like?
Well, actually, we've got a classic example. We see
a column of smoke coming from what looks to be quite a small bonfire.
And how long would it take you to get a signal from the wall back?
Basically these things are speed of light
communications like radio, it's just visual instead of radio.
It's near instantaneous.
Some historians have argued that Hadrian's Wall was little
more than a customs barrier,
controlling the population with a relatively light touch.
But I disagree.
Any Middlelander attempting to cross the frontier to reconnect with other
parts of his family, for example, would face a lethal obstacle course.
First he would have to get past the outposts.
Then down a ditch filled with thorns and spikes,
and up the other side.
Then up a 15 foot wall.
You've got behind you, a turret every 300 yards.
You reach the bottom, you're running up a mound.
Then you're crossing up to half a mile of open ground
and a military road.
You're coming up seven foot, down seven foot,
down another ten foot
and then you're up at least 17 feet on the other side.
There's a manned watch turret every 300 yards.
This area is packed with 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers.
Some scholars today say that this area was some
permeable trading zone.
For me, it was the Berlin Wall.
Like Hadrian's Wall, the Berlin Wall split communities in two.
When it came down after 28 years, families were reunited
and a unified Germany was built.
But Hadrian's Wall stood for 300 years.
And I believe this left an indelible mark on the British psyche.
By 197AD, the island of Britain was divided not just into two,
but into three separate areas.
and the northern Middleland were free from Roman rule.
The south, known as Britannia Superior,
had a prosperous civilian government.
And the Middleland south of Hadrian's Wall,
was known as Britannia Inferior and was under strict martial law.
Where the south had had palaces, cities and baths,
the Middleland got barracks and military infrastructure.
In only two generations, the rural landscape
of the Iron-Age herdsmen, known as the deer people,
was transformed into a vast military-industrial zone.
But in spite of Rome's military prowess,
the conflict north of the wall continued.
For the next two centuries,
Rome poured resources into the Middleland,
maintaining about 30,000 troops from across the Empire.
This is the reconstructed front gate
of a massive Roman fort and supply base.
There were many of these scattered right along Hadrian's Wall,
manned by Scythian archers, by people from North Africa.
This fort, we believe, was called Arbeia,
from the Arabic "El-Beit Arbeia" - the Place Of The Arabs.
'Here at Arbeia, near Jarrow on Tyne,
'the commanding officer's quarters has been reconstructed.
'Rome's elite lived in luxury, but it was a society where any race
'could rise to the top, provided they accepted Roman civilisation.'
They found this tombstone here
and, when you look at it first, you see a Roman lounging on a couch.
Look a little bit more carefully and you see the whole thing
is in the style of the eastern edge of the Roman Empire
and then you begin to read your way along the text at the bottom
and it reveals that this is Victor, from the Moorish nation,
from what we would now call North Africa,
that he used to be a slave, that he has been freed
and that this has been put up by his master and friend,
who is a Spanish cavalryman.
For more than 200 years, the land around Hadrian's Wall
teemed with officers, soldiers and slaves
from the Mediterranean and the Near East,
thrown together by the needs of empire.
Sustaining this vast, multi-national force
transformed the economy of the Middleland.
This is the granary of a Roman fort - better built in many ways
than the accommodation in which they put the soldiers.
And you can see why.
Because, in the end, an army of occupation is about supply.
It's been calculated that it could take, every year,
up to 5,000 pigs, 5,000 sheep
and nearly 20,000 tonnes of wheat and barley,
packed high in granaries like this,
to keep it dry from the foul British weather,
just to feed the army.
Supplies were shipped in from all around the Empire.
I believe this damaged indigenous production
and made the British economy completely dependent on Rome.
But in spite of the colossal expenditure
that Rome sunk into building a Roman-style state,
by the beginning of the fifth century,
they realised the game was up.
Throughout history, empires have hoped that they can invade
another country, hand over to a civilian government
and, having won a decisive victory, get the troops home.
Sometimes, it doesn't work out.
'As a deputy-governor in Iraq,
'I was part of an attempt by Western governments
'to bring a new democracy to the country.
'We worked hard trying to hold elections and establish security.'
And from this day is the real beginning
of the transition to a free, independent Iraq.
'And yet, outside the compound, we were facing an insurgency.
'I was under siege, with rockets and mortar shells flying in.
'But the problems went deeper than war.
'By the time we left, we'd failed to build a credible state structure
'which could prosper without us.'
After four centuries, the whole Roman administration in Britain
packed up and returned home.
The consequences were devastating.
When the Roman soldiers left in 400,
Britain's economy and civilisation collapsed.
The daily rituals of bathing ceased,
people forgot how to construct stone buildings, London was abandoned,
people ceased to read or write.
It was like a nuclear winter.
The frontier zone in the Middleland was the worst hit
because it was completely dependent on the military.
Here, for 300 years,
Rome had played tribe against tribe, sustaining them with Roman silver,
and now, livelihoods vanished overnight.
For the Romans who stayed on here,
defending themselves in crumbling forts along the wall,
all they had once taken for granted -
a salary, a legal system, security - was rapidly disintegrating.
Sewage and drainage systems backed up,
the coinage ceased to come in from Rome,
until, eventually, huddled in the corner
of what had been a Roman fort,
people having forgotten how to even make stone buildings,
they constructed a timber hall.
The officers of the Roman Empire in a post-apocalyptic world,
reduced to local warlords.
The Middleland now became
what people today might call "an ungoverned space",
a place where warlords and gangsters fought over
what remained of the Roman state.
It was not unlike the situation in Afghanistan
after the Soviets left in 1989.
There, rival Mujahideen stepped into the vacuum,
tipping the country into civil war.
And there's a risk that the same may happen again today
when NATO troops leave Afghanistan.
This fractured, violent society has left little trace in archaeology,
but it has been preserved in myth and legend.
Using the poetry of ancient bards, Dr Tim Clarkson has tried
to build a picture of the men who ruled the Middleland at this time.
As far as we know, these kings established small kingdoms
in what is now northern England and southern Scotland.
And they appear to have been warlords
who started off with quite small territories
and then expanded these territories into what were independent kingdoms,
a kind of patchwork quilt of kingdoms.
And who were these bards?
The bards were the spin-doctors or PR men for the kings of this period.
The job of the bard was to recite poetry or sing songs
which told of the achievements of the king -
how many victories he had won in warfare
and how much wealth he had gained on his cattle raids.
And the bard would stand in the great feasting hall
of the kingdom and recite these poems and songs
to all the assembled warriors and courtiers.
My home in Cumbria was once part of
a post-Roman territory called Rheged.
Bards celebrated this culture
in the old Celtic language of the Middleland
and their songs are still sung in the Yanwath Gate Inn near Penrith.
This is the old land of Rheged, where we are here tonight.
I'm here to perform for you a song of praise
for a man called Urien, Urien, King of Rheged.
And the original language,
or an EARLY language of this place was Welsh.
So this song of praise is in Welsh.
IN TRANSLATION FROM WELSH:
'Kings like Urien have become
'legendary heroes in Celtic mythology.
'We know very, very little about them,
'but they remind me less of heroes and more of Balkan strongmen
'thriving on the collapse of the state.'
The sixth-century cleric Gildas wrote of this time,
"Britain has kings, but they are tyrants.
"She has judges, but they are unjust,
"often engaged in plunder and always preying on the innocent.
"They make war, but their wars are against their own countrymen,
"they sit at table with robbers
"and they not only cherish, but reward, them."
After the fall of Rome,
kings like this dominated the Middleland for over a century.
Then, in the sixth century, here on Bamburgh Beach,
a new band of fighters landed and threw themselves into the Civil War.
They were Angles,
a pagan Germanic people from outside the edge of the old Roman Empire.
This is the beachhead captured by sea-raiding Angles.
From the site here at Bamburgh Castle,
they launched themselves to capture a kingdom.
They were pagan warriors entering the Roman frontier zone,
a place quite unlike the south.
They were battling Picts and Scots and Cumbrian heroes,
but the heathen Angles won.
In spite of stiff opposition,
the Angles moved through the Middleland
consolidating their power.
They created a massive new kingdom, which, at its height, encompassed
almost all of the Scottish lowlands and northern England.
Because it lay north of the River Humber,
they called it "North-Humbria".
The Angles were seen by contemporaries
as violent barbarians, illiterate pirates who worshiped heathen gods.
But then the Middleland took an extraordinary turn.
Within two generations,
these pagan warriors had been converted to Christianity.
The Middleland was producing the greatest art, spirituality
and scholarship in the whole of Europe.
How did this happen?
The Christian Church had flourished in most of continental Europe
by grafting seamlessly onto the civilian structure of Roman cities.
But the Middleland was different.
Rural and still largely pagan,
it became a target for missionaries from across the Christian world,
sent from Ireland and from the popes in Rome.
They converged on the holy isle of Lindisfarne.
First to arrive were the Irish,
hermits travelling only on foot, whose staggering asceticism
and spirituality was ideally suited to the wilderness of the Middleland.
The austerity of the Irish monks
was diametrically opposed to the values
of the more worldly priests from the former Roman Empire.
One man would become almost the embodiment
of this Celtic Christian ideal.
That man was St Cuthbert, an Anglo-Saxon monk,
born in what is now Scotland, dying in what is now England.
Cuthbert, who became bishop here in 685,
took the Irish ascetic ideal to its extreme,
choosing a way of life that could not have been more different
from the Roman bishops in their palaces.
He moved to live and suffer alone on the tiny Inner Farne island.
There, he was steeped in a Celtic world
tinged with an almost-pagan love of animals.
He communed with ravens and sparrows. He was fed by sea eagles.
And when the saint spent all night praying, up to his neck in water,
the otters came at first light to lick the frozen saint back to life.
'The struggle for power
'between the Irish Celtic monks and the priests from Rome
'COULD have crippled the new kingdom.
'But the Middleland was a frontier
'with a history of combining very different traditions.'
At heart, St Cuthbert was a hermit.
But he also acknowledged he was part of
a greater European civilisation - the legacy of Rome.
He died encouraging his disciples to follow the church at Rome.
The rigorous monastic life, which combined Celtic austerity
with classical scholarship and art from Rome, bore rich fruit.
A vigorous new Christian culture burst forth
here in Northumbria in the seventh century.
It was most famously reflected in the Lindisfarne Gospels
with their beautiful fusion of Celtic and Roman Christian symbols,
so that anyone who looked at them - Angle or Celt -
would see something of their culture in its illuminated pages.
It's become known as the Golden Age of Northumbria
and it was driven by monks who were venerated in their own lifetime,
saints like Aidan, Cuthbert and Bede.
The Northumbrian Golden Age was the product of monasteries.
We should think of it almost as a Tibet -
a culture, a landscape dominated by monks.
We're tempted to see these men
as scholars, as artists, administrators,
but, in fact, they were disciplining and punishing their bodies,
fighting hour by hour against sin and death,
questing painfully for God.
The Benedictine monastery
at Pluscarden in the county of Moray
is a medieval monastery where monks still practise
a life similar to that followed by the Northumbrian monks.
Here, physical labour, study and reflection
are all built around a daily routine of prayer.
Brother Bede has followed the discipline of monastic life
for more than 30 years.
People would see it as a hard life and maybe even...almost...
a boxed-in life,
but, in fact, it's a focused, structured, simple life to free you
so that you're free to think of God and of human beings.
What was it that drew so many people to be monks at that period?
The huge growth of monasticism in Northumbria
was probably due to what humanly would be called success.
People who had lived this life
and lived it well became saints.
Therefore, other people were influenced by that.
Just like the modern culture of fame and fortune,
this success in the spiritual world made people want that,
it made civilisation.
You go to Northumbria today, you might not recognise it,
but it's still built on those people,
it's built on Aidan, Cuthbert and Bede.
It's still there.
Brother Bede's life is dedicated to
the spiritual teaching of his namesake, St Bede.
And understanding the role of Bede is the key to understanding
what made the Golden Age of Northumbria
so important in the history of the Middleland.
Bede grew up near Jarrow on the River Tyne.
In a region more often associated with shipyards and protest marches,
archaeologists have recreated the world in which Bede was raised.
This is the world from which Bede came.
It's a Middleland, which is almost as though Rome was never here -
a world of smoky fires, of thatched roofs.
A place where they would have been very aware of the cold outside,
of their livestock.
Living a life which, to be blunt, was a pagan, illiterate world,
and yet from it came the greatest civilisation in Europe at its time
and Bede, who grew up in a place like this,
was at the very, very centre of it.
Bede was a genius -
historian, theologian, linguist, natural scientist.
900 years before Isaac Newton, he worked out
that the tides were influenced by the motion of the moon.
And whenever, today, you open a calendar or a history book
or an atlas, you are following unconsciously
in the footsteps of Bede.
At the heart of Bede's great learning
was a profound spirituality.
At St Paul's church in Jarrow,
you can still see the site of Bede's monastery...
..and his original seventh-century church, which is now a chancel.
'The monks here and at nearby Wearmouth,
'brought in masons and glaziers from the continent
'to design a church on par with anything in Europe.
'Some of the seventh-century window glass has been recovered
'and reset in one of the church's original windows.'
So I am sitting here, literally looking at the stones
and the glass that Bede would have seen as he came in to pray.
Day after day, he barely left
this pair of monasteries in his whole life
and it was something that is so difficult for us to understand.
It was the university of the age,
it was the technical school of the age,
it was the printing press of the age - well, the ancient equivalent -
although everything, all these manuscripts,
were written by hand and it was so cold that the monks say,
during the Northumbrian winters,
that they just can't produce any more manuscripts
because their hands are frozen.
It is also a place of great spirituality.
This is Bede's Ecclesiastical History
and in it, he describes how the life of man
is like a sparrow flying out of a hailstorm of a Northumbrian winter,
coming briefly into a lighted, warm hall
and then out again, into the winter.
He says here, "Ita haec vita hominum,"
this is what the life of man is like,
where we come from, we have no idea
and where we are going, we don't know.
'Professor Rosemary Cramp has worked on this site for 50 years.
'She sees it not just as a relic
'of the first great unified culture of the Middleland,
'but as a tribute to the people
'who put the Middleland at the very centre of European civilisation.'
We are very lucky here in having
an almost complete seventh-century church.
So, really, for 200 years
since the Romans left, they hadn't really built stone buildings?
No, no. I mean, there were many timber buildings
in the Roman period, too, but it wasn't
a natural building material for the Britons or the Saxons.
And so this must have been incredibly impressive and new.
And so what do you think makes the Northumbrian Golden Age
something that we should be proud of?
I think we should be proud that, in such a short period of time,
from being people who were illiterate,
they became one of the major forces in Europe.
Importing crafts like mortared stone, glazing,
higher-grade metal work, they transformed their region.
And they also sent out, of course, missionaries to the continent.
So, within that short generation,
they'd changed from pagans in wooden houses
to people who could hold their heads up in Europe
and, in fact, civilise it.
And how does this happen
in such an unpromising, cold, northern landscape?
Because it had people who had wealth and who had an inspiration
and they wished to bring back to the North,
or bring to the North, perhaps, for the first time,
something that was in the Roman tradition.
And so the idea of Rome
is almost a sort of global, universal vision?
Yes, yes, indeed.
Rome was the centre of a new universe, a new Jerusalem,
something that transcends borders
and gives you a glimpse of the wider world.
'Bede's civilisation existed
'as much in modern Scotland as in modern England.
'But Hadrian's ancient wall still loomed large
'across the Northumbrian landscape
'and it fascinated Bede and his contemporaries.
'For the Angles, the wall symbolised, not division,
'but the link to Rome, which was at the heart of their civilisation.
'Along the wall, the Roman forts
'now became the sites for new Christian churches and monasteries.'
This is Hexham in the Tyne Valley,
just a few miles from Hadrian's Wall,
and it's a microcosm of Middleland history.
I often find it difficult, in a modern British high street,
to really get a sense of the past, but here in the Middleland
it is there, you can trace it - a glimpse of a Roman stone
with an inscription, a street pattern
that the Vikings might have seen,
perhaps the sound from a church
echoing with centuries of Middleland history.
Despite being repeatedly looted and burned in the Middle Ages
by warring English and Scottish nationalists,
there are still traces here of a once-vibrant
Northumbrian Middleland culture.
Hexham Abbey was founded by the Northumbrian St Wilfrid in 675.
Although the current abbey dates mostly from the Middle Ages,
beneath it lies the remnant of a much older building,
built at the time of Cuthbert and Bede.
This is the crypt, all that remains of the Northumbrian Hexham Abbey.
Bede and the Northumbrians were fascinated
by the Roman ruins that surrounded them.
They wanted to rebuild the glory of Rome in the Middleland.
The very stones here at Hexham Abbey are taken from Hadrian's Wall
and the Roman forts just three miles away.
And, as the Anglo Saxons wrote of these Roman walls,
"Wraetlic is yes wealstan."
"Wondrous is this wall-stone, shattered by fate.
"This wall, grey with lichen and red-hued,
"has withstood storms and survived many kingdoms.
"Its mighty builders have perished
and yet this wall-stone stands."
'The Roman wall that had divided the Middleland for centuries
'had now become a source of unity and inspiration.'
A Middleland defined by violence and frontier conflict
had become a great place of prayer, of art, of learning and of peace.
For centuries, this Middleland flourished in a golden age
on both sides of the wall.
But it wouldn't last.
The trauma of the line of the Roman wall
was seared into the minds of the people.
The border would return.
'In the second film, I will be exploring
'the next bloody chapter in the story of the Middleland.
'Within a century, the incredible,
'sophisticated civilisation of Northumbria would be wiped out
'and the Middleland would be struggling for survival
'in the face of a rising English and Scottish nationalism.'
For historian and MP Rory Stewart, the building of Hadrian's Wall was the single most important event in Britain's history. Meeting experts and local people, and drawing on memories from his life in Iraq and Afghanistan, he explores the impact of Rome's occupation and departure, and tells the story of how the powerful new Kingdom of Northumbria was born in Britain's lost Middleland.