Britons, English, Germans, and collective action

By Razib Khan | June 17, 2011 7:46 pm

Quite often rather amusing articles which operate in the malleable zone between genetics and nationalism pop into my RSS feed (thanks to google query alerts). But this piece from Spiegel Online article, Britain Is More Germanic than It Thinks, actually appeals to some legitimate research in making a tongue-in-cheek nationalistic argument that the affinity between the Germans and the English is stronger than the latter would wish to admit. The article starts out with the interesting nationalist back story:

Until now, the so-called Minimalists have set the tone in British archeology. They believe in what they call an “elite transfer”, in which a small caste of Germanic noble warriors, perhaps a few thousand, placed themselves at the top of society in a coup of sorts, and eventually even displaced the Celtic language with their own. Many contemporary Britons, not overly keen on having such a close kinship with the Continent, like this scenario.

Thomas Sheppard, a museum curator, discovered this sentiment almost a century ago. In 1919, officers asked for his assistance after they accidentally discovered the roughly 1,500-year-old grave of an Anglo-Saxon woman while digging trenches in eastern England.

Sheppard concluded that the woman’s bleached bones came from “conquerors from Germany” and announced: “These are our ancestors!” But the soldiers were thunderstruck. At first they cursed and refused to believe that they were related to the “Huns.” But then the mood darkened. The trip back to the barracks “was like a funeral procession,” Sheppard wrote.

It is a coincidence which must be acknowledged that the vogue for Germanophilia amongst the English corresponds neatly to the decades when Irish nationalism waxed in the face of British imperial domination. And that Germanophilia naturally abated with the two World Wars. In lieu of the vision of Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, driving the Celtic British into the sea, Germanization was conceived as a process where an elite band of warriors imposed their culture atop a fundamentally pre-German substrate. This model is reflected in the historical scholarship, for example Norman Davies’ The Isles, as well as the genetics treatments, most prominently Bryan Sykes’ The Blood of the Isles.

In terms of the history, we have to make due with archaeology and the rather thin texts of the Celts. From what I can gather the archaeology does imply a rapid shift in material technology and symbolic aspects of culture such as burial customs on the Saxon Shore. Linguistically the modern English language owes very little to the Celtic dialects. Finally, the Christian Church seems to have disappeared across much of the zone of expanding German territory, only to be re-planted in the early 7th century by Irish & Scottish missionaries, followed up by those from the European mainland. In the Spiegel Online piece an archaeologist quotes a number of “200,000″ for total migration for about a century, presumably inferring from the quantity of material remains, and what that implies about the numbers within the settlements which are indubitably German.

There are a few objections which crop up. Some scholars, such as Stephen Oppenheimer, argue that German speech was already common before the Roman conquest within the boundaries of England. Very few accept this position. A more mainstream argument is that like Gaul and Iberia much of Britain had been Latinized by the time of the German conquest. Because of their geographic isolation Cornwall, Scotland, and Wales, were the areas most insulated from both the German expansion and the dynamic of Latinization. Finally, some scholars have suggested that the outsiders get too much of the credit for the resurrection of the Christian Church in 7th century England, that an indigenous Christian culture persisted over the century of the British “Dark Ages” before the conversion of the Saxons.

The problem with each of these arguments is that they don’t cohere together very well. If Latin was the dominant language in Britain proper (i.e., outside of the “Celtic Fringe”) that begs the question why the Germans were not assimilated in Britain as they were in France and Iberia. Unlike the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, the Frankish Empire was explicitly bicultural in that it spanned both Latinate Gaul and Germania. And yet the Franks who settled in Francia invariably adopted Latin and what later became French as their language. Additionally, Britain was one of only two regions of the Roman Empire where both the imperial languages (Latin and Greek) and the Christian Church disappeared with the barbarian invasion. The Balkans was the other zone.

Overall there is a sense that in Britain in the 6th century there was a massive cultural rupture, the extent of which is unparalleled in the post-Roman world before the rise of Islam except for perhaps in the Balkans with the migrations of the Slavs. Can just a rapid transition have been occurred without much demographic disruption? I doubt it. Such rapid language shift unaccompanied by wholesale absorption of indigenous lexicon seems rather peculiar if it was a matter of elite emulation. Additionally, shifting a society from an institutional religion back toward tribal paganism, as occurred in Britain, seems to also be implausible. There are certainly cases of Christians in Northern Europe becoming pagan, but these are almost always instances where individuals have “gone native” and assimilated into a different cultural norm from the one which they are raised. These individuals exist in isolation, and generally do not operate in mass action (the main exception to this are recently paganized peoples, where the populace generally wears its Christianity lightly, and reverts back to the old religion if given the chance or if the elite pressure is removed and reversed).

Sykes himself it in his work does acknowledge that in particular in the Y chromosomal lineages, the male line, that there is evidence of a German imprinting in much of eastern England, and to some extent as well as in the Danelaw. This may not be the dominant component, but it is significant. The genomics today could now rather easily test models of genetic relatedness across these populations, but to my knowledge there hasn’t been a thick-marker autosomal exploration of these issues with these populations in mind. Here are two edited figures from Geography mirror geography within Europe, and Correlation between genetic and geographic structure within Europe. The two dimensions just represent the largest components of variation within the data set, and you see labeled the “centers” of the distribution for each group in the national samples.

I don’t know if you can really conclude anything from these results. It’s kind of hard to track down the geographical origin of some of the national samples, but note the difference between northern (Kiel) and central-south (Augsburg) Germany in the second sample. To test the proposition of the German impact on the genetic heritage of the English, or vice versa, the non-German impact on the genetic heritage of the English, you need some reference populations, and also a fine-grained geographic coverage of the whole circum-North Sea zone, along with other areas of interest such as Ireland, greater Germany, Brittany, etc. These results use a huge European pooled data set, and you don’t really need to flesh out of the Spain vs. northern Europe axis, or the Finland vs. non-Finland axis, for the questions being addressed here. In terms of the reference populations, northern Europe is a pretty good place to get ancient DNA. At the very short time scales we’re talking about it seems that it would be feasible to aim for autosomal DNA, not just copious mtDNA. But even with present populations you could use the Cornish, who were not truly conquered by the English, so much as co-opted by the English state-system, as references for the Britons of yore. And the various north German and Frisian populations for the Saxons. But it would be very critical to sample a lot of England, and not just a London group, which might mix and match lots of regional diversity.

Going back to the Germanness of the modern English, I believe that the majority of the ancestry of the native British does pre-date the Saxon period. But, that assertion has a major caveat insofar as there seems to be a lot of variation within the British Isles. East Anglia in particular may be the exception to the general rule, as that is where the Germans landed with force. But if the majority of the ancestry of modern Britons does not derive from Germans, how could the German culture be so powerful in language and religion? I think Peter Heather’s Empires and Barbarians tells the specific part of the story, and a broader theoretical understanding of how cultures might spread in some circumstances tells a more general one. Heather argues that the German invasions of the post-Roman period were “folk wanderings,” whereby men brought their women and children, to recreate their old societies anew in the post-Roman landscape. This is in contradiction to some historians who posit that the German “hordes” were actually only a small number of warriors, often with a ethnic and national identity created ad hoc to generate a fictive bond. If the Saxon hordes really were whole societies, villages that is, of Saxons transplanted to the British landscape that explains the the massive cultural disruption. The Saxon warriors were not taking native British wives, who might expose their offspring to Christianity, and terms which would result in the bleeding over into Old English of many terms of Celtic or Latin provenance. At least in the initial generations.

Eventually the English began to push the frontier between Briton and German outward. At this point the Germans began absorbing natives into their culture, but this was at a stage where the Germans were coherent, compact, and very efficient in collective action. This is in sharp contrast to a scenario where German warriors take native wives, and a hybrid society with mixed values develops early on. Because of the sensitivity to initial conditions it was essential that the Germans have brought their wives, to recapitulate in near totality their original culture. As they began to expand they overturned the local institutions, and at that point as a well established native ethnos they began to assimilate defectors from the local order at all levels of society, and conceded very little to these individuals because of the integrity of their own cultural complex. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that the House of Wessex itself has some pre-German origins, making it all the more interesting that this family also claimed mythical descent from the German god Woden!

In sum, more genetic research in this area has to be done. But, I think one insight that will emerge is that we have to recall that in many cases ethnogenesis and cultural turnover is a matter of collective action and group mobilization, less than mass action and force of numbers. In this way the Germanization of the British landscape may have more in common with the Latinization of Western Europe than not.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, History
  • Eurologist

    There is some circumstantial evidence that there were some Germanic settlements already in existence during Roman times. Wasn’t there an excavation of a typical northern German house that dated from around 300AD? Can’t find the reference at the moment. Also, I have read some place that during Roman times, supposedly some noble clan in the Rhine area claimed to have land ownership on the island. At any rate, had there been already an established settlement with continued contact to and trade with the mainland, it would make it easier to understand how that could have expanded, for example if there had been a famine that deserted wide areas.

    “the Franks who settled in Francia invariably adopted Latin and what later became French as their language.”
    Well, in the western part of the empire – not in much of the central strip. You can see that reflected in the toponymy today: you can draw a slightly curved line from Dunkerque to Basel, to the right of which is Germanic. Of course, there were also Germanic tribes on the western side of the Rhine in Roman times.

    The genetic aspects will be difficult to untangle, since many of the settlements over the millennia will have come from the nearby mainland – paleolithic, agriculturalists, IE folks if not identical with the agriculturalists, bronze and iron age traders/ settlers, etc. – not just the Anglo-Saxons.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Well, in the western part of the empire

    well, that’s why i said francia. but i see that the term is more widely used for the whole empire. i am aware that the charlemagne himself was probably a better speaker of german than latin, as the pippinids were austrasian.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    The genetic aspects will be difficult to untangle, since many of the settlements over the millennia will have come from the nearby mainland – paleolithic, agriculturalists, IE folks if not identical with the agriculturalists, bronze and iron age traders/ settlers, etc. – not just the Anglo-Saxons.

    also after the anglo-saxons. the vikings are well known, but the dutch coast has long had relations with the coast of england facing it, which is evident even down to the close cultural kinship during the reformation, and the strength of calvinist religion in both areas. and, a major issue is that all these groups are not that genetically distinct. probably why uniparental markers are nice, as you can you see how they diverge mutationally more easily.

  • Eurologist

    Especially once we can trust age estimates better. There is some R1b on the Isles that looks like it came from Germany perhaps with the agriculturalists – but for now (at least IMO) that’s all speculation, since no one agrees on the haplogroup and subclade ages.

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    From a point of view of language shift it’s a good point regarding the lack of a “Celtic substrate” in English as spoken in England. In comparison Hiberno-English contains many features directly from Irish. Of course over time these have started to dissipate, however there is vocabulary, turns of phrases and phonological features (Irish lacks a th phoneme — alot of Irish prononuce three as tree) which have been directly transferred. Also 90%+ of Irish placements are of Irish language origin.

    Irish was of course displaced by “Elite replacement” that occurred at end of 17th century, with replacement of native ruling elites with the “Protestant ascendancy” of english speakers. In which time it took about 100 years for English speakers to pass the 50% of population mark.

    Personally it would surprise me if there were some Germanic settlement along east coast of England during Roman period. They might have been roman fedorati etc.

  • DavidB

    There is a recently published Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology ( I forget the editors), which I think shows a shift of opinion away from the ‘elite takeover’ model. I’ve always thought the linguistic evidence was the biggest stumbling block for that model. It’s not just that there was a complete change in everyday language, but that settlement place names in England are overwhelmingly of Anglo-Saxon origin (with obvious exceptions like Cornwall and the areas of later Viking settlement), which suggests that either there were a lot of new settlements, or that existing Romano-British names were displaced.

  • DavidB

    …though having said that, there were also quite a lot of new place names in the area of Gaul settled by the Franks, despite their being undoubtedly a numerical minority. Marc Bloch, in French Rural History, says the evidence suggests that the invading Franks formed settlements of their own interspersed among the Gaulish ones, and makes the good point that they would need to keep together for security. Presumably the same would be true of the Anglo-Saxons in England. Later on, the Normans did not apparently form distinct settlements (except for groups of merchants in towns like Norwich), but they protected themselves in castles and took ruthless reprisals against any rebels.

  • Vitasta

    Tracing the phylogeography of human populations in Britain based on 4th-11th century mtDNA genotypes at http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/1/152.long and A Y Chromosome Census of the British Isles at http://www.cell.com/current-biology/retrieve/pii/S0960982203003737 – two examples of relevant uniparental studies. The first is based on aDNA from human burials.

  • http://www.buildinghistory.org/distantpast/ Jean M

    I’ve always thought the linguistic evidence was the biggest stumbling block for that model.

    Me too. See the Franks and Anglo-Saxons section of my page on the Germani, where I make some of the same points as Razib.

  • Vitasta

    The genomics today could now rather easily test models of genetic relatedness across these populations, but to my knowledge there hasn’t been a thick-marker autosomal exploration of these issues with these populations in mind.

    Perhaps Geographical structure and differential natural selection among North European populations might answer some questions.

  • Andrew Lancaster

    Keeping in mind that the sensible arguments are all about the relative contributions of different source populations, and that I basically agree with most of what you say, I do think one paragraph goes a little far in dismissing some ideas…

    “If Latin was the dominant language in Britain proper (i.e., outside of the “Celtic Fringe”) that begs the question why the Germans were not assimilated in Britain as they were in France and Iberia.”

    What is your evidence for saying that assimilation in England was slower than in those other places? Knowing something about the available evidence I would say we are talking about a lack of evidence, not an evidence of lack. Germanic languages and culture during this period in Spain and France are simply less well recorded I think you’ll find. We have almost no written records for nearly all Germanic languages in this period, except for the ones in the British Isles. This does not mean anyone seriously proposes that they were not being spoken in areas like Belgium and Holland and France and Spain. Sometimes our perspective is twisted by the fact that we have better or worse records for a particular place.

    “Additionally, Britain was one of only two regions of the Roman Empire where both the imperial languages (Latin and Greek) and the Christian Church disappeared with the barbarian invasion. The Balkans was the other zone.”

    Latin certainly was being spoken in the British Isles in this period and was something that the Germanic peoples on the British Isles learnt and assimilated to. The Germanic languages of the British Isles are filled with Latin loan words from the earliest recorded phases.

    By the way it is interesting to compare to Turkey where a relatively small part of the population set the linguistic standard relatively quickly also.

    Best Regards
    Andrew

  • http://dioegenesartemis.blogspot.com/ Diogenes

    I’m not sure you need to postulate significant population replacement as a cause for relative lack of Celtic and Latin influence in pre-Norman Old English.
    Britain and the Balkans have some similarities that may explain these phenomena: they were both regions linguistically fragmented at the periphery of Romanisation within the Late Empire.
    Unlike Gaul and Iberia, Britain was likely still largely Latin-influenced-Celtic speaking in the countryside then. And although we don’t have much evidence, I find it likely that the Romance spoken in Late Empire Britain in towns was much more Celtic influenced than the Romance of Gaul or Iberia. So unlike these last two regions, an invading elite would likely find a linguistically and culturally fragmented Britain upon invasion. Same applies to the Balkans (where probably existed large numbers of mutually unintelligible Indo-European languages at the time of Slavic intrusion).
    The Romanisation of Britain and the Balkans likely lagged behind the same processes in Iberia and Gaul.

    In such a divided scenario, an elite language is much more attractive in order to maintain trade links and other connections within regional economic units. The language shift might thus be much faster- especially if the Germans had the opportunity for a slow bridgehead-movement into East Anglia.

    One interesting exception in the Balkans appears to support somewhat this hypothesis. Dalmatian survived in coastal Croatia until much later than in the hinterlands. Important trade links across the Adriatic, surviving the end of the Empire might explain why. Dalmatian became extinct without significant population replacement- both by assimilation into mostly Slavic Croatian but also Romance Italian in some towns- perhaps when greater security of land-based economic ties versus across the sea made such a linguistic conversion advantageous.

    Slowish language shift with absorption of local substrate is a rule which may only apply in cases where the majority population is linguistically unified versus the intruders- maybe if Claudius had never invaded Britain, we would now have a strongly Celtic influenced Germanic language there. And maybe if German tribes had invaded some centuries earlier, when Romanisation was already significant but still incipient, we would now have Germanic languages in Iberia and Gaul.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    What is your evidence for saying that assimilation in England was slower than in those other places

    i didn’t say that. don’t restate something i said in your own words, it just muddies things up. i’m kind of confused by the rest of your comment. be a little clearer if you will.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    So unlike these last two regions, an invading elite would likely find a linguistically and culturally fragmented Britain upon invasion. Same applies to the Balkans (where probably existed large numbers of mutually unintelligible Indo-European languages at the time of Slavic intrusion).
    The Romanisation of Britain and the Balkans likely lagged behind the same processes in Iberia and Gaul.

    don’t over-state the lack of romanization of the balkans. in the later empire the balkans was the source of most of the imperial power blocs which dominated the political and military order. justinian himself seems to have come from a balkan latin background. and latin didn’t disappear, it persisted in the form of the vlachs and romanians. the major issues seem to be that between ~400 and ~900 there were multiple points at which the imperial “limes” basically receded all the way to the coastal littoral. this weakened the power of latin and to a lesser extent greek ethno-linguistic identity, and eventually slavic seems to have solidified at some point after ~600. the byzantine restoration of the 10th century integrated the slavic order as a subordinate, and did not assimilate it, for whatever reason.

  • Károly

    The Celts may have left a rather visible/audibe mark on English culture if John McWhorter is right in suggesting that some of the peculiarities of the language are the result of its interaction with Celtic tongues. When a community of people learns a foreign language, they tend to bend the rules and apply templates from their native language. Although less likely, it is also conceivable that the dominant (socio-economically if not numerically) invading language borrows patterns from the indigenous one, just as linguistic novelty can bubble up from subcultures today.

  • Andrew Lancaster

    Andrew: What is your evidence for saying that assimilation in England was slower than in those other places

    Razib: i didn’t say that. don’t restate something i said in your own words, it just muddies things up. i’m kind of confused by the rest of your comment. be a little clearer if you will.

    Reply: OK, my apologies. I got this impression from the words I quoted which were: “the Germans were not assimilated in Britain as they were in France and Iberia”. So I guess my error is the word “slower” and you are just asserting that there was less assimilation. Correct?

    I guess what you are saying is that you would see England as having been Germanized in a more complete way than France and Spain, during all periods including the Dark Ages, and not only linguistically. This might be correct, but I am actually not so sure we really know this, even though much later we do know that England, France and Spain all became more or less mono-lingual.

    I will try to explain the whole post differently, as requested.

    1. I think you are saying that in England we see signs that a Germanic language quickly became a major written language, whereas we do not see this in France and Spain.

    2. However, actually Latin was a major written language in France and Spain, but also in Germany and England.

    3. What is special about English in the Dark Ages, when English came, is the written standard which developed, but this was a unique local event possibly influenced by local Celtic languages having some written form. The virtual lack of Germanic records in France and Spain is similar to the lack of Germanic records in Germany. But we do not say Germany was Latin speaking.

    4. Linguists and historians of this period therefore look at scraps of documentary evidence, plus things like loanwords, placenames, personal names, etc. And this type of evidence shows that Germanic languages must have been used in a widespread way, particularly concerning military and nautical subjects. Germanic people were apparently common in large parts of Spain and France, as they were in England.

    5. You may be looking more at evidence of what happened later. In other words, in Germany, in the high middle ages we later find only German, and in France and Spain we later find no Germanic. And in England we find no Latin language surviving. I see problems with this approach of using later national languages to extrapolate back to genetic origins much earlier, in the so called Dark Ages, when the Germanic speakers moved around Europe.

    6. The medieval written languages, Spanish, French, German, etc are much later developments. We should be asking what are the local causes of those medieval languages, which were presumably (looking at the amount of loaning) originally lingua franca’s, languages of convenience, to be used by speakers of many different languages and dialects.

    7. What we then see in England is that as English becomes a lingua franca is absorbed a lot of Latin, and later Norse, and later French and more Latin. Latin was a massive influence on English. Isn’t that a kind of assimilation? But, Germanic was also a massive influence on modern Romance languages like French and Spanish, and that is also a kind of assimilation.

    8. Latin was an obvious front runner for eventually becoming a standard spoken language on much of the continent, but not so obvious in England, which was a neighbour to many other languages. We do not know how many Celtic languages, were being spoken before the Germanic settlements started, nor how common they remained. There is simply very little information, but we know these languages were around. But we can be reasonably confident that Latin would not have had anything like the natural tendency to become a standard language there.

    So concerning the medieval standard languages, from which our modern languages come,

    Is it better to think of them as initially having been lingua franca’s developed from many competing languages of the Dark Ages, under the influence of many factors?

    Or should we consider them of “pure” ancestral source languages (Germanic, Vulgar Latin) which simply either won or lost?

    I think it is at least worth questioning the second approach.

    Also note my comments about Turkish – a subject Dienekes often blogs well about.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    1. I think you are saying that in England we see signs that a Germanic language quickly became a major written language, whereas we do not see this in France and Spain.

    no, i didn’t really have writing in mind. the issue is that by the time “civilization” takes root in england in the early 7th century it was a predominantly german speaking land. in contrast, neustria across the water was ruled by franks, but unless they had recent austrasian origins (like the pippininds) they didn’t speak german much, to my knowledge. also, unlike in england, the frankish realm never lost total continuity with its roman past. gallo-roman elites were dominant in the church, and continued down outside of the church down to the medieval era in an unbroken cultural line in the south of france.

    i’d be curious how much latin was in old english. i don’t have a good idea.

  • pconroy

    Andrew,

    Good point.

    Again remember that Latin and Celtic are related languages – like Russian and Serbian – in that a good portion of the vocabulary was the same, so learning or transitioning from one to the other should have been relatively easy.
    Plus the learned elite at the time in Britain were Irish monks, who wrote and maybe spoke Hiberno-Latin.
    So that the shift from Celtic to Latin should be seen like the shift from Aramaic to Hebrew. So that much of the so called “Latin” influence on English is really Celtic, by another name.

  • Andrew Lancaster

    I do not think we really know how much Celtic or Latin/Romance was spoken in England before 1066, but assuming zero would be a big call. I believe I have seen it suggested somewhere that British may have been spoken in SE England in pockets right up until 1066.

    We do know that identifiably Celtic missionaries, fluent in Latin, had an enormous impact on civilization there, and indeed this influence was felt on the continent. Civilization never really stopped totally in the British Isles in the Dark Ages. There is a pretty good record of the fact that Christian-Latin civilization was passed to the English from Celtic men who were local to the British Isles.

    Concerning the Franks in France, again I think we do not have a great amount of evidence, but I think for example certainly in the generation of Charlemagne the French elite could speak Frankish, and indeed probably saw it very often as their first language, as would be the case by Charlemagne himself. They would be an identifiable sub-population in France for some time. By the way, one man associated with him is Alcuin, a Germanic Englishman in a thoroughly celtic Christian tradition.

    BTW I do not mean to make an absolute points with all this, just consider the details. I think that in parts of Eastern and southern England the record at least implies that Germanic speaking immigrants were the dominant population from an early time in a way which is not true for as many parts of what we call France. (Both France and England were of course fragmented geographically and stratified in many ways. They were nothing like the relatively homogenous states of even the Middle Ages.)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    We do know that identifiably Celtic missionaries, fluent in Latin, had an enormous impact on civilization there, and indeed this influence was felt on the continent. Civilization never really stopped totally in the British Isles in the Dark Ages. There is a pretty good record of the fact that Christian-Latin civilization was passed to the English from Celtic men who were local to the British Isles.

    i acknowledged the continuity in celtic britain. did i not make that clear enough for you? that’s one reason i tried to use the term ‘england,’ to differentiate it from the more general term.

    Concerning the Franks in France, again I think we do not have a great amount of evidence, but I think for example certainly in the generation of Charlemagne the French elite could speak Frankish, and indeed probably saw it very often as their first language, as would be the case by Charlemagne himself. They would be an identifiable sub-population in France for some time. By the way, one man associated with him is Alcuin, a Germanic Englishman in a thoroughly celtic Christian tradition.

    again, did i not make it clear that the austrasian families, like the pippinids, did speak a german dialect as their first language? the realm of the franks at this time spanned much of germania, as well as the old gaulish province. and even during the time of charlegmagne lineages were relocating from austrasia, which was relatively poor, to neustria (the capetians are from just such a lineage).

    you make some valid general points. but i’m kind of curious and frankly irritated that you address issues that i already alluded to. i don’t spend time adding qualifiers without a rationale. it’s so that you can address my specific points. a lot of your arguments are valid, but i tried to acknowledge them already in my posts. if you’re going to repeat points i gestured to, you need to elaborate on them. i’ve read a fair number of books on the period between the 6th and 8th centuries in the frankish lands, so i’m not too interested there. but dark age ‘england’ i don’t know as much about, but part of that is due to the overwhelming concentration on archaeological monographs, which are often impenetrable to me.

  • authun

    The situation with the written languages in England is complex and it is not very helpful to generalise. We have graffito and other inscriptions, written in the early runes of the Elder Futhark followed by the new additions reflecting sound changes and the resultant Anglo Frisian Futhorc from roughly the mid 7th cent.

    Earlier than that however, 602-603, we have the Laws of Æthelberht written in a Jutish dialect. Caedmon, a british name for the herdsman at the abbey in Whitby, composed his Hymn in Old English, 660 – 680 but this was passed down as an oral tradition until recorded, in classical Latin, by Bede in the 8th century.

    The 7th century Law Codes, Æthelberht, Hlothhere, Eadric, Ine and Withred are written in a germanic language. Much that comes via the Church is of course written in latin. Land grants and charters tend to be written in latin but can also be written in germanic. Unfortunately we don’t have celtic texts for the early period and much of our knowledge of it is simply a back projection from early welsh or name or placename evidence.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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