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Introduction

WithTimothy Venning

The nature and background to the sources available for the early medieval period in Britain and Western Europe from 450 to 1066 present problems that are not so acute for the sources for Roman-ruled lands in the classical period. The extent of what could loosely be called 'Western Christian civilization' - in the form of coherent 'states' or proto-states which either remained Christian from the later Roman period or were later converted - continued to expand even when the Roman Empire was at its lowest ebb. Non-contemporary - sagas compiled of the deeds of the early Scandinavian kings and their peoples' expansion into Britain, Ireland, Iceland and Greenland in the ninth to eleventh centuries can be identified as heroic myth rather than accurate stories recorded carefully from oral memory. The changes in the fifth and sixth centuries from the established parameters of writing extended from the 'start date' of history to the basis of calculating when the year started.