Series in which Sam Willis reveals a story of invasion in Britain spanning thousands of years. He fells a tree with a flint axe and gets to grips with Viking boat technology.
Browse content similar to Episode 1. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This is the story of the invasions of the British Isles.
It's the story of the enemies we feared,
it's the story of the fear of invasion itself,
and of the idea that we Britons are somehow unique.
There have been battles for Britain for millennia,
from weapons like these Hurricanes to sticks and stone axes.
Invasions come in many forms - mass migration,
immigrants bringing ideas and religions.
All have shaped Britain and made it what it is.
The farming invasion.
A fashion invasion.
The foodie invasion.
There is the Roman, Saxon, and Viking invasions.
And it's not even 1066 yet.
We love to believe in the island fortress.
Shakespeare wrote of "This royal throne of kings,
"this sceptred isle".
In Rule Britannia, we've never been defeated.
Churchill called us the island race.
It's a story we all tell ourselves,
but we all descend from people who came here from elsewhere.
For one reason or another.
This gap between that myth and the reality is a captivating tale,
and it starts with the first people who came to Britain
at a time when you could just walk right in.
There was no continuous habitation of the British Isles
until 12,000 years ago.
Hunter-gatherers came here to hunt and forage
and then left again in cycles lasting thousands of years.
Because climate change turned the British Isles
into a frozen wasteland.
People living in what is now Britain were driven out by invasion.
An ice invasion.
As many as ten times in our prehistory.
As glaciers advanced south,
they pushed humans out.
Changes in the Earth's orbit and in the angle at which the Earth rotates
moved it further from the sun's warmth
in cycles lasting from 1,000 to 150,000 years.
The further the Earth orbited from the sun the colder it got.
And you couldn't fight it
by lighting fires and wrapping up warmly.
For Stone Age Britons, there was only one thing to do.
But when you got to where the English Channel is today,
you didn't have to get on a ferry because all of this water was land.
This is Creswell Crags in Derbyshire.
14,500 years ago,
this woodland was arctic tundra left by retreating ice.
And as this ice age ended, there is evidence here that humans returned.
In this cave, something shows
they were more than just prehistoric hunters.
This image etched into the limestone
is at the beginning of art in this land.
It's similar to engraved art in what is now Germany,
suggesting that these people migrated from there.
It's been identified as auroch...
..a huge prehistoric wild cow hunted for food.
Soon after this art was created,
the ice age returned for the last time
and Britain was abandoned again.
But by around 9600 BC,
the climate stabilised and became pretty much what it is today -
an immigrant's cave.
Soon Britain's population rose to around 20,000,
but with stability came invasion.
Water from melting ice created the English Channel,
dividing us from Europe.
But it didn't keep people out.
This was the first great invasion of Britain -
the invasion of the farmers.
They didn't all come at once,
but they didn't stop coming until they transformed Britain.
The impact of this event has been revealed
by the very latest in DNA research.
We are beginning to understand that our history is one of
invasion and migration.
By the time we get up to the top of the London Eye,
we will be able to see where there are millions of people living.
At the beginning of farming, there would only have been thousands of people.
How has the study of DNA changed
our understanding of invasions of Britain?
One of the things we realise is that actually the history of
the population that lives in the British Isles
is one of migration and replacement of existing peoples.
That pattern probably seems to go back
at least 10,000 years, maybe even further than that.
Yes. So the oldest DNA that we have from the British Isles
is from hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years old.
And most people are very different
to the people that follow on from them.
Neolithic farmers arrived perhaps around 6,000 years ago.
Where did those farmers come from?
From the Near East and from the Middle East.
They migrate across Europe
and they eventually make their way into the British Isles,
and what we seem to have now is a pattern whereby they replace
the hunter-gatherers in Britain.
And that happens very quickly.
This DNA evidence is a revelation to me.
Proof of slow but steady migrations that have changed Britain
exist within the remains of our excavated ancestors.
This old history book, Outlines of British History, from 1919,
begins with the Roman invasion of Britain in 55 BC.
But now, with DNA,
each and every one of us contains
a historical text which takes us back thousands of years.
It's a highly personal historical record that we all carry.
Every generation over the centuries
has felt it is the last to be truly British
because it's under this existential threat
from the invasion of migrants.
Was there ever a true British people?
Does such a thing exist?
This is a classic immigrant nation.
The immigration started so long ago
it's not part of our popular narrative any more.
It's just a question of how long ago your ancestors came.
And somebody I spoke to recently was suggesting it should be
compulsory for all schoolchildren to be DNA tested
so that they could explore their history.
The spirit behind it of everybody having that inquisitive approach to
their identity and their heritage.
And I'm going to find out something of my identity and heritage.
My DNA tests arrived.
So let's see what mysteries this contains.
Here we go. Right, let's see what it says.
Using one swab at a time,
open your mouth and rub swab firmly back and forth,
up and down the inside of your cheek for a full 30 seconds.
Right. Here we go.
So that's going to finally prove
that I'm related to William the Conqueror.
It feels quite weird that the secrets to my historical soul
are on my cheeks.
There she goes.
Now, let's get back to those Neolithic farmers.
The arrival of farmers into Britain
changed the landscape more dramatically
than any other invasion in history.
In just 400 years,
the population of the British Isles
was changed from hunter-gatherers to farmers.
All Britons are immigrants. Even all these pigs are immigrants.
Our pigs, cattle, and sheep all originated in the Middle East.
Just imagine loading your family, your possessions,
your grain, and your livestock
onto a boat and crossing the English Channel 6,000 years ago.
No-one knows what boats carried this relentless wave of migration.
Archaeologists favour boats made out of animal skins
stretched over a wooden frame,
like these umiaks, which featured in this remarkable 1920s film.
They are still used in Greenland today.
They crossed in their thousands,
taking their futures and their lives in their hands.
Some probably never made it.
If they didn't tie their livestock up...
..they'd probably capsize the boat,
kick a hole in it or even eat it.
These farmers from the Middle East
were so successful that within just 400 years,
farming had spread right across Britain.
The new owners of the land
built shrines like this long barrow at Caldwell in Kent.
Wow. What a place.
James Dilley, experimental prehistoric archaeologist,
believes that this is one of the first stone monuments
to be built in Britain.
What was Coldrum for?
So, Coldrum is a long barrow, it's a place to store the dead.
This would've been an open chamber that people could have brought
their relatives to after leaving them exposed for a period of time
which is known as excarnation,
where the body is put out and the wildlife and the elements
expose the bones.
And as well as having its obvious function as a burial mound,
it is that marker to say, we are here, this is our land.
How important have invasions been
for the development of the British Isles?
Many thousands of years before these Neolithic farmers would have been coming to Britain,
we had people coming in and out of Britain to hunt and gather.
People constantly bringing in new ideas,
long before the Romans even thought about moving into Britain.
Yeah. And these farmers who arrived,
were they really from the Middle East?
Certainly their ideas were and their methods of working the landscape.
So this was an invasion of the farmers,
and they were very much rooted in the ground.
It was sensible or obvious for them to change the landscape.
And that's a great way of putting it
because they are starting to grow plants and crops
that are taking root into the ground.
You'd have to clear large areas of woodland.
You could say large areas of Britain are a Neolithic monument in itself.
There is evidence that there was so much to be done
that the very first thing they did was to dig flint mines
to get the thousands of flint axes they needed
to cut down the hundreds of acres of woodland.
Neolithic farmers dug beneath the fields,
and beneath this house,
there's a hole in the chalk that may well be prehistoric.
This hole was discovered before the house was built
when a pig fell down it.
It's 30 feet deep and over 100 long.
Beneath a home in Kent.
You can still see the footholds in the wall
that the miners used to climb in and out.
These marks seem to have been made in the wall
with an antler pick like this modern one.
They mined flint extensively,
even transporting flint to areas that lacked it.
It's no surprise that with organisation like this,
they had transformed the landscape in 400 years...
..and cleared as much as 10% of Britain's woods.
How many flint axes would you need to clear, you know,
even a small area of woodland? It must be hundreds.
Well, it really depends on experience of the woodworkers,
or the tree fellers and the quality of the axes.
But you'd need hundreds, possibly even thousands of these things to clear a large quantity.
Yeah. To clear a huge area,
to start to set up areas of settlement and for agriculture
and to keep animals in, you know, you're looking at hundreds of axes.
So the real difference is...new technology and enormous quantity.
Yeah, definitely. And these are brand-new toolkits, really,
to start to work the landscape to their advantage.
I want to work a bit of this landscape
so should we have a go at making one?
Definitely. Stick on some safety glasses.
So this is the material we'll be working with.
A really well-sized piece of flint.
And this one, I think, I hope, will give us a good axe head.
It is difficult to do?
So the first tool we're going to need to work this
other piece of stone is a pebble.
This is not a test of strength or power,
it's a test of accuracy with your hammers
and a test of knowing the material.
So I'll start in this corner.
I think it's time for you to take a couple of flakes.
Aim for about there.
Good shot. Perfect.
This is fun.
Argh! That was on the side of my knee!
It's like a sculpture emerging
from the inside of the black piece of stone.
So I think that'll pretty much do it.
There we go. Look at that.
Right. To make that, you need three things.
You need two different types of stone,
and you need a little bit of ingenuity.
And it was the ingenuity that the Neolithic farmers
brought the British Isles.
It's close. You know, you're not far off.
I did it with this. Amazing.
But it was a worthwhile invasion.
This new way of making stone tools
allowed people to start to clear areas of forest just like this.
From 4200 BC, deforestation swept through the British Isles.
By 2500 BC, stone monuments could be found across the land.
Archaeologists have wondered
if some could be explained by invasion or migration.
Archaeologists had a theory.
Ancient Britons must have needed some help to build
something as amazing as Stonehenge.
Before the advent of DNA testing,
archaeologists had to use their logic rather than science
to work out where people come from.
In 1969, a massive archaeological dig was broadcast live on BBC Two.
What is that?
SAM LAUGHS He's got his suit on!
Down at the far end of this tunnel,
right in the very heart of Silbury Hill,
I've just been looking at
a most extraordinary and fascinating spectacle.
Now, this is proper TV archaeology.
Now beginning to yield up...
No-one knew what might be at the centre of Silbury Hill,
a man-made hill 15 miles from Stonehenge.
Perhaps even a burial chamber,
potentially as exciting as Tutankhamun,
housed Stonehenge's builder.
Professor Atkinson, now that...
Professor Richard Atkinson looked at architectural similarities between
Stonehenge and Mycenae in southern Greece,
and concluded that Stonehenge was
built by a high-status outsider.
He could even be buried in the middle of Silbury Hill.
Six weeks from now, we shall be at and indeed
beyond the centre of the mound
and shall have some idea of what goes on there.
Supposing we came across a pit in the base of the tunnel
filled with skeletons.
Wouldn't it be great if that was true?
But archaeologists found no Silbury 'khamun.
Atkinson never found his proof
and the BBC hastily cut their programme of live broadcasts
from Silbury Hill.
Radiocarbon dating later proved that Stonehenge was older than Mycenae.
Archaeologists concluded that on this occasion,
ancient Britons weren't invaded.
But now, DNA is proving what the Silbury Dig couldn't.
There was an ongoing invasion of Britain at this time,
and it has consequences more far-reaching
than the Norman Invasion of 1066.
The smoking gun points at the most successful immigrants or invaders of
Europe, they don't have a name.
We had to invent one.
The Beaker people.
Because all of their burials contained beakers like this.
The Beaker migration originated from the steppes,
from southern Ukraine and southern Russia.
The Beaker came to Britain about 4,500 years ago.
They brought metallurgy, ceramics,
and built incredible monuments like Avebury ring
as well as the later stages of Stonehenge.
But we now think this is a very significant invasion, do we?
So, this is perhaps the single most important migration event that has
happened into the British Isles.
The so-called Beaker people seem to replace the Neolithic farmers
by wholesale replacement of
the existing population through violence.
-I'm sort of struck dumb by this. I had no idea.
This ground-breaking beaker phenomenon
revealed by ancient DNA studies is creating a seismic re-evaluation
of what archaeologists think about the prehistory of the British Isles.
Does that mean that both you and I are Beakers?
In some ways, yes.
So, it's likely that a very large proportion of your genome,
70%, can be traced back to that Beaker migration event,
that migration event that occurred about 4,500 years ago.
I don't know about you, but I haven't had any strong desire to
make any bell-shaped pottery recently.
I haven't thought about it.
I think it may be welling up inside of me, uncontrollably.
The Beaker invasion is currently the last major migration event
that can be picked up using ancient DNA.
There have been no major changes to our DNA ever since.
But the Beaker takeover didn't mean that early Britons stayed put.
From about 1000 BC,
expanding communities clashed in bitter and violent conflicts.
So, mobility was part of everyday life in ancient Britain.
Hunter-gatherers had moved to stay close to food supplies
and now farmers were constantly moving
to seek out new opportunities.
But all of this movement must have caused trouble.
Human beings are also territorial and they like their personal space.
But to what extent were they killed by waves of immigration
This incredible archaeological site is Must Farm,
found in the Cambridgeshire fenlands, called Britain's Pompeii.
It contains nasty clues about the dark side of migration away from
mega-monuments, culture, and technology.
It even suggests a different story of migrants
who suffered at the hands of the existing population.
About 3,000 years ago, these Bronze Age houses burnt down...
..their contents preserved in the marsh like a shipwreck.
The stilted houses suggest immigrants from mainland Europe.
Even modern Switzerland.
The contents reflect material richness,
part of a prehistoric trade superhighway
that brought glass beads from Mediterranean
and amber from Scandinavia.
Must Farm raises the question, did some awful,
traumatic event take place here?
Did these people fall foul of some local jealous xenophobes?
Found in and amongst ruins were swords and axes
which bore the marks of combat.
If ancient people were as intelligent as us, well,
why wouldn't they be as violent as us as well?
In any case, it's a great story for something dug up
outside a chip factory in Peterborough.
With tribal boundaries replacing monuments,
this was an age of internal invasion.
By the end of the Bronze Age,
Britain's population had soared and there was intensive occupation
and competition for resources.
Settlement all over Britain
show evidence of warfare from trauma in human remains
to layers of burning.
With group rather than national identity,
our prehistory is filled with frequent internal invasions
as tribe fought tribe.
It's ironic but hardly surprising
that despite sharing a common descent with the Beaker people,
ancient Britons could be at each other's throats
in a continuous cycle of internal invasions.
And this Beaker DNA actually raises a bit of a problem
because it seems to prove that one of the greatest invasions
of ancient Britain that many of us believe in never actually happened.
History books used to talk of the Celts,
a prehistoric people from southern Europe
coming to Britain in up to three separate waves of invasion.
In the 17th century, the pioneering linguist Edward Lhuyd
wrote Archaeologica Britannica,
an account of the languages, histories, and customs of Great Britain
from travels through Wales, Cornwall, past Britannia,
Ireland, and Scotland and in that book he identified
the original language of England and Wales as Celtic.
Now, this was the first time that ancient Britons
had been described as Celts,
and in doing so, he established a myth.
If you ask many Britons where they think that their origins lie,
they will say that they are Celtic.
But, in fact, there is no classical source
that actually says that the Celts ever came to northern Europe.
Caesar writes that they lived only in southern Europe.
Was there a Celtic invasion of Britain?
No, I don't think so.
I think there was no big incoming force
but there was a trickle of people coming over from the Continent
with knowledge of Celtic art styles, a fashion invasion, if you like.
And that was embraced and creatively taken up
by the local people in Britain, and so it led to a fusion,
a hybridity of ideas, a vibrant artistic culture
that then became known as the British Celtic art style.
So, forget the Celtic invasion and remember the fashion invasion.
From western continental Europe
came a succession of distinctive luxury goods archaeologists call La Tene.
Think Gucci, think Versace.
This was a brand invasion that swept through the British Isles
from the Picts in the north to the Coriondi in Ireland.
Some metalworkers copied La Tene.
Some created their own distinctive designs.
Celticness was an art movement.
This idea of a Celtic art style being particularly flamboyant -
where does that originate from?
There's lots of different ideas,
but there is certainly an inspiration initially
from the Mediterranean that goes up into Central Europe,
there are influences from Eastern Europe, Western Europe,
that create this melting pot of ideas.
And it is that artwork that we recognise as a Celtic, as La Tene,
that then goes north.
It's quite mysterious and I think that speaks to the inhabitants of
Britain of a world that they find full of ritual, gods, goddesses,
who live in the animal world, in the animal kingdom.
And that's what they try to represent in their art.
There may have been no physical Celtic invasion
but the cultural invasion was overwhelming.
And the Britons didn't just lap up La Tene fashion to strut around in
and show off their status.
They deposited enormous amounts of artefacts in rivers and streams,
places where their gods of the underworld interfaced with men.
Perhaps this is where the legend of Excalibur,
that sword of King Arthur, taken from a sacred lake comes from.
This legend, possibly dating
from the Iron Age practice of depositing weapons,
has inspired film-makers like John Boorman
to create spellbinding scenes.
But it wasn't just the mysteries of magic and belief
that attracted the British elite to this cultural invasion.
We all like to show off.
This was a time of warfare, competition, and elite display.
And as an Iron Age Briton,
there was an ultimate statement to say that you'd arrived.
Probably starting with the Etruscans in northern Italy,
it spread northwards and joined the Celtic brand.
This cultural invasion was as irresistible a piece of engineering
to the Iron Age elite as a muscle car is today.
-Come on, then. All right?
-It's like he's emerging out of the past.
Celtic chariot horses. Eight-wheel drive.
Eight-wheel drive. Of course they are. Aren't they wonderful?
So, what are we going to attach them to?
Right. We have...
There you go.
What an amazing-looking thing.
A genuine rebuilt ancient British chariot.
It's a funny mixture between being sturdy and very rickety.
It's made out of ash and it's naturally flexible
so this whole thing kind of is weighted and unweighted.
It's not that heavy, actually, to move.
You wouldn't want to be pulling it for very long, as a person,
but it's a lot lighter than a modern carriage that those two would pull.
It's not made of metal.
It's quite a skill to balance two people on this,
so we'll have to see how we go.
We should do some experiments.
I'm not sure what my chariot skills are like.
We're going to discover in the next half an hour.
Shall we get them attached, then?
This Iron Age chariot isn't just part of a fashion invasion
but a technical revolution.
There you have it.
If you kneel on the back.
Is that better than standing?
Yeah. Kneeling to begin with, yeah.
-Are you on board?
-Yeah, I'm on board.
-OK. Walk on.
Good boys. That's it.
-Ooh, you can sense their power, can't you?
Steady now. Good boys.
I think we should have a go outside, don't you?
I definitely think we should have a go outside. Let's do it.
-I think we're warmed up.
That was amazing.
It's got spoke wheels, it's a convertible.
It's just like an Italian sports car.
It's very good fun.
Whoa... Good lads. Good boys.
That was exhilarating.
That's how you get your kicks in the Iron Age.
This peaceful fashion invasion
left styles that have persisted throughout
the history of the British Isles.
2,000 years after the Beaker arrived,
Iron Age Britons would now face an invasion not by farmers
but a vast military power.
This is where the Romans first landed.
It's a handy gap in the white cliffs near Dover.
Caesar writes that the deep water running up to the shore made it
very difficult for his troops who were carrying heavy shields
and wearing mail.
And in 2,000 years, nothing's changed.
Julius Caesar wrote, "No-one goes to Britain except traders.
He led his legions inland
and somewhere in Kent his troops stormed a woodland hill fort.
We are at Bigbury hill fort and we're in Kent,
and this is supposedly one of the sites
that Caesar had to conquer on his way into the country.
What evidence do we have?
It's still guesswork but it's a logical site.
Something happens here around the right time that creates a kind of
So it is just possible that you're standing where Caesar stood.
And that his troops looked out over this area
and felt that they'd done their day's work.
They'd taken the site.
But in reality, it was a hollow victory
and it takes another 100 years of actual political machinations
before the country is really ready for a proper Roman invasion.
Caesar wrote the Britons were fierce fighters.
His invasions of Britain with the closest he ever came to ruining
But it wasn't the fighting Brits that nearly sank Caesar.
It was the English Channel.
He writes, "A great many ships, having been wrecked,
"were unfit for sailing.
"A great confusion, as would necessarily happen,
"arose throughout the army."
After Caesar's small invasions,
the Romans left this remote land on the edge of their world.
But invasions can be what we want.
We may even invite them.
Brits had seen the Roman lifestyle and they wanted a slice of it.
And this was a weakness the Romans exploited.
Before the main Roman invasion,
was there any contact between Rome and Britain?
Oh, yes, yes.
They are messing around in local politics, they are offering goodies.
Particularly foodstuffs, fine dining.
-Softening us up.
-These Romans are playing the long game, are they?
-They know exactly what they're doing.
Because they've done it elsewhere and they know the cost of a real
hard-core military war, so it's a softly, softly approach.
The way to my heart is through my stomach.
So I would be putty in the hands of the Romans.
Indeed, yes, yes, sadly so.
Britain was ultimately invaded by Roman luxury imports.
Before the Romans came to add Britain to their empire,
some southern tribes were virtually part of the Roman world.
This was the foodie invasion.
Britons traded with Rome,
Roman merchants wanted slaves
so some Britons sold their fellow Britons into slavery
in exchange for fancy tableware, wine, and some nibbles.
Not our finest hour.
The Romans invaded for good in 43 AD.
In the south, they were welcomed by many locals
already awed by the good life,
seduced by the foodie invasion.
50,000 foreign soldiers from France, Germany, Africa,
Romania, formed Rome's garrison in a multicultural province
of a omnicultural empire.
The Romans built roads which spread invasion
into the new province of Britannia.
This is the A2 between Canterbury and the Kent coast.
I was just wondering how many of the people driving this road today
know that it's 2,000 years old.
They say all roads lead to Rome
but this one went north from the southern port of Richborough,
and then it stopped, because not every Britain wanted to be a Roman.
North of where Hadrian's Wall would be built were the free Britons.
Rome's frenzy of invasion met fierce opposition.
But enterprising Roman merchants saw profit
and Hadrian's Wall became a trade barrier
as much as it defended the northern limits of the Roman Empire.
The most fierce opposition to Roman invasion was in southern Britain
and it came from the first celebrity in British history.
Steel your heart, woman!
Be you a queen?
You Britons hear me.
For Britons are we all.
We stand today,
united by a common foe of Rome.
Rome calls us savages.
Wild mongrel beasts.
Well, let us show them just how wild we are.
Boudicca's line about Britain being made up of many tribes
but uniting is an important part of the play.
-Do you get a sense of that being relevant to the modern day?
I think it's important to remember that actually,
having people come together and working together for a common end
is what makes people stronger.
Do you think she's now imbued with our contemporary anxieties?
I think that's exactly it. She represents a paranoia of invasion,
a paranoia, a fear of being taken over and being dictated
and so I think, right now,
what a lot of people are using her for is as a figure to represent the, um,
the strength of one nation and the ability to carry on by yourself.
Britons like Boudicca.
This tribal queen who resisted Roman invasion
remains a powerful image
that subsequent generations have celebrated.
For the Elizabethans,
Boudicca was a reflection of their all-powerful queen,
a defender of the realm.
For the Victorians, well,
they rebranded her from freedom fighter to empress,
a cult Imperial figure.
But in her fight against the Roman invaders,
Boudicca stood against empire.
Her Iron Age warriors faced a disciplined, professional Imperial Army.
What I would have done is adopt more of a guerrilla warfare tactic,
so, ultimately, the only way you can hope to prevail
is to attack them bit by bit if they're on the move.
-So you would have run away into the woods...
-..and joined the Romans.
Live to fight another day.
A British ambush destroyed the ninth Roman legion.
Its commander, Petillius Cerialis, and his cavalry,
fled for their lives.
Boudicca's alliance of British tribes
sacked Camulodunum and Londinium,
modern Colchester and London.
According to the Roman historian Tacitus,
they slaughtered 70,000 Romans and their allies.
But the Romans rallied and the 14th and 20th Legions
faced Boudicca with just 10,000 men.
Tacitus tells us the Britons had an incredible multitude
but formed no regular line of battle.
What do we think happened?
You can't win against those organised troops.
The Iron Age style of warfare is about bravado, about rushing the enemy.
It's a lot of show, a lot of performance -
you use your chariot to intimidate with noise and spectacle.
It's much more about heroic combat, one-on-one.
That's unintelligible to the Romans
and whatever you throw against them, they're not fighting fair,
they're not fighting in the way that you understand.
In a pitched battle, with their ballista bolts,
which have far greater range than your warfare,
it's a bit of a lost hope, really.
Few people can stand up against the Roman army.
The Roman short sword, called a gladius,
was a close-combat stabbing weapon.
Advancing in wedge formations,
the Romans pushed the Britons into a dense mass where they were slaughtered.
Having failed to repel Roman invasion, Boudicca poisoned herself.
Britannia remained a Roman province for over 300 years.
As a province of an Empire stretching as far south as the Sahara Desert,
Britons had new frontiers, new identity.
And new wealth.
This was a land of plenty,
and so coastal forts like this were built
to keep out Germanic sea raiders
but many of the Germanic tribesmen who would eventually take over
what is now England, were already here.
They had been invited by the Romans.
To defend Britain, the Romans recruited Germanic mercenaries.
Even when Britain was a Roman province,
Germanic languages were spoken in the south and coastal areas.
When the Romans pulled out in 409,
they left Britain undefended, almost begging to be invaded.
Picts from the far North raided south of the Thames
but invading Germanic tribes like the Angles and Saxons
wanted Britain, not booty.
This was bloody invasion.
Gildas wrote, "Swords glinted all around,
"fragments of corpses covered with congealed blood looked as though
"they had been mixed up in some dreadful wine press."
Somewhere just down there,
a mighty battle was fought between Britons and Anglo-Saxons.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records, in 455,
Hengist And Horsa fought with Vortigern the King
on the spot that is called Aylesford.
No-one knows who won,
but we do know that England was overrun by violent Germanic tribes
who set up rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
England's very name derives from one of them, Angle Land.
Once, historians called this period the Dark Ages.
They saw the Anglo-Saxons as heathen, barbarian invaders.
They were sceptical of the inventiveness of a Saxon epic poem
called Beowulf, that spoke of mighty hordes,
golden shields and ship burials filled with treasure
from all over the world.
Beowulf may have been written as early as the seventh century at the height of Anglo-Saxon rule.
It describes a king.
"Shield Sheafson, a wrecker of mead benches rampaging among foes."
I love "wrecker of mead benches".
The Anglo-Saxons obviously loved a good pub fight.
And a line describing him,
even when read in the original Anglo-Saxon,
shows the influence on our language.
"Zet wes god cyning."
This was the first work of English literature.
archaeologists proved that this wasn't a work of fantasy
when they found a ship burial at Sutton Hoo.
This discovery changed for ever the way we look at the Anglo-Saxons.
Under a grass mound in Suffolk
was proof that their invasion was a magnificent art invasion.
This is the golden age of history TV right here.
The group of bracken-covered mounds known locally as Sutton Hill formed
part of the Sutton Hoo estate.
The investigation was put into the hands of Basil Brown,
who developed an extraordinary flair for finding things.
That's his qualification - being able to find things.
Beowulf describes gold, splendid warriors
and when the site was excavated, gold actually blew everywhere.
It came from this shield which was once covered in gold leaf.
The amount of gold leaf which was blowing about,
as fast you caught a bit, it broke and flew.
It was frightful.
Beowulf describes far-fetched treasures.
Here was gold adorned with gems from India and Afghanistan.
A belt buckle made from a pound of gold.
And what Seamus Heaney's brilliant translation of Beowulf
calls battle tackle.
This isn't just evidence of a sophisticated warrior king
descended from invaders
but of a global role in the early medieval world.
This was an invasion that made a serious impact
on language and culture.
But most of Beowulf isn't about ship burials full of treasure.
It's about fighting monsters.
Beowulf reflects fear of the other,
and, ironically, even the invaders' fear of invasion,
seen as a creature from the dark underworld.
A fiend out of hell, Grendel was the name of this grim demon.
Beowulf killed Grendel
but a real monster was coming to threaten Britain.
What are you afraid of?
793 was a bad year.
A terrible host appeared.
It says in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle...
"Portents appeared over Northumbria and sorely frightened the people.
"Fiery dragons were seen flying in the air,
"a great famine immediately followed those signs
"and the ravages of heathen men."
An eighth century cleric wrote in horror,
"Behold the Church of Saint Cuthbert,
"splattered with the blood of the priests of God."
From the end of the eighth century, Vikings raided the British Isles.
They showed all the hallmarks of ruthless desire for fortune and glory,
regardless of the cost to others.
This was shock and awe for Britain and Ireland - the Viking longboat.
I, Viking literally means to go raiding in Norse.
And the Vikings didn't just come here to raid.
They came here to invade.
The soil in Denmark can be very sandy
and in an age before fertilisers,
it became very difficult to make a living from farming.
There simply wasn't enough good land to go around.
Today's upwardly mobile Danes come here to Nyhavn in Copenhagen,
but in the ninth century,
many of them would have set out to raid Britain.
These Vikings had everything to gain and very little indeed to lose.
Some of them fought in a trancelike, uncontrollable fury.
They were known as berserkers,
which added a word to the English language -
the Danes discovered six Viking ships
sunk at the mouth of Roskilde Harbour
just outside Copenhagen
and they excavated them and built a museum.
We're off there now
and I'm as excited as I've ever been
about going to a museum.
I've always wanted to go.
Inside is the first secret of the Viking invasion.
And this is it and she's an absolute beauty.
This is the remains of a ship known as Skuldelev 2.
She's a warship, a longboat, and she's almost impossibly big -
30 metres long.
She'd have a crew of up to 70 people.
The Vikings knew her as a skeid,
meaning one that cut through water,
or a snekke, meaning a snake, a worm or a dragon,
for the wake that she would leave in the ocean.
That's exactly what she was -
she was a sea monster from your worst nautical nightmare.
Her crew weren't peaceful farmers interested in travel.
Invaders of the British Isles
frequently showed psychopathic tendencies
from rape and mutilation to kidnapping and massacre.
The Vikings shaped our sense of fear.
Inside the museum are the remains of a Viking warship but this is
a reconstruction of what that warship might have looked like.
Now what's particularly wonderful about this ship is if I do this...
..I can make the entire thing,
a 30-metre long oak-built Viking ship wiggle, twist, and move.
And that meant that when the waves passed under it,
it moved with the sea, rather than against the sea.
And that is the secret of the Vikings' success.
There would have been 30 oars each side on this ship,
60 rowers altogether, a crew of maybe 70,
all armed to the teeth.
And just imagine a flotilla of these ships
bearing down on you from the sea.
The effect was devastating.
More and more ships sailed to the British Isles and the Anglo-Saxon
response led to Viking success.
On the battlefield, Anglo-Saxon tactics failed against skilled,
determined and savage warriors who cared little for their own survival.
Terrified Anglo-Saxon kingdoms adopted a fatal strategy.
They paid Danegeld,
bribes of thousands of pounds of bullion
to persuade the Viking invaders to go away.
But this was precisely what the Vikings wanted.
So they came back for more.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that in 865,
a great heathen army came to England.
We don't know how big, but by 866,
huge areas of the north and the east of England were under Viking control
in an area which became known as the Danelaw.
In what would become Scotland,
Vikings made political centres
across the Northern and Western Isles.
And the very north became their south, their Sutherland.
Invasion and settlement had replaced raiding.
Rather brilliantly, the extent of the Danish occupation can be read
in modern English place names.
Places like Oldham, Durham, Selby,
Clitheroe, Keswick, Asgardby,
or Haverigg, and, in fact,
Viking words are integral to the English language.
And not just northern regional words like bairn or obvious ones like
rampage or slaughter, but everyday words like leg, or get,
What were rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms became united against the Vikings.
This was the beginning of an English identity.
But the blood or the DNA of the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons
was the same.
They were descendants of the Beakers from the Steppes.
The database for my commercial DNA test is modern,
so doesn't go back to the Beaker
but it should suggest other invasion ancestors.
Ooh! My DNA tests have arrived.
Let's see what they've got to say.
Right, results for Samuel Bruce Willis.
Amazing. Top gene pools.
Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden.
So I'm a Viking.
Southern France, 13.8%, Orkney Islands, 11.8%.
Western Siberia, 10.3%.
Here we go.
DNA migration routes.
As the descendants of the occupiers of a once-empty Britain,
we are all travellers, traders, refugees,
people who have been blown off course for one reason or another
and that's what really makes an island race.
We're a mongrel nation but a captivating mix.
Sardinia! Nice, I went there on holiday this year.
It's a lovely place. 9.8%.
Perhaps wading ashore at Deal beach really is in my genes.
The story of the invasions of the British Isles
is written in our history books but it's also written in our DNA.
In all my study of history,
nothing has astonished me more than the new significance of
the prehistoric British Isles.
This story written in our DNA has been such a revelation to me.
Especially the Beaker people.
And it still amazes me that a people whose real name we'll never know
made such an impact.
And what about the Viking invasion?
Well, it would take 600 years
before they ceased to rule outlying parts of the British Isles
and another invasion which changed Britain for ever and
if you think that 1066 was the last invasion in British history, well,
you're in for a very nasty surprise.
Next time, the Golden age of invasions as Normans, Norse,
and the Netherlands invade,
bringing such unsavoury gifts as stunning architecture, jewellery...
Three-part series in which intrepid historian Dr Sam Willis reveals a remarkable story of invasion in Britain spanning thousands of years. From the time continuous settlement began in Britain over 10,000 years ago to Iron Age hillforts and Viking ships, Sam explores the many invasions of Britain. He unearths hidden stories to build a vivid picture of both successful and unsuccessful invasions and examines how they have shaped our psyche, including fear of invasion. Some invasions are bloody, some bloodless. Some were by invitation, some absurd and doomed. From Barbary pirates and brutal border raids to the air attacks of the 20th century; these invasions have shaped modern Britain and made us the people we are today. In this first programme, Sam fells a tree with a flint axe in Kent, gets to grips with the technology of Viking boats and rides an Iron Age chariot. He also searches for clues of invasion at Silbury Hill and tracks down evidence of the Beaker people who brought ceramics, metalwork and beakers to Britain.