AD 410, and the lamps were going out all over Europe. German tribes had finally broken through the Rhine frontier; Alaric and his Goths were about to sack Rome itself, 1,163 years after its foundation. The Roman Emperor Honorius, in his safe retreat among the marshes of Ravenna, had enough to do to guarantee his own safety. When, therefore, the cities of his most northerly province appealed for help against the raiding Saxons, he replied in a letter that his Greek historian summarises in two words: ‘Defend yourselves’. And so, for a time, they did, quite successfully. But twenty years later war and diplomacy had only confirmed their isolation from the Empire: Roman Britannia was mutating into Anglo-Saxon England.
It’s from this point that Simon Young’s ‘family saga’ begins. The narrator attends his father’s funeral. There (in accordance with Roman custom) the funeral masks of his ancestors are paraded, and he looks back over twelve generations which have witnessed the rise and decline of ‘Roman Britain’, starting from the