Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Model of Sub Roman Britain

his has been about 12 days in the creation and probably needs a lot more tweaking. But here it is. Next: Aelfric of Eynsham: Nobleman or Commoner?

I've been doing some thinking and tieing some reading together, of course quite outside the dissertation work I should be doing. But I thought I'd set it down here in part to help get my own thoughts in order.

Turning to sub-Roman/early Saxon Britain, there are several unresolvable problems at this point. The current model, being challenged in some quarters, is that the Anglo-Saxons completely displaced the British populations in the fifth century in the South and East of the island. This makes sense of our historical sources, and of the fact that linguistically, Brittonic had very little impact on early Old English.

Archaeology and now genetics have been challenging that view, however. Archaeological finds over the last half century have rather strongly suggested that in fact Celts remained in Anglo-Saxon controlled territories, and we add to that that Celtic names appear in the the regnal lists of almost all the A-S kingdoms, and add to this sources such as Ine's laws that describe Welsh being landowners in early Wessex and having status. In 2002-3 two studies were produced that proved on genetic evidence that other than the East Central portion of the island, Germanic genetic impact on the population was slight, and the further west and south, the less Germanic impact genetically, even in areas traditionally and historically where there were Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. So how do we explain all this? Well, I have a model, and I'm working on the details that does explain it, and I'm told that while some parts of my model have been discussed, other parts have not. So here goes:

The Saxon Shore forts likely were chiefly staffed by Germans under Roman command in the 4th century, as witnessed by the Germanic goods found in some and the name. These Germans likely had functional Latin, not necessarily literacy, but enough to communicate with their Roman commanders and cohorts, typical of other Germanic foederati on the continent (thinking in particular of the Goths). Further, we know that the Romano-Brits were fairly Latinate, the amount of Latin inscriptions, esp. graffiti, from the period far outnumbers the number of Brittonic inscriptions. We also have Patrick, out in the West who mentions being taught Latin, but he didn't apply himself as a youth, and he uses Latin terms to describe the position of his father, etc suggesting that though a learned language, Latin nonetheless made significant inroads. So when the Romans pull out, and the Romano Brits remain and continue to "hire" the German foederati in the Saxon Shore forts as their military muscle, they use Latin to communicate as a common language, again on the model of the Goths in Italy and Acquitaine. As Roman Britain breaks up into localized areas of power and new kingdoms, and at first this process has nothing to do with the Germans so much as powerful provincial level taking control where they can, there is naturally some friction between these new emerging kingdoms. Some allied with the Germans, but over time the Germans began demanding more, as Gildas tells us. In some cases, this demand was met, in some cases (like the later Vikings) it wasn't and the Germans either left, or fought and took over. As the Germans took over in some areas, the Brits split into essentially 3 groups: a) those who followed the Germans, or the mixed Celtic-German alliances b) those who rejected the Germans and c) those who left to Brittany. It can not be sustained on the basis of genetic evidence and archaeological evidence that the divide is solely Saxons in the North and East chasing the Celts to the South and West. We know from ethnogenesis on the continent that the lines among the various Germanic groups was porous and peoples were born, died, and were transformed into new entities with regularity. We also see on the continent that new peoples coming into being were united not just by conquest but also by laws, stories, etc to form an identity. That almost seems contradictory, but it took time for that identity to solidify and if a "people" like the Franks could maintain their hegemony long enough for the new identity to solidify and take hold, they remained far longer whereas others like the Hunnic empire quickly dissipated after Atilla. So back to Britain: I'm suggesting the same forces of ethnogenesis were active there: that we have the blending ethnically of Romano-Celt and German and the identity that won out and solidified greatly depended on a number of factors, but we see the "Saxon" success in the south with the Gewissae, Essex, Sussex, etc even though most of these royal geneologies contain Celtic names in the early days. They seem to have quickly adopted wholesale not just German culture but the migration myth (an old one: even the Romans had one as did the Greeks) as well. In the West, there were probably far fewer Germans since they weren't needed there as foederati, so it is natural that the Romano-Celt identity won out, and in Wales, the last place Romanized, and so the first unRomanized, the almost "pure" Celtic identity in the North. So this gives us several Celtic and Germano-Celtic kingdoms vieing with one another over the course of the fifth and sixth centuries.

Now several things are resolved here since this model differs somewhat from what the model of German displacement of Celtic populations or the model of an "elite" ruling over Celts, both long debated. This model involves fusion of Germans and Celts in the North and East, and not in the West.

First, many have problems with the lack of Brittonic words borrowed into Old English during the initial or Early Anglo-Saxon period. But if the language of exchange during this period with the Romano-Brits was Latin, there would be few such words from Brittonic save those borrowed into British Latin==and this is why we have 25-30 words borrowed from British Latin into Old English and only about a dozen Brittonic words, many of them place names or geographical features.

Second, it uses models of ethnogenesis of German and Roman intermixture that we see in Gaul, Hispania, and Italy, and to a lesser extent in Vandal N. Africa. In the absence of the Empire, the Romano Brits split into defensible units, those especially in the east hired the Germans the empire had already hired. And in true Roman fashion for most of the late empire period, those with the backing of the military get the power, and within a generation or two the Germans were promoting their own chiefs as rulers of the area rather than Romano-Brits.

Third, this model resolves the tensions between the historical, archaeological, linguistic, genetic, and ethnogenetic evidence that the current two models do not do.

There will be objections. Most place-name scholars and history of english scholars for instance assume that the Romano-Brits largely spoke Brittonic, and so explaining the lack of Brittonic words in Old English is difficult to explain: hence most of these would argue for a displacement theory. But this really hasn't made sense of the level of Latinity that we find: Patrick, Gildas, and lest we forget, Pelagius and how widespread his teachings, written in Latin in Rome, were and the visit of Germanus, the Latin graffiti. Vindolonda provides an interesting model: one of my favorites is an Egyptian soldier writing home for socks in LATIN! Even in Hellenistic Egypt, this soldier can expect his mum to read enough Latin to send him socks. By the time that letter was written c. 100, Egypt had been a Roman province just over 130 years or so. Can we expect any less in 410 after Britain had been Romanized for 350 years? My answer is that we should in fact expect exactly that. And if so, and if as suggested above the original language of exchange between Roman-Brits and Saxons would be Latin rather than Brittonic, then we should be looking for words borrowed into English of Latin origin that came in during that early period. *wic as a word and place name is such a case, from Latin vicus, a dependent economic unit near a Roman road according to Coates. Another such word is cempe, from Latin campus, a warrior in OE, a military camp in Latin. So it seems to me we ought not be assuming a low level of Roman culture and language in Britain, but rather a relatively high one.

I've been told that a number of sub-Roman British scholars view Britain as itching to throw off the Roman yoke, and so would say that Latin and Roman culture was a mere veneer on top. My source indicates that the basis for this view is Tacitus who talks about his father's experience in Britain. But there is something a bit obvious here and I have to say that I can hardly believe that this hasn't been brought up, but my source doesn't think so. Tacitus is writing the Agricola circa 98-100 CE, about 50 years after the Romans take over. He also has an axe to grind, presenting the "freedom of the native Britons vs. corruption of the empire." Now we know from many many many sources that the Romans were patient and as in Gaul slowly and surely Romanized everything. But it took time. Tacitus should no more be taken as evidence of attitudes and actions in 400 CE in Britain than Herodotus should be taken as a description of Roman era Greece or William of Malmesbury be used to describe Tudor England. By 400, Rome had controlled and been Romanizing Britain's provinces for 350 years and what evidence exists suggests a successful strategy of Romanization. To such an extent that men in the east of the island like Vortigern are following Roman policy of hiring German mercenaries. (and on this there was an article, I've forgotten by whom but should look it up, that argued that Vortigern was most likely hiring Hengest and Horsa against a threat from the continent (prob. the Romans) rather than the Picts. And we should expect as we see in Patrick and in the inscriptions and in Pelagius a rather high level of Romanization there, linguistically and culturally.

But wait, some might say, what about the British usurpers! They surely show Britain's willingness to throw off the Roman yoke in the late fourth century, and hence indicate less Latinity and Roman culturalization. No. The usurpers are Constantine wannabes. They want not to throw off the yoke of Rome: they want to be at the center of Rome as Constantine before them had begun in York and ascended to the purple. Look at their actions: they aren't rebelling against Rome and setting up shop, they're invading Rome and setting up shop, or trying to. Constantius III is trying to stop the German advance in Gaul not because he feels threatened in Britain, but because if he does, he'll have made a huge step to taking over the Western empire, similarly Maximus before him. In fact, I'd argue that these usurpers actually are evidence for the level of Romanization: they are so Romanized that they behave just like the usurpers of the third and fourth century elsewhere in the empire who want Rome so much that they are willing to take it by force. Maximus isn't a rebel, he wants to be emperor! Likewise Constantius etc.

Well, there's tons more to say, about Orosius and all the details etc, but the gist of the argument. Its greatest impact is on the linguistic end, but the model does strive to make sense of all the evidence we have.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Intensive Latin and Greek

Intensive Beginning Latin and Greek Courses
in Philadelphia this summer (2008).

June 16 - August 8; 9 am - 3 pm, Mon -Friday.

We use Christian and Classical texts, daily oral
practice; Wheelock's 3rd edition for Latin; Crosby and
Schaeffer for Greek.

Friendly, experienced staff. Perfect for the

Coverage of all basic grammar, vocab, plus drills and
much reading practice. Daily quizzes and vocab review.

Tuition $2800. We promise not to make you cry!

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Call 610 785 6547 or email

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What Do You Do With an Abbot Like Aelfric?

As I work on completing this project, I'm noting more and more that Aelfric didn't seem to approve of Aethelred much. Two examples occur in the Letter to Sigeweard's discussion of Old Testament figures. The first, Saul, everywhere else Aelfric cites as an example of how not to be....except here where he mentions Saul's faults with a wave of the hand but emphasizes Saul's battles against the "heathen." Likewise, David's long reign is summarized by his successful battles against the heathen, successful because he worshiped God and did good works. It is hard not to see these comments as an implicit criticism of Aethelred's policies and actions during the campaigns of 1001 and 1002 and so on, and the policy of buying off the Vikings rather than engaging in battle.

More Aelfric to come!