The historic county of Oxfordshire occupies 750 square miles in the south midlands of England. The borders of the county have remained very much the same for over 1000 years. Its landscape is generally flat and tranquil and is dominated by woodland, cornfields, meadows and slow-flowing streams. From the earliest times the land was host to settlement. Its flat terrain made it easy for hunter-gatherers and subsequently for Neolithic farmers. Iberian Celts were followed by Romans, who between 43 and 47 AD annexed the region with little difficulty. Apart from witnessing the emergence, on the lower slopes of the Cotswolds hills, quite a large concentration of villas, Roman occupation was rather uneventful for most of the territory and life continued pretty much as it always had. When the Romans left the Anglo-Saxons steadily began to enter the region in about the early 5 th century, initially as mercenaries to protect local communities in a time of growing instability. During the next few decades, however, Saxon communities increased in size and steadily took over political control from local Britons of most of Oxfordshire.
And by the end of the 16 th century Oxfordshire was consolidated within the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex. In 635 Christianity was brought to Oxfordshire by the missionary Birinus, who converted the Saxon king, Cyneglis, who then established Dorchester as the Episcopal see. Christianity began steadily to encroach upon the long established pagan beliefs and established numerous Christian communities in the county.
The next great upheaval experienced by Oxfordshire was the invasion by the Vikings from Scandinavia during the mid to late 9 th century. For a time King Alfred ("the Great" - 848-900), king of Wessex and subsequently England, managed to halt the invasion in battles in neighbouring Berkshire. But after Alfred's death the Vikings continued to encroach on English territory and like the Romans and Saxons before them moved southwards towards the rich lands of the Thames Valley. The Saxon and Danish royal families frequently clashed and frequently merged; the system of royal succession in those days was far from clear-cut.
Oxfordshire, as all parts of southern England, was directly affected by the Norman Conquest of the XI century and as many other parts of Britain it was fortified with many mighty castles to stave off the ongoing Saxon attempts to repel the invading Norman armies. Norman castles are peppered all over the county, notably at Chipping Norton, Stoney, Deddington, and Swerford.
Warfare was to play a great influence on Oxfordshire during the next few centuries, first during the civil conflict of the 11 th century, then during the late 14 th century, during the reign of Richard II and finally during the English Civil War during the 17 th century between King Charles I and Parliament. It was in Oxford that King Charles set up his Head Quarters, turning it into an armed camp.
Oxfordshire, however, despite its colourful history, is best known for its learning, notably its world famous university at Oxford. The origins of the university dates back to 872, at which point the learned King Alfred founded a college. The university was to expand during the 12 th century, largely as a result of the expulsion of English students from Paris after the breakdown of relations between England and France.
Today Oxfordshire still boasts some magical countryside, historical sites, and picturesque villages such as Henley on Thames, host to the annual royal Regatta which doubles up as one of Britain's main summer social events. Oxfordshire has retained much of its classic beauty despite being subjected to a higher and higher tide of development, the modern equivalent of the successive invasions, which besieged the county down the centuries. Oxfordshire offers any visitor to Britain a fascinating area to explore, combing beautiful scenery with interesting history. It is served by a good transport system and is within easy reach from London by both road and rail.