What Made the Anglo-Saxons Capable of Conquering the Britons?

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,173
Migrants from Frisia, perhaps?
Very possibly, mixed with Saxons and others in the Pas de Calais region, a mixed north sea group. The Franks gained hegemony over this region after their migration southwards and, when they did, they claimed hegemony over Kent, as if there was a kingdom with land either side of the Channel. It might be something to do with the expansion of Clothar I's territories shown in this animated map.

787px-Hereniging_Frankische_rijk_onder_Chlotarius_I.gif



The Nature of Merovingian hegemony in Anglo-Saxon Kent
 
Jan 2014
2,515
Westmorland
Why then do they continue with the standard explanation of "it came from Gaul"?

Trade has got to be the answer but where did it orginate?

The low density of population in the British Isles would mitigate against its spread but where we have larger communities for example monasteries it could be devastating. On the surface, Edix Hill does not seem to have suffered a real catastophe - there are some double burials but not a lot and half of the victims (in the sample) are buried in single graves (my rough guess is between 10 and 20% of the 50/60 inhabitants succumbed to the disease).
The Gaul argument probably derives ultimately from Gregory the Great's written account of the spread of the plague and the fact that Gaul is close to Britain. If we accept Halsall's concept of southern and eastern England being part of a North Sea zone in which ideas (as wella s goods and people) went both ways across the Channel, such a conclusion makes sense.

Bear in mind that at Edix Hill, the cemetery was in use for a long time and only about 15% of the graves have been examined. If the findings of the paper are representative of the cemetery as a whole (and they may or may not be), the actual number of plague victims would be significantly higher than the four currently identified. We have plenty of contemporaneous (and lurid) accounts of the impact of the plague around the Mediterranean, so I'd be careful about assuming that the impact was any lighter here.
 
Jan 2014
2,515
Westmorland
What would come from the Continent that would bring the disease in bearing in mind the early date? There is no trade in goods that we know of and it is too early for christian missions.
The most obvious answer is 'people', is it not? I don't think it is necessary to seek to hang the event off a known major historical event such as the early Christian missions. Equally, whether or not Newton's map has any validity, I'd be slow to see the early AS groups as all living in self-sufficient isolation. If there is constant low level movement (even as modest as people transporting renders or surplus or just getting together for social reasons), there is a means by which the fleas can move through the population. Even if I have never been more than five miles from my village, I will know people who live four miles away, they will know people who live another four miles away and so on.
 
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authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,173
The most obvious answer is 'people', is it not?
But what is the nature of these people, slaves, slavers, farmers, traders, refugees, nobles, brides? How did it get there? True, it just did, probably via people is true, but unhelpful. Were saxon nobles from Pas de Calais fleeing the plague or fleeing the Merowingians or were the Merowingians seeking to consolidate claims to hegemony through marriages or other alliances or maybe it was an embassy. It might be specialist goods I suppose. Is there evidence for silks?
 
Jan 2014
2,515
Westmorland
But what is the nature of these people, slaves, slavers, farmers, traders, refugees, nobles, brides?
We're into the realms of speculation as I'm sure you'd agree, but a mix of some or all of the above seems entirely plausible. Without wishing to get too 28 Days Later, a single infected individual is all that it would have taken and if we can accept that, in cultural terms, early Anglo-Saxon England was part of a wider North Sea world, it's reasonable to conceive of all sorts of movement back and forth across the Channel. I don't accept this notion that Britons and Anglo-Saxons had nothing to do with one another (although I know many here do), so I'd also be pretty comfortable with the idea that the plague could have come in from the west, ultimately via the coastal trading sites which we know were importing goods from those parts of the eastern Mediterrenean which were so badly hit by the first outbreak of the Justinian plague.

I don't know about silks, but to use just one of your examples, we know from Patrick that cross-border slaving was going on in the fifth century. So, slaves taken from one or other side in the Frankish wars in Gaul may have been sold in Britain by slavers who were also from elsewhere. They would leave little or no trace in the material record. But who knows? In some ways, it almost doesn't matter, because unless we wish to argue that early Anglo-Saxon groups eschewed all contact with the outside world, the possible routes of transmission are many and varied.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,173
We're into the realms of speculation as I'm sure you'd agree, but a mix of some or all of the above seems entirely plausible.
It's the nature of the contact which could prove informative. Who would travel from the continent to visit a bunch of farmers in Cambridgeshire? There will be a story somewhere in there.
 
Jan 2014
2,515
Westmorland
It's the nature of the contact which could prove informative. Who would travel from the continent to visit a bunch of farmers in Cambridgeshire? There will be a story somewhere in there.
Yes indeed, although it may well be that no-one travelled from the Continent to visit the farmers of Barrington. There may have been many more links in the chain. To continue with one of your examples. A slave is taken in northern France. He dies of some strange pestilence before being sold. The slaver who was planning to sell him shrugs and sets off for Britain, perhaps to sell other slaves. By the time they arrive in Canterbury, other slaves are dying too. They are chucked overboard. The slaver bemoans his poor luck to his cousin, who lives just outside Canterbury. The slaver himself dies on the return voyage. In the meantime, his cousin attends a funeral in south Essex. Her own funeral takes place a few days later. Other attendees at the funeral disperse back to their various villages. And so on, until one day, an infected woman selling suckling pigs wanders into Barrington and trades one for honey....
 
Mar 2015
1,394
Yorkshire
We're into the realms of speculation as I'm sure you'd agree, but a mix of some or all of the above seems entirely plausible. Without wishing to get too 28 Days Later, a single infected individual is all that it would have taken and if we can accept that, in cultural terms, early Anglo-Saxon England was part of a wider North Sea world, it's reasonable to conceive of all sorts of movement back and forth across the Channel. I don't accept this notion that Britons and Anglo-Saxons had nothing to do with one another (although I know many here do), so I'd also be pretty comfortable with the idea that the plague could have come in from the west, ultimately via the coastal trading sites which we know were importing goods from those parts of the eastern Mediterrenean which were so badly hit by the first outbreak of the Justinian plague.

I don't know about silks, but to use just one of your examples, we know from Patrick that cross-border slaving was going on in the fifth century. So, slaves taken from one or other side in the Frankish wars in Gaul may have been sold in Britain by slavers who were also from elsewhere. They would leave little or no trace in the material record. But who knows? In some ways, it almost doesn't matter, because unless we wish to argue that early Anglo-Saxon groups eschewed all contact with the outside world, the possible routes of transmission are many and varied.
My understanding is that the Black Rat Flea can not breed on Humans - fleas are very particular about the type of blood. The flea which carries the YPestis plague will not even breed on different types of rat and it is postulated that one reason the Plague ceases after 150 years is not just immunity in the Human population but the growth of the Norwegian Rat population at the expense of the Black Rat.

Person to person contact except in very densely packed populations is a very very minor vector of the YPestis Plague. The flea can't live long on human blood and since the plague is very virulent - death comes quickly to the individual leaving little time for pan- demic spread. However it has been found that it can exist on grain for some time and (less well) on cloth and this is way its believed to moved about until it finds a a suitable host black rat community and the right conditions for breeding.

In the Northern hemisphere, the plague was known to be active in the late Summer months. Conversely, is beleived to thrive in the Levant and Egypt in winter and the earlier cold and poor crops resulting from volanic erruption described prior to the Justinian plague may have been just the catalyst it needed to devlop from an isolated outbreak (BTW they are still happening as we speak - mostly in remote villages in Madagascar) into a full blown pan-demic.
 

authun

Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
5,173
Yes indeed, although it may well be that no-one travelled from the Continent to visit the farmers of Barrington. There may have been many more links in the chain. To continue with one of your examples. A slave is taken in northern France. He dies of some strange pestilence before being sold. The slaver who was planning to sell him shrugs and sets off for Britain, perhaps to sell other slaves. By the time they arrive in Canterbury, other slaves are dying too. They are chucked overboard. The slaver bemoans his poor luck to his cousin, who lives just outside Canterbury. The slaver himself dies on the return voyage. In the meantime, his cousin attends a funeral in south Essex. Her own funeral takes place a few days later. Other attendees at the funeral disperse back to their various villages. And so on, until one day, an infected woman selling suckling pigs wanders into Barrington and trades one for honey....

Yes I do realise that which is why I posted the link to The Nature of Merovingian hegemony in Anglo-Saxon Kent but, I am concerning myself with what the reason might be, not what the footsteps are.
 
Mar 2015
1,394
Yorkshire
The Gaul argument probably derives ultimately from Gregory the Great's written account of the spread of the plague and the fact that Gaul is close to Britain. If we accept Halsall's concept of southern and eastern England being part of a North Sea zone in which ideas (as wella s goods and people) went both ways across the Channel, such a conclusion makes sense.

Bear in mind that at Edix Hill, the cemetery was in use for a long time and only about 15% of the graves have been examined. If the findings of the paper are representative of the cemetery as a whole (and they may or may not be), the actual number of plague victims would be significantly higher than the four currently identified. We have plenty of contemporaneous (and lurid) accounts of the impact of the plague around the Mediterranean, so I'd be careful about assuming that the impact was any lighter here.
Yes, you are correct - I agree that it is too early speculate given the small amount of data we have. However I would point out that here there very few multiple burials, vast majority are single graves and the dead have been properly honoured. We do not have a mass dump of victims in a shallow scraping which is more typical of Plague scenes and whilst they might flee initially, the village continues to be occupied for over a 150 years later.