Talk:Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain

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More apt poem?[edit]

At the moment we have a piece of poetry in the article text to emphasise the Anglo-Saxon idea of having arrived in Britain from over the sea. However, would not the ending few lines of the poem The Battle of Brunanburh be more apt?

Engle and Seaxe upp becomon,

ofer brad brimu Britene sohton,

wlance wig-smithas, Wealas ofercomon,

eorlas ar-hwaete eard begeaton.


Angles and Saxons came up

over the broad sea. Britain they sought,

Proud war-smiths who overcame the Welsh,

glorious warriors they took hold of the land.


Urselius (talk) 13:17, 30 November 2016 (UTC)

Sounds good. Johnbod (talk) 13:30, 30 November 2016 (UTC)
This bit of Brunanburh strikes me as the best possible option. Richard Keatinge (talk) 10:49, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

I prefer my own translation, obviously :)

"Angle and Saxon came up

Over the sea's broad brim, seeking Britain,

Proud war-smiths, they overcame the Welsh,

Noble warriors, they took the land".

Then again, I'm biased. Urselius (talk) 15:02, 6 December 2016 (UTC)

Hi there Urselius! I see you've reverted my edits re Brunanburh. Your comment noted that you thought some aspects were good and some were bad, so I think it's a shame you just reverted the whole thing. I'd like at least to go back and use the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records edition of the poem rather than the current one, since its ultimate provenance isn't clear and it doesn't use OE characters, which suggests it may not be very reliable. But I'd also like to move away from the statement that 'This 'heroic tradition' explains the conviction of Bede, and later Anglo-Saxon historians, that the ancestral origins of the English were not with the British, but rather with the Germanic migrants of the post-Roman period.' As I said on the edit, this statement implies that Brunanburh attests to a 'heroic tradition' which in turn gave rise to Bede's understanding of English ancestory. But the poem explictly cites 'books', and indeed survives as an addition to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. So we can't assume that it's evidence for some pre-Bedan heroic tradition, whereas we can be sure that it's evidence for how later Anglo-Saxon poets incorporated written history into their poetry. Obviously I don't want to just wind up with us reverting things back and forth, so I thought I'd get your thoughts here. Thanks! Alarichall (talk) 10:11, 2 July 2017 (UTC)
(Just a further note on this: I just had a look around the secondary literature on this. For example, Mark C. Amodio, The Anglo Saxon Literature Handbook (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) says 'while Brunanburh rightly deserves its position among the great articulations of martial deeds in OE poetry, it is removed from them not just because of its immediate context in the almost wholly prose Chronicle and because it is based on a purportedly historical event, but because it closes with a direct acknolwedgment of the existence of written sources, something that does not occur in the other secular, heroic poetry that survives from the period'. I'm afraid I don't have a page reference as I looked it up on Google Books and the copy that's up there is unpaginated. But it just illustrates that this is a mainstream view.) Alarichall (talk) 11:01, 2 July 2017 (UTC)
I have no particular investment in what edition or translation is employed here. I am not a linguist or philologist. I think that you have more interest in the poem as a piece of literature than an appreciation of what the excerpt was trying to accomplish within the article. All the excerpt needs to do is show that the Anglo-Saxons considered that their ancestors had come to Britain from elsewhere and had taken control of the land from the British by violent means. The last few lines of Brunanburh accomplish this very adequately, and adding the preceding section just dilutes the effect of the poem in illustrating that the Anglo-Saxons held this belief. I do not understand your objection to the poem being an articulation of a heroic tradition. Gildas was writing a generation or more after the adventus so was presumably working, at least in part, from an oral tradition. The Anglo-Saxons were not literate in any meaningful sense before the conversion, which was many generations after the adventus, so Bede was working from an oral tradition - which certainly emphasised a war-torn past inhabited by heroic figures - as well as on the writings of Gildas. The writer of Brunanburh was certainly part of the same society as Bede, they would have shared a similar cultural outlook and many of the same traditions and prejudices. Saying that the writer of Brunanburh was reliant on written sources is just kicking the can down the road, if the written sources, including Bede, were themselves reliant on oral traditions, many of them arguably 'heroic'. Urselius (talk) 12:24, 2 July 2017 (UTC)
PS, if you have a problem with the word 'heroic', for any reason, I would have no problem with either, 'tradition' on its own or 'oral tradition' in its place. I think that it is entirely safe to regard any claim concerning events around 450 AD made by either Bede or the writer of Brunanburh being based almost exclusively on tradition. Urselius (talk) 13:02, 2 July 2017 (UTC)
Thanks Urselius! This is helpful. I think your PS gets to the nub of the problem for me: it's actually pretty easy (and plausible) to make a case that Bede had very little 'tradition' to go on regarding the fifth century. When I have a moment, I'll look out some of the scholarship on this, and bring it to the discussion. But basically, Bede seems to have used written sources as much as possible, and his account is disjointed enough to suggest that the stuff about Angles, Saxons, and Jutes was a late addition to the work, in turn suggesting that he heard about it quite late in his research. Meanwhile, migration is actually conspicuously absent from surviving OE poetry: Brunanburh is the exception and, as I say, explicitly draws on books. So it's actually easy to hypothesise that Anglo-Saxons didn't develop any grand narratives about their ancestors' migrations until Bede's own time, and that this was quite a bookish endeavour. The seminal work on this is Nicholas Howe, Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). Alarichall (talk) 22:52, 4 July 2017 (UTC)
I'm reasonably sure that I have read the Howe work, at least in part. The major problem with the view of the literate Anglo-Saxonss of their past is separating the component parts of tradition: fabricated myth from a recollection, however distorted, of real past events. Bede is fairly reliant on Gildas and presumably continental Church sources, for some of his adventus narrative, though his narrative is quite short and lacking in detail. Perhaps the A-S Chronicle should be referenced more than Bede in connection to the oral tradition of conquest. The adventus narrative of the Chronicle is more obviously based on tradition and the foundation of the West Saxons is certainly heroic in nature and is more overtly mythic (and unrealistic) than most other A-S kingdom foundation traditions. Urselius (talk) 10:58, 5 July 2017 (UTC)
Hi there Urselius! Sorry for going quiet here. I now have some time to come back to this so if it's okay, I'll draft a a redeveloped section on Anglo-Saxon literatary representations of the settlement, drawing on Howe and his successors, and post it here for comment before I implement it? Also, I think it's a bit weird that 'language and literature' is currently under 'Reasons behind the success of the Anglo-Saxon settlement': there's no reason to think that either of them was a cause of Anglo-Saxon cultural dominance. So the material might move elsewhere? Alarichall (talk) 14:51, 23 August 2017 (UTC)

Oppenheimer's hypothese are giving vast amounts of undue weight[edit]

There is literally no scholarly backing to his theory that germanic languages were already spoken in early iron age Britain and the massive section devoted to the idea feels like little more than english nationalists trying to give undue weight to a crank who rubs them the right way. Also the general rejection of genocide as a possibility is odd as every other subroman theory where the germanic tribes invaded did not assimilate to germanness unless they were immediately on the borders of Germania, and the english language has at best a dozen borrowings that can be traced to brythonic dialects. (talk) 01:28, 29 June 2017 (UTC)

I wouldn't say Oppenheimer's a 'crank', and his prominence in popular discourse is probably a good reason to discuss his work in this entry (I note that he's fairly prominent, for example, in a recent professional encyclopedia entry: Hills C.M. (2013). Anglo-Saxon Migrations. The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration. Wiley-Blackwell. DOI: 10.1002/9781444351071.wbeghm029). But of course you're right that there's no evidence for Germanic being spoken in Britain as early as Oppenheimer suggests and that other scholars haven't followed this line of thought. Oppenheimer made the suggestion that Germanic got started in Britain early on as a way to reconcile the facts that (a) English was so little influenced by Brittonic/Latin while (b) there is little reliable evidence for a huge demographic shift. However, there are other models available for explaining a swift and dramatic language-shift without recourse to a demographic shift. This is an emergent area of study: I did some work on it a few years ago, but need to catch up with recent studies to make sure of a neutral point of view before trying to develop this page. (My main contribution was Alaric Hall, 'The Instability of Place-names in Anglo-Saxon England and Early Medieval Wales, and the Loss of Roman Toponymy', in Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. by Richard Jones and Sarah Semple (Donington: Tyas, 2012), pp. 101-29,
I think it would be good to have a historiographical section in this entry discussing how the topic is a political hot potato, as you imply. I note that Hills's entry does this: 'The historical, archaeological, linguistic, and biological evidence for that migration is often read as telling a simple story of the replacement of native Briton by Germanic Anglo-Saxon in the south and east of England. This origin myth of the English has had continuing political power because it has been seen as the basis for the distinction between the English, Scots, and Welsh. The political dimension has also been a factor in alternative versions of the story, stressing the unity of all British people rather than their differences, and playing down the scale of the migrations. It is the reason why the story still has significance and is still hotly debated, with no consensus yet agreed to as to the absolute or relative numbers of natives or immigrants.' Alarichall (talk) 11:28, 2 July 2017 (UTC)
Have any sources also noted that traders (that is - neither immigrants nor natives) also spread languages and mix languages? I understand that trade goods have been found which did not originate in Britain, and that materials from Britain have been found across Europe. Collect (talk) 12:00, 2 July 2017 (UTC)
The end of Roman culture in Britain has been claimed to be a 'systems collapse'. The Romano-Britons were reliant on a professional army, on industrial-scale pottery and metal-ware production and had an agricultural system at least partly based on a cash economy, and dependence on a large-scale consumer in the shape of the Roman army. When all these systems fell apart, the Anglo-Saxons, with their own warrior skills, small scale independent pottery and metalworking abilities and subsistence farming methods, must have had a great deal to offer the native British. This could lie behind the large-scale adoption of Germanic material culture. Urselius (talk) 10:12, 4 July 2017 (UTC)
Thanks for the question, Collect. I don't think any of the scholarship has discussed this angle, and I appreciate being pushed to consider it. I agree with Urselius that English seems to get going in Britain at the same time as a huge economic collapse, so in this particular context, trade doesn't seem a likely vector of language-change. (Though I doubt that Brittonic-speakers lacked skills and technologies suited to a subsistence economy, as there's plenty of reason to think that these all existed alongside the cosmopolitan Roman economy. So the switch to English would probably be led more by political/social factors than by technological ones.) I also wonder whether trading languages have been found elsewhere to achieve the dominance that English did in Britain? Trading languages often contribute loan-words to other languages, and non-native-speaking merchants may influence a language in other ways: Low German influence on the Continental Scandinavian languages would be an example of this. But are there examples of trading languages achieving dominance in their own right? And particularly without taking on many loanwords from the local language, and also replacing local place-names? 23:02, 4 July 2017 (UTC)
The answer lies in the "proto-Indo-European" culture - associated with advances in transportation including by trade by sea, the development of the wheel etc. all of which is clearly important to any trade culture. Indeed, it is fairly clear that the spread of related languages makes no sense where no genetic evidence exists of the PIE taking over other nations, but there is strong evidence of trading (including the spread of the horse across Europe and Asia). Collect (talk) 15:48, 5 July 2017 (UTC)
If the Yamna culture/Yamnaya culture represents the PIE peoples then there is a lot of recent ancient DNA work that suggests that they were involved in a huge migration event in the late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age. There are two Nature papers that investigated this, and they suggest that approximately one third of modern European ancestry derives from the Yamnaya. The only population to have little or no Yamnaya component is the Sardinian. To the chagrin of any Hitlerite 'Aryanists' the putative PIEs were were predominately dark in colouring and would have been fairly swarthy. Urselius (talk) 17:10, 5 July 2017 (UTC)
What I find neat is the possibility that PIE also was quite ancient in the Ararat Plateau area - and "relatively swarthy" may be an overstatement about the Yamna who were likely only about as "swarthy" as modern Italians and Greeks. This means, amazingly enough, that the Neanderthal influence was substantial on northern Europeans and introduced a large variability in melanin production. In any event, we must either look to the possibility that the "extinct species" of humans may not have had African origins (huge numbers of people traveling vast distances before the horse was domesticated and before the wheel was invented, or boats were invented seem unlikely indeed compared to the possibility that humans were several distinct species - just as we now know that giraffes are not all the same species now with the latest DNA studies) This does not mean "Darwin was wrong" but does mean "evolution is far more complex than even Darwin thought."  :) . Collect (talk) 17:34, 5 July 2017 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I do not believe that Oppenheimer has come up with what you could call a theory, after all by definition a theory has been extensively tested and is generally accepted, I rather think that you mean a hypothesis (which is a speculative guess that has yet to be tested). What Oppenheimer's books contain are a series of untested original hypothese backed up solely by a survey of previously published results rather than contributing any new evidence! For example his German language hypothesis is based on work by Forster, a copy can be found here. By talking about Oppenheimers' theories you are actually giving more weight than he deserves. It's OK to use Oppenheimer as long as he is correctly qualified, ie that his conclusions are purely speculation. Wilfridselsey (talk) 18:19, 5 July 2017 (UTC)

The 'Linguistic evidence' section[edit]

I'm impressed with this section, which is careful, sensible, and pretty up to date. I think it's quite wordy though: in particular, I think scholarly concensus now is pretty firmly behind the idea that linguistic evidence does not support the old genocide scenario that it was once thought to, and that this section spends a long time chewing this over.

So I'd like to do a copy-edit of the section, making it shorter (but without removing any of the substantive points), and integrating closer reference to more recent work (like David N. Parsons, 'Sabrina in the thorns: place-names as evidence for British and Latin in Roman Britain', Transactions of the Royal Philological Society, 109.2 (July 2011), 113–37 and Peter Schrijver's 2014 book. It would also be an opportunity to move the stuff on Oppenheimer's idea that Germanic was already spoken in Britain for a long time before the fifth century, discussed above, from the DNA section to the Language section, and to handle that bit more concisely.

Just wanted to post to see if anyone wanted to object or make any points about this before I do? Thanks! Alarichall (talk) 14:59, 23 August 2017 (UTC)

Probably useful to make it clear that Sykes is in agreement with Oppenheimer's genetic conclusions, and not with his linguistic ones within the article. Urselius (talk) 20:56, 24 August 2017 (UTC)
I've done quite a lot on this now. I hope people are OK with it! I haven't had a go at the place names section yet but will :-) Alarichall (talk) 17:47, 24 August 2017 (UTC)
I think the place name section has a couple of important omissions: 'cumb- names' derived from the Britons' own name for themselves - Cumbrogi, and the effects of the 'Middle Saxon Shuffle' where large-scale relocation of settlements occurred many generations after the adventus and probably led to widespread novel place-name production. Urselius (talk) 20:47, 24 August 2017 (UTC)

Something that has intrigued me for some time is Bede's statement: "This island at present, following the number of the books in which the Divine law was written, contains five nations, the English, Britons, Scots, Picts, and Latins, each in its own peculiar dialect cultivating the sublime study of Divine truth. The Latin tongue is, by the study of the Scriptures, become common to all the rest." Taken at face-value Bede is stating that a Latin-speaking community, outside the Church, existed in Britain in his own day. Has there been any scholarly debate over this rather startling assertion? Urselius (talk) 20:52, 24 August 2017 (UTC)

Oops, I overlooked your point about Sykes and Oppenheimer: I'll try and sort that out. Also good point about the cumb= names. Yes, I'm meaning to update British Latin about spoken Latin in early medieval Western Britain, but there's a movement to suggest it lasted quite a long time (however long that is!). So early medieval Welsh Latin inscriptions used to be seen as just being badly spelled, whereas Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages argues that they show spoken-language features. I've made quite a lot in the past of Bede's comment that Ecgberht 'in Germania plurimas nouerat esse nationes, a quibus Angli uel Saxones, qui nunc Brittaniam incolunt, genus et originem duxisse noscuntur; unde hactenus a uicina gente Brettonum corrupte Garmani nuncupantur' [knew that there were many peoples in Germania (on the Germanic-speaking Continent), from whom the Angli, or Saxones, who now inhabit Britain, are known to derive their stock and origin—for which reason they are incorrectly still called Garmani by the neighbouring nation of the Britons]. Garmani is clearly a pronunciation that Bede disapproved of, but is consistent with evidence for how Latin was pronounced in late Roman Britain; meanwhile, there's no evidence for this word in Welsh. So Bede is talking about the spoken Latin of ethnic Britons ─ maybe it was still a mother tongue for some?[1]
I'm pleased to hear that there is investigation into a possible continuance of vernacular Latin in post-Roman Britain. The use of the term laeti in Kent might suggest that Latin could also have survived for a while in some of the heavily Romanised areas of the south and east that came under rapid A-S political control. Urselius (talk) 12:53, 26 August 2017 (UTC)
Okay, I'm done with my revision, though I'm sure I'll keep tinkering. That said, I'm thinking it might be good to make this section into an article of its own on the early expansion of English, which would become a 'main' article. Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain would have a much more concise account and link to the main one via a hatnote. That would make it much easier for other articles, like History of the English Language, Old English, Brittonic languages, Sub-Roman Britain, Brittonicisms in English, etc. to link to the article specifically on the expansion of English. Any opinions? Alarichall (talk) 22:01, 26 August 2017 (UTC)
PS I've done some copy-editing of the article header and made a slight substantial change to the account of language. Obviously the header is a particularly sensitive area so I'd appreciate you checking it's okay, Urselius. Alarichall (talk) 19:07, 27 August 2017 (UTC)
Does User:Suspended Time want to offer a view on moving the bulk of the language section to a new main page, for the reason given above? I just ask because you've been editing it too :-) Alarichall, I do not object to your relocation of my last edit to another section of the Wikipedia article in question, i.e. the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain. It is fine by me.Alarichall (talk) 22:16, 29 August 2017 (UTC)
I've followed through and done a main article on Celtic language-death in England and trimmed the section in this entry accordingly. Hopefully that will make this very long entry slightly more digestible! I'm now going to trying moving the 'Linguistic evidence' section up so that it follows 'Historical evidence'. I think that way the article will now be presenting evidence in order of historiographical importance: historical sources used to be the main source, then linguistic sources added to the picture, then archaeology became dominant, and then DNA came on the scene. See what you think! Alarichall (talk) 17:55, 30 August 2017 (UTC)

Answer to conundrum?[edit]

I was looking again at: Schiffels, S. et al. (2016) Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon genomes from East England reveal British migration history, Nature Communications 7, Article number:10408 doi:10.1038/ncomms10408

Again I was struck by the huge overlap of the incidence of modern Welsh and English 'rare genetic markers', and their separation from both pre-Roman British and adventus-era 'Anglo-Saxon' ancient DNA marker incidence, that is shown in the study. The study claims that the eastern English have 38% continental Germanic ancestry, whilst the Welsh have 30% of the same ancestry, despite the Welsh not having any historically attested influx from the Germanic areas of the continent. Then it struck me that the ancient and modern populations were not comparable, as modern populations have been through an historic genetic selection and population bottleneck since Roman and Anglo-Saxon times. I am referring to the pandemics that swept Britain from the 14th to the 17th centuries, particularly the Black Death. These pandemics undoubtedly were more lethal to people of some genetic ancestries than others and would have drastically affected the incidence of certain genetic markers. I suspect that Schiffels et al is showing more the distinction between pre-and post-Black Death populations, than between incomer and native populations. Urselius (talk) 14:10, 29 August 2017 (UTC)

Interesting. I haven't got stuck into the DNA debates. I'm hoping if I wait long enough, the dust will settle and there will be a reasonable concensus, after which it'll be easier to keep on top of developments. 10 years, maybe 20 to go?! Alarichall (talk) 17:57, 30 August 2017 (UTC)
The problem at present is that the geneticists are not, in general, involving historians, archaeologists and mathematicians in their studies. The basis for population genetics studies are mathematical models, and geneticists are not the finest mathematicians and computer scientists. The models tend to incorporate simplistic assumptions, such as a single time-point immigration event. The lack of historical and archaeological knowledge tends to generate simplistic conclusions, drawn from already flawed models. There is also sometimes a lack of understanding of human nature. The apartheid model ignores the fact that human beings have always created sexual relationships across ethnic, linguistic and religious boundaries. If the British in India could create the Anglo-Indian community across a great divide of physical appearance, religion, language and custom, the trifling differences between the Germanic migrants and native British would offer a truly negligible barrier. Urselius (talk) 18:45, 30 August 2017 (UTC)

Grammatical changes made by unregistered user[edit]

Hi, Urselius. I see you've reverted a lot of copy-edits by an unregistered user. You said that you were 'reversing a host of, at best, dubious grammatical changes', but I had a close look at them and I thought they were mostly good copy-edits (and often make what is a very long article a shade more concise). Admittedly I thought some of the rephrasings were a bit unsuccessful, but often they were replacing phrasing that was equally clunky. I think it's a bit unwelcoming to someone who's obviously acting in good faith, and to my mind being quite helpful, and who might be on their way to getting more involved in Wikipedia, to just revert their edits wholesale. So might I encourage you to be a bit more selective in future about reverting things? And maybe even to reinstate some or all of the changes? Alarichall (talk) 05:10, 12 December 2017 (UTC)

Hi, there were a number of typos in the replaced text and a number of grammatical errors were introduced that were merely stylistic issues beforehand. The previous text was at least grammatical, and did not have glaring typos. I do not have the time to sift through extensive changes in order to correct supposed corrections. If it looks as though changes are not a substantial improvement and also introduce errors, I tend to revert them wholesale. This is done in the belief that it is the responsibility of the editor to ensure that their edits are typo-free and grammatical. If the original editor, or anyone else, wishes to go through the edits and correct them they are free to do so. Urselius (talk) 11:54, 12 December 2017 (UTC)
I have again reverted further edits by this unregistered editor, for the reasons outlined above. Some of the edits were OK, but there was at least one instance of a change in meaning to a sentence that was plain wrong. Do a job properly or leave it alone. Urselius (talk) 12:04, 12 December 2017 (UTC)
Well, I see your reasoning, but don't forget that this kind of thinking is one reason why lots of people with a lot to give are put off editing Wikipedia at all. Alarichall (talk) 15:58, 12 December 2017 (UTC)
If you check, the IP address has a history of disruptive edits. It may or may not be the same person responsible, of course. However, if this editor were to make fewer changes at any one time, I would be more inclined to check and correct any that required correction. Urselius (talk) 22:21, 12 December 2017 (UTC)
Good point: looks like an indefatigable Manchester City Council employee! But why do you see the edits as disruptive? Looking across the last dozen or so edits from this IP address, they all strike me as perfectly reasonable copy-edits. Sometimes I'd agree they're fixing things that ain't broke, but I don't see that they're making anything worse, and they're making a lot of things better, so I'd live and let live. Certainly by reversing the changes en bloc, the article gets worse rather than better: more corrections than mistakes are removed. And it's pretty fiddly, if you're doing a general copy-edit of an article, to save every change separately. I'd just encourage you to take a more collaborative stance :-) Anyway, hopefully I'll find time later to reimplement their changes to this article and check for introduced errors. Alarichall (talk) 05:38, 13 December 2017 (UTC)
The first substantive edit in the last slew was to change: "Rather, males inherit the Y-chromosome directly from their fathers, and both sexes inherit mtDNA directly from their mothers. Consequently, they preserve a genetic record from individual to individual that is altered only through mutation" to "Rather, males inherit the Y-chromosome directly from their fathers, and both sexes inherit mtDNA directly from their mothers. That makes them preserve a genetic record from individual to individual that is altered only by mutation". This is an 'early-teen' level of English expression, and it is wrong. It introduces an active statement, which is just incorrect; the sex-specific inheritance of mtDNA and Y chromosomes does not exist for the preservation of a genetic record that can be investigated, it is merely a by-product of fundamental mammalian (Y) and eukaryotic (mtDNA) biology. Also Procopius becomes 'Procopiu', one of a number of typos.
I do not think the edits to this page were disruptive, but I do not think that they were particularly useful in most cases either. If you are going to make a lot of stylistic changes to an article you need to ensure that you do not change the meaning of sentences and that you do not introduce typos. Creating unnecessary work for other editors, in checking through all your changes for errors, is fundamentally unfair. Urselius (talk) 10:11, 13 December 2017 (UTC)